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Gimli Glider: How to glide a 767
February 21, 2006 7:27 PM   Subscribe

The impressive Gimli Glider. Yes, seriously: it can be a glider. An amazing story of a commercial pilot with mad emergency landing skillz.
posted by five fresh fish (42 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
You'll want to read a helicopter story, too.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:27 PM on February 21, 2006


Great story, and very well written.

As Pearson began gliding the big bird, Quintal "got busy" in the manuals looking for procedures for dealing with the loss of both engines. There were none.. Neither he nor Pearson nor any other 767 pilot had ever been trained on this contingency.

That's really disturbing. Why the hell not?
posted by brundlefly at 7:38 PM on February 21, 2006


oldie but a goodie
posted by damnitkage at 7:40 PM on February 21, 2006


That was rather gripping.
posted by Songdog at 7:44 PM on February 21, 2006


That's really disturbing. Why the hell not?

Perhaps the generally accepted procedure, plunge to your death, didn't scan so well.
posted by pompomtom at 7:55 PM on February 21, 2006


I can't believe they flew the plane without a working fuel gauge! And they knew the fuel gauge wasn't working, they thought they could figure out how much fuel was in there based on the leak pressure (or something).

A good Pilot wouldn't have agreed to fly the flight, IMO.
posted by delmoi at 7:58 PM on February 21, 2006


posted by delmoi I can't believe they flew the plane without a working fuel gauge! And they knew the fuel gauge wasn't working, they thought they could figure out how much fuel was in there based on the leak pressure (or something). A good Pilot wouldn't have agreed to fly the flight, IMO.

Well, you're wrong. I know a few commercial pilots, and they all regularly fly planes that are not in 100% perfect working order--instrumentation and mechanical failure is common but they have contingencies and backup plans for all sorts of situations and emergencies. This pilot wasn't good--he was fucking awesome.
posted by fandango_matt at 8:13 PM on February 21, 2006


Holy crap.

That was an excellent read. :)
posted by VirtualWolf at 8:19 PM on February 21, 2006


Funny that the mechanics dispatched to make repairs also run out of fuel .
posted by hortense at 8:26 PM on February 21, 2006


Awesome.
posted by ryanhealy at 8:38 PM on February 21, 2006


That aircraft is still in service with Air Canada today. I keep looking for it every time I fly on a 767.
posted by SSinVan at 8:45 PM on February 21, 2006


I had to stay overnight in chcago once because a lightbulb burned out. bleh.
posted by delmoi at 8:55 PM on February 21, 2006


Wikipedia has a bit on the glider, and references some other famous air accidents.
posted by Jerub at 9:10 PM on February 21, 2006


Wow, I'm really surprised that this story hasn't ever made it here before. There's even a made-for-tv movie about it, available at Netflix. Here is the IMDB link to it. The g/f & I rented it a few months ago. Of course they threw in some drama to spice it up, but kept to the storyline.

And delmoi: the dripstick is a very commonly used tool.
posted by drstein at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2006


Just another reason why the stupid frigging imperial system needs to be made illegal.
posted by wilful at 9:23 PM on February 21, 2006


(Same great story with plane photo and track diagram.)

Mt. Galunggung vs. British Airways 747 — Volcanic ash cloud at 37,000 feet causes all four engines to flame out. The plane, carrying 263 passengers and crew, falls 24,000 feet before the flight crew manages to restart one engine and save the flight.
posted by cenoxo at 9:32 PM on February 21, 2006


I can't believe they flew the plane without a working fuel gauge!

Pilots don't trust their fuel guage anyway, this isn't as bad as it may look. They routinely calculate what should be left based on the flight time/throttle percentage, and check the gauge, and then use whatever's less.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:32 PM on February 21, 2006


A good Pilot wouldn't have agreed to fly the flight, IMO.

Incorrect. A poor pilot would refuse to go up. A good pilot is BEYOND used to this sort of thing, goes up, and passengers are none the wiser. Short of losing the absolutely critical instruments (altimiter, airspeed, artificial horizon, etc.) there are so many redundancies built into every system that going up without something like fuel gauges is just *yawn*. You check them once during preflight and never look at them again. Losing the vertical speed indicator was a MUCH bigger deal than losing the fuel gauges; luckily the co-pilot was as good at his job as the pilot was at his.

Great article. Best retelling I've heard.
posted by ChasFile at 9:34 PM on February 21, 2006


But ChasFile, why concede one layer of redundancy before you ever leave the ground? I admittedly know nothing about planes, but how many redundant systems remained once the fuel gauges were out? Clearly one too few, no?
posted by misterbrandt at 9:43 PM on February 21, 2006


Great story. Definitely more upbeat than the one's in this book.
posted by Skygazer at 9:45 PM on February 21, 2006


misterbrandt: But ChasFile, why concede one layer of redundancy before you ever leave the ground? I admittedly know nothing about planes, but how many redundant systems remained once the fuel gauges were out? Clearly one too few, no?

