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Right after take off 1-2 minutes into flight I get this stomach drop "roller coaster" feeling for split second. It freaks people out thinking they are about to crash! Why is that??

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It is your body interpreting unfamiliar accelerations. –  casey Mar 25 at 3:03
    
Avoid a heavy meal before a flight. –  Farhan Mar 25 at 13:02
    
Something like that also happens when you go down in a fast elevator because of inertia. –  user1306322 Mar 25 at 13:37
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Your stomach is an accelerometer, just like your ears are barometers, your skin is a thermometer, your nose (might be) a weak compass, etc. –  Brian S Mar 25 at 14:59

2 Answers 2

up vote 23 down vote accepted

It happens when the airplane levels off after takeoff, usually either at the first assigned altitude or at a safe altitude where it will be accelerated in order to retract the flaps. The feeling is a result of negative vertical acceleration. It can also happen at other times during the flight, such as during turbulence or when starting a descent.

Basically you and the airplane are both in a steady climb and when the aircraft levels off you continue to move up faster so it (via the seatbelt) keeps you at its same level and decelerates your own personal vertical climb.

It is just like the feeling you get in a roller coaster.

My wife calls it a wee-hill! :-)


EDIT:

Another more familiar example happens anytime that you are traveling in a car:

If you are in a car moving at a constant speed (let's say 55 MPH) you are moving at the same speed along with it.

When the brakes of the car are engaged, they slow the car down but your inertia tends to keep you moving in the direction that the car was going. This will be more noticeable as the brakes are applied harder and harder because the deceleration of the car is more extreme.

You will notice this as pressure against the seat belt as the car holds you in place. You are still moving forward, but you are getting slower (decelerating). In an airplane the exact same thing is happening only it is in a vertical direction instead of a horizontal direction like in the car.

What you are feeling is your stomach floating up a little inside your body, because while the seat belt is holding you down, it doesn't hold your stomach in place!

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Why isn't it possible to make this transition less sudden, making it barely unnoticeable for the passengers? –  Speldosa Mar 28 at 18:21
    
@Speldosa It is! Much like in a car, the more abrupt the level off, the stronger the feeling. It is very much dependant on pilot/autopilot technique and you will notice differences from flight to flight. –  Lnafziger Mar 28 at 18:38
    
"It happens when the airplane levels off after takeoff, usually either at the first assigned altitude or at a safe altitude where it will be accelerated in order to retract the flaps." - I don't quite understand what you mean here. –  Speldosa Mar 28 at 23:39
    
You're saying that this happens when the airplane levels off, but you're also saying that it is "negative vertical acceleration" (i.e, falling). I'm so confused right now ;( –  Speldosa Mar 28 at 23:40
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@Speldosa Negative vertical acceleration doesn't mean that you are falling. Initially, you are in a steady climb (acceleration is 0 even though you are climbing). Then, as it starts to level, the climb starts reducing so you get negative acceleration until you level off and are no longer climbing. Then the acceleration again becomes 0. –  Lnafziger Mar 29 at 0:06

Once in the climb, the flaps are retracted from the take off setting, the rate of climb reduces, then slowly increases again as the reduced drag allows the plane to go faster.

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This is what I thought, and that's why I originally tagged this question with "flaps" tag but it was since modified –  KORD4me Mar 25 at 12:30
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That's one possible cause of the feeling, but not the only one. (For example, in the light aircraft I fly you generally don't use flaps for takeoff, but we still reduce pitch and rate of climb once there's a safe distance between the plane and the ground. If I'm less-gentle-than-usual in doing that, or in leveling off for cruise, you'll still get that "floating" feeling.) –  voretaq7 Mar 25 at 15:50
    
@KORD4me I removed the flap tag because the question, even if the answer involved the flaps, is not about the flaps. If the question were specifically about how the flaps affected this, then you would want to get the "flap experts" involved and the tag would be appropriate. –  Lnafziger Mar 25 at 21:16
    
@Lnafziger, maybe this is not the right place, but how should we handle questions with multiple suspicions or sub questions? For instance, would I need to create separate questions for each suspected "hunch" as the answer and tag them separately? I tagged it with flaps specifically for flap experts to give their opinion. Should I modify the original question to include more "hunches"? –  KORD4me Mar 25 at 23:18
    
@KORD4me If you had specifically asked in the question "Is this caused by the flaps" or something, then the flap tag would be appropriate! :) –  Lnafziger Mar 26 at 21:59

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