Why It’s So Hard For Planes To Land On Water
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Why It’s So Hard For Planes To Land On Water

October 13, 2019


On January 15, 2009,
US Airways Flight 1549 flew into a flock of Canadian geese shortly after taking off from
New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The plane lost all engine power
while flying over Manhattan. Their options? Attempt to land on the Hudson River or crash into one of the
densest cities in the US. Clip: I don’t know. I think he said he was going in the Hudson. Narrator: Thanks to clear
conditions, expert piloting, and a quick response from emergency crews, all 150 passengers survived. You may have heard this story before, but it’s not the only time something like this has happened. And despite that success, landing a plane on the water
is extremely dangerous. Ditching is a controlled
emergency landing on water. It can be caused by almost anything, but usually it’s because of engine failure or running out of fuel. Pilots only decide to ditch an aircraft when there is no better alternative. Despite the difficulty, pilots don’t undergo extensive
training on ditching. Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot
of US Airways Flight 1549, told The Telegraph in 2018: Carolina Anderson: You
really don’t practice, not even in the airplane or in the simulator, but most airlines will
cover it in training. But it’s not something that is mandated for every airplane. Narrator: That’s Carolina Anderson. She’s an associate professor
of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Anderson pointed out that it’s rare to have to ditch an airplane. Anderson: It’s not something
that is very common. You see them in smaller
airplanes more often, in big airliners not very often. Narrator: Planes are usually
tested using simulations, rather than actual bodies of water. The aircraft needs to float long enough for passengers to evacuate. But pilots have to worry about
more than just the plane. Unlike landing on a runway,
there are a lot of variables that are out of the pilot’s control. The most obvious is the waves. The larger the waves, the
more dangerous the landing. Pilots try to land parallel to the waves, instead of across them, so the waves don’t push the plane around, which could cause damage to the plane, injure passengers, and make
evacuating more difficult. Like in 1956, when Pan
Am Flight 6 had to ditch in the Pacific between
Honolulu and San Francisco. Upon landing, a wing hit a swell, rotating the plane 180 degrees, damaging the nose, and
breaking off the tail. Luckily, everyone survived. While ditching, pilots have
to keep the wings level and maintain an incoming angle that’s not too steep to
prevent a hard impact. Inside the plane, the
passengers will be told to brace for impact. And anything loose in the cabin
will need to be tied down. Another huge factor is the weather. Clear conditions give
a pilot better control over the aircraft and
increased visibility. Pilots balance all of these variables in order to prevent the
aircraft from breaking apart. If a plane breaks upon impact, there is a huge risk of flooding. Anderson: You’re not going
to float for very long, and if you land too hard,
the chances of breaking it are very high because
water is going to get in and it’s going to start sinking. Narrator: And if a plane flips over, flooding will occur much faster. Anderson: Basically, you
want to touch down as slow and as soft as possible. If the airplane has
retractable landing gear, you want the gear to be up and you want the flaps
to be completely down. Narrator: If the landing is successful, the next step is getting
everyone off the plane. Which has to happen quickly, since the Federal Aviation
Administration requires planes to be able to be evacuated
within 90 seconds. Thankfully, modern planes are equipped with a bunch of safety features to help passengers if an aircraft is ditched. Commercial planes use
rafts and flotation devices like life preservers. They also come with flares
and emergency radios. Airplanes are designed
so that a water landing won’t cause immediate harm to passengers. Many ditching-related
deaths are from drowning, not the impact. But don’t let this
discourage you from flying. Forced water landings
are unlikely to happen, especially on a commercial flight. Whenever flying, you should listen to safety instructions carefully. And always remain calm.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Cause they have two or more dirty great engines below the wings…and when they hit the water at speed the kinetic forces rip off the wings or spin the plane into a cartwheel…

  2. Pilots are absolutely amazing.. they have such a dangerous but important job.. I’m proud of all pilots that safely get their passengers to their destinations

  3. A good pilot needs very good skills and has a lot of responsabilty in very critical situations. Don't forget in these situations, the passengers are also in panic.

  4. Why don't commercial airlplanes have those things that seaplanes have? What are they called? Like the skis, that allows sea planes to land on water

  5. Planes would most definatly be better with topside wing engines. The engines get in the way of the underwing air glide

  6. Because if you hit water hard enough it will have the force of cement and also because the flaps and engines will create more drag in a plane and maybe cause a cartwheel if not slow enough or if the waves are tall.

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