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Home > Airplanes > What are the chances that one of the wings falls off on an airplane?
What are the chances that one of the wings falls off on an airplane?
Aviation - Airplanes
Sunday, 23 October 2011 12:50

Ultimate Wing Loading Test

Hey Captain,

I'm scared of flying (well, what else is new huh?). Being in this group of people, I'm pretty sure everybody knows that flying is one of the safest form of transport and most likely, lots had known that a plane can glide without engines. But it's hopeless when the wing start falling off isn't it?

So what are the chances that one of the wings falls off on a big airplane?

And also, as a captain, there must have been lots of tough things that you have to handle safely right?

Care to share some so I can FEEL more confident about the magic of the pilots?

Eveleen

Hi Eveleen,

I cannot recall of reading any airliner that had actually crashed because its wings had snapped other than fighter planes that were being shot down during the Second World War.

The wings of an airliner are incredibly strong. For instance, on a Boeing 777, its wings were pulled 24 feet above its normal position before they broke during a full-scale test. (See the 2 videos in this site)

What happened was, computer controlled hydraulic force applied half a million pounds of pressure on each wings – equivalent to the weight of a fully loaded Boeing 777 – until both wings broke at the predicted position.

This test confirm that the plane’s wings exceeded their maximum designed requirements, which is one-and-the-half times (150%) the load experienced in the most extreme flight conditions. You can see the demonstration of the Ultimate Wing Loading Test in the above video.

Similarly, such a test was also applied on the latest Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This is what the structure chief engineer for the 787 program, said:

“After we got to 120 percent of our test loads, we then brought it back down to 80 percent (and) assessed the data that we got for about an hour to assure ourselves that everything was looking good before we proceeded back to 120 percent and then ultimately to our 150 percent design objective,”

“Once we decide to go to 150 percent, it becomes the quietest 90 seconds on earth in the control room,” he said. “Once we passed our test objective and started proceeding down, spontaneous applause broke out.”

The test flexed the wings upward by approximately 25 feet and pressurized the fuselage to 150 percent of its maximum normal operating condition.

So if you happened to see the wings flex a little as the plane fly through turbulence, try to remember the videos you see in this site. It shows that the planes you fly on are engineered to withstand conditions far more extreme than anything you are likely to see in normal flying.

On the older Boeing 747s, some of these wing loading tests were also carried out as well. The tests also involved bending the wing upwards till it broke. Seven feet was what they expected it to bend in heavy turbulence but the engineers designed them not to break till 21 feet of deflection from nominal. They had to pull it to 28 feet before it actually snapped.

So rest assured that the chance of the wings falling off on a big airplane is extremely unlikely.

As regards to your other question - how to preclude any ‘tough things’ from happening, pilots are trained rigorously to handle any emergency situations safely in the flight simulator. See my latest article (Pilot's Perspective October issue - page 94) in the Travel 3Sixty Magazine, “The Magic Box”. Download and read here

PS. To check for any latest updates or postings, you can follow my new Twitter at @CaptKHLim


The Boeing 787 Dreamliner Wing Break Test


Flexing of a Boeing 747 wing in turbulence


Airbus A380 Stress Test

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Comments (7)

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... , Low-rated comment [Show]
Great Article!
I see this article was written a while ago. I will say that I have ridiculous fears and this was my biggest one. Thank you for posting this. smilies/smiley.gif
Danielle Schulz , 27 Mar, 2013
Airplane turbulence
Hi captain, i was just wondering, can a lighting cause an airplane to crash? And second, is there a lot of turbulence in south america? and finally, is turbulence normal for an airplane?
benji , 02 Jan, 2014
Re: Airplance turbulence
Modern commercial airlines are designed to be able to wistand most lighting impacts. I'm not sure if there is a lot of turbulence in South America, but turbulence is definitely normal.
Jeff , 17 Mar, 2014
What about stabilisers?
Hi Capt, what about the horizontal stabilizers? Are there any redundancies for vertical or horizontal stabilizers? There have been cases in light aircrafts where the control cables to the stabilizers broke and thus crashes. I am wondering what are the checks/maintenance procedures in place for failures of such components. Perhaps you can qualify your answers with regards to common commercial aircrafts such as B772/A320 etc.

Thanks sir.
pantss , 25 Jun, 2015
Correction
Actually, this has happened on a commercial aircraft at least once: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalk's_Ocean_Airways_Flight_101 , but it is an exceedingly rare event and is usually caused by structural fatigue, not turbulence.
Skylion , 12 Jul, 2016
NTSB
Hello Captain I am interested in possibly working for the NTSB investigating plane crashes or automobile accidents. Do you happen to know what kind of education or training I would need?
Justin , 29 Nov, 2016

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