Uncontained Engine Disintegration/Southwest #Southwest1380 #QF32 #ua232 #Airline #Aviation

In Air Crashes and Miracle Landings  we describe two “catastrophic” cases where the shrapnel from the engine struck vital parts, even in more than a hundred places, and  by dint of great airmanship  the aircraft was brought back with many and all surviving. In the case of Southwest 1380 unfortunately it was a passenger who suffered.


The first of the two incidents was the “Uncontrollable” DC-10’s Miracle Landing at Sioux City.  United Airlines Flight 232, July 19, 1989.

The engine that disintegrated  was in the tail of the jumbo trijet. In that case, rather than  single blade as in South west 1380 that might have been retained by the protective casing, it was a blade-retaining disk further down in the engine that shattered with a with a large heavy piece penetrating the fuselage and slicing through the triplicate (for safety on the belt-and-braces principle) hydraulic control lines for the rudder and elevators in the tail.

With no rudder of ailerons, and no hydraulic pressure to operate the ailerons the aircraft was theoretically uncontrollable. However, with the help of an off-duty captain who had  been sitting in First Class and who on realizing something was wrong had offered his services, they were able to maneuver the aircraft by adjusting the power of the two engine in pods under the wings. This was facilitated by the fact that they were very low-slung to balance the third engine (the broken one) high up in the tail. However, they were only able to make crude adjustments and, unlike conventional controls, any action (increase or decrease of power one one side or the other) would take several or more seconds to have an effect.

They managed to come in with an extremely high rate of descent into Sioux City Airport but with a wing dropping and correction in time impossible it snagged the ground and crumpled . The aircraft cartwheeled and broke into five piece. 

 Incredibly, 185 people out of 296 survived, making a death toll of 111. That so many survived was to some extent due to the sterling efforts of the cabin crew and their rigorous training in a simulator, which made a crash landing and fire seem real.
Even so, their contribution would have probably been in vain, supposing they were even still alive, had not the high rate of descent and the 215 + 10 knot ground speed been absorbed in some manner. This is a prime example of the fact mentioned in this book’s preface that the more horrendous-looking crashes can be the most survivable, due to the fracturing and crumpling absorbing the shock.

It is a remarkable tale, and must rank as one of the true aviation “miracles.” 


The other incident we describe in detail in the book is Qantas Flight QF 32, on November 4, 2010, where the engine on a double-decker Airbus A380 superjumbo disintegrated with shrapnel hitting it in some hundred places but fortunately not penetrating the passenger cabin. With almost 95% of systems compromised and fuel leaking from the wing the pilots flew around for an hour solving as many problems as possible before landing faster than usual with a dangerously overweight aircraft and hardly any runway to spare.

It is another example of great airmanship.


 Southwest 1380

The pilot (and copilot) have been praised. Interestingly they cane in faster than usual at 170 knots, apparently because of the limited flap. However, when unsure of the state of the aircraft extra speed and one at which the aircraft is known to be OK is the  safest option. One only too well remembers the DC-10 in the photo below that flipped over and crashed when the loss (falling off) of an engine caused the slats on tha twing to retract. The pilots had followed the rule-book and slowed, when had they stayed at their speed the wing would not have stalled and the aircraft would have been flyable. (The idea behind slowing down was to avoid the theoretic danger of a damaged aircraft breaking up.)




Surprising tweet from someone who indicated an agenda

There have been many tweets praising the captain of Southwest 1380.  Yet, there was one admonishing her because her voice in her verbal exchanges with ATC did not indicate any compassion for the victim(s). No mention of the fact that, her essential job done, she came to give verbal support to the traumatised passengers. Could it have been fake news to bring someone with that agenda into disrepute?



Southwest Incident, Would More Slowly Rotating GTF Fan be safer? #Southwest1380 #Airline #Aviation #GTF

It would be interesting to know whether a geared turbofan engine might be safer than the conventional one as regards the type of incident sadly suffered by Southwest Airlines. A fan rotating more slowly might be less likely to lose a blade and the centrifugal force being less might mean the casing might retain it should it fail.

One thing that is surprising is the time the NTSB will take to draw definitive conclusions when they can already see the place where the blade fractured, unlike in crashes where thousands of pieces have to be recovered to find the cause.


