Practice makes perfect

A personal musing about the value of training.

A good friend here in Payson, himself a former ‘lamplighter’ forwarded me an email with a link to a video taken using the Head-Up-Display (HUD) camera which  also has a voice recorder.

F-16 fighter/attack aircraft

This is the email,

Here’s the F-16 dead stick into Elizabeth City, NC: A fairly short  RWY for jets, (about 6000 ft long), but qualifies for an  “Emergency landing field” in the grand scheme of US  aviation.

You’ll probably have to watch the video several times to appreciate  how intense the situation and how busy the pilot was all the way to  stopping on the runway.  Very apparently, the pilot was one-of-four  F-16s in a flight returning to their base, (most probably from  the Navy Dare bombing range south of Manteo), and the F-16  in question had already reported a “Ruff-Running Engine” to his flight  leader before the start of the video.
A few comments not readily apparent are:

  • The whole episode, from start-to-finish only takes about 3 1/2  minutes!
  • The video begins as the flight is being followed on radar.
The flight leader asks for the Elizabeth City tower UHF freq which  is repeated as 355.6 and the entire flight switches to that freq: Just  one-more-task for the pilot to execute in the cockpit as he reports that  his engine has QUIT.  He has to activate the Emergency Unit to  maintain electric and hydraulic power.  This unit is powered by  Hydrazine:  (the caustic fuel that Germany created in WW II to  power their V-2 Rockets and their ME-163 rocket fighters among  others.) Thus, the last call about requesting fire support after the  jet is safe on deck, and pilot breathing easy.

Meanwhile, back in the cockpit, the pilot is busily attempting to  “Re-light” his engine: (Unsuccessfully, of course) while tending to  everything else.  The video is taken using the Head-Up-Display (HUD) camera which  also has a voice recorder.

The HUD is a very busy instrument, but among things to notice  are the ‘circle’ in the middle which represents the nose of the aircraft  and where it is ‘pointed’: “The velocity Vector”.

The flight leader reports they are 7-miles out from the airport and  at 9000 ft altitude.  Since the weather is clear and the airport is  in sight, this allows for adequate “Gliding distance” to reach a  runway with the engine OFF.  Rest assured, jet fighters glide sorta like a rock.  They don’t enjoy the higher lift design of an airliner like that which allowed Sullenburger to land in the  NY river.

Coming down 9000 ft in only 7-miles requires a helluva rate of  descent, so the pilot’s nose remains well below the “Horizon” until just  prior to touching down on the runway.  The HUD horizon is a solid,  lateral bar, and below the horizon, the horizontal lines appear as dashes.  You’ll see a “10” on the second dashed line below the horizon which =  10-degrees nose low.

Radio chatter includes the flight leader calling the  tower and the tower stating runway 10 with wind 070 @ 5 mph with the altimeter setting of 30.13, yet  another step for the pilot to consider.
The flight leader calls for the pilot to jettison his external fuel  tanks and askes another pilot in the flight to “Mark” where they  dropped.  The tower later tells the pilot to land on any runway he  chooses.
Pilot reports “Three in the green” indicating all three gear  indicate down and locked which the flight leader acknowledges.
You will hear the computer voice of “Bitchin’-Betty” calling out  “Warnings”.  More confusing chatter when none is welcome or even  necessary.  (That’s “Hi-Tech” for ya.)

The pilot has only ONE CHANCE to get this right and must also slow  to an acceptable landing speed in order to stop on the short runway.   You’ll see Black rubber on the rwy where “The rubber meets the road” in  the touchdown area.  Note that during rollout, he gets all the way to the far end which you can see by all the black skid marks where planes have landed heading in the opposite direction.

OK: That’s more than ya probably wanted to know, but you have to  appreciate the fine job this guy did in calmly managing this emergency  situation.  He is a “USAF Reserve” pilot and those guys generally have plenty of experience.  That really pays off.

Please scroll down for the link  + Enjoy.

The pilot just saved  about $20+m at his own  risk…….Great job!  Note  the breathing rate on the hot mic and also the sink rate  (airspeed  tape on the left side of the heads up  display.)

Pretty  cool guy!!!

See  if you can keep all of the radio transmissions  straight.

Probably  the coolest sounding voice in the whole mix is the pilot of the  engine out aircraft.

Just  a reminder an F-16 has only one engine.  When  it goes, you are coming down. It  is just a matter of figuring out where the airplane will come to  rest on terra firma.

