Thursday, December 4, 2008

Various aviation stuff

I've been wanting to get back to my "weird old plane" posts, and was doing some research, looking for a good candidate. That led me to some other interesting aviation stories that aren't exactly weird old planes, but interesting nonetheless.

The aircraft was a Lufthansa Airbus landing in a bad storm in Hamburg. According to this post on Flightaware, the winds were 33 gusting 49 knots, within limits, barely, maybe, for the Airbus

The recovery from that approach was pretty miraculous - I thought for sure he was going to take out some runway lights along with his undercarriage. According to the comments on YouTube, the copilot flew the approach and got into trouble and the pilot took over to execute the waveoff. Both were reportedly suspended by Lufthansa.

I guess the pilot deserves a lot of credit for saving the aircraft on the waveoff, but I didn’t think the overall approach was that good. His transition from the crab didn’t look that good, but giving him the benefit of the doubt perhaps there was a bad gust at that instant. I tend to transition from crab to “wing down top rudder” earlier than he did, to gauge whether or not it will be possible to track centerline without dipping the wing too much.

Most multiengine aircraft (especially 4 engine ones) have a bank limitation for landing to prevent dragging the outboard/upwind engine/prop and the max crosswind component limitation is based on that bank angle. Setting up earlier in the bank lets you compare your situation to the limitation to avoid this situation.

I've heard, but do not know for sure because I'm not qualified on the 'Bus, that you can't do a "wing down-top rudder" approach in the Airbus because the fly-by-wire flight control system won't allow you to cross-control like that. If that is true, it would mean you would have to kick out the crab at the last moment and try to maintain centerline. I've been in that situation in bad winds like that and tried that technique and had a very similar result - inability to maintain centerline followed by a quick waveoff.

The actual winds in this case must have been outrageous. I remember landing at Luqa, Malta (LMML) in an advertised 45-gusting-60 crosswind component - beyond the crosswind limits for the aircraft I was flying, but the operating manual stated that if you could maintain centerline without exceeding max bank angle, the approach could be continued. We landed and shortly there after a Condor (Lufthansa charter subsidiary) 757 showed up to shoot touch-and-goes. They did about 10 VERY impressive circuits - on centerline, perfect technique, in max-component-crosswind conditions, just for training. We were REALLY impressed with their skill and airmanship, if not with their decision to do it in the first place. They did it the way I describe - switching from a crab to a wing-down-top-rudder approach before the flare. In Boeings you can definitely do it.

Airbus passenger jets have a variety of unpleasant characteristics associated with the totally computer-controlled flight control system, and reportedly the Airbus consortium, in collusion with the French government allegedly has gone to considerable lengths to cover up those characteristics and blame the pilots for any flight-control-related mishap.

In 1988, an Airbus 320 crashed in Mulhouse-Habsheim, France while making a low-slow approach at an airshow. The pilot reported adding power to level off at 100 feet, but the throttle did not respond. The pilot then completely cycled the throttle but the aircraft settled into the trees at the end of the runway:

A lot of really strange things went on with the investigation of this crash. It looks like Airbus and the French government didn't want flaws in the A320 design to be revealed, and hung responsibility for the crash on the pilot, who was jailed.

This is a strange one, though. The pilot probably does bear some, if not most, of the responsibility. He was flying awfully low and slow for an airliner with passengers on board, and reportedly was surprised when he hit the trees, which would tend to contradict the statement that the throttles did not respond. The copilot has reportedly kept his mouth shut tight since the accident.

In other news: Nancy Pelosi reportedly wants her own VC-32.

The VC-32 is a 757, flown by the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force base, normally to transport the Vice President, or large government delegations (multiple members of congress, senior administration officials, etc) on overseas junkets/diplomatic missions, etc.

Since 9/11, the Speaker of the House (Hastert and now Pelosi) has been provided with an Air Force VIP aircraft for "security" reasons, allegedly because the government became concerned about a terrorist attack against the Speaker him- or herself.

I don't think there has ever been any specific or credible evidence or information that terrorists even know who the Speaker of the House is, much less care enough to attack her. This looks like just another example of the "imperialization" of the federal government. Government officials gradually assign greater and greater perks and grandiose trappings of power to themselves, pretty much reflexively. It's nauseating, and disappointing. We deserve better, and should demand better, from our so-called representatives.

These days, with the approval ratings of pretty much all branches of government at all time lows, it looks like all these trappings of power are mainly intended to separate our elected officials from their angry constituents.

The whole thing is just disgraceful. Nancy Pelosi says she wants the very large jet so she can fly non-stop from Washington to San Francisco. That makes me wonder what she was flying before.

