USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air 655 in 1992–reviewer outraged

A reviewer of this expanded second edition of Air Crashes and Miracle Landings seized upon our account of the downing of Iran Air 655 by a US warship, saying it was a “shrill” attack on the US Navy and the police, even though we did not mention the police. In fact, it mostly consists of a “blow-by-blow” factual account, saying who did what.

Admittedly we did begin by saying:

  A fabulously expensive US warship designed to fight World War III, with a “gung ho” captain, found itself larking around with Iranian gunboats, and in the process shot down an Iranian airliner on a scheduled flight. The loss of the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was just possibly a consequence of this.

Iran Air Flight 655 and USS Vincennes, July 3, 1988

And after describing the tragedy in great and interesting detail we ended by saying:

The Iranian airliner had had 274 passengers and 16 crew on board, and all perished.

The US paid $61.8 million in compensation to discontinue a case brought by Iran against the US in the International Court of Justice in 1989, all the while not admitting responsibility.

The US Navy inquiries faced a conundrum, for if they admitted the captain was at fault it might mean captains in future would hesitate to defend their ships. Actually, the fault concerned not so much the captain’s final decision but his appointment in the first place, the Vincennes entering Iranian territorial waters and putting itself in the path of the airliner, the radar operator not resetting his distance and hence picking up the transponder of a fighter on the runway at the airport, and the operator erroneously finally confirming to the captain the aircraft was descending when it was climbing (that might be construed as wish fulfilment).

One thing is for sure, it was crazy having an ultra-sophisticated warship costing a billion dollars engaging tiny speedboats, a task for which she was neither suited, nor designed.

To gloss over the affair, the US Navy gave medals to Captain Rogers (and other members of the crew) but, tellingly, not another ship.

We kept this account just as it was from the previous edition of the book, partly because it was still relevant in view of the Malaysian Airlines MH17  Boeing 777  incident over the Ukraine in 2014.

Furthermore, it was typical of so many air crashes in that that it resulted from a whole series of factors.

We were not criticising the US Navy as a whole, and the account mostly described in detail and without comment what happened.

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Kindle Unlimited Preventing Reviews of “Air Crashes and Miracle Landings”

To fight the scourge of fake reviews whereby review factories for a fee submit hundreds of glowing reviews Amazon has made it a rule that reviewers must have purchased the book and have spent $50 at one time or another on the credit card.

This means that we have not been getting the expected reviews in the US since many of our readers use Kindle Unlimited to read our book. This is not a problem for us financially as we get paid according to the number of pages read and it is a long book.

Since our 3-month enrolment period for Kindle Unlimited ends on April 28, and we will wait before renewing it to hopefully get some reviews in the US.

By the way, we were delighted to receive the following review for Air Crashes and Miracle Landings on Amazon UK:

UK Five Star Review
5 out of 5 stars

“The new MacArthur Job has arrived.
4 March 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
Mr Bartlett has taken over the mantle of the late, great MacArthur Job, as an aviation writer of undoubted excellence.
His book covers many, many accidents, both well known and obscure, in just the right amount of detail to remain fascinating.
The reviewer added that the only fault he could find apart from a couple of typos was our seeming to question Sullenberger’s flying skills.
As a result we corrected the typos and rewrote the ending of the piece on the “Miracle on The Hudson” (see this blog) as the title with its play on words was liable to be misunderstood.
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Uncontained Engine Disintegration/Southwest

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?



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Southwest Incident, Would More Slowly Rotating GTF Fan be safer?

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.


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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)


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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.


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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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