From time to time historic aircraft are included in classic car auctions but I doubt that any were as spectacular as the "Gimli Glider," a wide-body Air Canada Boeing 767, which will be offered at the Collector Car Productions auction in Toronto, April 12-14. it was the pilot and co-pilot who made the aircraft famous in a feat every bit as skilful as that performed by Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who brought his Airbus 320 safely into the Hudson river, saving everyone on board.
The Air Canada jet did not lose power because of bird strikes, as did the Airbus. It lost total power when the Boeing ran out of fuel. Captain Robert Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal flew the plane by gliding to a safe landing at a former air force base in Gimli, Manitoba, saving the lives of all passengers and crew. By extraordinary co-incidence the retired airport was being used for sports car racing on that day.
How could an airliner be allowed to run out of fuel, you might ask? The problem was essentially caused by misunderstandings during a period when the change from imperial to metric weights and measurements was in progress. Yet, as is the case in most aircraft crashes, it was not one but a series of errors that led to the near-disaster, some of which occured the previous day. (For those of you who prefer to know the details, the story is thoroughly covered by Wikipedia in what reads like the basis for a fascinating movie. Indeed, the CBC produced a TV special about the affair a few years ago.)
Because that string of connected errors is such a lengthy one I'm not going to explain it here. Of greater interest to car enthusiasts is how the pilots managed to dead-stick a wide-body jetliner from 40,000 feet to a safe landing on the prairies. Bear in mind that lack of engine power also eliminated generators and hydraulic systems, making the craft difficult to handle. Vital instrumentation was reduced to a few analog devices, so the crew had little reliable information.
By the luckiest of circumstances it happened that Captain Pearson was a skilled glider pilot (as was Captain Sullenberger). He was familiar with the techniques needed to glide an aircraft at the precise airspeed and angle. Airline pilots do not receive such training in the big jets, nor do they practise it in the simulator. Even so, the 767 was too high on approach, so Pearson put it into a sideslip to reduce airspeed. The front landing gear collapsed on touchdown, a blessing as it acted as a "brake" and helped slow the craft before it could reach spectators who were running to get out of the way. None were hurt, nor were the 60 passengers (other than minor bruises).
The crew was listed as partly to blame for not observing the Minimum Equipment List (MEL) and grounding the aircraft since it lacked functioning fuel gauges. Some of the responsibility was also assigned to the maintenance workers, and to "corporate deficiencies." As a consequence Pearson was briefly demoted, and Quintal was suspended for two weeks. Both pilots continued to work for Air Canada, and in 1985 they received the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Diploma for Outstanding Airmanship.
The 767 was repaired and placed back in service until it was retired and flown by the same crew to desert storage in Arizona (photo at top). It is still airworthy but commercial use is now impractical. The most likely bidder will be an air museum or a wealthy enthusiast. Are you listening, John Travolta?