The Wings Fell Off

3 Feb 12 4 Comments

(Before I start, I want to share some exciting news. You Fly Like a Woman appeared in Forbes this week! And it was reviewed – in Dutch and English! – on Aviationbookreviews. I would never have written the book without the support of the blog readers, so here’s a big THANK YOU to all of you. Now, on with the post!)

The 2008 viral video of an unregistered plane supposedly losing a wing and the brave pilot landing it safely is making the rounds again, much to my disgust and the advertiser’s excitement. The video is completely faked but seems to have done the job of getting people’s attention. To compare, you can see this real video of a radio controlled aircraft landing with one wing – ignoring everthing else, the tilting plane on the runway is what’s clearly missing from the viral video. I find it a little bit bizarre that the advertising clip is continuing to fool so many people. And once they have found out the truth, do they really go and buy clothes?

The reality is not so pretty. The following are true accidents – including video – of the wings falling off during flight. Be warned, the results aren’t pretty. The first two videos are very hard to watch.

In 1983, this light twin (the Italian Partenavia P68C which is not an aerobatic aircraft) was being flown by the owner who had apparently imported the planes and showed them off at local airshows. He began a rapid pull-up at high speed (above the aircraft’s VNE). With an estimated load of 8.3 Gs, the wings separated from the plane. The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot in command’s overconfidence in the aircraft’s ability.

Accident Report

No engine sounds were heard during the spin & the prop was observed not rotating before impact. The engine was not equipped with an inverted fuel system. The aircraft was prohibited from aerobatic flight. There was no evidence that the pilot had ever received any aerobatic instruction.

In 2002, this Hercules was hired as fire-fighting plane to combat a 10,000-acre fire in California. The incident occurred on the sixth run of the day, delivering fire retardant. Examining the wreckage, the NTSB discovered fatigue cracks in the right wing’s lower surface skin, originating from the rivet holes. The cause of the accident was metal fatigue with a contributing factor of inadequate maintenance procedures to detect fatigue cracking. All three crew were killed on impact.

Accident Report

Tanker T130 flew down the east side of the drainage valley and proceeded to make a ½ salvo fire retardant drop. Just prior to the completion of the drop, the nose of the airplane appeared to rise and the airplane started to initially arrest its descent and to level out. The nose of the airplane then continued to rise towards a nose up attitude and almost at the completion of the ½ salvo fire retardant drop, the airplane’s wings folded upwards and detached from the fuselage at the center wing box beam-to-fuselage attachment location.

I’ve linked to this before but it is still the most amazing aviation story that I have ever read. Test pilot Bill Weaver tells the story of his SR-71 Blackbird disintegrating around him – and how he survived although he never had a chance to eject. – SR-71 Disintegrates Around Pilot During Flight Test

Everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. I learned later the time from event onset to catastrophic departure from controlled flight was only 2-3 sec. Still trying to communicate with Jim, I blacked out, succumbing to extremely high g-forces. The SR-71 then literally disintegrated around us.

From that point, I was just along for the ride. My next recollection was a hazy thought that I was having a bad dream. Maybe I’ll wake up and get out of this mess, I mused. Gradually regaining consciousness, I realized this was no dream; it had really happened. That also was disturbing, because I could not have survived what had just happened. Therefore, I must be dead. Since I didn’t feel bad–just a detached sense of euphoria–I decided being dead wasn’t so bad after all.

AS FULL AWARENESS took hold, I realized I was not dead, but had somehow separated from the airplane. I had no idea how this could have happened; I hadn’t initiated an ejection. The sound of rushing air and what sounded like straps flapping in the wind confirmed I was falling, but I couldn’t see anything. My pressure suit’s face plate had frozen over and I was staring at a layer of ice.

For an incident with a happy ending, AVweb produced a video showing a wing come off of an aerobatic plane (a Rans S-9 Chaos) during an airshow in Argentina. In this instance, a full-plane parachute saved the pilot’s life.

Real Aircraft Loses Wing, Lands Safely (Under Canopy) – YouTube

Comparing a ballistic ‘chute to a normal parachute worn on the body in this case it seems the full-plane parachute was a good choice. Due to the rate of roll induced by the loss of one wing, it appears questionable that the pilot could have escaped the cockpit and saved himself wearing a conventional parachute on his back. Conventional parachutes are not aided by ballistic deployment and may require more altitude to properly open. Had the pilot been wearing a parachute and managed to escape the spinning aircraft without being hit by it, he may have simply have impacted the ground under a partially opened canopy. In this case, full-plane parachute FTW.

Meanwhile, the University of Cambridge has released a video to show that the common explanation of how wings create lift actually goes against the laws of physics.

How wings really work – Research – University of Cambridge

“A wing lifts when the air pressure above it is lowered. It’s often said that this happens because the airflow moving over the top, curved surface has a longer distance to travel and needs to go faster to have the same transit time as the air travelling along the lower, flat surface. But this is wrong,” he explained. “I don’t know when the explanation first surfaced but it’s been around for decades. You find it taught in textbooks, explained on television and even described in aircraft manuals for pilots. In the worst case, it can lead to a fundamental misunderstanding of some of the most important principles of aerodynamics.”

Mind, a little bit of physics would go a long way towards stopping that viral video from being passed around as real!

Class dismissed.

Category: Accident Reports,


  • Now I really don’t know how an airplane flies! (I just know it isn’t how I was taught it flies.)

    It’s frustrating how something that is totally wrong catches the general imagination and everyone quotes it as true – like the ‘fact’ that people only use 10% of their brains. I doubt that many people will be convinced that the first video is fake, even though it clearly is.

  • Interesting will stick to the one I know for now – until it stops working lol Mortified did I really teach those ATC cadets a lot of lies – gulp.

  • I have always considered the Bernoulli Principal as a good explanation for why an aerofoil creates lift and never really thought of what happens to the slower moving airstream below he wing. You learn something every day.

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