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Asiana Flight 214: A Pilot’s Perspective II

More from Capt. Bogs:

Latest thoughts in the media on Asiana Flight 214 seems to be all about pilot error. Probably right. My feeling is that is supervisory error, in that the instructor pilot failed to supervise his student properly. That is what an Air Force accident board would say.

I’m not trying to excuse the pilots, but why were the autothrottles off while they were concentrating on an admittedly difficult (but routine) approach? I never flew the 777, but on the Airbus, the throttles would not have disengaged on the descent and approach. I would think that the 777 is the same; operated normally the auto throttles would stay on through the descent and approach and on to landing. If the student pilot was used to flying the older technology 747, he may have disengaged the autothrottles at the start of the descent just like on the 747, and just left them off, contrary to normal procedures on the 777. His training would assume the autothrottles were on during the approach, as would his instructor on the jet in the actual fact. That still does not excuse the instructor from failing to see the problem, especially at the stabilized approach point on final. That check is: on glide slope, on centerline, on airspeed, with the engines spooled up. (Jet engines take a little while to develop power when they are in idle and more thrust is needed, which is why we need them out of idle on final.)

Another question is, why didn’t the pilots have glide slope guidance while on final? San Francisco International has 2 parallel runways in very close proximity to each other. 28 L(left) is normally used for takeoffs, while 29 R(right) is used for landings. A commuted turboprop preceded Asiana 214 on the runway complex, landing on 28R just before 214 landed on 28L. Did the tower reclear the flight to the parallel runway, forcing the pilots on 214 change their landing runway on their instruments while in the approach phase? Not an unusual occurrence . This would erase the glide slope guidance on their panels when they needed it the most. Turboprops are very slow compared to these big jets. If the tower asked the jet to slow before changing his runway, this may have been why they disengaged the autothrottles.

Whatever, autothrottles or not, glide slope guidance or not, runway change or not, you still have to fly the damn jet all the way to the runway. And the instructor’s only job is to make sure his student does it safely. That’s where the buck stops.

Today, there is another fire on a parked Boeing 787, this time an Ethiopia airlines jet at Heathrow Airport in London. I’ll tell you, lithium scares the heck out of me. There was a rash of lithium battery fires on laptops in the last few years before I retired. Very hot fires, very difficult to extinguish. This fire occurred after the jet had been parked for 2 hours. If it is another battery fire, this is very bad news for Boeing. Ethiopia airlines was the first airline to put the 787’s back into service after the FAA couldn’t find a cause to the fires. Thermal run aways is the usual excuse for a lithium battery fire, which is actually good news for people in the air on these jets. It is very cold up there (-56C at 36,000 feet, plus or minus 2 degrees C per thousand feet), so there are not too many therms trying to run away while in cruise. Put the plane on the ground, charge the battery with external power (in other words, add energy to the battery) in an unventilated compartment, and let it sit out there in the sun. Hummm. Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

There are a lot of smarter people than me trying to fix this problem. I’d disconnect the battery on the ground unless it needed charging, and I’d charge it only after I took it physically out of the jet. At least then the jet wouldn’t catch fire. Just a thought.


Asiana Flight 214: A Pilot’s Perspective

 From Capt Bogs:

Watching the coverage about Asiana Flight 214 on Fox news last night was painful. So much so that I feel compelled to hit the internet with my take.

Since it has been a long time, I will first bore you with my Bona Fides. I am a retired pilot with over 20000 hours of flight time. I flew the C-130 for the Air Force for about 20 years, then retired. Then flew for a regional carrier until United Air Lines hired me. I was an engineer and later a flight instructor on the DC-8 and DC-10. Then I flew the Boeing 747 as a copilot, upgrading to Captain on the 727. Went on to fly the Airbus A-320, and moved to the 767/757 fleet, returning to the Airbus after 9-11 forced the airline to reduce their active fleet, all as a Captain.

Enough history. Now to yesterday’s accident.

