After viewing the movie " Flight", I was wondering if extended inverted flight was possible with any of the current larger commercial jet aircraft?


Theoretically, it is possible to fly an aircraft upside down. Good examples are the barrel roll done by Alvin "Tex" Johnson in Dash-80 (the predecessor of Boeing 707) and the actions of Pilot Flying James Tucker during the hijacking of Federal Express 705. However, the question is whether the maneuver can be sustained for and reasonable periods of time.

In this matter, the statement of Boeing (manufacturer of MD-80 after merger with McDonnell Douglas) is instructive:

The MD-80 cannot sustain inverted flight,...The MD-80, as with all commercial airliners, was designed to fly upright. Commercial airliners are only tested and certified for upright flight.

The pilots of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, a MD-83, tried to fly their aircraft upside down for recovery, but were unsuccessful.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that the barrel roll is not really inverted flight. As far as aerodynamics are concerned, the aircraft is still flying normally. Its lift vector is still upward with respect to the wings at 1 g. This is completely different from actual inverted flight where the lift vector is downward with respect to the wings (i.e. -1 g for sustained inverted flight.) $\endgroup$ – reirab Oct 16 '15 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ There's a nice video on youtube of a guy pouring water into a glass in a glider doing loops and barrel rolls. The water always flow into the glass proving that during the "inverted" part of a barrel roll "gravity" points up instead of down therefore the plane isn't flying inverted. (of course, I'm aware that what's pointing up is actually the reaction to the centrepetal force but to the occupants of the plane it might as well be "gravity") $\endgroup$ – slebetman Oct 19 '15 at 8:41

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