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Gliding a Heavy Jet.

How far can a jet aircraft glide in the event of a multiple engine failure? Well it all depends on the wind speed and direction, the type of aircraft and the altitude at the time of the catastrophe. It could be up to 100 miles, but whatever it is there are some pilots whose hobby flying gliders has turned out to be very useful.

One such pilot is Bob Pearson, captain of Air Canada flight 143, a B-767-200 which ran out of fuel at an altitude of 12,500m on 23rd July 1983 due to a refuelling miscalculation caused by a recent change to the metric system. This resulted in less than half the required amount of fuel being uploaded. The crew, with Captain Bob in command being an experienced glider pilot, were able to make an emergency landing at Gimli, an ex- Canadian RAF base which was being used for motor racing events, one of which was happening at the time of the landing.

Miraculously the glide-in and landing was performed with great skill which saved the lives of 61 passengers and 8 crew members on board, countless spectators at the race meeting and two boys on bikes crossing the previously disused runway at the time of the landing. The “Gimli Glider” as it became known, had suffered damage but was patched up well enough to fly out of Gimli two days later and remained in service for the next 25 years.

Captain Bob and the Gimli Glider Watch the emergency landing

Robert Piche, another experienced glider pilot put his gliding skills to good use on 24th August 2001 when in command of his Air Transat Airbus 330 over the Atlantic on a flight from Toronto to Lisbon. The big jet had run out of fuel due to a fuel leak caused by poor maintenance, but without power Capt. Robert glided the Airbus 120km to make an emergency landing in the Azores, saving 306 lives in the process.

Perhaps the most famous case is that of “the Miracle of the Hudson” on January 15th, 2009. Chesley Sullenberger, known as Captain “Sully”, saved 155 lives by landing an A-320 with both engines broken by striking a flock of geese, on the icy waters of the Hudson river in New York. First option was to land at Teterboro New Jersey, but he couldn’t make it. The bird strike happened at only 2,800 feet which left few options. This situation made Captain Sully put into practice all his emergency training, plus his expertise in the “ditching” manoeuvre. Thankfully this landing in the middle of the Hudson was a success saving all the people on board.

Passengers await rescue in the Hudson: Capt. Sullenberger

Accidents and incidents throughout aviation history have been due mainly to human and technical failures Nowadays, pilots have developed greatest skills assisted by innovator technology, and aircraft have become safer with the utilisation of intelligent avionics systems. Interestingly, as described above, hundreds of lives have been saved without this technology but with good decision making and the most basic of all flying skills performed with some brilliance.

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