We give pilots a lot of credit and rightly so. To successfully fly a plane requires incredible knowledge of the aircraft, weather, and incredible manual dexterity. Chesley Sullenberger famously landed a plane on the Hudson River and became a national hero when he successfully did it without injuring any passengers. This is just one example of an emergency landing that went right. While these people are heroes there are many attempts throughout history that were unsuccessful, highlighting the danger involved. Yet one emergency landing is surely more impressive than the rest. The story of the Cornfield Bomber is particularly incredible because it was completed without a pilot at all.
On the 2nd of February, 1970 four fighter pilots were engaging in attack training. The pilots were circling each other trying to lock targets and evade each other when after one maneuver a pilot lost control. His plane started to spin uncontrollably and he couldn’t get the flight out of its nose spin. He and the pilots tried numerous ways to save the plane, such as releasing a drag chute. However, when all else failed the pilot of the plane, Captain Gary Faust, decided to evacuate.
After evacuating though, the plane corrected its own flight path and started to fly through the air while slowly losing altitude. It was crashing but it looked like it was flying. Soon Faust and his parachute landed in a snowy field while the plane continued on its trajectory.
The plane then approached ground level and for anyone in the area it must have looked extremely strange. Without the pilot, the aircraft continued to fly at around 325 km/h. To anyone who knew that plane was about to crash they would have guessed an explosion and a huge wreck. That is not what happened.
Instead the plane came to a soft landing on a field of snow. It continued to roll along the snowy field and through an opening in a wall before coming to a halt. Incredibly the plane only suffered minor damage.
When authorities called the local airforce they asked the police to turn off the aircraft if possible. Whenever the police tried to enter the cockpit the plane would jiggle, as if it was about to take off. They were then advised to leave it alone, the petrol would soon run out and it would stop. That is exactly what happened.
Later the airforce arrived at the scene and they were shocked at the condition of the plane. It looked so good that one pilot offered to fly it home. As you would expect the airforce decided against that and took every precaution they could. They dismantled the aircraft and sent the parts to be inspected and to have minor repairs. Soon after the plane was back working and put back into active service with the airforce. Today the Cornfield Bomber, named as such because of its crash landing, resides in the National Museum of the U.S Air Force in Ohio.
The incredible landing was remarkable. While you might argue that if a plane can land itself safely like this we need to reconsider how heroic emergency landings are and whether people like Chesley Sullenberger are true heroes, think again. The chances of this plane landing in such a manner are slim and none. The fact that it happened, that the aircraft was barely damaged and that no one was harmed, is a miracle.
Investigations now suggest that it was the act of the evacuation that caused the plane to steady its trajectory. That means in many ways that we still have to give the pilot the credit for the safe landing. Whatever caused that plane to land in such a way doesn’t really matter. It was just amazing that it did. Surely the greatest emergency landing ever.