This reminds me of all those AskMe questions about what to do if you don't have a third prong ground in the house...
posted by Chuckles at 9:59 PM on February 21, 2006


(clarification) Is it dangerous? How dangerous? Is a ground fault interrupter an adequate replacement for a ground wire?

They are all good questions :)
posted by Chuckles at 10:01 PM on February 21, 2006


Great link, great story. More absorbing than I thought it'd be after reading the first paragraph or two.
posted by wanderingmind at 10:40 PM on February 21, 2006


A good landing is one you can walk away from; a great landing is one you can use the plane again afterwards.

Another famous Canadian glider: Air Transat.
posted by angrybeaver at 11:42 PM on February 21, 2006


On Thursday nights at 8 p.m. in Japan, there's a show called "Unbelievable" presented by Beat Takeshi that featured this story a couple years ago. I guess it's only funny if you live here, but the same group of wooden gaijin actors play the roles in the reenactments every week, so the guy who was "Karl the Poisoner" last week is the nerves of steel hero pilot this week. Any Tokyo Mefites run into fat ponytail guy on the street? He's my favorite.
posted by planetkyoto at 12:44 AM on February 22, 2006


Wow, I'm really surprised that this story hasn't ever made it here before.

You're looking in the wrong places?
posted by NekulturnY at 12:47 AM on February 22, 2006


That was definitely a great story and a great post, but I'm kind of confused as to why they don't train for running out of fuel. Um. As previous commenters have said, you're always trained as a pilot to second- and third-guess yourself about fuel and always prepare for the possibility of running out -- so why not train for it in commercial airliners?

Awesome landing job, in any case.
posted by blacklite at 2:30 AM on February 22, 2006


Wasn't there something on The Discovery Channel about this? My son watches all those airline disaster shows and this sounds quite familiar.

I know I've seen ones about the AirTransat flight and the BA encounter with the volcano.
posted by hwestiii at 4:00 AM on February 22, 2006


Also, the issue of the lack of training for the loss of both engines might have had a little bit of a political or PR twist to it.

When the new generation of two-engine wide bodies came out in the 80's, there was a great deal of controversy over whether or not they were safe enough for trans-oceanic flight, which today, and presumably in the past, are some of the most profitable routes the airlines have.

There was a great deal of concern about what would happen if a plane suffered an engine loss 1000 miles out over the ocean. With a four engine plane, the safety margin was considered more acceptable than with only a single surviving engine. Of course the manufacturers did all they could to downplay the likelihood that this would ever happen.

There was even an acronym coined to describe this concern: ETOPS. Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim.

It could be that explicitly acknowledging this circumstance in pilot training was considered contradictory to the corporate missions of selling and flying the planes.
posted by hwestiii at 4:14 AM on February 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


Haha, I love this story. I especially love that they landed right in the middle of a car club race day. Whose more prepared for random firey disaster than car racers? Somewhere there is a pic of the drivers running towards the giant jet with handheld fire extinguishers. If it were a story, I'd never believe it.
posted by Skorgu at 4:26 AM on February 22, 2006


There was even an acronym coined to describe this concern: ETOPS. Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim.

Old joke, but real acronym. ETOPS: Extended Twin OPERations.

The old rule is that a twinjet, like the 737 and DC-9, had to fly routes that kept them within one hour of a sutiable airport at all times. In the 1960s and 1970s, this was a big limitiation -- there weren't many legal cross country routes. Thus, planes like the three engined 727, DC-10 and L-1011, which didn't have the restriction.

Over time, though, engines became much better. The 767 and A300 were the first planes built for ETOPS -- instead of being one hour away, they could be two hours away. This not only made cross country routes trivial, it put Europe into play. ETOPS has been extended again (180 minutes) and the 777-200LR is going for 205 minutes. As part of the proving process, a 777-300ER flew for five hours on one engine.

As to the glider -- the pilots both screwed up badly, and were brilliant. They did measure the fuel, with floatsticks, but they screwed up converting from liters of fuel to pounds of fuel, when they needed to covert from liters of fuel to kilograms of fuel.

Thus, the computer told them they had plenty of fuel, as did their calculations, and given that they'd measured the fuel themselves, they went with those numbers.

Oops.

Neither he nor Pearson nor any other 767 pilot had ever been trained on this contingency.

Because you need lots of training to do so, and most of that time is spent teaching you not to run out of fuel. Fortunatly, this is where luck favored Air Canada. The three huge bits of luck. The pilot was, in fact, a glider pilot. He quickly made an educated guess, pitched the craft to hold 220kts, and found himself with a 12:1 glide ratio. This was the second bit of luck -- turns out the 767 is really quite a good glider. If this had been a 727, they'd hit the ground hard. Alas, even with that glide, they weren't going to make Edmunton. Bit three of luck jumps in -- the copilot was stationed at Gimli CAFB back in the day, and realized they could make it. After some dramatic manuvers, the plane made a safe landing (without a locked nosegear) at the old runway at Gimli.