The 89th Wing doesn't fly anything that doesn't have the range to reach San Francisco from Andrews unrefueled, so that whole argument (that she needs the plane for the range) doesn't appear to make a bit of sense.

You can check out Speaker Pelosi making that claim on video, however:

"It's not a question of size. It's a question of distance. We want an aircraft that can reach California," Pelosi said.

Every aircraft flown by the 89th Wing has an unrefueled range over 4000 miles. It is 2550 miles from Washington to San Francisco.

According to the White House, Nancy Pelosi has only flown on military aircraft between San Francisco and Washington once since becoming Speaker, and that one time she flew a C-20B, which is a Gulfstream III with an unrefueled range of 4250 miles. It could fly from San Franciso to Washington, turn around and fly back to Chicago, and still have about a legal IFR reserve.

Reportedly Pelosi also requested an aircraft to carry her from Washington to Williamsburg, Virginia, for a political event, but was refused.

Pelosi's arrogance and hubris simply astounds me, and she's pretty typical of the creatures that inhabit Washington DC. It reminds me a lot of the Roman Empire, around the time of Caligula.

I guess its too much to ask for her to think more about doing her job, so maybe our economy might not be in the worst mess since 1929?


Konstantin said...

Quick question, when the winds are very bad isn't it a responsibility of the control tower to give the pilots a better vector?

CW said...

Yes... Supposedly the crew of that Airbus that drug the wingtip requested a different runway and were refused. That may be apocryphal.

Obviously it is the pilot's responsibility to refuse the landing if it is not safe. In this case there was another runway at the same airport that was more aligned with the wind. At airports with a single runway it is a harder decision, but the principle is the same.

Jason Harx said...

That crosswind approach was cute. I pulled that in a Cessna once, once.

I never again let my windward wing go high after that adrenaline rush.

Jim Wright said...

I was once a regular passenger of Reeve Aleutian Airlines. Lots of stories about old man Reeve, who was a USAF pilot in the Aleutians during WWII, and how he got the AF contract to fly military personal and equipment to bases in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska. By the time I started riding with Reeve, his son was chief pilot and they were flying a 727, rigged for cargo and modified for rough field landing (FOD deflectors and heavier landing gear). Operating in Alaska is no picnic, and the Aleutians are the worse, and the worst run of the lot is Shemya - 1500 miles from Anchorage at the tip of the Aleutian Island Chain. It's a fly speck of a rock in the bearing sea, and the weather is nearly unbelievable. Very little in the way of ground support, and very little room for mistakes. Overshoot or miss the centerline and you're going into the ocean, period. And there's always a cross wind. Good days that wind is only 20-30knots.

I was the XO of the Navy spec ops detachment in Alaska, we had a small facility on Shemya. I used to make regular trips out there with Reeve. One day I was riding in the jump seat. We made Shemya but couldn't land, fog, sleet, heavy gusting on the ground. We had critical cargo and we'd already tried to get in three times in the last two weeks but couldn't land due to weather. This time the pilot was determined we were going to land. We circled for 30 minutes watching the fuel reserve (can't refuel on the Island, got to make it round trip unrefueled at least back to King Salmon), and the pilot decided put us down.

Everybody strapped in tight. We looked a lot like that airbus in your first video, crabbed over hard into a serious cross wind. We hit the runway hard enough to knock out fillings and fishtailed. The pilot used every inch of that runaway (10,000 ft if I remember correctly. It was built for WWII bombers originally). Finally, at about 20-30knots we hit a patch of black ice and the plane spun completely around in slow motion. We ended up facing back down the runway, with the main gear about twenty feet from the end of the concrete.

I rode with those guys a lot and they got us into and out of some pretty hairy places, but that landing was the only one I didn't think we were going to live through.

CW said...

Jim: I rode through a landing like that once in a Navy C-131 (you might remember them). I was in the jump-seat, not flying, and we turned completely around - 180 degrees - on an icy runway. I thought for sure it was going to be a big mess, but we came to a stop without leaving the pavement. Also I've landed a couple of times at Adak - it was always famous for the bad winds and low vis, but I never had a really bad time there. I had some rougher approaches at Kef, but I flew there a lot more also.

In the case of this Airbus however, there are a number of factors which made it an apparent case of bad airmanship. For one, there were better runways available. It wasn't like Shemya or Adak where there is only one runway a long way from anywhere. Also the first officer, who apparently was pretty short on experience, especially in crosswinds like this, was flying. Finally you simply can't fly the Airbus the way you can a 727 or other true "manual" aircraft.

Mr. Bingley said...

I've always thought this video of crosswinds tests in Brazil (Natal, I think) was pretty neat. It's the first thing I thought of when I watched that Airbus video.