Deadstick landing

Deadstick landing

[ded-stik]

A deadstick landing, also called a dead-stick landing or forced landing, occurs when an aircraft loses all of its propulsive power and is forced to land. The term is a misnomer, as the flight controls in the majority of aircraft are either fully or partially functional, even with no engine power. So it is not the “stick” (flight control actuator) that is “dead”, but rather the engine(s).

All fixed-wing aircraft have some capability to glide with no engine power; that is, they do not sink straight down like a stone, but rather continue to glide horizontally while descending. After a loss of power, the pilot’s goal is to fly the descending aircraft to the most suitable landing spot within gliding distance, and then land with the least amount of damage possible. The area open for potential landing sites depends on the original altitude and the engine-out gliding capabilities of the aircraft.

The success of the deadstick landing largely depends on the availability of suitable landing areas. A competent pilot gliding a relatively light, slow plane to a flat field or runway should result in an otherwise normal landing. A heavier, faster aircraft or a plane gliding into mountains and/or trees could result in substantial damage.

There have been several instances of large jet airliners successfully doing a deadstick landing:

  1. Gimli Glider: An Air Canada Boeing 767, ran out of fuel en route from Montreal to Edmonton. The plane had insufficient glide range to complete a diversion to Winnipeg, but the crew managed to make a successful dead stick landing at an abandoned airfield at Gimli, where a car rally was underway on the runway.
  2. Air Transat Flight 236: An Air Transat Airbus A330 also ran out of fuel while flying across the North Atlantic, from Toronto to Lisbon. The crew glided the aircraft over 100 miles and made a deadstick landing at a military air base in the Azores.
  3. Hapag-Lloyd Flight 3378: An A310 en route from Greece to Germany experienced a landing gear problem and subsequent fuel depletion, resulting in a deadstick landing in Vienna.

With helicopters, a forced landing involves autorotation, since the helicopter glides by allowing its rotor to spin freely during the descent thus generating lift.

When a pilot makes an emergency landing of an aircraft that has some or all of its propulsive power still available, it is known as a precautionary landing, or practiced force landing.

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