Why Do Planes Climb So Steeply at Takeoff?

iStock
iStock

Ron Wagner:

I’m going to guess that you mean commercial airliners on which you ride “go so steep.” Obviously, you feel they go steep, but “steep” is a relative term—one person’s “steep” is another person’s “boring.”

I’LL SHOW YOU “STEEP”

I had the good fortune to get taxpayer-funded pilot training through the U. S. Air Force, which included flying the Northrop T-38 Talon supersonic jet. When it was first introduced, it was the fastest-climbing aircraft in the world and set the world time-to-climb record.

The specific jet they used to set that record had the tail number of 10849. After that record-setting flight, 849 went to the regular training fleet at Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas, which is where I went to pilot training. The folks at Edwards AFB, where the record was set, painted a list of the various records it had set on the nose, but otherwise, that jet was just a regular member of our fleet at Webb.

Eleven years later, I got to fly 849. Unfortunately, back then there was no such thing as smartphone cameras. If I’d had one, I would have gotten someone to take a pic of that list of records on the nose with me sitting in the cockpit—but, alas!

The records were set in meters, and they ticked off a bunch of them, but the easy one to remember is the climb to 9000 meters because that’s 30,000 feet.

The climb record must be measured from the moment the aircraft first moves on the runway, all the way through takeoff, gear up, and then start climbing. That whole process—from dead-stop on the runway to 30,00 feet—took 62 seconds ... and here’s a photo taken that day, like a scalded angel trying to get back to heaven.

A plane takes off at a steep incline
Quora

Now that’s what I call a “steep” takeoff.

Airliners do not take off “steep.”

BUT AIRLINERS DON’T HANG AROUND AT LOW ALTITUDE

Jet aircraft are most efficient at high altitudes. The most fuel efficient profile any jet can fly on a cross-country trip would be to climb at its maximum rate all the way to cruising altitude, level off and pull back to cruise power, and stay there until the precise moment the engines can be pulled to idle and descend to a landing.

Due to traffic and passenger comfort, the airliners don’t fly that maximum efficiency profile, but they try to get close.

And that’s why it seems to you that jet airliners climb “relatively steep,” but trust me, they do not fly steep. That T-38 climbed steep!

JUST FOR THE RECORD

A few years later, the F-4 broke the T-38′s record. I haven’t followed the latest, but I clearly recall in 1975 when the F-15 brought the 9000 meter record down to 48.8 seconds.

I just watched a video of an airliner takeoff and saw that it broke ground at about 50 seconds after brake release and they raised the gear at about one minute after brake release.

And so, to simplify this: From brake release, the F-15 can be at 30,000 in the time that a typical airliner is just raising its nose on the runway. Forty. Eight. Point. Eight. Seconds.

The F-15 has a thrust-to-weight ratio of greater than one, which means it can accelerate going perfectly vertical, like a ballistic rocket.

Now that, my friends, is the ultimate in “steep.”

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

How Is a Sunscreen's SPF Calculated?

Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

I’m a pale person. A very pale person. Which means that during these hot summer months, I carry sunscreen with me at all times, and apply it liberally. But I’ve never really understood what those SPF numbers meant, so I asked some sun care to break it down for me—and to tell me how to best apply the stuff so that I can make it through the summer without looking like a lobster.

Soaking up the sun ... safely

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it indicates a sunscreen’s ability to block UVB rays. The concept was pioneered at the Coppertone Solar Research Center in 1972; in 1978, the FDA published an SPF method based on Coppertone’s system, according to Dr. David Leffell, chief of Dermatologic Surgery and Cutaneous Oncology at Yale.

The numbers themselves stand for the approximate measure of time a person who has applied the sunscreen can stay out in the sun without getting burned. Say you get burned after 20 minutes in the sun without sunscreen; if properly applied (and reapplied), SPF 30 will allow you to stay in the sun 30 times longer without burning than if you were wearing no protection at all. So, theoretically, you should have approximately 600 minutes, or 10 hours, in the sun. But it’s not an exact science because the amount of UV light that reaches us depends on a number of factors, including cloud cover, the time of day, and the reflection of UV rays off the ground, so it’s generally recommended that you reapply sunscreen every two hours (or even sooner).

What gives a sunscreen a higher SPF comes down to the product’s formulation. “It’s possible that an SPF 50 might contain slightly more of one or more sunscreen active ingredients to achieve that higher SPF,” Dr. Patricia Agin, president of Agin Suncare Consulting, says. “But it’s also possible that the SPF 50 might contain an additional active ingredient to help boost the SPF performance to SPF 50.”

