February 9, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ...Pilot Insurance Center (PIC)
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION: STOP PAYING MORE THAN NON-PILOTS FOR THE SAME LIFE INSURANCE POLICY
While the NTSB has yet to issue its final report on why American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in New York in November 2001 after its vertical tail surface broke off, killing 265 people, the board recently released a report by an aeronautical engineer that suggests the design of the Airbus A300-600's flight-control system could have played a role in the accident. The report, by Prof. Ronald Hess of the University of California at Davis, focuses on whether pilot-induced oscillations (PIOs), resulting from control-system characteristics, could have been a factor in the crash. Hess cites examples to show that the control sensitivity of an aircraft can have a direct impact on the extent to which it is prone to PIOs. He also notes that the term "pilot-induced oscillation" can be misleading -- PIOs are not the result of poor piloting skills, but result from control-system characteristics. If the NTSB cites the jet's design in its findings, it could affect the legal battle between American and Airbus over which company should pay damages in lawsuits filed by victims' families, USA Today said on Thursday.
In his report, Hess notes that the "pedal/rudder sensitivity of the A300-600 at the airspeed at which the AA 587 accident occurred is the highest of all comparative transport aircraft." For example, compared to the Boeing 767, the A300-600 pedal/rudder sensitivity is seven times greater, and it is 10 times greater than the preceding models in the Airbus series, the A300-600B2 and B4, Hess reports. "The sensitive nature of the rudder/pedal system is a plausible candidate for a control system property conducive to a PIO," the report says. "One has a very powerful aerodynamic surface ... activated by one of the most powerful muscles in the human body, commanding a pedal/rudder system that is considerably more sensitive than that of any comparable aircraft," the report says. The report is still under consideration by the NTSB. "It's [Hess's] opinion. It's not the board's opinion at this point," NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz told Reuters last week. Hess elaborates that rudder pedals are operated by a pilot's strong leg muscles -- capable of exerting over 400 pounds of force -- and he says those muscles lack the sensitivity to accurately command relatively small forces.
A response from the French Air Accident Investigation Bureau (BEA) questions Hess's conclusions. The BEA disagrees with some of Hess's assertions and says some of his data is inadequate. The Hess report does, however, "provide a springboard for questions that may lead to an understanding of this event," the BEA concludes. Airbus officials also have defended the rudder system, noting that Airbus models have flown for millions of hours without rudder pressure being an issue. The NTSB's final report is expected this spring.
In recent weeks, the MD-80 fleet worldwide has been hampered by reports of engine cracks. In Japan last month, 17 of the airliners were grounded after engines of two aircraft vibrated, and the flights were aborted. According to CBS news, Chicago, American Airlines discovered similar cracks in engines on some of its MD-80 planes. Other reports declare all U.S. MD-80 aircraft safe in this regard. However, "Routine airline maintenance procedures don't usually ... reveal cracks of this nature," Mary Frances, with Americans maintenance program, told CBS news.
During a test flight in 1980, a McDonnell-Douglas DC-9-80 (a precursor of the MD-80) blew its nose wheel tires and broke its tail off. The intended test called for a rate of descent at touchdown close to 700 fpm coupled with strong back pressure 0.5 seconds after landing, plus full braking. The fuselage flexed and failed. The purpose of the test was to determine the horizontal distance required to land and bring the aircraft to a full stop, according to the NTSB report on the incident. On approach, the pilot failed to stabilize the descent and touched down at a rate that exceeded the structural limits of the aircraft, the NTSB said. The pilot of the tail-less, nose wheel-less aircraft used main wheel braking and (because the engines survived) reverse thrust to stop the aircraft. The report details that the extremely narrow performance range that would allow the pilots to fly the profile safely left an inadequate margin of safety, and suggested that the test procedure should be reviewed. The aircraft was on a certification flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California. One engineer on board suffered a broken ankle in the accident, but the other six crew members were unhurt.
Click through to witness the egregiously hard landing. (Note: this video is a 1.5Mb Sparkle MPEG file, may not be compatible with all computer platforms and is not recommended for slower connections.) The NTSB report (320K pdf file), including the parameters of the test and detailed anaylisis on the results is available, here.
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An ABC affiliate TV station in New York City, apparently unaware of the bashing unleashed by the GA community upon CBS after that network aired a segment critical of security at small airports, took its own stab at the issue last Thursday. WABC-TV ran a story based on its "months-long Eyewitness News investigation" headlined "Security Practically Nonexistent at Many Small Airports." The story begins: "Call it a case of airport insecurity. Open gates, no guards, no fences, airplanes within easy reach." Reporters visited 15 of the more than 100 small airports within 75 miles of midtown Manhattan. At some of these airports, which the report doesn't identify, reporters say they found fencing in disrepair, and at least one airport they were able to drive right up to hangars full of airplanes without being stopped or questioned by anyone. The station also reported that four small aircraft have been stolen in the area since 9/11. "Homeland Security requires no central reporting of small aircraft when stolen," the report says. The story does feature one quote from AOPA President Phil "Bouyer," complaining that nobody has been forthcoming with $40 billion to fence in every GA field in the country: "Where in the world is that money coming from?" And the reporters did find one field, in Linden, N.J., with multiple layers of security -- cameras, door alarms, key access codes. "This airport is more secure than most prisons," according to the story. The report concludes: "Experts say these airports need to move more quickly now that security has been tightened at the nation's large commercial airports." Except, of course, when it hasn't been tightened ... see the story below regarding an attempted stowaway on a Delta flight, for example.
