Hail Damage Rattles A320 Passengers

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The shattered radome and cracked windscreens of an Austrian Airlines A320 got viral coverage Sunday after the plane encountered hail from a cell on approach to Vienna-Scwechat Airport. The flight was on its way from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, when it hit the weather, which the airline said didn’t show up on the crew’s weather radar (which ironically took the brunt of the damage). “I think we were about 20 minutes from landing when we got into a cloud of hail and thunderstorm, and the turbulence started,” Emmeley Oakley, a passenger on the flight, told ABC News.

The crew issued a Mayday, likely because of the suddenly opaque windscreens, but landed uneventfully. Passengers lauded the crew for calming their fears as they approached Vienna, but some weren’t prepared for what seemed to be serious damage to the aircraft when they deplaned. “It wasn’t until we exited that we saw the nose was missing! The pilots really did an excellent job keeping things as smooth and safe as they could,” Oakley said. The radome is a relatively thin fiberglass structure that is no match for hailstones at 200 knots.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

18 COMMENTS

    • It’s possible this airplane is equipped for autoland if an ILS is available, but kudos for courage anyway.

      • What other choice was there?

        Doesn’t take a lot of courage to press a few buttons and then sit on your hands. They do it regularly.

        • Not exactly true at all. “In reference to the Autoland that’s most likely what they did but not a total given. 1. Must be an ILS, 2. Airplane needs to be in normal law, if she was damaged in a way, say AOA vanes thus in ALT law, once the gear comes down, direct law. No autopilot, no AutoTrim, it’s on you. No work yet if she was diminished to this capacity.”

  1. I imagine the damage to the windscreen rattled the pilots as well. They did a good job getting everyone back on the ground safely.

  2. Russ Niles, the context of the article ‘Hail Damage Rattles A320 Passengers,’ demonstrates your high-quality reporting characterized by clarity, accuracy, engaging content, and a balanced structure. It effectively informs readers about a significant event while maintaining readability and interest. I really enjoyed it. Thanks.

  3. Tom
    There would be no article had the crew avoided a TRW capable of producing hail large enough to shatter the windscreen and radome.

    • You’re right. This had to have been a huge cell to produce hail that large. It’s hard to believe that they didn’t know it was out there.

      • Don, One of the reasons why the guidance on avoiding severe Wx by a minimum of 20 NM is because of Hail. However dry Hail is one of the poorest in terms of reflectivity (i.e. radar return). You can be well clear of a cell in VMC and still run into Hail downwind of the cell. I once waited out Wx at LGA for 6 hours due to steady state TRW over the airport on the Part 91 back end of a commercial flight.

        • Actually the guidance for avoidance is 40nm from the center of the cell and 20nm from the cumulus clouds associated with the cell. This is from Airbus. You are right about dry hail, but most 320’s have a radar with a predictive mode that can analyze a cell for the potential of hail and lightning. If they were in fact descending they should have been encountering warming, wetter air with greater precip returns, especially if they switched to manual tilt to peek at the lower part of the clouds to get some idea of its intensity. And you are right, going downwind of a cell is almost never a good idea. Wx radar is very sophisticated, with many advanced features, and it takes some time to learn how to use it properly. With experience, knowledge and weather awareness there shouldn’t be too many encounters like this crew had. (Six hours at LGA sounds like torture)

  4. In defense of the crew I have 20+ years in Airbus equipment and when it comes to the 320 family there is a distinct and almost dangerous difference between the older 320’s with CRT screens and their radar sets and the newer ones with LCD screens and the much improved “multiscan” radar units. The older ones are sketchy at best, almost impossible to see in daylight, and do not paint a true picture of what’s out there. Not to mention you have to be quite experienced with the unit and dish tilt control to mentally develop a true picture of what your up against. They are not the first air carrier to run into far worse wx than expected in an older airbus and it’s why you see some carriers with older planes spending lots of cash to switch out to the more modern LCD screens. Doesn’t fix the radar but at least you can see what it’s showing.

    • I think they can retro fit the radar too but I wonder if the airline would spend the money to do it..

  5. No comment about the “other parts”: Engine nacelles, leading edges of the wings, flaps, or tail surfaces. Could be that this plane is now a static display somewhere. Given that the plane was “20 minutes from landing” the airspeed was somewhere in the 180 – 250 knot range. This could have been really really bad at cruse speed. Great job by the pilots.

  6. Agree 100% on the older Busses with the Multiscan observations. Additionally, when I operate into coastal Latin and South America it seems Turkey Buzzards have devolved into Pterodactyls and my TEM brief includes “if a flying dinosaur takes out our windscreens, I guess we’ll have no choice but go over to XXXX and do an Autoland”.

  7. Anything is possible but when I inquired once at a meeting about a multiscan retrofit it was deemed “impossible” due to the fact that a large part of the multiscan’s abilities is being tied to EGPWS so therefore it’s auto tilt function is tied to an enhanced knowledge of a global terrain database that’s not in the basic or legacy 320’s. It would quickly get to 7 figures, downtime, etc. and seeing how some of our basics are pushing 100,000 flt hrs. and 40,000 cycles return on investment isn’t there.
    Bty, 20 min from landing is still approx 140-150 miles out, so top of descent around FL300 or so. They were either .78 or transitioning to indicated around 300kts depending on their cost index, ATC, speed constraints on STAR, etc.
    Lots of points brought up here, for older radar hail is very difficult for older tech radar to see.
    in reference to the autoland that’s most likely what they did but not a total given. 1. Must be an ILS, 2. Airplane needs to be in normal law, if she was damaged in a way, say AOA vanes thus in ALT law, once the gear comes down, direct law. No autopilot, no autotrim, it’s on you. No work yet if she was diminished to this capacity.

  8. The kinetic energy of a 3-inch hailstone traveling at 200 knots is roughly equivalent to the force of a strong punch from a professional heavyweight boxer or a sledgehammer swung by a strong person (1122 Jules or approx. 828 ft-lbs), emphasizing the need for effective weather detection and avoidance systems in aviation. For baseball fans, it’s almost 8 times more than the impact of a fastball at 100 mph given standard distance on pro baseball. Ouch!

    • The kinetic energy at 300 knots is 125% greater than the kinetic energy at 200 knots, assuming all other factors are equal. Not good. Lucky flight!

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