The normal way a flight from the Far East is vectored to SFO is over the City itself at or above 10000 ft, then flying out over the bay, descending as the plane passes the airport. At this time the copilot has by far the best view of the situation as he can see the airport and judge the descent, the lateral displacement from the runways, and the distance from the end of the runway. With the flight instrumentation on the 777, when the runway is selected on the automatic flight instrumentation, the Instrument Landing System (ILS) will give the flying pilot a visual indication of the glide slope he will want to follow. After the plane goes underneath the glide slope, or when it looks like they will transition below the glide slope as they turn toward the airport, the flying pilot will bring the plane to the right to set them up to intercept the extended center line of the runway. The plane should intercept the runway centerline below the glide slope. They will then fly up the centerline until they descend toward the runway on the glide slope, configured with landing flaps and landing gear, engines spooled up producing power, ready to go around, fully in control of their fate. Their descent angle will be 3%, losing 300 feet every nautical mile. This is called a stable approach; required by the FAA as well as all certificated airlines, the safest way to approach a landing runway.

The following is my reconstruction of the accident aircraft’s flight path, with no hard facts but the experience of having been based in San Francisco flying to the Far East for years.

The flight path for Asiana 214 probably started the same way. High over the city, out over the bay, descending. The captain is probably flying the jet, at this point hand-flying but maybe on the auopilot. The captain is at a disadvantage, because the runways are hard to see cross-cockpit, and Korean way does not lend itself to ask for help if you are in command. There are a lot of things going on: Air Traffic Control (ATC) may be asking him to shorten the approach, (This is the time of day when there are jets arriving from airports all over the far east.) he is perhaps too high and too fast, he needs to get his craft slowed down so he can configure for landing (get the flaps and gear extended, there are speed limits for each extension) and worst of all he has no electronic clues as to his position from the runway. It is now that he has bad luck from the weather; if the weather was bad he would have had to have had electronic help but the good weather has given the airport the opportunity to do some maintenance on the ILS system, taking it off the air.

As the captain turns onto base leg, which is 90 degrees from the heading of the runway, he sees that he is in a little too close to the runways and he is not fully configured. He pulls the power off and raises the nose, bleeding off airspeed quickly. He drops the flaps as the jet slows and turns onto the centerline of the runway, releasing the nose down and allowing the airspeed to build. There are lights on the side of the runway, defining the glide path, and he sees that he is still above it. He now undergoes one of the problems of SFO. San Francisco is a special qualification airport due to the mountainous terrain in the area, but it is also one of those tricky airports. You approach the runways normally used by heavy jets from over the water; there are no visual cues to help with depth perception. As a result the spy-data-gathering instruments on the jets show that this airport has more unstabilized approaches than almost any other airport in America. Relying on what you see out the window is just not reliable. The captain looks outside, thinks he is high, pulls the power back to get to what he thinks is the right height but is in fact too low.

Approach lights slide below the jet, close enough to touch. With the power off, airspeed bleeding down, and no altitude to spare, the captain jams the power levers forward and pulls the nose up, trying to stretch his glide to the runway. Instead, he enters into the beginning of a stall, the wings waggling, the nose up and the tail of the jet settling into the sea wall. Asiana flight 214 is below the glide slope, engines not spooled up, configured correctly but not flying. Their fate is in the hands of gravity and drag.

With the plane hitting the seawall short of runway 28L, we are no longer into speculation. We can see the debris. The jet tracks onto the runway, shedding parts in a straight line. The empennage sheds off; the vertical stabilizer going one way and both horizontal stabilizers falling off the other. As the jet settles down onto the part of the runway short of the displaced threshold,the ground grinds off the rest of the tail all the way to the rear pressure bulkhead,popping it off and and pulling a couple of young women out of the plane and onto the ground, killing them. The jet slams down, shearing off the nose gear, and then bounces back into the air. One of the impacts breaks the main gears off. This smashes the jet engines off, one of them spinning off to the side and the other nestling into the right side of the fuselage. The jet slides off the runway,the nose tracking to the right even as the plane skids to the left of the runway.