Kindle Drop Capitals now possible

I bought a program called KU TOOLs that at a keystroke could remove (but not replace) drop capitals from the printed version of Air Crashes and Miracle Landings before putting it on the Kindle. as they did not work there. There was an expensive program that could do it, but judging from a professionally produced book I read on the Kindle the result was hardly pleasing.

When I recently made  a Kindle file submission test run on getting my book ready for pre-orders I left the drop capitals in and they came out really beautiful. (BTW,  I had set them to drop two lines on the printed version, and the Kindle dropped them three which in view of the smaller size was perfect.)

This is wonderful as I can have the basic book the same for both printed and Kindle versions and not have to update two and risk getting them out of sync.

Note: The interior file I submitted to Amazon Kindle was a “Web Page (filtered) htm, html using Word (Office 365)

Christopher Bartlett (Author/Publisher)


Nine facets of AF447

Because we think they had a material bearing on the AF447 disaster, in Air Crashes and Miracle Landings we alluded to private matters one would not normally divulge. Firstly, the ones leading to the captain’s sleep deficit, and even his very likely euphoric and soporific frame of mind when early in the flight he just might have bothered to adjust course to avoid the storms, as did the captains of other airliners that night.

In fact, we give details of nine facets of the disaster which in combination resulted in tragedy.

Unlikely to Recur
Lessons learnt should mean that never again will there be such a stall following a high-altitude autopilot disengagement due a loss of credible airspeed data. Pilots will be reminded that all they need do—apart from keeping the wings level (not easy without the computer) and continuing to fly level at the already proven power setting—is nothing.

They are also being taught how to recover from a high-altitude stall. Besides reducing power to prevent the nose being pushed up in a stall it might also be necessary to remove the resulting upward trim on the horizontal stabilizer in the most unlikely event of someone Bonin-like having been continuously “pulling back” on his stick. Unfortunately, when copilot Bonin, the PF,  announced that was what he had been doing all along, they were dropping at ten thousand feet a minute, with only half that height remaining. It was quite hopeless, for even after putting the nose down and having regained airspeed, considerable time, or rather height, would be still needed to break that vertiginous fall.

The Future—Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Research is being done on an autopilot featuring artificial intelligence that can, for instance, guesstimate airspeed from more data sources, such as GPS and inertial guidance systems, before “giving up” and disengaging. The team developing it found it could even learn from experience gained on different models of aircraft. That would apply to cases where pilots had flown on manually with no problems after the autopilot disengaged due to lack of airspeed data.
Such an autopilot could continue, as the lawyers say, “under advisement” and avoid the pilots being thrown in at the deep end, where the startle effect and lack of manual flying dexterity are liable to make them do something untoward, as tragically happened here.

Frequently cited as the ultimate example of how automation has made pilots lose their flying skills and crash, this disaster was also due to other incidental human and technical factors. As Sullenberger so wisely says, “Bad outcomes are almost never the result of a single fault, a single error, a single failure—instead they are the end result of a causal chain of events.”
Rather than an example of pilots losing their flying skills this could also be a prime example of how complex underlying situations can be.

See the book to understand the interplay of nine facets of the disaster in detail, and how the delay in the  captain returning to the cockpit meant the more experienced non-flying copilot was distracted calling him, and he arrived too late to grasp the situation. Investigators are wary of speculating over matters of personality, though the NTSB did delve into private life of the copilot who swished off the tail of the Airbus as it encountered wake turbulence on taking off from New York’s JFK. However, the French investigators are particularly wary as the pilots’ union opposes publication of any details including the transcription of the CVR.


French Air Traffic Controllers

In Air Crashes and Miracle Landings we only just touched on the case of the French air traffic controllers after mentioning an extract on the Internet dated Thursday, January 31, 1980 saying:

“FAA Acts to Remove a Controller”
The Federal Aviation Administration moved yesterday to dismiss an air traffic controller for allegedly tampering with radar data and contributing to the “potential endangerment” of a Soviet airliner being guided to a landing at Kennedy International Airport last January.
The announcement of the FAA action said that “important flight data” on the Soviet plane, a four-jet Ilyushin 62 operated by the airline Aeroflot, had been “deliberately erased” as the aircraft approached Kennedy. Among those on board the plane was the Soviet ambassador to the United States, Anatoly F. Dobrynin.

