AVmail: Oct. 25, 2004
Reader mail this week about the crashes of the Bushmaster and Pinnacle airliner, the first homebuilt in Canada, pilots vs. controllers and more.
This aircraft was one of only two Bushmaster 2000s built (NewsWire, Sep. 30). I had the pleasure of riding as a passenger on this airplane a few years ago thanks to the kindness of the owner, an airline pilot. It was with considerable sorrow that I viewed the video sequence of the crash. Like most pilots, I looked for a cause on the video. I could see none. The eyewitnesses detected no change in engine sounds until just before impact. The preliminary NTSB report contains no reference to having established control continuity.
Thankfully, accident investigation board final reports usually contain findings that are not available to those of us outside the investigation only three weeks after the accident. We will have to wait a year or more for the final report. I will wait until then to decide about fault. I would do the same for Mr. Allison (AVmail, Oct. 18), even though I don't know him either. In the meantime, I can only wish for a full and speedy recovery to those who were injured.
I just finished reading your article on the crash of Pinnacle Airlines CRJ in Jefferson City, Mo., (Newswire, Oct. 18). Since I have lived in the Jefferson City area, this article got my attention. The big unanswered question that comes to mind is if they were 100 miles south of JEF, then they would have only been 65 miles from Springfield (SGF). Better yet, they would have been only 50 miles south of Fort Leonard Wood (TBN) and would have to have flown nearly directly over TBN. Both of these airports are suitable airports for CRJ operations as they both have airline service using similar or larger aircraft. JEF is only part-time FAR 139 airport, as crash-fire-rescue must be called out from the city on an individual basis. I am very curious why they would choose to try to make JEF and overfly TBN, or not divert to SGF.
I was dismayed and upset by the quote in your article from spokeswoman Carol Carmody. Carmody said 41,000 feet is the maximum altitude for the CRJ2 and told reporters that exceeding that altitude could cause engine failure. She also said there was no clear indication of the cause of engine stoppage and investigators don't know why the plane was flying so high. "That's the most interesting thing," she said. I also read a similar quote in a Kansas City press report, so maybe she did say it. I think it is right to report what people say, but it is the obligation of an informed press (like an aviation news group) to say when that person is full of it.
As a former design integration specialist on the CRJ from 1990 thru 1998, I can tell you that engines in general -- and the engines on the CRJ200 (GE CF34-3B1) -- do not just quit above a certain altitude. The engines do not hit a brick wall (I thought Chuck Yeager knocked down those stereotypes) at a speed, altitude or temperature. They just put out less thrust. Yes eventually they run out of air (and thrust) and the controls (non-FADEC in this case) get a bit sluggish. The restriction of 41,000 ft is a pressurization (line-in-the-sky) issue, with certain design limitations and restrictions imposed by the FAA for aircraft certified to fly over 41,000 ft.
The CRJ will happily climb to FL410 with the right fuel load and no pax and nobody to complain about the climb rate (which may have been fast on this ride). It will have difficulty if you put contaminated fuel on or maybe if you start with hot fuel and climb very rapidly. (The FAA hot-fuel tests assume a reasonable climb rate.)
While I would not like to prejudge the outcome, I would say that the most common mode of dual-engine outage is from contaminated fuel, followed by icing or turbulence conditions. A similar incident on a 601 Challenger occurred about eight years ago just west of Sioux City, when cheap fuel turned out to be just what it was worth.
If I were these guys, maybe given a tank of gas and no pax or FA, I might have launched out and up to max for a fast ride to the destination -- to arrive and get to bed before 23:30 for a change. And also to see what the plane can do within the certified envelope (no one has said they were outside of it).
I thought it a little strange that the NTSB would say that engine "failure" was possible above 41,000 feet but it was reported in multiple sources so I believe that's what was said. The NTSB has also reaffirmed that the Flight Data Recorder showed both engines stopping at the same time, although some sources contend that one engine was turning during at least part of the descent.
It's also worth noting that since the crash, Pinnacle has reduced the maximum altitude for that model of aircraft to 37,000 feet.
Of course, we'll keep following this one.
First Homebuilt In Canada?
Sorry, guys -- the Steinbach (Manitoba) Flying Club has a small bone to pick with the Goderich club as well (Newswire, Oct. 18).
Frank Sawatzky from Steinbach built and flew his Pietenpol on May 2, 1932, with Ed Friesen (Ford Dealer) and one other person (possibly my grandfather, Jac W. Fast) participating in the building.
One of our current club members is hoping to have his Pietenpol flying on the 75th anniversary of the above first flight (May 2, 2007).
Researchers Rethink The Modern Cockpit
I would like to congratulate Mr. Rutan and his team for their accomplishments (NewsWire, Oct. 4). With that said, I wish Mr. Rutan would cease to compare his efforts with those of NASA. Let's step back here, folks. NASA's and Mr. Rutan's efforts have different goals, and challenges associated with them. Talking about them as if they were similar just sounds very ignorant to me.
Pilots vs. Controllers
Regarding the current Question of the Week (QOTW, Oct. 20):
What do pilots and controllers have in common? If the pilot makes an error and the pilot doesn't catch the error, the pilot dies. If the controller makes and error and the pilot doesn't catch the error, the pilot dies.
The pilot is the last line of defense in catching errors, so is more important.
Sorry, I don't think that's a valid/fair question. Granted as a pilot I'd like to think that the world revolves around me, (what pilot doesn't), but I know that "ain't nearly so." When the wx has crumped everywhere and all types of aircraft are stacked up all over the place, no matter how good the drivers are, if the folks with the "big" picture can't handle this situation, all those drivers are just going to wind up like an I-95 pileup in the fog. The controllers' job is made infinitely "easier" (if that's possible in such a situation) when the aviators in his basket are on the ball; one screw up can make a major mess out of the works for all involved.
Now, different situation -- aircraft with a problem. Doesn't matter how great the controller is: If the pilot can't handle the situation, the controller won't be able to crawl into the cockpit and save the day. It's a techno world and it takes both sides of the coin to make it work. I have seen where a weakness in one is "saved" by the strength of the other. (On-the-ball pilot calling a controller on something, like, "Did you just vector someone into me?" Tower controller allowing slower aircraft to land in front of you after you've called full stop, then called min fuel, then called emergency fuel ... finally, fearing those gages are lying to you on the high side you land with an aircraft on the runway, taking it's time clearing ... had another go-around been attempted per the controllers bad controlling, a flameout would have occurred. Neither of those are made up situations, been there, done that and the tapes disappeared in both cases after I called for them to be marked.)
However, when it's IMC and all's going to hell in a hand basket, that controller can be a godsend even to the ace of the base -- with clearing out airspace and giving expeditious vectors back to some viable landing surface.
I don't know that you can draw a hard line between the two. Together, it's a synergistic healthy operation, 'specially when both halves of that equation are good. Doesn't take much to draw a conclusion for the opposite.
I have been following AVweb for some time now and find service and articles to be outstanding. I really got a kick out of your Short Final stories. It brings to mind a time I was asked to slow down in my Bonanza as I was overtaking a DC-9. Keep up the good work.