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On 29th December 2014 Virgin Atlantic VS43, a Boeing 747, takes off from Gatwick Airport carrying 459 passengers and crew headed for Las Vegas. As the undercarriage begins retracting into the fuselage the crew become aware that there’s a problem. A warning message in the cockpit alerts the crew that there’s a significant loss of hydraulic fluid from the right main landing gear. In modern passenger jets hydraulic fluid is used to power the landing gear, enabling it to extend and retract on take-off and landing, without hydraulic fluid to release the undercarriage the crew may not be able to land the aircraft.
The pilots immediately make a U-turn and head back to Gatwick. With 170 tonnes of fuel on-board the pilots make their way to the Bristol Channel, circling to burn and jettison as much as possible. 4 hours later they’re almost 100 tonnes of fuel lighter, pilots make their final checks before the descent, and passengers are informed their aircraft is to make an emergency landing. The crew attempts to deploy the landing gear but they quickly realise it’s worse than they thought. The right main landing gear hasn’t extended, with only 3 out of 4 main sets of wheels drop down. The captain has no idea why the aircraft’s undercarriage is stuck.
Before every take-off and landing and aircraft undergoes a number of maintenance checks. The night before VS43 was due to depart maintenance workers replaced the actuator in the right side landing gear. When the actuator is pumped full of fluid it works like a muscle extending and retracting the legs of the undercarriage. The pilots continue to circle as they troubleshoot the issue, but further attempts to extend the right landing gear all fail!
Clip taken from the documentary “Planes Gone Viral – Emergency Landings”.
Watch it here – https://youtu.be/mjN6XeWW-BY