Landing with no Rudder or Elevator

Essentially this feat is akin to driving without a steering wheel. All wars produce incredible stories of people or machines surviving the most horrendous damage. So it was with this South African Air Force Dakota in May 1986. WW2 produced many such examples; the most notable was that of a B17 returning from a bombing mission over Europe. This story originally appeared on the SA Military History website but I would like to share it.

 Main picture: A most graphic picture of the Dakota’s non existent rudder and shattered elevators

On 1 May 1986, a South African Air Force Dakota while on a flight to Ondangwa at about 8000 ft. was hit with a Soviet SAM-7 shoulder fired surface to air missile. The explosion ripped off most of the Dakota’s tail. To add additional pressure to the crew, the Dakota was full of military VIP passengers including the Chief of the Army.

Dakota with elevators and rudder#4

Captain Colin Green slowed the Dakota down to 100 knots in order to keep it under control and put in a mayday call. There was a SAAF helicopter in the area which formatted on him and relayed the damage to him. The helicopter crew also took this amazing picture showing the landing.

Dakota with elevators and rudder#2

To note from this picture is that the Dakota has lost its entire rudder and both sections of the elevator. This is an unrecoverable situation in most aircraft types and also a situation most pilots cannot recover the aircraft from in any event.

Dakota with elevators and rudder#3

To compensate on the loss of stability Captain Green ordered the passengers around the aircraft to regulate the centre of gravity before going into land. Using flaps and throttle power to control the pitch (up and down) and thus control his decent rate and air speed, he landed it onto the tarmac, ‘greasing’ the centre line in a perfect landing.

Captain Colin Green was later awarded The Chief of the SADF Commendation for his exceptional flying skills.

Dakota with elevators and rudder#5


From left to right: National Serviceman Private Walsh (loadmaster) Captain Colin Green (aircraft commander) Lieutenant Mark Moses (co-pilot)


It is fair to say that the efforts of the air crew were commendable and nothing can detract from that achievement. Moreover the fact that photos of this Dakota in flight were taken makes it even more remarkable.

Notwithstanding that, that most serious incident in which the same catastrophic failure of rudders and elevators occurred was some 25 years ago in the USA when a Lockhead Tristar experienced a similar problem. In the case, the cause was loss of hydraulic fluid if I recall. The plane’s eventual safe landing was widely regarded as a miracle by those who believe in providence.


Precision landing with no Rudder/Elevators = SAAF Hero




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  1. The Battle of Monte Cassino takes on a totally different significance when you realise that your father was actually there, fighting in the Sapper Corps, and you were just a toddler at home not having the slightest idea of what danger those brave men were in – or, even to this day, the details and horror of that battle. He just used to mention Monte Cassino from time to time but we, as children, had no idea of what action in war was really like.


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