The Gimli Glider
By Sam Longo AME, A&P
Its not very often that you hear of a modern jetliner gliding, engines silent, for some 250 kms, with the flight terminating in a successful dead stick landing. However, 25 years ago, on July 23, 1983, Captain Bob Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal managed to do just that.
Air Canada’s Boeing 767-200, C-GAUN, fin number 604 was forever afterward known as the Gimli Glider. During my maintenance career with Air Canada I had on many occasions worked on that very aircraft. In my humble opinion I always felt that the incident was a bit of a set-up right from day one.
The Canadian Government was on its all-metric kick and forced the company (at additional cost) to purchase its new 767s using all metric fuel measuring systems (kilograms and litres) when the standard of the industry was still pounds and gallons. The second part of the set-up for the unsuspecting flight crew was the ongoing problem with the FQIS (Fuel Quantity Information System). The subsequent investigation showed the system was only working on one of its two channels due to a bad soldered joint in the fuel tank capacitance gauges.
Due to poor communication on crew switch over the Captain was lead to believe the system was completely unserviceable, when in fact it was still working on one channel. Unfortunately a maintenance worker inadvertently reset a pulled circuit breaker that subsequently rendered all channels U/S. With blank fuel gauges and a constantly changing MEL (Minimum Equipment List) due to the newness of the aircraft, the Captain made a judgment call. He accepted maintenance clearance and calculated his fuel load based on numbers supplied only from the fuel quantity drip sticks. Drip sticks are manual devices that maintenance personnel can unlock and pull down on the underside of each wing tank. Simply put, when fuel streams out of a small-calibrated orifice a number is recorded from the stick’s protruding length. When all these numbers are plotted on a graph it can give a very accurate account of how much fuel is on board.
The drip stick numbers were dutifully taken and delivered to the flight deck. Unfortunately due to improper information (and next to no training on the procedure) the flight crew used the wrong conversion factor. Despite checking the math three times they only had 10,000 kg of fuel onboard, however their incorrect calculations assured them they had 22,300 kg. And so the stage was set for a potential disaster.
Flight 143 originated in Montreal, made a scheduled stop in Ottawa and proceeded to Edmonton. A short while later at 41,000 feet, somewhere over Red Lake, Ontario the cockpit’s warning system sounded, signaling a fuel delivery problem on the aircraft’s port side. Soon after the port engine flamed out, the crew prepared for a single engine landing with a diversion to Winnipeg. Seconds later the starboard engine flamed out and 604 began its silent descent. For the record, flight simulator training does not include powerless gliding. Despite a ram air turbine to give minimal hydraulics for flight controls, both pilots were now charting unfamiliar territory.
Some rough calculations using crude backup instruments and additional information from Winnipeg’s ATC radar established a glide ratio of approximately 12 to 1. Captain Pearson’s extensive gliding experience may have helped him guesstimate his chosen glide velocity of approximately 220 knots (407 km per hour). However, despite their best efforts, it soon became clear, they were never going to reach Winnipeg. Fortunately, First Officer Quintal remembered his air force training base at Gimli Manitoba, and a quick calculation confirmed that the aircraft could make it.
Meanwhile, on the ground at Gimli Industrial Park Airport (the former airbase) it was “Family Day” for the Winnipeg Sports Car Club. Much to their surprise, Captain Bob Pearson skillfully dropped the gear and side slipped the big Boeing onto an unused section of the runway. Had the nose gear not collapsed, it would have been a picture perfect landing. As it was, the accomplishment was simply incredible.
Subsequently Air Canada disciplined the flight crew while shortly thereafter in 1985 the same crew was awarded the first ever Fédération Aéronantique Internationale Diploma for Outstanding Airmanship. Captain Pearson continued his flying career with the airline, as did the Gimli Glider. Pearson retired in 1993 but aircraft 604 continued flying for almost 25 years. On January 24, 2008 the old girl was fueled up in Montreal for the last time, her destination, the bone yard in the Mojave Desert. Captain Pearson and First Officer Quintal were on board to oversee that final flight. I am happy to report she made it, with fuel to spare.
One last little known fact about the legend of the Gimli Glider, turned out to be an interesting coincidence. The Air Canada maintenance crew assigned to drive from Winnipeg to Gimli to repair the aircraft, ran out of gas en route and were stranded until a back up crew arrived. Two days later aircraft 604 was ferry flown back to the maintenance base in Winnipeg, subsequently becoming, perhaps the most famous Boeing 767 of all time.
By Sam Longo
Dormant Dunstall Debate
I’m selling my Dunstall Honda, said my friend Mark Mulrenin. Are you interested? It was a setup from the moment he opened his mouth. It wasn’t so much the opportunity to acquire another CB750-based machine that piqued my interest; it was more the fear that someone else might get it. With that the deal was done.
I know this motorcycle well. Mark had owned it for over 15 years and despite its dormancy for the past six seasons it was still in restorable condition. Its most important asset was its period correct and now unobtainable British made Dunstall parts. After a summer of dismantling, rebuilding, cleaning and polishing the final outcome is pictured here.
