the gimli glider

September 23, 2005

in Links, Science, Stories

OK, just one more post today. (I’m down to only one page of backlogged draft blog posts! woohoo!)

By now y’all have seen the footage of the JetBlue airplane that landed without incident in LAX a few days ago with the crooked landing gear. (or at least heard about it). In an online discussion about that landing elsewhere an acquaintance passed on Wade Nelson’s gripping, edge-of-the-seat account of the Gimli Glider, an Air Canada Boeing 767 in 1983 that ran out of fuel in mid-flight and had to glide all the way into a landing. How could they possibly have run out of fuel? The fuel gauge in the then-new 767 wasn’t working, so they refueled the plane using a more traditional, basic method — measuring the amount of fuel you have with a dipstick and determining how much you need based on mileage and weight. Except that the fuel weight is measured in kilograms. They did the conversion in pounds. They ended up with half as much fuel in the plane as they thought they had.
Math is hard. This page from the American Chemical Society explains the problem of fuel density in better detail.

Basically, everything totally went wrong on this flight that could possibly have gone wrong, and yet it still has a happy ending. Good read.

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