No matter what SPF your sunscreen is, you’ll still get a burn if it’s not properly applied. So let’s go over how to do that.

How to apply sunscreen

First, make sure you have a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen—which means that it protects against both UVB and UVA radiation—with an SPF of at least 30. “Typically, you don’t have to buy sunscreen that has an SPF higher than that unless you have very sun sensitive skin,” Leffell says. “That’s a very small percentage of the population.” (Redheads, people with light eyes, and those who turn pink after just a few minutes in the sun—you’ll want to load up on SPF above 30.)

Twenty minutes before you go out to the beach or the pool, begin to apply your sunscreen in an even coat. “Don’t apply it like icing on a cake,” Leffell says. “I see these patients and they’ve got the tops of their ears covered with thick, unevenly applied sunscreen, and that’s not a good sign.” Sunscreen sprays will easily give you that even coat you need.

Whether you’re using lotion or a spray, when it comes time to apply, Leffell recommends starting with your scalp and face, even if you plan on wearing a hat. “Make sure you’ve covered the ears and nose and under the eyes,” Leffell says. “Then, I would move down to the shoulders, and make sure that someone can apply the sunscreen on your back beyond the reach of your hands.”

Other areas that are important that you may forget to cover, but shouldn’t, are the tops of your feet, the backs of your hands, and your chest. “We see it all the time now—the v of the chest in women has become a socially and aesthetically huge issue when they are 50 and beyond. Because even though they can treat their faces with all sorts of cosmetics and procedures, the chest is much harder, and they are stuck with the face of a 40-year-old and the chest of a 60-year-old. You want to avoid that using sunscreen.”

Another important thing to keep in mind: Water-resistant doesn’t mean waterproof. “I always tell patients to reapply every couple of hours while you’re active outdoors," Leffell says, "and always reapply when you come out of the water or if you’ve been sweating a lot, regardless of whether the label says water resistant."

Determining whether or not you’ve succeeded in properly applying your sunscreen is easy: “You know you’re applying your sunscreen properly if, after the first time you’ve used it, you haven’t gotten a burn,” Leffell says.

Agin has a caveat, though: "It’s not a good idea to think of sunscreens only as a way to extend your time in the sun," she says. "One must also understand that even before becoming sunburned, your skin is receiving UV exposure that causes other damage to the skin. At the end of the 600 minutes, you will have accrued enough UV to cause a sunburn—one Minimal Erythema Dose or MED—but there is pre-MED damage done to skin cells’ DNA and to the skin’s supporting structure of collagen and elastin that is not visible and happens even before you sunburn. These types of damage can occur without sunburning. So you can’t measure all the damage done to your skin by only being concerned about sunburn."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us atbigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2014.

What's the Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato?

iStock/Getty Images/zoff-photo
iStock/Getty Images/zoff-photo

'Tis the season for beach reads, tan lines, and ice-cold desserts. You know it's summer when going to the local ice cream or gelato shop becomes part of your daily routine. But, what exactly is the difference between these two frozen treats?

One of the key differences between the two is butterfat. While ice cream's main ingredients include milk, cream, sugar, and egg yolks, the secret to making gelato is to use much less cream and sometimes little to no egg yolk. This leads to a much smaller percentage of butterfat in gelato. The FDA rules say that ice cream cannot contain less than 10 percent milkfat (though it can go as high as 25 percent) while gelato, much like soft serve, stays in the 4- to 9-percent range.

The churning method for both also differs, which affects the treat's density. Ice cream is churned at a much faster pace, leading to more air being whipped into the mixture. Ice cream's higher butterfat content comes into play here—due to all of that milkfat, the mix absorbs the air more readily. Gelato, on the other hand, is churned at a slower pace and absorbs far less air, creating a much denser dessert.

You also might have noticed that the serving style for the two treats aren't the same, either. In order to get those perfectly stacked ice cream scoops on a cone, buckets of ice cream must be stored at around 0°F to maintain its consistency, while the softer gelato is stored at a warmer 10°F to 22°F. Ice cream is then scooped into fairly uniform balls with the round ice cream scooper, whereas a spade or paddle is best for molding gelato into mound in a cup or a cone.

You can't really go wrong with either gelato or ice cream on a sweltering summer day, but there is one more difference to keep in mind while you debate which to get: taste. If you want a bolder flavor, you'll want to go with gelato. Because of the density of the cream and because there's less butterfat to coat your taste buds, gelato can seem to have more intensity to its flavors.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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