Thursday, July 5, 2012

Air France 447: Equipment Problems; Stall Warnings; Pilot Error

Air France Flight 447 took off from Rio de Janeiro and headed toward Paris. Some time later, the Airbus A330-200 disappeared from radar.

Evidence, But Not Much

That was May 31, 2009. By June 10, we knew that an airliner and 228 people had disappeared, and that:
  • Two names that were on a terrorist watch list appeared on Air France Flight 447's passenger list
  • The Airbus A330-200 had an older set of Pitot tubes
    • Air speed sensors
  • Pilots in the area saw an "intense flash" when the airliner disappeared
  • A fuel slick found wasn't jet fuel
    (June 10, 2009)
All we knew was that more than 200 people were missing and presumed dead.

I could make that bright flash seem like an explosion, but there was a thunderstorm in the area: and lightning is notoriously bright.

Passengers with names that appeared on a terrorist watch list were suggestive, but far from proof. The names may not have been as common as "Jim Johnson" was in northern Minnesota: but different people often have the same name.

The Pitot tubes, which were going to be replaced, hinted at technical problems: but a 'hint' isn't proof.

Almost two years later, AF 447's flight recorder was found. (April 28, 2011

Training Pilots: Yes, It's Important

Apparently AF447's pilots hadn't been trained for high-altitude flight, or what to do when airspeed sensors don't work right. (BBC News, July 29, 2011) Putting them on a high-altitude flight in an airliner with slightly obsolete airspeed sensors may not have been a prudent decision. Air France says that the pilots were so trained.

Airbus and Air France may face manslaughter charges over the little oopsies in AF 447.

A BBC News article included a timeline of the last few minutes of Air France 447:
"...0135 GMT: The crew informs the controller of the flight's location

"0159-0206 GMT: The co-pilot warns of turbulence ahead before the captain leaves the cockpit for a rest break

"0208 GMT: The plane turns left, diverting from the planned route. Turbulence increases

"0210 GMT: The auto-pilot and auto-thrust mechanisms disengage. The plane rolls to the right. The co-pilot attempts to raise the nose. The stall warning sounds twice and the plane's speed drops. The co-pilot calls the captain

"0210 GMT: The stall warning sounds again. The plane climbs to 38,000ft

"0211-0213 GMT: The captain re-enters the cockpit. The plane is flying at 35,000 ft but is descending 10,000 ft per minute. The co-pilot says 'I don't have any more indications', pulls the nose down and the stall warning sounds again...

"...02:14 GMT: Recordings stop"
(BBC News)
I think there are a few things to learn from AF 447, including:
  • 'Accidents happen'
  • It's a good idea to train pilots
  • Faulty equipment isn't reliable
  • Deferring judgment until there's enough evidence is sensible
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Blogroll

Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.