In the movie Airplane! (1980), the main characters had to land a Boeing 707 in Chicago airport in low visibility. The dialog says the pilot "should be able to see the runway at 300 feet".

Given the ground equipment and flight instruments of that era, is it possible to land a Boeing 707 in such condition? For example, did they have ILS? Or did they at least have VOR-DME approach that would allow the pilot to adjust the descend rate?


ILS approaches were in common use in 1970 when I got my instrument rating. The normal (Cat I) ceiling minimum was 200 feet. So, yes, a 707 would have been able to land with a 300 foot cloud ceiling in the 70s.

I checked Wikipedia and and found the history paragraph below:

Tests of the ILS system began in 1929 in the United States.[14] A basic system, fully operative, was introduced in 1932 at at Berlin-Tempelhof Central Airport (Germany) named LFF or "Lorenz beam" due its inventor, the C. Lorenz AG company. The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) authorized installation of the system in 1941 at six locations. The first landing of a scheduled U.S. passenger airliner using ILS was on January 26, 1938, when a Pennsylvania Central Airlines Boeing 247D flew from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and landed in a snowstorm using only the Instrument Landing System.[15] The first fully automatic landing using ILS occurred in March 1964 at Bedford Airport in UK.[16]

The CAA referred to in the quote was the forerunner of the U.S. FAA.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I knew Airplane! was technically accurate. Now about the technical accuracies of Otto the autopilot... $\endgroup$
    – Bageletas
    Sep 13 '17 at 23:34
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @Bageletas I saw the film when it first came out, but my aging brain can't call up details about Otto. However, autopilots of the time, while generally very good, were not entirely trustworthy. Check out ntsb.gov/safety/safety-recs/recletters/A92_31_35.pdf. As it happened, I flew that airplane about three weeks before the noted incident, and the autopilot started a gradual roll to the right coming out of Hong Kong in clear weather during the day. In daytime in the clear, I noticed the roll of course, disengaged the autopilot, righted the airplane, and re-engaged without incident. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Sep 14 '17 at 1:07
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Terrycloth that was a very interesting article. A slow bank into a 95° is insane. A testimony to the crew and the plane saving it! Also, Otto was an inflatable doll dressed like a pilot who takes off ----gear up- before the credits roll :) $\endgroup$
    – Bageletas
    Sep 14 '17 at 2:39

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