Airliner running out of gas

I’ve heard it said that if a modern jet airliner ran out of fuel, it would drop out of the sky like a stone. It’s not true. Check this out:

An Airbus 330-200 (seats 256, 197′ wingspan, 193′ long) ran out of fuel at 39,000 ft (7 miles) over the Atlantic Ocean. They glided 115 miles and landed without any injuries!

24 August 2001; Air Transat A330-200; near the Azores Islands, Portugal: The aircraft was cruising across the Atlantic at 39,000 feet (11,900 meters) on a flight from Toronto to Lisbon when the right engine lost power. The left engine quit about 13 minutes later. Both engines lost power as a result of fuel starvation. There had been a leak in the fuel system near the right engine, and an open crossfeed valve allowed fuel to be lost from both wing tanks. The leak had been noticed by the crew about an hour prior to the engines shutting down, and the aircraft was already diverting toward Lajes military airfield in the Azores. After the last engine lost power, the crew was able to glide for 20 minutes for about 115 miles (185 km) to Lajes airfield and avert a mid-ocean ditching.

It’s rumoured that the flight crew had balls of specially hardened aluminum.

I found this after wondering if it was true that “your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device”. I always thought it was a dubious claim. Turns out that, on rare occations, seat cushions CAN be used as a flotation device. Still, do they have to tell us EVERY SINGLE TIME we get on a plane? The attendants must want to shove plastic forks through their eyes every time it’s repeated.

I asked Google Answers and was directed to Aviation and Air Safe.


  1. TJIC says:

    I know a bit about hardening steel (alloying, work hardening, carbeurizing (i.e. alloying the outside with carbon by packing with coal dust, then heating), induction hardening (using electric fields), etc.

    I know very little about hardening aluminum.

    My ignorance is boundless. L(

  2. Lee says:

    Never fear. I figured that airline pilots would appreciate the decreased weight of aluminum, so I invented the stuff. There are aluminum alloys that increase it’s strength but no hardening processes that I know of.


  3. Lee says:

    Here I am a few years later and now I can say that yes, I do know of aluminum hardening processes. :-)

Leave a Comment

Do not write "http://" in your comment, it will be blocked. It may take a few days for me to manually approve your first comment.

You can edit your comment after submitting it.