Pushing the Envelope


fighter planesIt would be fun to go out on the street and ask the average person what pushing the envelope means.

I expect many would say something like this: Because the average person thinks of an envelope as something a bill comes in, pushing the envelope would be kind of like pushing the check to the other person when you are at dinner and you want them to pay.  Wouldn’t it be fun to ask people this?

Well, you probably know that’s not the intended meaning, but you might not know this:  The idiom comes from aviation where the “envelope” defines the limits of a plane’s performance.  There are precise limits of speed, stress, pilot physical limits, etc. that all go into defining the limits that a plane can and should be flown.  Some of you probably know that without a flight suit keeping the blood flow to the brain, pilots would black out in some maneuvers.  Even so, most pilots “gray out” in these extreme events.

Top Gun pilots tend to fly routinely at this edge, in part because it is tactically superior during dogfights.  They literally have to forget about their own safety or that of the aircraft.  Unfortunately, this can lead to disaster.  These individuals are then often selected as test pilots for new aircraft designs because they are so skilled they can make up for flaws in the controls and performance of the new planes.

According to Wikipedia, a test pilot must be able to:

1. Understand a test plan; stick to a test plan, flying a plane in a highly specific way;
2. Carefully document the results of each test;
3. Have an excellent feel for the aircraft, and sense exactly how it is behaving oddly if it is doing so;
4. Solve problems quickly if anything goes wrong with the aircraft during a test;
5. Cope with many different things going wrong at once.
6. Effectively communicate flight test observations to engineers and relate engineering results to the pilot community, thus bridging the gap between those who design and build aircraft with those who employ the aircraft to accomplish a mission.

Seems like a very well thought out idea for energy companies to follow as they are confronted with the equivalent of a new plane operating in a new environment.








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