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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 '14 at 3:03
Avoid a heavy meal before a flight. –  Farhan Mar 25 '14 at 13:02
Something like that also happens when you go down in a fast elevator because of inertia. –  user1306322 Mar 25 '14 at 13:37
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 '14 at 14:59

3 Answers 3

up vote 30 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! :-)


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 '14 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 '14 at 18:38
@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 '14 at 0:06
@Speldosa The airplane has to speed up before the flaps are brought up (retracted) so they typically level off in order to speed up. Once they are going fast enough, they retract them! –  Lnafziger Mar 29 '14 at 0:08
@Lnafziger A better "car equivalent" would be quick levelling after a steep hill, IMHO. –  yo' Mar 12 at 17:03

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 '14 at 12:30
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 '14 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 '14 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 '14 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 '14 at 21:59

This question is about 1 year old and already has good answers.

However, I like to track my flights with the GPS module of my mobile, which also records altitude. I'd like to share the data of a short haul flight, which also shows the effect:

enter image description here

After takeoff at 1:00, the first "funny-stomach-drop" occured after just 1 minute and 500m above ground, another at 5:00 and 3500m.

It is as said, the aircraft did not fall all the time. The climb rate just decreased to a lower, still positive value for a moment. This causes the same feeling like an upwards moving elevator, which stops at a certain floor.

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Remember that GPS being on in the cabin is generally frowned upon (it's a "radio receiver"). –  yo' Mar 12 at 17:08
It depends. Due to new regulations, electronic devices are allowed to be switched on "from gate to gate" on some flights (depending on carrier / aircraft). Any transmitters like bluetooth and wireless must be switched off, mobiles must be in "flight mode". As GPS is receiving only, it even works in flight mode. So, this is fine. It is really fun to see towns etc. through the window while a map on the mobile shows you their names etc. (I also once got a warning due to overspeed and a speed camera ahead...) –  sweber Mar 12 at 19:28
@sweber, what kind of phone do you have, and do you use a readily available GPS app? Or is this a custom thing you wrote yourself to log the data? This is something I've been wanting to do on training flights but I can't find a good app. (Perhaps because I have a windows phone.) –  elrobis Sep 21 at 17:31
@elrobis: I've a Oneplus One (Android) and use OpenGpsTracker with fine (every second) position recording. The app can draw speed/altitude over time/distance, but can also export the collected data as GPX file (de-facto standard for such data). For this plot, I converted such a GPX file to a plain table using gpsbabel (linux tool) and draw the data using gnuplot. (Excel would be fine, too). But there are many apps out there which may be more suitable for you. –  sweber Sep 21 at 18:52
@elrobis: Another nice app: Mapfactor Navigator is a free navigation app (for cars) which allows to download maps from OpenStreetMap and use them offline. This is nice when exploring a country on vacation, as you don't need to take your car navi with you, and that navi may not know that country. This app also is nice in an aircraft to know where you are, what that city below you is etc. Unfortunately, it's not able to just record your current journey. And... switch off the speed camera warning. It's a bit odd when it claims that your 900km/h is a bit over the speed limit of the road below you. –  sweber Sep 21 at 19:03

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