How solid is a 737?

Date:         27 Aug 99 03:07:40 
From:         "Ian W McAndrew" <imcandrew@btintenet.com>
Organization: BT Internet
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How solid is a 737? This seemingly odd question is brought about by the fact
that for the first time in about 35 years flying - in light aircraft as a
pilot in the RAF Volunteer Reserve whilst at University, military aircraft
(fighter and coastal command) as nominal pilot -i.e I was allowed to fly
them for a while - I was well and truly frightened by a descent, approach
and landing at Catania Airport in Sicily on an Air Malta flight about 4-5
weeks ago.

There were a lot of strorms over southern Italy and we descended through the
bottom part of a large cu-nim. I could see we were approaching it so told my
wife that it would get a bit bumpy but not to worry. Well it was - a cabin
attendant who was trying to get back to her seat was thrown into the lap of
a passenger! When we got under the cloud, the cabin lights went out or were
switched off, which made the lightning flashes around us all the more
interesting. We were down to about 2 or 300 feet, with flaps and wheels down
(still bumping around quite dramatically) and I confidently expected to see
the runway any second, so was somewhat startled to see the sea appear below
us. I was even more concerned when we turned right and all I could see in
that direction was sea and behind us back on land, fields. The pilot then
banked hard left and then continued to descend. My reassuring comments to my
wife ceased at this point, which made her all the more frightened! Just as
my concerns disappeared, to be replaced by plain fright, we crossed the
coast again, at less than 100 feet, and probabaly a few seconds later
(though it seemed minutes) the airfield appeared. The landing, considering
the turbulent circuit, was surprisingly soft, but the braking was hard and
prolonged and we used up almost all the runway, so I assume that the pilot
had come in faster than usual to improve control.

 In retrospect, the pilot appears to have carried out a low level circuit,
with the downwind leg close to the runway, presumably because of the poor
visibility in the thunderstorm. That would seem to explain the turn away
from the airport, the short finals and the absence of a discernible base
leg. Going back to the original question, anyone have any views as to how
dangerous (if at all) a situation this was.

Ian