RAF Carrier Pigeons Didn’t Like Getting Wet
The Best Advice For Landing In the Water? Avoid doing it.
Pan American Flight 943 lands in the Pacific
on Oct. 16, 1956. The Boing 377 Stratocruiser had lost power to two of its four engines and had to risk an emergency water landing. (William Simpson / US Coast Guard)
This plane pictured above was made by Boeing and is bigger than a B-17 or RAF Lancaster used in World War Two but will give you a good idea of what it was like to land a four engine aircraft on the water. All 31 passengers as well as the crew survived because there was US Coast Guard cutter nearby.
During the war, pilots did everything they could to avoid ditching. Just landing a plane on water was difficult. Except for amphibious planes, no other planes were designed to land in the water. If the weather was bad and the waves high and the plane landed nose into the waves instead of coming down in the trough between the waves then the plane often broke apart. Since the aircraft landed nose up when it came down the force of the water usually burst the windscreen and often injured or killed the pilot.
If the pilot made a good landing in the Channel and if the water was not choppy or storming, then the plane might not break up. In that case, it might stay afloat for a minute or two. However, in a rough landing in bad weather with heavy seas, the crew had only seconds to get out of the plane before it sank.
One of the best amphibious planes of World War Two was the British Short Sunderland. (It was built by Short Brothers hence the name which isn’t a reference to the length). This aircraft was deployed to Air/Sea Rescue units as they became available.
These planes rescued many RAF and Allied pilots throughout the European Theatre who had ditched in the ocean or the English Channel. In certain instances, the plane landed in water too rough and broke apart and sank. Not only would the crew of the Sutherland end up in the water but now there were more men to be rescued.
Image by Royal Air Force via the website/www.raf.mod.uk