In pointing out how pivotal to aviation the controllers are and the power they wield, we cited  the 1981 industrial action by US air traffic controllers and the book Collision Course by Prof. Joseph McCartin on the origins of the strike and the aftermath, which led to President Reagan firing eleven thousand controllers.
There were no major accidents while new controllers were engaged and trained following the sacking, though some pro-union people say the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 into the icy Potomac River in January 1982 can be partly attributed to the use of a less qualified controller.

Standing up to air traffic controllers is difficult. The French ones were and are notorious, with the country’s location meaning they can cause wide and costly disruption.

As far back as 1973 an exasperated French government had military personnel take over, but the attempt to defeat the controllers was short-lived, for that very day there was a midair collision at Nantes, near the Atlantic coast, between aircraft of two Spanish airlines.
The controllers’ union mocked the government, saying it proved that they, as they had always claimed, were indispensable.

An article on AirlineGeeks dated March 23, 2018 entitled French Air Traffic Control Goes on Strike…Again  highlights iteresting poing points such as:

Since 2010, air traffic control (ATC) strikes have cost the Eurozone economy nearly 12 billion euros and passengers have faced nearly an entire year’s work of ATC strikes since 2005. Of the 357 ATC strikes since then, 249 were French ATC strikes.

There have been suggestions that other countries’ controllers be allowed to handle overflights during strikes, but moves to introduce that would lead to further strikes–as was the case when attempts were made to rationalise the handling of Eurozone air traffic. 

One problem is that with the French controllers being civil servants the government has some measure of control over them in that that must provide a minimum service. A different regime, say forcing them to declare beforehand how many will be striking–at present flights can be cancelled in anticipation of a strike with them finally turning up–might mean less control than with them being civil servants. The problem seems insoluble and for the time-being President Macron has to deal with the striking railwaymen in support of whom the air traffic controllers came out on strike!


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Where Did The “Miracle” on The Hudson Lie?

As the title of the piece on Sully’s ditching in the Hudson was being wrongly taken to imply criticism of Sully we have rewritten the end as follows:

“One cannot take away Sully’s achievement. Just imagine the gut-wrenching feeling he had to overcome on finding himself engineless over a packed city with no height to play with. The double-entendre in our title “Where Did The ‘Miracle’ on The Hudson Lie?’ was intentional, but not to disparage Sully.

“LIE” was referring to the movie falsely portraying the NTSB investigators as heartless inquisitors failing to consider “thinking time” and claiming Sully could have got back to LaGuardia when in fact they had factored it in and thought he made the right decision. More importantly it referred to the fact that the ”miracle” LAY principally in everyone on board managing to evacuate onto the wings and into the life rafts (with Sully ensuring all were out) and once there without exception being rescued—of course all thanks to Sully having succeeded in bringing  their A320  safely down onto the smooth but inhospitable water.”


Path followed


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Restarting our blog with https

In trying move this website to the more secure and increasingly favoured by Google https we lost most of our earlier posts, and notably the one saying how we are going to miss the input of Australian aviation journalist Ben Sandilands who died last October and gave advice for the second edition of Air Crashes and Miracle Landings.

However, as the links on Google are no longer valid it is good to be starting again, and making the change to https now rather than later when there would be much more to lose.

Sully Comparisons


In our book we just wanted to put Sully’s feat into perspective by mentioning that other pilots have faced and resolved even more difficult situations though perhaps not so scary.

One comparison was with the “Gimli Glider Incident” (in Chapter 2) where an Air Canada Boeing 767 ran out of fuel with only  a tiny disused airfield at Gimli in reach. Coming in too high and much too fast the captain used the skills learnt as a glider pilot to lose that height and speed and touch down with no loss of life. A perhaps greater feat than the one achieved by Sully, who too had glider pilot skills but as we said just did not need them.