As the jet comes to rest, the flight attendants spring into action. Screaming at the passengers to release their seat belts and get out, the flight attendants see the fire on the right side of the plane. They direct the passengers to use the exits on the left side. A completely successful evacuation ensues with the jet emptied within a couple of minutes despite the fact that the emergency was completely unexpected and unbriefed. The cabin crew, unlike the cockpit crew, reacted professionally even after an all night, energy draining flight. Well done.

Not so well done for Fox news. They have a light plane pilot who anchors their weekday AM programing who was completely out of his depth on this incident. After a wandering, unfocused commentary he got stuck on “air pockets” (no such thing) and “microbursts” (a severe and dangerous weather condition associated with convective weather.) Hint: When there are no thunderstorms there are no microbursts. The mountains west of the field may produce some turbulence, but the weather had already been reported as clear with light winds. He really had no worthwhile inputs relative to a huge high performance jet going into a difficult airport.

The first guest with any good inputs was a retired NTSB investigator. They gave him about 45 seconds and went into commercial. He eventually got back on for most of a segment that was very informative. Finally someone who knew what he was talking about.

For some reason all the networks seem to think that people who have no flying background are able to describe accurately things an airplane does. Last night the best things the bystanders had to say was that the jet was coming in very nose-high. They did not know how to describe this, but we got the picture. Unfortunately, along with this nugget, we also got the “airplane cartwheeled” and slid down the runway upside down. No, no, no! Clearly, there were two wings still attached to the body as the jet sat there burning on the side of the runway. No way it tumbled. We were then subjected to this “slid upside down” comment for half the evening. A guest finally said that there was no way that this had happened, and after a couple of more upside downs in the summaries it finally went away.

A passenger said her plane hit some turbulence on short final as it landed on 28R. She had some useful pictures. But, turbulence that her pilot did not comment on to his passengers in a fairly light turboprop will not usually even be felt in a 700,000 pound jet. This may have been what Mr. Scott glommed onto when he brought up his microbursts.

They also had a “former Naval Aviator” making comments. At first I thought he was just a a shill for Boeing, as most of his comments were about what a great and safe plane Boeing had made, and how safe it was for us to fly. Yeah. All true. Not informative. His comments comparing Airbus planes to Boeing just showed his ignorance (777’s are fly-by-wire, too) and the rest of what he had to say on Saturday was a waste of air time. Oddly enough, his appearances on the Sunday morning shows were excellent, with cogent, informative comments that were right to the point. I guess we should never trust a squid on Saturday night. You never know what they have been consuming.

What Fox did extremely well Saturday was to pursue the numbers. Airlines are loath to talk about numbers until they have had a chance to triple check their rosters and passenger service computers. It is way too easy to not have everyone who is on the plane identified, or to have people who were checked in but who did not get on the flight as a passenger. This has improved since 9-11, but at the last moment they are more interested in getting the jet off the jetway and off into the air that being absolutely accurate with names and numbers, even though when something like this happens everyone thinks they ought to be perfect. Fox pursued every count at each hospital, pushed officials to tell what they knew and then followed up to make sure it was accurate. I’m not really sure why it is important, but it was something they did well.

Sunday morning was a lot better. Fox had people who had actually been into and out of SFO, they had the NTSB doing their stuff and grownups answering (and asking) cogent questions

At no time did anyone comment about the fire. Fortunately, the jet was almost out of go-juice when it impacted the ground. I’m sure there was almost nothing left when they landed. I know we were always short when we finally got home. ATC knew it, of course, and they made allowances for us and gave us unasked-for traffic preference. But Asaina had no weight in those still-intact wings. They sat there, inert, as the fuselage burned even though both engines, with lines conveying all those refined oil products from the wings into the engines, sat there unattached. One of the engines, the one which ended on the right side of the fuselage, burned a little, but it did not look like it burned through the skin of the plane.

Something burned into the fuselage, though.
All the way through.
After everyone got out. Remarkable.


From the Notebook

Justin Morneau

Image via Wikipedia

-Captain Boggs laughed when I asked him about sleeping traffic controllers. Guess it’s not all that worrisome.

