iRadio MAX Story 4

iRadio Max

The folllowing are stories that appeared on an interesting experiment, an internet radio-on-demand station, iRadioMAX, which has sadly folded. Read the scripts and listen to the shows on the links below:

Story 4.  BA 777 Crash Initial Reaction
24 hours after a double-engine failure, why are 777s still flying?

Listen to the broadcast :

4. B.A. 777 Crash Initial Reaction

Blood has been running cold through the veins of millions of aircraft travellers and every single Airline Pilot following the crash landing at London’s Heathrow airport last Thursday afternoon.

When Senior First Officer, John Coward sliced through the broken cloud at 1,400ft, (normally ninety seconds from touchdown), the visibility at Heathrow at the time was in excess of 10 kms, with a stiff breeze from the left, 40 degrees off the centreline, nothing too challenging. Just before one pm, the late winter temperature of 11°C, was two degrees above the dew point, meaning that the formation of fog was impossible.

The flight from China required three Pilots to assure some inflight rest, so as well as the handling Pilot, in the right seat, and Captain Peter Burkhill in the left; another First Officer, Connor McGuinness, was sitting between and just behind the two operating Pilots.

What happened can only be speculated-upon, and believe me, anyone whose job is flying two-engine airliners has been speculating like stockbrokers during a mining boom.

David Learmonth, Safety Editor of the 100 year old aviation magazine, Flight International, says that it’s a remarkable accident, he’s never seen anything like it in his long career. That’s saying something.

By the time the BA 777 emerged from the grey London overcast the crew were unaware that it was already in trouble. It is thought that throughout the long flight from China, the rear waste container, from the economy toilets, had filled, moving the aircraft’s centre of gravity rearward.

At six hundred feet, two miles and less than a minute from touchdown, the auto-throttle commanded a power increase to balance the increased drag from the flaps and gear, so the plane could fly at a lower speed for landing.

Nothing happened.

The Pilot disconnected the Auto Thrust and applied power manually, to no avail.

Trading height to maintain airspeed, witnesses say it was bucking nose up and down, probably approaching stalling speed. The trick is to hit the ground while the wing is still flying, for when it stalls, the plane becomes as aerodynamic as a piano falling from a skyscraper.

The rearward centre of gravity would have made the plane less balanced than optimum, so with no power at his fingertips, the Pilot would have to be more aggressive to avoid the stall. Many times a second he would have had to understand the handling characteristics and adapt his flying style accordingly.

He was 35 seconds from impact.

Bystanders say it was making a loud noise, probably a trick of the ear because it was so much lower than normal.

The Captain told a rescuer he lost power, though we don’t know if he means electrical power or engine power.

None of the Air Traffic Controller voice tapes have been released, and the black boxes, (which are actually orange), have been removed for decoding.

One will provide the last hour’s radio transmissions, and anything off-mike said on the Flight Deck, and the Cabin announcements.

The Quick Access and Flight Data recorders will provide a huge amount of data from anywhere up to the last month, so that a complete animation can soon be available showing the plane from behind, above and side-on; as well as every instrument, switch and control position in real time.

We also know that, on touchdown, there was so little energy left from the 300 kph approach, and the designed-separation of the landing gear, that the whole mess slid only 300 metres.

The possible causes can be put down to these:

    Fuel starvation flaming-out both engines due to bad fuel management is highly unlikely. Brussels and Amsterdam and a hundred other airports would have been on track, so even if much larger than expected headwind had plagued the crew, they would have chosen to land and take on more fuel, performing a Technical Stop.

    Fuel starvation due to a leaking tank or the emergency jettison valves opening by themselves is not impossible, but to lose so much fuel without knowing or doing something about it, is.

    Fuel starvation due to well-placed rocket holes in the wing tanks falls into the realm of fiction.

    But the fact that the left main gear punched straight up through the wing, probably through the fuel tank, without catching fire, leads to speculation that there was little fuel to burn. Although the Investigators reported that there was fuel on the ground at the crash site.

    Double engine failure due to bird ingestion is a possibility, although they’d have to be Geese or something bigger, since the engines are tested to survive Chooks being fired into them by cannon.

    The Pilots have not reported birdstrikes. The sight of birds whizzing by your windows at 300 kph grabs your attention, and we would have heard by now if that had been the case.

    It appears that some type of computer failure caused the engines to fail to deliver power as requested. The Investigators preliminary report states that the aircraft failed to respond to automatic and Pilot requests for more power. But what caused it?

    Maybe a new Terrorist trick that can turn off the electronics of the world’s most highly-developed, robust aeroplane engine – either from something on the ground or by a suicide terrorist in the aeroplane.

    One possibility doing the rounds is the automatic electronic jamming system used by the Prime Minister’s motorcade. Gordon Brown was on a British 747 bound for China, less than a kilometre away. Maybe his car was driving on the perimeter road underneath the jet at the time.

    Most leaders’ cars have very high-tech jamming systems which can turn off phones and transmitters used to trigger bombs as they go by.

    In fact, ex-Lebanese PM, Rafik Hariri’s system was so well developed, in 2005 his Assassins had to resort to sitting a suicide bomber in the van laden with explosives and using an old fashioned plunger like something out of the Klondyke Gold Rush to set the thing off.

    As the Investigators piece together the puzzle of the highly successful 777’s first disaster, Boeing, and all their customers will be looking-on with interest.

    In 1994, the first ever fully computer-designed airliner was delivered, out of it’s hangar, with a previously-unheard of three hours Extended Range Twin Operations approval.

    This means that it can fly across the sea, have an engine failure, then rely on the good engine to fly for three hours to bring it to the safely of an airport.

    All due to the increased redundancy of the systems, demonstrated quality of its engines and upgraded maintenance program. This is an ultra-reliable, new generation aeroplane than has learnt from all that have gone before.

    Any challenge to its performance reliability is a huge barrier to its success and to the airlines who rely on it to cross the Atlantic and Pacific with a monotonous regularity.

    As with all successful crashes like this one, luck played a part. With one runway used for landings and the other for takeoffs at the world’s busiest international airport, there wasn’t a fully laden jumbo sitting at the holding point where the wreck slid to a stop. Had it occurred at Gatwick the result could have been a catastrophe.

    And how the struggling Pilot managed to bend the laws of physics to make it over the perimeter road is enough to send some men to the bar for a stiff one, and others to the altar.

    But take note. Forty eight hours into the investigation … and the airline and the manufacturer have not grounded their other 777s.

    A sign that someone knows something we don’t.

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