We end the piece on Sully’s feat as follows:

Sully’s flying skill—the thing for which, ironically, the public hold him in such high esteem—was the area where he performed creditably but not exceptionally. He let his airspeed fall too low and thus was unable to make an effective flare to break the excessive sink rate, which ultimately resulted in the panels under the tail section breaking and letting in water and the shock injuring the flight attendant sitting there. The NTSB investigators attributed this failure to maintain airspeed to tunnel vision brought about by lack of time, stress, work overload, the distractions of various alarms, the off-putting sight of skyscrapers alongside, and concentrating on maneuvering the aircraft, coupled with the fact that other audible warnings were prioritized over airspeed warnings at that low height.

They pointed out that without thrust from the engines, it would be extremely difficult for any pilot to achieve the recommended ditching speeds, assuming he or she knew them. However, Sully did strike the water with the wings virtually level, and at such an angle the aircraft did not spin, cartwheel, or break up. He did well enough, but other than keeping his nerve while performing that maneuver, he probably did not need all the talents developed from the age of three onwards extolled in his autobiography.

With the rear of the aircraft damaged and icy water coming in, perhaps the real miracle was the rescue, with not a single fatality thanks to the diligence of so many—boatmen, helicopter men, not forgetting Sully, who checked so thoroughly that everyone was out and gave advice and assistance to those in difficulty. This was also thanks to the cabin crew, all with twenty if not thirty years’ experience, showing there is something to be said for that. Admittedly, an average domestic flight might well have had more passengers with impaired mobility and made their task more difficult.

One of the many lessons noted by the NTSB investigators is a little chilling for those of us confined in seats so close to the one in front that in adopting the brace position we cannot bend fully over and grab our ankles, and instead have to press on the top of the back of the seat in front with our hands or arms. Two female passengers so doing suffered a shoulder fracture.

A man generously took charge of the baby a mother was carrying on her lap, but had the deceleration been far greater he might not have been able to save it as he did. Babies and infants in arms should ideally have their own seats and restraints; however, that might mean people unable to afford the extra seat would travel by road, which is far more dangerous.

One gratifying endnote is that the passengers who risked the lives of their fellow passengers and cabin crew by bringing their luggage with them lost it in the river, while those that did not got it returned.

Notwithstanding all we have said, one cannot take away Sully’s achievement. Just imagine the gut-wrenching feeling he had to overcome on finding himself engineless over a packed city with no height to play with.

Great pilots like great generals, as Napoleon said, need luck.

What is more, because he is clearly such a fine, upstanding person, Sully has been able to exploit his fame for good.


Referring to the movie we said:

The movie Sully, with Tom Hanks as a very credible and likeable Sully, proved a big box office hit in the US and abroad, in great part by making the hero look even more heroic, at the expense of the NTSB investigators.

Unlike the gripping movie Apollo 13, where the high drama lasted three days as the capsule with the three astronauts circled the moon, this incident lasted a mere three minutes from the moment of the bird strike to coming down safely on the water. Therefore, to hold cinemagoers’ interest, the filmmakers introduced scenes showing Sully imagining his aircraft hitting Midtown buildings in 9/11 style, and more disconcertingly created a false scenario in which Sully and Skiles are portrayed as victims of a drawn-out NTSB witch hunt, the dramatic finale being that public hearing at the NTSB, at which Sully pulls a cat out of a bag to dramatically prove for all to see that the callous investigators were totally wrong because they had forgotten to factor in “thinking time.” In fact, as said, it was the NTSB’s idea to factor it in and say he could not have got back to LaGuardia and had indeed acted correctly.

The writer of a glowing 5-star review of Air Crashes and Miracle Landings on Amazon UK said the only negative he could find was our disparaging Sully’s flying skills and “missing no opportunity to question them.”

With the book starting with Amelia Earhart and the loss of power over water the reader too quickly comes upon our analytical account of Sully’s exploit. The comparisons we make really refer to the circumstances rather than question his flying skills.  The title of the piece “Where did the Miracle on The Hudson Lie?” was a little confusing for though the double-entendre meaning of “Lie” was intentional we really meant the miracle LAY in the rescue from the Hudson partly thanks to the fact that the domestic flight happened to have life rafts. We will shortly try to correct this by adding a sentence at the end saying so.

We would welcome comments.