-I was tasked with finding out how many other MLB pitchers have thrown no-hitters after Tommy John surgery by an old chum on Twitter. After a lot of research, and arguing with other people on Twitter, it turned out Parker Hageman posted the answer on my Facebook page seconds after I asked. For those wondering, Liriano’s no-hitter was the third thrown by someone after TJ surgery. Kenny Rogers was the first to do it with his perfect game in 1994. He recieved the surgery in 1987 while in the minors. Anibal Sanchez threw his no-hitter in 2006 after his 2003 surgery (again, while Sanchez was in the minors). Liriano was the first person who got TJ surgery after making the majors to throw a no-hitter. Since Tommy John got his surgery in 1974, over one hundred fifty pitchers have received the surgery, there have been 79 no-hitters and only three of them have been by TJ surgery recipients. For those wondering, Liriano’s no-hitter was not the worst one ever thrown. Not even close.

-I’m against Selig’s proposal to expand the playoffs to include more teams. I’d prefer instead an expansion of the number of games played to 7/9 versus the current 5/7. Adding more teams will add to the randomness of the playoffs, which is a bad thing. Expanding the number of games will reduce it, while also increasing revenue.

Osama bin Laden is dead, and Obama is a political genius in not releasing the photo. He will let the conspiracy theorists fester again, then embarass when the time is right. Just like the birth certificate/OBL-death combo where Trump went from headliner to loser. I am sometimes shocked by the political prowess of the Obama administration. Luckily, they misstep just as often, as we’ve seen from the aftermath of the OBL execution.

Justin Morneau‘s career is not dead. I took a look at some of his stats, including BABiP, Swing%, GB/FB/LD%s, HR as % FB and others. The results are telling. Morneau is making contact at basically the same rate. His plate discipline is just about the same. The missing component is just home runs. As he gets stronger, more of his fly balls (FB) will leave the park, his BABiP will rise and the old Morneau will return. He’s not having problems making contact. He’s not more or less disciplined at the plate (basically), he’s just weak. He lost 12 pounds to the flu in April, and didn’t have a complete spring to get in shape. Parker Hageman took a closer look at Morneau, and suggests his mechanics have changed and pitchers are burning him by throwing the ball on the outside of the plate. That too might explain the lower number of FBs leaving the ballpark for Morneau. I think Parker overrstates his case because Morneau’s LD rate this year (about 15%) is close to his career rate (18%). I’d expect to see a bigger drop, especially considering his LD rate has been around 15% in several previous seasons. I’d be tempted to rest Morneau until his strength returned.

-Delicious, the online bookmarking application I use to produce all those awful ‘links’ posts, has been sold by Yahoo to the YouTube creators. The transition will be complete by midsummer. I don’t know if I’ll still keep using the service, depends on what changes. I’m quite interested in ending the ‘links’ posts. We’ll see.

Books Read:

-Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things.” This long poem from the first century is part of the GBWW ten-year reading program. Lucretius presents several of the earliest arguments against teleology and Divine intercession. Some of his arguments are remarkable in their construction and rather strong. Others are absolutely silly, including some of his arguments regarding the existence of “soul” atoms that have no weight and leave the body after death. His passages regarding nature are beautiful. His materialism, absurd.

Julia Elizabeth Gutierrez Andrade, RIP

Julia Elizabeth Gutierrez Andrade was born in Albuquerque on December 13, 1919. She graduated from Albuquerque High School in 1937, and attended the University of New Mexico where she graduated in 1941. During World War II she worked at the Foreign Broadcast Information Service as a translator of Spanish and Portuguese language broadcasts. She met Americo (Mike) Andrade at the FBIS where he also worked as a translator. They married on February 22, 1944, in Washington, D.C., where she was given away by Senator Dennis Chavez, New Mexico’s senior senator. She returned to Albuquerque after Mike was posted overseas and began a long term career as a Spanish teacher in the Albuquerque Public Schools, starting at Washington Junior High. She later taught at Albuquerque High School, then moved to Valley High School when it opened. Later years saw her teaching at Monzano and Del Norte high schools. She taught for more than forty years. Julia died at home Saturday, Sep 4, 2010 at the age of 90. She is survived by two brothers, her two sons, and four grandchildren. Viewing will be Saturday Sep 11 at 9:30 followed by Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Church. Burial is Monday, Sep 14 at the National Cemetary in Santa Fe at 10:30.


