‘We skimmed houses at 170mph, completely blind’: How pilots land in near-zero visibility

Mid-Atlantic, 4am, 39,000ft. Just a couple more hours to go before landing back in London after another night crossing the pond. I looked across at my colleague, gently sipping on his umpteenth coffee of the night, eyes heavy and bloodshot.

Behind us, 250 passengers were fast asleep, trying to compensate for the five hours their body clocks were about to lose waking up on another continent. Ahead of us, Venus, the morning star, flickered and shimmered as it slid above the horizon. The display is so bright that many a pilot has mistaken it for another aircraft. Being mid-winter, the sun would not be showing its face until just before we landed.

The hum of the airflow in the flight deck was interrupted by a two-tone chime as the latest weather for Heathrow appeared on our screens. The visibility had already started to drop; light winds, the temperature 2°C with a dew point of 1°C and visibility of 1,500m.

With the temperature and dew point (the temperature at which the air can no longer hold water vapour) so close together and light winds to mix the air, we had the perfect storm for the airfield to fog out at any moment. The forecast we studied six hours ago in New York was spot on.

Glancing down at the same display, the captain carefully digested the information. “I think we’d better prepare for an Autoland.”

To read the full article on The Telegraph, click here (subscription required)

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