Another unbelievable aviation video is making the rounds on social media. In it, A Tupolev Tu-154 trijet is seen severely oscillating from side to side. Despite the aircraft’s uncontrollability, the pilots managed to get it on the ground in one piece.
The 3 Minutes of Aviation YouTube channel uploaded a clip of an airliner flying out of control. It’s rare to catch failures like these clearly on camera and even rarer to see the plane land safely after a control failure.
The caption tells us the Tupolev Tu-154, registration RA-85563, was on its first flight after a long storage. It experienced a control failure and the pilots got it down using only engine thrust and rudder inputs.
But how does something like this even happen? I did some digging.
On April 29, 2011, Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Rodionov and Ivan Khalyapin boarded a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-154 airliner with three others and departed from Chkalovsky airfield near Moscow, Russia, reports local news. During the takeoff climb, the aircraft banked sharply to the right. The pilots knew that something was wrong the moment they realized the plane wasn’t responding to control wheel motions.
The Tupolev Tu-154 trijet was a workhorse of airlines and the Russian government for decades. Its first flight was four years after its western competition, the Boeing 727.
Like the 727, the Soviet trijet’s engine placement made it capable of landing and taking off from unpaved and gravel airfields.
The Tu-154 was outfitted with Kuznestov NK-82U low-bypass turbofan engines and later, Soloviev D-30KU-154 turbofans. These things are absolute screamers.
According to airplane tracking sites, Tu-154 RA-85563 was first delivered to Russian airline Aeroflot in 1983 with registration CCCP-85563. It flew in airline service until 1997 when it landed in the hands of the Russian Air Force. But its initial career with the military was pretty short as it was parked in 2001. A decade later, the air force would put it back into the skies.
The aircraft underwent a restoration before its first flight in a decade. Additional repairs were needed at a plant and the plane was to fly there, an exercise that Rodionov said in an interview that he had done many times. But even though all of the plane’s systems checked out, the aircraft still lost control anyway. In the video, the aircraft’s pitch and yaw vary wildly and it’s amazing the thing maintained flight at all.
According to interviews, the pilots were able to make course and altitude corrections using engine thrust. The pilots of United Airlines Flight 232 in 1989 used the same method to get their similarly stricken jet to the ground. Some posts on social media say that the Russian pilots also used rudder input, but news reports do not indicate such.
An investigation concluded that the cause of the loss of control was a malfunction of the autopilot system. Apparently, an engineer wired it up incorrectly, causing it to wreak havoc on the plane’s controls.
The pilots were given awards for their excellent airmanship, which I’d say they definitely earned. As for RA-85563, it was repaired and still flies with the military today.