The WABC story did mention that perhaps a small aircraft is no more dangerous than a truck or a car packed with explosives. Yet some of the "porous" airports housed larger charter planes, WABC said. And the report noted that the Department of Homeland Security has made recommendations for improvements at small airports, but it has issued "virtually no security requirements for general aviation." Of course that failure to issue "requirements" could tie in with the reluctance to find billions of dollars to implement them. In fact, despite the lack of requirements, extensive security precautions have been implemented at thousands of GA airports nationwide, and that trend is likely to continue. For example, the FAA requires that pilots carry a photo ID, the TSA now must approve flights of foreign-registered GA aircraft into the U.S., the TSA has instituted new security procedures for charter operations involving aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds, and background checks are required for some students. The TSA in December released a GA Working Group study on airport security, and that report's recommendations are likely to start having an effect this year.
The implied but unarticulated subtext of the WABC story, as well as the recent CBS network report, is that small airports and small airplanes are lacking in intrinsic value to society, and thus present an unnecessary threat. Yet a tragic story from Hawaii last week showed that people do value the services based at these kind of airports -- after an air ambulance crashed, killing the pilot and two paramedics, the crew members were widely hailed as heroes. The thousands of small airports across the country provide a base for such critical services -- firefighters and search-and-rescue units, police and news helicopters, ambulances and cargo planes -- which we've yet to see mentioned by any of these "airport insecurity" reports.
SINCE 1937, TRADE-A-PLANE IS THE AVIATION MARKETPLACE
If you haven't yet had a chance to visit the Smithsonian's new Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, in Virginia, now you can view a few historic aircraft and cockpits in detail on the Internet. The cockpits of the Concorde, the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the SR-71 Blackbird and more can be viewed in seamless, intricate detail from any vantage point. Exterior shots of the J-3 Cub and a Monocoupe 110 can be rotated to view the airplane from either side, front or back, and anywhere in between. The high-resolution digital photos were shot last year as the aircraft were moved into the new facility, and before they were put on exhibit, a rare opportunity existed to access the aircraft before they become inaccessible. More than 100 aircraft and spacecraft were photographed during the first phase of this project, and more are planned. About a dozen of the images are now posted at the National Air and Space Museum's Web site. Viewing the images requires Quick Time software, which is available free on the Internet.
In a nifty new service for pilots, a quick toll-free phone call can now connect you to any AWOS in the U.S. -- if you don't mind having to listen to a short advertisement before you get to the weather. The service, aptly called "anyAWOS," is a new product offered by Mackinac Software. One of the co-creators of the system, Bill McUmber, told AVweb: "Although my company is a software company, I am an active IFR pilot and thought it would be useful to be able to check conditions on the fly -- hence this system." After dialing the toll-free number (877-any-AWOS, or 877-269-2967), callers can enter any three-digit airport ID and -- after choosing from a list of possible matches, and listening to a word from their sponsors -- they will be connected to that airport's AWOS or ATIS. For those times when you have already received a briefing and just want an update on the current conditions before departure, this is easier than looking up the AWOS/ATIS phone number. In a news release, the company says the service allows pilots to easily check actual, right-now weather conditions at intermediate and destination airports while en route, or anytime -- for example, checking downstream conditions on the ramp during a gas stop. "We just announced this yesterday, and we are absolutely amazed that the call volume is ramping up already," McUmber said on Friday.
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A modified Gulfstream II flying as a Shuttle Training Aircraft for NASA was 13,000 feet above Florida recently when parts of its thrust reverser went missing and splashed into the Banana River. The reversers are part of a retrofit that helps the GII mimic the Shuttle's steep descent profile. An astronaut and two pilots were on board when the parts fell off in early December, and the crew aborted the mission and made a safe landing, Florida Today reported on Saturday. NASA's fleet of four modified GIIs was grounded after the incident and the fasteners for the reversers were beefed up. After that, test flights checked out OK, and the fleet was back to normal by Jan. 12. A NASA safety panel (no irony intended) had raised questions about the safety of the aging fleet of training aircraft several years ago, Florida Today reported.