For Captain Bogs

Rec’d via an email from Dick.M.:

A C-130 was lumbering along when a cocky F-16 flashed by.

The jet jockey decided to show off.

The fighter jock told the C-130 pilot, ‘watch this!’ and promptly went into a barrel roll followed by a steep climb. He then finished with a sonic boom as he broke the sound barrier.

The F-16 pilot asked the C-130 pilot what he thought of that?

The C-130 pilot said, ‘That was impressive, but watch this!’

The C-130 droned along for about 5 minutes and then the C-130 pilot came back on and said: ‘What did you think of that?’

Puzzled, the F-16 pilot asked, ‘What the heck did you do?’

The C-130 pilot chuckled. ‘I stood up, stretched my legs, walked to the back, went to the bathroom, then got a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll.’

Continental Flight 3407

From Captain Bogs:

This is your Captain speaking…

Another accident, another quest to find the reason why, so we don’t do this again.

Except this time, we have already have had a chance to fix things so it doesn’t happen again. But the FAA will not take the actions necessary to fix the problem despite the fact that the NTSB pointed at this type of anti-icing system as the cause of an accident 15 YEARS ago. So 50 more people pay with their lives because the FAA does not want for the commuter airlines to have to pay for an effective anti-icing system. It always comes down to money vs. lives, and when the cost in lives gets too large, the FAA will act. I hope that balance has at last been reached.

Basic training. Anti-ice systems in use at the present time are a heated leading edge of the wing, used by all the larger (737 and up) jets. The turboprops in the commuter ranks use a system where the leading edge of the wing has a rubber coating covering a pneumatic tube (more like a network of tubes, actually). With this system, the rubber expands when the air is applied, and the ice is supposed to break off the wing.

Anti ice systems have to deal with three types of wing ice. There is clear ice, which is formed by large super cooled drops of water which freeze when they hit the airfoil. This type of ice is hard to see, but is normally smooth. The aerodynamic characteristics of the wing are basically unchanged as the large drops adhere closely to the wing. Weight builds up quickly, however, and this type of icing can build to inches of heavy ice before it is noticed. The pneumatic anti-ice system works well on this type of icing if it is seen and taken care of early before the ice gets to be so thick that the pneumatics are not strong enough to dislodge them.

Pneumatic systems do not work so well with either of the other two types of icing, mixed and rime ice. Both of these happen with smaller drops of water that make smaller ice crystals on the wing. The problem with that is that the ice layer can be very flexible, going out and back with the rubber boot, and eventually forming a covering that builds outside the range of movement of the rubber boot. This makes the pneumatic system ineffective when you need it most, as the mixed and rime ice are rough and cause the aerodynamic characteristics of the airfoil to degrade.

The expanding rubber is an effective system. Well, at least that’s what they try to tell us. I am much more inclined to believe Ernest K Gann, Airline Pilot, the author of a number of fictional books on aviation, but most importantly, the author of the nonfiction book, Fate is the Hunter. He tells us of an encounter with ice in a DC-2(!!), an aircraft that has the same type of pneumatically powered anti-ice systems. Didn’t work for him either, although he and his crew were able to land the old crate before the ice forced them down. That was in the early 1930’s, so this is not a new problem.

Both systems are designed to handle only light icing. Anything heavier can overwhelm the system no matter which type of anti-icing system you have. Then you will have increased drag, possibly degraded lift and a lot more weight right when you have less lift to keep you in the air. Too much of this, and you stall your wing. This is what just happened, and we are all horrified at the result.

Each time an aircrew gets into ice they are presented with the facts that they have a degraded wing, increased weight, decreased power (both systems bleed air off the compressor of the turbine, taking power away from the engines) and an unknown type of ice. Each encounter has to be handled on an ad hoc basis, especially if you have a rubber boot system. You apply the anti-icing and try to evaluate its effectiveness.