(Cut N Paste if a click doesn’t open this link )

Note: For  those not familiar, the EPU (Electrical Power Unit) provides  hydraulic and electrical power in event of failure of the engine,  electrical or hydraulics.  The  EPU is powered by Hydrazine which decomposes into hot gasses as it  passes across a catalyst bed or engine bleed air (if  available).  The  hot air passes through a turbine which drives the emergency  hydraulic pump and generator through a gear  box.

The video is also on YouTube, as below,

Most people are aware of the value of training and experience that saved, in this case, the US taxpayer a large pile of money.

Now onto a much more tragic case, the loss of Air France Flight AF 447 that went down on 1 June 2009 after running into an intense high-altitude thunderstorm, four hours into a flight from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Paris.  AF 447 was an Airbus A330-203 aircraft registered F-GZCP.

Many will recall that earlier on in May the second of the ‘black boxes’ or flight recorders was found.  Here’s how Bloomberg reported that,

Air crash investigators retrieved the second of two black boxes from the Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic in 2009, which may help them unlock the mysteries of the crash after two years.

“They appear to be in a good state,” said Jean-Paul Troadec, head of the BEA, the French air crash investigator that has been probing the accident that killed all 228 people aboard a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. “The first thing is to dry them, prepare them, which needs about a day.” Once the boxes arrive in BEA’s offices, in about 10 days, “the reading of information would be pretty fast,” he said.

Full article is here.

Those who wish to read the report issued by the French Authorities may find it here.  The summary from the report concludes,


At this stage of the investigation, as an addition to the BEA interim reports of 2 July and 17 December 2009, the following new facts have been established:

  • ˆ The composition of the crew was in accordance with the operator’s procedures.
  • ˆ At the time of the event, the weight and balance of the airplane were within the operational limits.
  • ˆ At the time of the event, the two co-pilots were seated in the cockpit and the Captain was resting. The latter returned to the cockpit about 1 min 30 after the disengagement of the autopilot.
  • ˆ There was an inconsistency between the speeds displayed on the left side and the integrated standby instrument system (ISIS). This lasted for less than one minute.
  • ˆ After the autopilot disengagement:
    • „ the airplane climbed to 38,000 ft,
    • „ the stall warning was triggered and the airplane stalled,
    • „ the inputs made by the PF were mainly nose-up,
    • „ the descent lasted 3 min 30, during which the airplane remained stalled. The angle of
    • attack increased and remained above 35 degrees,
    • „ the engines were operating and always responded to crew commands.
  • ˆ The last recorded values were a pitch attitude of 16.2 degrees nose-up, a roll angle of 5.3 degrees left and a vertical speed of -10,912 ft/min.

If my maths is correct a descent speed of 10,912 feet per minute is the equivalent of 124 miles per hour!

Anyway, I am advised by someone who is a very experienced Airbus captain that the odds of a stall in the cruise for a commercial airliner are extremely low, sufficiently so that it is not something that is regular covered during crew recurrent training sessions.

Here’s a short news video from ABC News.

2 thoughts on “Practice makes perfect

  1. [By coincidence, I am writing an essay on…Rome, which had the following, slightly edited, passage…]

    The Airbus 330 crashed into the Atlantic, falling all the way into the ocean in an apparently irresistible fall. The disaster started when, after losing its speed indicators, and then its computers, the plane gained altitude quickly. Then it stalled, and lost lift.

    The three pilots of the Air France flight applied the doctrine recommended worldwide in such a case, which was to keep the nose up, and apply power. As it turned out, that’s wrong.

    Inquiring mind: Have the flight directives been changed?

    A year earlier, there had been a mysterious A320 crash over the Mediterranean. The brand new plane was full of extremely experienced pilots and aviation authorities, from Germany and New Zealand. It stalled during a test flight, in day light, and good weather.

    After analyzing that crash, and the AF 447’s preliminary findings by the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la sécurité de l’aviation civile (BEA) came to light, the world aviation authorities guessed what happened in both cases. The new doctrine privileges the recovery of a correct angle of attack, rather than the old, and erroneous approach of training pilots to power their way out of a near-stall with minimum loss of altitude.

    It turns out that the forward position of the two engines beneath the wing in such planes, tends to make them pitch up, the more power is applied. The new recommendation applies to Airbuses and Boeings.


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