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Home > Flying the Plane > Can a plane fly inverted?
Can a plane fly inverted?
Flying - Flying the Plane
Wednesday, 26 December 2012 03:15

FLIGHT Trailer 2012 Denzel Washington Movie

Hello Captain!!

Very nice job with the site as I came across it unintentionally..

I watched a Denzel Washington movie, namely, "Flight" the other day and maybe you may have watched it as well. There were some interesting manoeuvres of an aircraft made up by the scriptwriters so as not to induce any wrongfully accusations on any particular model of aircraft. In the movie, during the NTSB animation of the accident, the aircraft is identified as a JR-88, similar to a MD-88, which was used for the flying and crash scenes.

Here are my questions about how a real aircraft would react on similar situations in real life:

1. In the movie, during the moments just before the crash, the First Officer extinguishes the right engine fire by pulling its "T-handle". A minute or two later, he did the same for the left engine. But later on the captain ordered throttle commands to a cabin crew because he and the First officer were busy at the controls. How would an engine react when the "T-handle" is pulled during flight?

2. Not a question but an opinion; In the movie, during the NTSB interrogation, a woman uses a phrase as "jackscrew that articulates the horizontal stabilizer, also known as the elevator". Isn't this a wrong statement?. I believe the elevator and the horizontal stabilizer are two different things. The elevator is a movable panel on the horizontal stabilizer which controls pitch and is not controlled by the jackscrew. The horizontal stabilizer adjusts the pitch trim; it is controlled by the jackscrew. A real accident on which this failure occurred was Alaska Airlines flight 261. The entire horizontal stabilizer failed due to a stripped jackscrew and was frozen in a pitch-down angle far beyond its designed operating range, while the elevators remained controllable but ineffective to overcome the extreme trim angle. Thus, I believe the animation shown in the film is also erroneous.

3. Lastly, in the movie, when the aircraft was flying at FL300, it went on a high pitch attitude and then nose-dived. This led to an uncontrollable dive. The captain ordered more drag by deploying the spoilers and adjusting the flaps to 30 degrees as the airplane was still in a dive. He then ordered the landing gear to be down and locked. The aircraft exceeded its designed speed limits so the landing gear suffered a breakdown. The captain ordered full throttle and with the help of his yoke, he managed to put his plane on an inverted state. Can planes really fly inverted?

He had his aircraft in this position for about 4-5 minutes at an altitude of, I believe to be 1.000 feet above main sea level, after which the aircraft turned around, stabilized, lost all power, glided, stalled and crashed.

Thank you for your comments.

Omer Savas

Hi Omer,

Firstly, I have not seen the full movie “Flight” yet but I have a similar query recently as well. However, my friend, Patrick Smith of “Ask the Pilot” under the title, “Real Pilots Laugh at Flight” did a good write up here.  It is from a professional’s point of view and he clears the air on some unrealistic portrayal of flying.

Now to answer some of your questions:

1. When the ‘T-handle’ is pulled, it activates the fire-extinguishing process that would shut down the engine as the fuel shut off valves would be closed.

2. You are right. The horizontal stabilizer and the elevator are different. The horizontal stabilizer controls the pitch by the pitch trim and the elevator is controlled by the pilot when he wishes to climb or descent through the control column in the cockpit.

3. Yes, it is possible to fly inverted in the fictional plane momentarily but not so on a modern airliner as there are protections against such a manoeuvre in a normal flight (normal law in aviation jargon) For instance, on the Airbus, it is not possible to bank beyond 67 degrees left or right.

Your question refers to a plane but I believe you meant ‘commercial plane’ because it is possible for a military jet or aerobatic propeller plane to fly for an extended period upside down – definitely not on a commercial plane!

However, when a plane is not in normal law (or technically, in direct or alternate law) the normal bank protection is lost. It is then possible to roll a commercial plane inverted temporarily. No plane has ever done that intentionally yet (except in a flight simulator or a test flight) but a Boeing 707 once did a barrel roll (a temporary inverted flight) in 1955 (see video below).

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


Denzel Washington interview with Jay Leno


Boeing 707 doing a Barrel Roll

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mostly on whatever happened in the movie are mostly fictional. just treat it like one of those alien invasion movies and don't treat it too seriously. most modern jets when u pull the t bar to extinguish the fire, it also cuts off the fuel line to that particular engine and also the hydraulics lines that the particular engine is supposed to power. so when u pull the t bar the engine would be dead and it wouldn't respond to any throttle movement......
Caesar , 26 Dec, 2012

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