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December 10, 2011

"But I've had the stick back the whole time!" - What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447

Chilling: Two years after the Airbus 330 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, Air France 447's flight-data recorders finally turned up. The revelations from the pilot transcript paint a surprising picture of chaos in the cockpit, and confusion between the pilots that led to the crash. -- Popular Mechanics

Posted by gerardvanderleun at December 10, 2011 8:41 AM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

Your Say

Damn, even I know enough not to hold the stick back in computer simulation games. And I still suck at those.

Posted by: rickl at December 10, 2011 10:28 PM

That's Piloting 101--pull the stick back, and the nose of the aircraft comes towards you. If you hold the stick back long enough, the angle of attack becomes so high and your speed bleeds off so much that you can no longer sustain flight, and the aircraft stalls. As true in an A-330 as it is in a Cessna 172. And Popular Mechanics is right--this crew's cockpit management sucked. I'm interested to see if our favorite Airbus pilot, Capt. Dave over at FL390, has any comments on this.

Posted by: waltj at December 11, 2011 5:10 AM

Shorter version: two of the three Air France pilots in charge of the safety of hundreds of lives did not know how to fly the airplane.

Posted by: sherlock at December 11, 2011 8:39 AM

According to Neptunus Lex: "Push the stick forward and the houses get bigger. Pull the stick back and the houses get smaller. For a while. Then they start getting bigger again."

Posted by: sherlock at December 11, 2011 8:43 AM

I think some of the commentators are forgetting the extreme turbulence and loss of attitude reference that caused this crash. The crew are also inside one of the worst thunderstorm cells on earth, at night, and it's not clear which instruments are giving reliable data.

I suggest reading some of the technical posts on the Professional Pilot Rumor Network message board about AF447. Just Google PPRUNE. Yes, after the fact, as we have time to assimilate the facts and calmly consider various possibilities, it's preventable. The fact we are seeing regulators and airlines discussing upset training requirements says something about how obvious the situation should have been to the accident crew. Few if any airline pilots have actually stalled a swept-wing transport category aircraft. Now consider doing one, at high altitude, with confusing attitude reference in the worst thunderstorm anyone in your life gas ever experienced.

Did I mention that there are no outside visual references? I've flown light aircraft, over water, away from any lights on the ground with a fresh IFR rating (top of my game). It's eery as frick. It's very disturbing to have your eyes open and to not see any light but what is on your aircraft. Now take away the primary attitude references, lay on lots of warning horns and EICAS failure warnings. The backup attitude should have given crew a way to avoid disaster.

Posted by: Scott M at December 12, 2011 3:12 AM

I got so stressed reading the article, I stopped reading it. I have a fear of flying anyway, and reading this only increased that fear. I just hope a plane doesn't crash into my house, now.

Posted by: Jewel at December 12, 2011 10:01 AM

Jewel, I suggest most fear of flying is because the fearful have so little contact with the workings of flying. It's like if all you know about the US is the Hollywood action films and the news clips of the LA riots, you'd be crazy not to be afraid. The media is singularly incompetent on aviation matters. The only aviation "news" they report are the silly, the rare, or something they don't understand. The use of the word "Tarmac" is almost always a sign you are being "informed" by an idiot. Tarmac is a British colloquialism for asphalt. A few years ago some clueless reporter heard an English reporter use the word and they latched onto it. The US reporters are just too clueless to understand they are using the aviation equivalent of some US reporter saying "the price of petrol jumped 18 pence" to a US audience. They should be using the word "ramp", which in aviation means any hard surface at the airport that's not a runway or taxiway. It has nothing to do with the slope of the pavement.

If you saw how much careful engineer-type thinking, talking, and action goes on with aviation it would amaze you. The whole system is set up not just so the pilot does the right thing, but he does it in the right way, at the right time, and such that the mere possibility of making a mistake is avoided. Think of allowing a drill sergeant to organize the local pharmacy and giving him authority to train the people in the pharmacy, but without the yelling and the "because I said so" barking of orders.

Pilots are a special combination of control-freaks, OCD about details, and clear communicators. In the last 30 years the industry has revamped how crews work in the cockpit so that anyone can/is required to correct any other crewmember. Before this cockpit revolution called Crew Resource Management of Cockpit Resource Management, you might think you were risking your career to correct some Captains. Now Captains can be fired for not seeking input from the most junior "co-pilot."

It's now routine in the US for years to pass between the occurrence of even one fatality on a major airline. The above mentioned CRM and automation has dramatically improved what was among the most safe actions a person could do.

Call your local airport. For $50-100 dollars you can take a ride with a licensed flight instructor for a half hour and see flying from the fun seats instead of like a sardine in a can like airline flying. Most small airports are listed in what we used to call a phone book as Yourtown Municipal Airport. The brief flight is called a "fun flight", "discovery flight"

Google AOPA and Lets Go Flying for more info.

Posted by: Scott M at December 13, 2011 4:32 AM

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