As soon as you are in ice you become a test pilot, because no one has taken your aircraft into this exact icing event. This is even more important when you have to change the configuration, either by putting out flaps or dropping the gear. Anything like that changes your environment from where you are and have handled to something you know will be different but you know will require more power. (All configuration changes in the landing sequence increase drag, which must be overcome with more power.) How much more power? Enough, but not more. Or less. Again, this is what just happened. They were where they needed to lower flaps to prepare for landing. The movement of the flaps changed their aerodynamic characteristics enough to increase the power required more than they were ready for, and they stalled right into the ground from 2000 feet up.

The crew knew they were in icing. They had their anti-icing system on. They were doing what they were trained to do. It wasn’t enough.

When I flew the Jetstream 2000 it had a rubber boot on the wing as its anti-ice system. I never trusted it. I made sure that the anti-ice went on only when we had enough ice on the wing that it would break off in large chunks no matter what kind of ice we had encountered. One time we had clear ice, and there was so much ice on the wing when we noticed it and turned on the system that we popped up 100 feet as the ice flew off. It made a sound like a pistol shot. Scared the hell out of both of us, and that was the crew. I can only imagine what the passengers thought! The other times we had to use the anti-icing the ice flew off the wing and we turned the system off until we had enough ice on the wing to make the ice brittle so the system world work. That is the only way that system will work with mixed and rime icing. It is NOT the way the airline (and indeed all the airlines with this type of pneumatic system) trained their pilots to use the system. They said to turn it on and leave it on. They are wrong. The Canadian FAA says that the anti-ice system should be turned on before the aircraft gets into any known icing. This will work with a heated wing, but it will not work with rubber boots. I wonder if they have any pilots in their regulators. It doesn’t look like it.

All in all, an avoidable accident. Inexcusable! Either we need to learn how to use the boots and train our crews on how to use them in a way that will at least give them a chance, or we need to consign the rubber boots into the trash can and put what the big boys use on their jets, the heated wing. I knew about the problems the rubber boots cause long before I was a pilot. (I read Fate is the Hunter in middle school.) The ICAO (International regulators) and the FAA need to start putting safety and the lives of the crew and passengers above cost of an effective anti-icing system.

TwinsFest Notes

Spent my entire Saturday roaming around TwinsFest looking for autographs. It was a blast, and some local friends joined me an helped me get a lot of autographs. It was an expensive weekend but I came away with almost 70 autographs from 20 Twins prospects and alumni.

Some notes:

-John Castino, an AL ROY award winner and Twins alumni, was noteworthy in my mind as he was the only signer who thanked every person who paid to get his autograph. “Thank you for supporting the Twins Community Fund.” A class act. I apologized to him for not having anything but a notepad for him to sign (by this time of the day I had run out of baseballs and other items) and his reply was “What, you couldn’t afford 30 cents for one of my cards?”

-I spent most of my time getting autographs from the various minor league players. The big names were Ben Revere, Steve Tolleson, Anthony Swarzak and Danny Valencia. When I passed Swarzak a baseball, I asked him to put his signature on the sweet spot. He paused, cocked his head a bit, and looked at me in confusion and asked “seriously?” Anthony, you didn’t do that poorly last year.

-My father was with me, getting his own autographs. He waited in line to get Bert Blyleven’s autograph and to correct Bert’s pronunciation of “Gutierrez” (The correct pronunciation is not “Goudy-Air-ez”). This did not make Bert very happy. Well, willful ignorance is not a virtue. My father’s mother’s maiden name was “Gutierrez” and her profession was high school Spanish teacher. I have yet to hear Bert get a Spanish diphthong correct.

-While I defend Bert as a broadcaster, and I think overall he’s a good guy and maybe his wilful ignorance of Spanish pronunciations is just a product of the stubbornness of age (ever try to teach a person with gray hair about OPS?), something which is not open for discussion is whether Bert belongs in the HOF. He does. It was nice to see Patrick Ruesse talk about how Bert is basically the only person he ballots for.

