If you asked an old-school airplane designer to draw you a picture of an airplane, you would HOPE it looked like this:
And in fact that was made by designer Gianni Caproni, who designed perfectly normal and functioning planes... until he decided to throw all of his design experience to the wind and design a plane that looked like this:
There are many words that come to mind when looking at the picture above (Photoshop being among them), but we assure you, it's real. Rather than design a plane that resembled designs he knew worked, Caproni decided to build a plane that would allow us to laugh at him 88-years later.
Question: If you call a plane with two wings a bi-plane, what is a plane with nine wings called?
Built from a houseboat, Caproni intended for the Caproni Ca. 60 to transport 100 passengers back and forth across the Atlantic, something unheard of in the early 1900s. But still, Caproni had very few naysayers. Given his fame as a designer, it would have been like telling Henry Ford, "Honestly, that whole gas thing is probably a mistake."
Ford, seen standing behind the chair of a naysayer he's just choked out from behind.
Unsurprisingly, the Caproni Ca. 60 made only one flight. And by "flight" we mean "it lumbered its way to a cruising altitude of 60-feet before crashing to the ground and shattering just 15-seconds later." Somehow, Caproni survived. Even more impressive is the fact that his reputation pretty much came out intact also.
In 1983, Canada had recently switched from the British Imperial system of measurements to the Metric System like a bunch of weirdos. During a pre-flight check, Captain Robert Pearson discovered the fuel gauge had malfunctioned. As this was one of only four all-computerized planes in Canada's fleet (they have six now), Pearson contacted Air Canada's Maintenance Control and asked what to do, as the plane no longer conformed to the MEL (minimum equipment list).
Rather than telling him to cancel the flight, they told him the plane was fine to fly as long as he was certain he had enough fuel. As Canada had only recently switched to that newfangled Metric System thing, Pearson had a difficult task ahead of him.
He knew two things to start with: 1) He needed 22,300 Kg of fuel to get to his destination and 2) there were 7,682 liters of fuel already in the tanks. In order to know how much fuel he needed, Pearson had to know how many liters are in a kilogram. With his back against the wall, Pearson turned to the most obvious source of mathematical information: The guy driving the fuel truck. The number they came up with was 1.77.
Not a mathematician.
Unfortunately for Pearson, he and the man driving the gas truck were only partially right. 1.77 is the correct number if you are converting liters to POUNDS. In order to get kilograms, you multiply by .8. In other words, Flight 143 had 20,302 pounds in its tank. And because a pound weighs less than half of what a kilogram does, the plane didn't even have half of the fuel it needed.
When the first engine failed, Pearson planned an emergency landing at the nearest major airport, but when the fuel ran out completely a few minutes later, Pearson made an even emergencier landing at an abandoned Air Force base in Gimli.
When he arrived, he was forced to land a 300,000 "glider" at an abandoned air force base that, it turned out, was not abandoned. There was a drag race being held there that day. No one bothered to tell the pilot that, probably figuring a bunch of drag racers were acceptable collateral damage.
Luckily, only a few passengers were injured and no one was killed. For his unbridled weights and measurements prowess, Pearson received a medal. And a suspension from Air Canada, which is probably just as good as a medal.
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