Ask the Captain: Can severe turbulence tear the wing off a jetliner?

Ask the Captain: Can severe turbulence tear the wing off a jetliner?

Can turbulence be severe enough to cause a jet engine to break off a wing?

– Sean Marc, Schaumburg, Illinois

From a practical point, no, a modern airliner will not lose a wing due to turbulence. Modern airlines are very tough and designed to withstand extreme turbulence.

In theory it might be possible, but to know knowledge it has not happened to any jet airliner.

In the 1960s, there was a Boeing 707 that encountered severe turbulence that resulted in the vertical fin separating from the aircraft. There are reports of a Iranian Air Force 747 that encountered turbulence and was lost but the information about the aircraft and circumstances are “sketchy.” It was not investigated by a traditional investigative agency.

I have been in very heavy turbulence for lengthy periods and never worried about the airplane sustaining damage, we landed safely with no damage.

Why is a co-pilot now called a first officer?

– Vinny, New Jersey

The term first officer has been in use for decades by most airlines, it has it roots in nautical terminology for the second-in-command.

During World War II, the Air Force (then the Army Air Corps) began using the term co-pilot and the term name eventually became common.

First officer is a more descriptive designation and is consistent with the Navy and marine industry.

In older, larger airliners, there was a second officer or flight engineer. During the days of propeller airliners, the flight engineer was a specially qualified maintenance technician, due to the complexity of operating large radial engines. When jets arrived, most flight engineers were pilots specially trained to operate aircraft systems.