Sunday, July 23, 2017

The dangers of the metric system

Canada went onto the metric system around the early 1980s, and so everyone in the country suddenly found that they didn't know how to measure anything.  This caused a lot of excitement 34 years ago today, when an Air Canada 767 ran out of fuel half way between Montreal and Edmonton.

You see, people got confused about the whole litres vs. gallons thing, and didn't gas it up enough.

Fortunately, the pilot was a glider ace, and the co-pilot realized that they were within gliding distance of a decommissioned RCAF base that he had been stationed at.  They brought the bird in safely, even though there was a car race on the old runway.



And so the moral of the Gimli Glider incident is to make very sure that change isn't just being made because it's a popular change.

9 comments:

Rev. Paul said...

I remain grateful to this day that the "let's all move to metric" idea never took route in the U.S.

Rev. Paul said...

Err ... "root", not "route".

ASM826 said...

I wonder if it hurt walking across the flight line with your giant titanium balls dragging behind you?

Glen Filthie said...

I'm Canadian so I speak as somebody that had metric shoved up my arse since elementary. I shoot and drive in Imperial, do temp and pressure in metric, and will convert volume into whatever unit I happen to need at the time. As long as I have a conversion factor I am good to go.

Boys, that pilot may have had brass ones but this was not the metric system's fault. Converting units should be child's play for everyone. You will have different currency in other countries, different standards and if knowing them is critical - it's your job to know it! When I was a kamikaze ultralighter my instructor beat me over the head with it - don't trust the fuel gage, open the gas tank and look! That pilot made a rookie mistake and no bones about it.

SiGraybeard said...

The most amazing part of the story; the real heroes, were a design team at Boeing that thought they should put a fourth or fifth level "in case nothing else works" system into the aircraft. A glass cockpit airplane without power is a pretty useless thing. They designed it so that when the plane lost power, the RAT - Ram Air Turbine- dropped into the air stream and gave them enough power to run the flight control surfaces and run a radio or two. Just enough to save everything and everyone, given the right pilot.

Ed Hering said...
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Ed Hering said...

With large commercial aircraft, you cannot exactly hop up on a wing to make a visual inspection of the fuel level.

Besides that, commercial airlines don't fill the tanks full at each flight. Instead they put just enough in, with a reasonable safety margin, for the next flight. That way they don't waste fuel carting an unnecessary fuel load around. A visual inspection (assuming one were possible) would merely show a partially-full tank.

Wonderduck1 said...
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Comrade Misfit said...

English-metric confusion resulted in the Mars Climate Orbiter in `99. NASA was using metric, LockMart wasn't.

Anyways, my recollection was that around 1975 or so, both the American and Canadian governments committed to switching to the metric system for everyday use. The Canadians said "Right-o" and did it. Americans said "Fuck you, Jerry" (Ford was President) and didn't.

The Aussies did. I read an autobiography of somebody there who wrote about "going the extra one and six-tenths kilometers" to get something done.