A 19-year-old man, apparently intending to score a free trip aboard a Delta flight from LA to Atlanta last month, successfully bypassed two checkpoints and then successfully boarded an airliner without a ticket. Security cameras showed that he got past the initial checkpoint by going through an unguarded roped-off area, then walked through the metal detectors. At the gate, he waited until the gate agent was distracted, then sauntered onboard. Other passengers saw what he had done, and after he went into the restroom they alerted the crew. The man, who was from Decatur, Ga., is a convicted burglar and had violated his probation, authorities told the Los Angeles Times. He was arrested but no weapons or bombs were found, and the plane was OK'd for departure within an hour. "Clearly this was a monumental security screw-up," Santa Monica resident John Hall, who was a passenger on the flight, told the Times. "Here I am, along with all the other passengers, taking off our shoes and waiting in endless lines to board a plane and this guy just strolls past the security net." The incident took place on Jan. 15, while the country was still on heightened Orange Alert. The FBI and the TSA are investigating.
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STARS is brightening the lives of controllers all over the country, and not just in the handful of places AVweb and several other media outlets mentioned in stories last week. The Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System has been installed in 13 airports since the successful full deployment of the system in Philadelphia last June. "We got a lot of systems out last year," Rebecca Trexler, of FAA Public Affairs, told AVweb. Two prototype systems in Syracuse and El Paso were also upgraded to full deployments, bringing the total number of STARS systems in use to 16. Trexler said there are plans to install at least 16 more systems this year and another 10 in 2005. Although the program seems to be up and running, now, it's been a long, controversial and expensive road. The ultimate cost of putting the system in all 167 sites planned for its use is now $1.69 billion, almost double the original estimate. Still, the system has firm government support. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta claims it's essential to the government's plan to triple access to the National Airspace System asnd the FAA calls it "the centerpiece of FAA's modernization of the national air traffic system."
Our sister publication, Aviation Consumer, is conducting a survey on owner experience with engine cylinders. If you've bought an overhaul recently, let us know how the jugs are holding up. Log on to www.aviationconsumer.com and click the "Surveys" button. We'll take care of the rest.
WHEN PURCHASING A NEW AIRCRAFT, CHECK WITH CS&A'S INSURANCE PROS!
Passengers at LAX declined last year by 2.25 percent, reaching the lowest level in 14 years, while air cargo and military ops increased...
To raise $100,000 for Angel Flight East, Marine pilot Lindy Kirkland plans to land at 100 airports in Virginia in 24 hours, flying a Cirrus SR-22, on March 16...
A seven-foot-long piece from the wing of a FedEx MD-10 (yes, an MD-10) inbound to a Fort Worth airport Friday morning fell off and landed in a parking lot. The jet landed safely and nobody was hurt...
The radar at the Elgin TRACON, outside Chicago, was down for 13 minutes Wednesday night. Elgin has recently been under FAA scrutiny following an increase in reported errors...
Jean Ross Howard Phelan, a founder of the Whirly Girls organization of helicopter pilots, died Jan. 29 in Washington, D.C. She was 87 years old...
Aviation safety pioneer Jerome Lederer died Friday in California at age 101. Lederer inspected the Spirit of St. Louis before Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight and later served as NASA's director of flight safety...
Pilot Gus McLeod, headed for the South Pole, turned around Friday after icing up, and landed at a British research station in Antarctica...
Researchers at Oxford University found homing pigeons follow roads -- even curving along freeway ramps -- to navigate a habitual route.
MIKE BUSCH'S SAVVY SEMINAR COMING TO MEMPHIS, VAN NUYS, HARRISBURG, & OSHKOSH!
As the Beacon Turns #73: All Glass
Ready to climb into the age of the glass cockpit, AVweb's Michael Maya Charles is looking forward to learning his next new airplane type. It turns out to be an interesting and -- hopefully -- "best of both worlds" combination of two other planes he's flown: the DC-10 and MD-11.
Reader mail this week about terrorists (and non-terrorists), stupid pilot tricks and more.
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From our, "There's a right way, and then there's other ways," file...
Tower: Cessna XXX cleared to land 20.
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PILOT'S AUDIO UPDATE
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COMM 1 ANNOUNCES INTERACTIVE NAV & VOR/NDB SIMULATOR TRAINING PROGRAM
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HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHY SOME PILOTS ALWAYS SEEM TO HAVE IT TOGETHER?
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IFR MAGAZINE IS A SAFETY MUST-READ!
March highlights include: "All Geared Up and Nowhere to Go" walks through the decision-making process with the gear-up, at night, in IMC; "Pitch Your Paper Plates" trial-by-IFR and report on Control Vision's Pocket Plates; "IFR in the Thick Of It" a better way to analyze wx conditions; "Radar Contact, Now What?!" what the controller is really saying; plus, editor Paul Berge shoots himself in the foot in "Remarks," the "Briefing" page, and the ever-popular "On the Air." Stay informed and safe with a subscription to IFR Magazine at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/belvoir/ifrmag/avflash.
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AVflash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest aviation news, articles, products, features and events featured on AVweb, the Internet's Aviation Magazine and News Service. http://www.avweb.com
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Let's all be careful out there, okay?
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