When the Runway Simply Disappears


A visitor's view of a Boeing 737 cockpit

Have you ever been sitting in the back of an airliner on approach to Midway or O'Hare on a rainy day? You look out the window and see absolutely nothing other than water streaming along the window perhaps, because you're flying inside a cloud which is nothing more than concentrated water between you and the ground.

People often ask, if they can't see the ground to land, how do the pilots? And they always manage to find the runway just in the nick of time too.

We use a group of instruments on our dashboard that tell us where we are, as well as how to get to the runway no matter how many clouds might be blocking our way. Following our instruments works and we do see the runway ... at least most of the time.

Even pilots have limits though about how close to the ground they can fly before they must see the runway. If we don't see it when we should, we must add power to the engines and make the airplane climb back into the sky and come back around for another try.

I thought you all might find this video (below) shot from inside the cockpit of a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) really interesting. A  BBJ is the private version of the Boeing 737 most people ride on.

As the airplane descends toward the runway, you'll be able to see the runway lights ahead outlining the edges to help the pilot land. They must remain in clear view all the ay down in order to complete the landing.

But watch how, at the last minute, some heavy rain gets between the airplane and the runway, making it completely disappear. That's when pilots must make a decision very quickly -- keep heading toward the runway and hope the rain stops, or play it safe and go around for another try.

Watch how these professional pilots handle it. You'll hear a voice in the background call out "500." That's the computer reminding the pilots they're 500 feet off the ground. All in a day's work. And BTW, yes ... flying airplanes is pretty cool.

Hope you enjoy it.

Rob Mark

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