ObIrony: The ground crew sent to recover the plane got lost and ran out of gas.
posted by eriko at 5:40 AM on February 22, 2006 [1 favorite]


If any of you folks are ever up here, you should really go to Gimli. It's the nicest little town, and it's the largest concentration of Icelandic people outside of Iceland itself.

Come around August 4th and you can experience Islendingadagurinn, the Icelandic Festival. The second longest running ethnic festval in North America.

Another interesting Gimli fact: For the movie 'K-19: The Widowmaker', all the scenes of the submarine's conning tower sticking out of the north ice packs were actually filmed in a field in Gimli. In the winter, it is so flat and white that it is indistinguishable for an ice-packed ocean. At least from a film perspective.

I was in Gimli when they were filming, and everyone was in a tizzy over Harrison Ford's arrival in town. According to all the people I spoke with, he was quite the gentleman as well.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:48 AM on February 22, 2006


A good Pilot wouldn't have agreed to fly the flight, IMO.

Not true. I've flown planes with non-working fuel gages. A good pilot measures the amount of fuel before he starts up the engine and keeps track in-flight through reasonable calculations of the burn rate and so on. Sure, working fuel gages makes this easy but you could lose your electrical system at any point - so measuring beforehand gives you a needed back-up plan. I pilot who decides not to fly because of a faulty fuel gage is probably following some company rule for litigation reasons.

Of course, one always needs to keep units in mind.
posted by Qubit at 7:55 AM on February 22, 2006


You'll want to read a helicopter story, too.

Those people would be dead today. Their Leatherman would be sitting along with mine, confiscated by security back at the airport.

Mind you, they may still come in handy when rock climbing in the desert.


posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:56 AM on February 22, 2006


As Pearson began gliding the big bird, Quintal "got busy" in the manuals looking for procedures for dealing with the loss of both engines. There were none.. Neither he nor Pearson nor any other 767 pilot had ever been trained on this contingency. That's really disturbing. Why the hell not?

Perhaps the generally accepted procedure, plunge to your death, didn't scan so well.


Very funny, but seriously thinking about it the manual should have included gliding, if only because one of the parts (the 'RAT') is basically there for fuel-less steering, and props to Boeing for being concientious enough to include it.
posted by uni verse at 9:21 AM on February 22, 2006


Gimli doesn't look like he could glide very far.



"I cannot jump the distance, you'll have to toss me."
posted by kirkaracha at 9:36 AM on February 22, 2006



I thought this was about another loss of engines due to loss of fuel, so I was surprised to read about this incident. Had never heard of it before. Thanks for the post.

I found an article to the one I was thinking about (it is at the very bottom of this page) I remember when this story was reported, one of the passengers talked about how quiet the plane was - now each time I am at 30-something thousand feet I grin at hearing the hum of the engines.

The Airbus 330 became a virtual glider when all the fuel tanks were empty, causing both the engines to quit on them. It was very fortunate that they were able to glide towards the airport at night and touched down safely on the two mile-long runway.
posted by fluffycreature at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2006


Awesome story.

I have now and again tried to find details online of a pilot who managed to fly and land safely in a jet (737 I think) which lost all control in the tailplane, meaning he controlled the plane with the throttles and flaps, which is theoretically impossible. When the same scenario was tested in a simulator to establish procedures for other pilots to follow, he could never make it work again, nor could any other pilot. Sometimes things are just meant to happen that way.
posted by dg at 12:41 PM on February 22, 2006


The third FPP link mentions "an even better retelling of the Gimli glider story (pdf)". But the pdf link gives a 404. Fortunately, the Internet Archive has preserved a copy:
Williams, Merran. "The 156-tonne Gimli Glider." Flight Safety Australia July-August 2003: 22-27.
posted by ryanrs at 2:55 PM on February 22, 2006


Thanks!
posted by five fresh fish at 4:12 PM on February 22, 2006


Interesting snippet from the PDF:
Pearson is relieved that he wasn’t flying an Airbus. “You can’t sideslip an Airbus aircraft, the computers won’t let you,” he says. “Boeing aircraft are capable because they’re a hydraulic-controlled aircraft and you can cross control."
Y'know, in the end I think I'm a bit more comfortable if the pilots can ultimately take absolute control. The big problem with computers is that they just aren't flexible about things. Not conducive to last-ditch efforts.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:21 PM on February 22, 2006


I have now and again tried to find details online of a pilot who managed to fly and land safely in a jet (737 I think) which lost all control in the tailplane, meaning he controlled the plane with the throttles and flaps, which is theoretically impossible.

Dg, are you thinking of UA232?
posted by brool at 10:45 PM on February 22, 2006


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