-KSTP was broadcasting their weekend sportstalk show, which was why I head anything from Ruesse at all. Bill Smith was on the show and Pat grilled the Twins GM on Anthony Slama’s lack of promotion through the system. Smith didn’t have much of answer. Slama should probably end the season in AAA, he’ll be 25 this season and time is running out on his career.

-About an hour into TwinsFest I started experiencing hip pain. Something I’ve never had before. Today, no hip pain whatsoever. I’m glad I don’t have to spend any time on astroturf.

-Toby Gardenhire was one of the prospects signing autographs. Unfortunately, he was sitting next to Ben Revere, which meant many people bypassed him completely, something I hadn’t seen at all anywhere else at TwinsFest. Have some decorum people, Toby was taking time out of his day to do charitable work and despite his lack of offensive numbers he deserved better than to be ignored by scores of autograph hounds.

-Speaking of which, I have several hats signed by Toby Gardenhire for sale, leave a comment if you’re interested.

-Got to meet up with Seth Stohs for a spell. Which was a good time.

-The card show itself was a lot of fun, and it included several dealers who had Ruth and Cobb signatures.

This is Your Captain Speaking…

Captain Bogs:

This is your Captain speaking:

In response to overwhelming public demand (that’s you, Josh), here are my thoughts to the recent water landing, called ditching by those of us in the industry, in the Hudson River by a US Air A-320.

First of all, let me add my praise to Capt Sullenberger. He did an outstanding job putting the plane down in the river without loss of life, and really without major injuries to almost anyone. A couple of broken legs was all the human cost of an accident that took the total loss of of an airframe.

That being said…..

Any accident has a chain of events that lead to the accident. This one was no different. I am not going to go into the the anti-gun, anti-hunting environment we find ourselves in. Because waterfowl, especially large waterfowl like the geese, were so heavily over hunted in the early part of of the 20th century, they were rightly given protection from hunters which were the only effective predators the big birds have now that almost all large, meat eating animals have been eliminated from all populated areas of North America. The subsequent population explosion in goose and to a lesser extent crane populations throughout the US are easy to see. Here where I live, my barber’s father was instrumental in reestablishing the goose population in the area. The birds have gone from 15 animals in the early 40s to many thousands today. We live in central Minnesota, and we are a nesting and transition point in waterfowl migrations. The Canadian geese transit the area on their way north in spring and south in the fall, with other goose species staying here during the summer season, causing my dog to happily chase them from the shoreline and into the lakes. (We try to keep him on a leash when the goslings are too small to evade him. To my knowledge, he has never caught a single wild animal. I’m sure he would starve to death if he had to catch his own food.) Air traffic is sparse, and the airfield is run by folks who know the problems presented by a large goose (and other bird) population. They keep the airfield and its surrounding airspace as clear as they can, and they do a good job of it.

This leads us the the chilly winter day in New York with an A-320 taking off from the horribly out-of-date airport on northern Long Island called La Guardia. Waterfowl migrate only as far south as they have to to find food, and the fields, marshes, and garbage dumps of Long Island give them a reason to stay there all winter. As their population has increased, so does the likelihood of airplane/bird interaction. But waterfowl, especially geese, are easy to see. They are large birds which fly in formations which can number into the thousands, so large, in fact, that they can be seen on radar easier than a B-2. And in this case, the formation of birds was indeed seen in the cockpit by the pilot flying the plane. For some reason, he was unable to avoid the birds. I really do not know why they flew into the geese. It may have been just a case of not seeing them as the danger they really are. Bird strikes are just so common in aviation that they are often seen as just a nuisance rather than a danger. (But when I was in pilot training we lost an instructor when he and another instructor hit a sandhill crane while flying a T-37, a slow (for a jet) small aircraft. The bird hit just below the canopy, breaking it and penetrating into the cockpit. It hit the pilot in the face and chest, inflicting fatal injuries. The other pilot took over control of the jet and landed it safely and quickly, but it was too late for the first pilot.)

