Thursday, December 29, 2016

Glide Slope

If you have insufficient altitude or airspeed, any minor problem becomes a big one.  Finances are the same way.


A Russian military version of the Tupolev T-154 airliner recently crashed, and they are still sorting out why the crash happened.   After hearing the cockpit voice recorder, some are suspecting some kind of physical fault with the flaps.   But it could have been a matter of pilot error.  This transcript is illuminating:

Co-Pilot: "Speed 300 (inaudible)."
Pilot: "(Inaudible)."
Co-Pilot: "I've pulled in the landing gear, commander."
Pilot: "(Inaudible)."
Co-Pilot: "Oh bloody hell!"
Piercing alarm sounds
Pilot: "The flaps, hell, what a…!"
Co-Pilot: "The altimeter [altitude meter]!"
Pilot: "We're in… (inaudible)."
Alarm sounds about dangerous proximity to the ground
Pilot: "(Inaudible)."
Co-Pilot:  "Commander we're falling!"

This could have been a problem with the flaps - one retracting while another remains extended, causing the plan to roll in one direction.   Or it could have been the co-pilot yanking on the flap lever - retracting the flaps prematurely, instead of yanking on the landing gear lever.  This is my theory, as it happens more often than you think, particularly in planes where the levers are near one another.  Note how the problem starts right after he says, "I've pulled in the landing gear, commander."  Whoops, wrong lever!

Or, it could have been they forgot to set the flaps - it has also been known to happen, and planes fall out of the sky as a result of the lack of lift, even as they rise off the runway.

Either way, the plane would have survived such a flight scenario if it was at altitude.  If you have sufficient altitude, you can recover from unusual situations, such as a stall, which is likely what happened to the airliner as the airspeed fell below the level needed to sustain flight.  Point the nose down, gain airspeed, and you're back in business.   But during takeoffs and landings, you have to have altitude to swap for speed, and that's what these two events are the most dangerous part of an airline flight.

In fiances, the same is true.   You need to gain enough altitude to be able to glide to your destination later in life.   And in this case, altitude is your savings and investments.   If you have enough saved up, you can glide to retirement even with both engines out - never having to work again.   Gain enough altitude, and you'll go into orbit - creating enough wealth that you can't spend the income from it fast enough - enough wealth to support yourself (or your heirs) perpetually. 

Airspeed is thus analogous to income.   If you are earning big bucks, you have a lot of thrust and can choose to either go fast (spend money on bling) but stay low to the ground (have a low net worth) or trade speed for altitude by climbing up into the sky (increasing savings and investments).  Once at cruising altitude, you can trade altitude for airspeed.  Thus, the higher you go, the safer you generally are, until you enter the coffin corner, but then again, that would be torturing my airplane analogies far enough.

It is sad what happened to those folks on the airliner.   I am curious as to whether it was an actual mechanical failure or pilot (or in this case, co-pilot) error.   I am sure further examination of the wreckage and the black boxes will yield an answer shortly.  I find it kind of odd that people are jumping to conclusions based on an audio transcript that can be interpreted a number of ways.

But it struck me - as it has in the past - that the analogy between altitude and speed versus savings and income is an apt one.   Flying close to the ground - even at high speed - isn't safe simply because it leaves you with few options - and not much reaction time - if something goes horribly wrong.

Living "paycheck to paycheck" is doing just that.  You are airborne, but hardly flying.  One false move and it all comes crashing to the ground!

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