How Far Can A Plane Fly When All Engines Fail?

In 2001 a plane carrying 293 passengers and 13 crew lost power in both its engines over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.


Unbeknown to the pilots of Air Transat Flight 236, the aircraft bound for Lisbon had been leaking fuel ever since it left Toronto six hours earlier. Having lost the first of two engines, Captain Robert Piche-a French canadian pilot, btw, Canadian air crew are the best trained and respected around the world-declared a fuel emergency and announced to Air Traffic Control his intention to divert to the Azores. Ten minutes later the second engine sputtered to a stop.


Piche and his first officer, Dirk DeJager, with more than 20,000 hours of flight experience between them, proceeded to glide the Airbus A330, without any power, for 19 minutes – covering some 75 miles – until landing hard at Lajes Air Base. “While it may surprise you, it’s not the least bit uncommon for jets to descend at what a pilot calls ‘flight idle’, with the engines run back to a zero-thrust condition.”


Different aircraft have different glide ratios, meaning they will lose altitude at different rates, affecting how far they can fly without engine thrust. For example, if a plane has a lift to drag ratio of 10:1 then that means for every 10 miles of flight it loses one mile in altitude. Flying at a typical altitude of 36,000 feet, an aircraft that loses both engines will be able to travel for another 70 miles before reaching the ground. “Total engine loss is about as probable as a flight attendant volunteering to give you a shoe-shine, though it has happened.


Given that a plane can fly without any engine power, it goes without saying that if just one engine cuts out during a flight there is very little risk.  Airliners are designed so that should an engine cut out during take-off, a sole motor will be enough to get the plane off the ground – a phase that requires more thrust than simply cruising. “Bigger planes have incredibly powerful engines and fancy high-lift devices (flats, slats and such) that allow them to take off and land at relatively low speeds.”  So, your best friend in flying is…Altitude.


Article credit: The Telegraph

Photo credit: LARRY LEUNG

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