Back to the US Air accident. After the bird strike, Capt Sullenberger took the jet and considered his options. Not many of those. He was too low to do anything other than look for a place to land, which he found in the Hudson River. Conditions were ideal for a successful ditching. He was going downriver, so the current was helping lower the difference between the speed of the jet and the water’s surface. There was no wind and therefore no waves, and the jet would have it’s longitudinal axis aligned with its flightpath, all good things. There was not enough time to prep the cabin or even brief the flight attendants about what was about to happen, all bad things. No matter, call over the intercom to brace for impact, and set the plane on the water. Good touchdown, normal to-be-expected hard landing as the engines dug into the water, and a straight run-out on the water. He managed to make the ditching survivable, all one can really expect from a emergency landing.

The normal sequence of events for a ditching is for the jet to sink to the wings while the cabin has no or little water in it. The main emergency exits should be the two doors forward and the two doors aft where there are emergency slides, which double as rafts in the water. The overwing exits should not be used, since the jet may sink fairly quickly as the fuselage fills with water. In this case, the jet settled down nose-high, with the aft doors awash. This precluded the use of the aft two rafts, cutting the available flotation to the two rafts forward. In this case, in a river filled with ferries which were able to respond immediately to the crash site, the two aft rafts were not needed. Passengers exited through the overwing exits and lined up on the wings. The jet had only the two forward exits open, so the fuselage did not fill rapidly and the jet stayed afloat until all people had been rescued. Major kudos to the master mariners who so quickly and skillfully deployed their ships and boats to rescue the people from the plane. Their performance reflect great credit on themselves and the city they serve.

So a major success. But the aft exit problem is serious. A ditching in the open ocean will have to have all 4 rafts available if all the passengers and crew are to have a chance to survive. I flew many flights over the Caribbean from Miami to Puerto Rico or to northern South America, and if something had happened en route that would have put us into the water I would have needed everything I could get to give everyone alive (assuming I could have done as well as Sully did here in New York.) The crews must be able to deploy all the survival equipment the jet has, or a ditching will have the same situation the Titanic found herself in where there is a choosing of who will live and who must die. We no longer live in a world where that is acceptable.

Modern jets do not undergo water landings as a part of their certification process. Models are used to predict the performance of the airframe configuration in the water. Here we have an actual controlled water landing which I’m sure Airbus will look at very closely. They may very well have quite a problem.

Captain Bogs on the US Airways Incident

Was able to talk to my old man, a retired United Airlines pilot, about the water landing in the Hudson river today. He was a pilot on the A320 in his last few years at United. Hopefully I’ll get him to write up his own post, but his thoughts mirrored the old joke about what substantiates a “good landing” (any landing you can walk away from).

His observations included the fact the plane had full flaps, which meant the pilot went in as slowly as the plane could go. Also, he mentioned the fact the Airbus people will be very interested in this incident because they don’t have actual data about water landings and how long their airplane will stay afloat. So, considering the pilot “did everything right” this incident will provide data which can be used in the future to save lives.

With both engines out, the pilot would have lost his electricity (AC power). Otherwise, the incident wasn’t complicated, the plane took off, hit a bunch of birds, engines went out, the pilot had a few seconds to make a decision and then ditched the plane.

Biden, eh?

When in doubt, when running a presidential campaign let the news of your VP choice come out 2am (east coast) on a Friday night so no one can ask any questions until we’ve all had our coffee Monday morning. This way, when those questions come out you can say “oh, that’s old news. Time to move on.”

So, I’ll ask a few questions:

Will the questions about McCain’s age stop now that Obama has an old man on the ticket? (Biden is 65)

Can Biden clarify his statement dealing with Obama’s qualifications to be president? (Biden suggested Obama is unqualified)

Why isn’t Biden on top of the ticket and the pretty face rookie on the bottom?

Is it change or is it politics as usual for Senator Biden? (Change is a big deal to Obama but Biden has been in the Senate since the Vietnam war.)

Who will plagiarize more, Biden or Obama?

Seriously, 2AM?

How much pork is Biden responsible for?

How long will his speech at the DNC be?

Will we have to hear him often?

Will steroids become an issue in the campaign?

Is Biden really one of the ones we’ve been waiting for? Really?

Captain Bogs Adds: Will Biden and Obama share notes on plastic surgeons?