• Can planes fly without engines?

    We tell you all about the glide of aeroplanes.

Have you ever wondered if an aeroplane can fly without engines? Is it possible that such metal behemoths can glide with only the help of the wind?

We have already told you about aircraft wings and their similarities to those of birds. And we’ve also seen how thrust is generated and why planes take off into the headwind.

So, in this new episode of 1Minute Aviation, our video series in which we look at aviation curiosities, we explain why a plane can fly without engines by taking advantage of the air currents and the terrain over which it flies. Don’t miss it!

And, after the video, stick around because we talk about gliding, one of the oldest flying techniques in existence, which is still practiced today!

So, is it possible to fly without engines, or not?

Of course it is! This is one of the most common questions for anyone new to aviation, and Hollywood has managed to make us believe the opposite.

We’re sure you’ve seen a film in which a plane runs out of engines and starts to fall like a stone? Well, we can tell you that reality is far from fiction.

The first thing to bear in mind is that aeroplanes are not stones; they all have wings that allow them to glide in the event of engine failure.

In fact, each aircraft has an associated glide ratio: an index that relates the metres an aircraft advances for every metre of altitude it loses in gliding.

For example, our Diamond DA20s have a glide ratio of 11:1, meaning that they advance eleven metres for every metre of altitude they glide down. This glide ratio is much higher than other aircraft of its type.

Glide distance and maximum glide speed

One of the factors that can vary the glide ratio of an aircraft is the wind. If we have a headwind, the gliding distance will decrease, while if we have a tailwind, the gliding distance will increase.

For this reason, it is necessary for pilots to be aware of the wind in the event of an engine shutdown, as it can change their maximum range.

On the other hand, all aircraft have a calculated maximum glide speed, which is the speed at which the aircraft obtains its best glide ratio. So, in case of an emergency, they will follow precise indications to match it.

Practice is the key

Aviation is the safest means of transport in existence and this is achieved thanks to the fact that everything is designed to make it so.

As we explained in our post ‘How does a pilot learn to land’, before obtaining a pilot’s licence, every student will practice simulated engine failures countless times.

This is done so that, in the unlikely event that it happens for real, the pilot will know how to react quickly.

Gliding, one of the oldest flying techniques

One of the oldest flying techniques in existence is gliding, which uses very light aircraft but with very long wings that provide a very high glide ratio.

In gliding, aircraft are not powered but are towed by a cable from the ground or from another aircraft and, once they have gained some height, pilots use thermals to keep them in the air.

Thermals are the updrafts that form in the warmer months due to thermal radiation from the Earth.

Here is a glider flight towed by a plane from the ground, in which you will enjoy some great views of Toledo. Enjoy it!

You may be interested in…