Recent developments in the world of aviation news have seen Boeing and Airbus take contrasting approaches regarding gliders. While the US manufacturer isn’t interested in making such aircraft, its European rival plans to deploy them in research missions. With this in mind, why don ‘t we take a look bac at various instances where, for various reasons, commercial jets have had to act as gliders?
British Airways flight 9
One of the most famous instances of a commercial flight having to glide due to a loss of engine power involved a British Airways Boeing 747 registered as G-BDXH. In June 1982, this quadjet was flying a multi-leg route from London to Auckland when , on the Kuala Lumpur-Perth sector, it flew through a volcanic ash cloud.
This had arisen due to the eruption of Mount Galunggung in West Java, Indonesia. As the plane came into contact with the volcanic ash, it scratched the windscreen in a manner that resembled an atmospheric electric field known as St Elmo’s Fire. Meanwhile, it also entered the cabin and, crucially, the Boeing 747’s engines.
This caused the turbofans to flame out one by one, forcing the jumbo jet into a glide. Thankfully, after the aircraft began to descend out of the ash cloud, engine start procedures eventually succeeded. Following this, it diverted to Jakarta for an emergency landing , bringing the story of the’Galunggung Glider’ to a close.
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Air Canada flight 143
It seems that the early 1980s were something of a hotspot for notable gliding incidents, as, just over a year after British Airways flight 9 had to glide due to a power loss, a similar situation befell Air Canada flight 143. This was a domestic service from Montréal to Edmonton via Ottawa, operated by a Boeing 767 (C-GAUN).
However, the manner in which it had to glide back down to earth was rather different to that experienced by the BA flight. Indeed, instead of encountering a volcanic ash cloud, its engines failed due to fuel exhaustion. This came about due to a refueling error which was the result of confusion between pounds and kilograms.
As such, nowhere near enough fuel was loaded, and the tanks ran dry on the Ottawa-Edmonton leg. This forced the aircraft into a lengthy glide. Having initially aimed to divert to Winnipeg, the flight ended up landing at the former RCAF Station Gimli Despite this closed base now serving as a race track, the 767 landed there safely, and the incident has since become known as the’Gimli Glider.’
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Air Transat flight 236
Moving into the 21st century, there was another notable gliding incident involving a Canadian carrier. Air Transat flight 236 was an Airbus A330-operated service from Toronto to Lisbon, and it found itself in a sticky situation when, in August 2001, it suffered fuel exhaustion over the Atlantic Ocean. The reason for this was a fuel leak, which came about due to improper maintenance procedures.
The aircraft had already chosen to divert to Lajes Airport in the Azores when the first engine failed. However, 120 km (75 miles) out, the second engine also flamed out, forcing it to glide the rest of the way there. This distance saw Luckily, it made it to Lajes, where just 18 of the 306 people onboard were injured in its emergency landing.