Paul Dunstall was the guru of the then fledgling Café racer styled custom bike builders of the late sixties and early seventies, initially focusing his attention primarily on Nortons. His company offered everything from swoopy bodywork to high compression piston kits even including disc brake kits at a time when the British motorcycle industry was still hocking the virtues of the drum brake. If you had money and you wanted “show and go” he was the man to see. His kitted 810cc Nortons were legendary but as the Japanese market flourished he wisely jumped on the oriental bandwagon, producing bodywork and performance products for Hondas, Suzukis and Kawasakis. The later two makes could be purchased pre-built and modified with full factory backing.
On this side of the pond the Café Racer crowd were hungry for the products he produced, with status as a street racer or poser increasing with every additional Dunstall part bolted to your ride. The deeper your pockets the more you and your machine stood out.
In fact in today’s vintage bike market a fully equipped Dunstall could arguably be a rarer commodity, though never as expensive, as the equally desirable Rickman Honda. Produced by Derek and Don Rickman, these two British brothers were also successful Café boutique bike builders of the same era.
The base machine in this case is a garden variety 1974 Honda CB750K but its pedigree quickly builds. The engine has a Yoshimura high compression 812 cc kit with a mild street cam and externally reinforced cam towers. A Barnett clutch and Dyna electronic ignition add performance and reliability. The stock carbs were bored, rejetted, and topped with wire-mesh-covered velocity stacks.
Dunstall parts include a front fender, fairing, and fuel tank in fiberglass, along with clip-ons and a four-into-two exhaust system. A Dunstall seat was also included in the transaction but I opted to graft on a smaller solo seat originally designed for a Suzuki 250. Handling has been aided with the addition of Boge Mullholland shocks and Progressive Suspension fork springs, while drilled CB550 rotors with braided lines and a modern master cylinder improve braking. And though the Lester cast wheels are no lighter than stock, they are stronger, better looking, and period correct.
Riding the bike reveals distinct differences compared to my other CB750-based K bikes. The engine pulls strongly to redline but doesn’t quite have the torque of my 1973 750 fitted with a Wiseco 836 cc kit. The cam also requires more revs to produce the power and finding a smooth, consistent idle has been a challenge, perhaps because of the bored carbs. Handling is firm, stable, and predictable, with excellent (for the era) braking. The angular styling of the Dunstall bodywork generates mixed reviews: some like it while the rest loathe it. Many feel Mr. Dunstall pushed the sharp-edged look too far with the Japanese bikes, but 35 years later his unique styling really stands out.
Mark was also generous enough to empty his garage of every Honda 750 piece he had collected over the years as part of the deal. Despite the groaning springs of my Ford station wagon, his loss was my gain.
This time-period-hotrod now completes my CB750 Honda collection, a unique motorcycle that hurts my butt and massages my ego, while still going easy on my wallet. A combination likely lost to the modern rider of hyper-fast crotch rockets while ironically paving the way to their current reality. Paul Dunstall filled a niche and captured the imagination of my generation just as he had intended. Thanks to Mark, a little piece of that history now resides in my shop.
The Devil can Ride
The Worlds Best Motorcycle Writing
Edited by Lee Klancher
Book Review by Sam Longo
The Devil can Ride is a great compilation of motorcycle related writing, collected and edited by Lee Klancher. The 28 pieces chosen transcend time and generations and include many great motorcycle journalists past and present. Everyone from Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) to T.E Lawrence is represented along with many modern favorites such as Peter Egan, Kevin Cameron and Hunter S. Thompson, of more recent “Cycle World” fame.
The short stories or excerpts cover many aspects of motorcycle adventure and lifestyle encompassing everything from “one percenter’s” to tales of first time rides. Some of my favorites include T.E. Lawrence’s eloquent descriptions of late evening rides, racing his Brough Superior through the English countryside, collecting fresh produce and groceries for his fellow Airmen back at the Aerodrome.
Another interesting and insightful piece was by Elena Filatova, “Ghost Town” about touring the beautiful but now deserted roads leading to and around Chernobyl’s Dead Zone in the Soviet Union.
In “Riding Home” Jack Lewis writes a compelling travel log after recently returning from serving in Iraq. His BMW R69S named “Honey” is his sole companion as he re-acquaints himself with his unique old motorcycle and his beloved American landscape.
Finally, no great motorcycle compilation would be complete without something from our very own Michelle Anne Duff “Do You Believe in Fairies” is a great little story about racing in the Isle of Man TT back in 1962. Her whimsical history lesson of how the Island was formed and the fairies that inhabit it, intertwined with the harsh realities of International Road Racing, make it one of the best in the book.
No matter what type of motorcycle tickles your fancy, this book is a great read. If you get a chance, pick it up, it’s guaranteed to help dissipate those dreaded winter blues. You won’t be disappointed. Available at most book stores. ISBN 978-0-7603-3477-5