back to article Heathrow 777 crash flattens servers

Yesterday's crash-landing of a BA Boeing 777 at Heathrow had the unfortunate knock-on effect of flattening the servers of the Professional Pilots Rumour Network (PPRuNe). This morning, the site was showing the following message: PPRuNe Servers vs Exceptionaly High Number of Visitors Whilst this may be a sore point for many of …

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Paris Hilton

The "El Reg Effect"?

"*Spare us the "so why did you publish the link?" whines. Even if we didn't, the first thing you lot would do is Google the PPRuNe, so we've saved you the trouble."

Can we put this on Slashdot, too?

In the 'States, the NTSB at some point will release either transcripts or actual audio of the "black box." Any chance that will happen in this case?

Was Paris on-board?

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they put in computers to counter human error, but...

Planes are pretty much run by computers now because the huge majority of plane crashes proved to be the fault of the wetware flying the plane. If you compare crash stats from the 70s to now, you can see the decline.

But as everyone on this forum knows, the hardware can fail. You can have failsafes and backups and all of that, but how many can you put on an airplane?

I have to take my hat off to the pilot. I also think an emergency override, so that the pilot could have actually operated some parts of the plane the old-fashioned way, sounds good. Would the stupid pilots panic and use the override whent he computer was doing a better job? I don't know. But good pilots shouldn't have to rely on their plane's gliding ability...

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Gates Halo

That's not a crash!

"Crash landing" and "interviewing the pilot" are mutually exclusive.

I'll award myself a halo for staying off PPrune.

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ID cards

If the UK had compulsory ID cards this incident would never have been allowed to happen in the first place.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm turning to the darkside

He walked away, as did all his passengers, gets a big tick next to successful landing.

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Thumb Up

isn't the old pilots maxim

"it's a good landing if you can walk away"

so therefore this isn't a crash?

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Stop

@Darkside

So, by your logic, if you total your car but you live to tell the tale (say, by cleverly employing seat belt & airbags), it's not a crash?

???

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Black Helicopters

Um, when?

The most intersting thing about this incident is the complete lack of factual time evidence. No one seems to know when exactly it crashed, just "yesterday". It just looks like someone is trying to hide something.

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What we'd like to know

Is the plane OS Windows, MacOS or linux?

If it was a total shutdown, weren't the pilots just passengers also?

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Black Helicopters

You forgot the other IT angle

The power of the aircraft cut out whilst flying over the mobile phone signal blocker fitted to Gordon Browns convoy!

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Black Helicopters

So, gees were to blame were they?

Geese are a threat to our society and we should be installing CCTV near all bodies of water in this country -- no matter what the expense, to ensure that geese can be tracked.

I propose tax money be diverted from hospitals and schools and put into projects to tag all geese, and gather all their genetic data to create a database of their full genomes and feather-prints. Geese seen to be gathering together, or in places we think they shouldn't be should be rounded up and imprisoned until it can be proved that they are planning to kill us all.

Only with a global war on geese will we finally be safe!!!!!!!

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Thumb Down

Crash Landing

Someone doesn't need to die for it to be a crash. The plane is basically a Write-Off.

If someone wrecks your car, but you're both still alive, then that wasn't a crash was it.

A successful landing is one where the plane is in the same condition it was when it took off, and it landed on the runway is was intended to.

A Crash, as in this case, Is where the plane is smashed up, can't be used again, and did not land where intended.

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Silver badge

Old-fashioned way

The old fashioned way is getting less possible. On the latest Boeing all the control surfaces are electrically powered - to save the weight of hydraulic lines,

no power, no controls.

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Alert

It's Obviously M$ Update

I'm going to reboot your computer NOW - whether you like it or not!!

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Google cache

Google for "site:www.pprune.org 777 309075" and you can see the link cached.

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Coat

this always amuses me

"Burkill has since been praised for gliding the stricken airliner over houses"

Every pilot I've ever met has expressed a preference for crash landing on a field rather than a building...

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Silver badge

Who's to blame - Boeing or Microsoft?

The B777 must have been running Windows for Airplanes and all that was needed was to press Ctrl-Alt-Del and reboot. Unfortunately, these keys are missing from the Flight Management Computer on Boeing777,

http://img250.imageshack.us/img250/4627/b777fmccduib4.jpg

so the the pilots had to use the alternative - a fly-over-the-wires dead stick landing...

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Media beat-up

Burkill has since been praised for gliding the stricken airliner over houses and managing to belly-flop it 50 yards inside the perimeter fence ...

I have no wish to denigrate the pilot's ability (I'm a commercial pilot here in Australia) but he wouldn't have been able to put the aircraft down onto the houses even if he'd wanted to. And ANY, normally-stable aircraft can glide. What the pilot did was do what he's supposed to do which is follow the first rule in any emergency - FTFA (fly the flaming aircraft). Training and experience!

I'm making these comments only because I'm tired of all the media hype and hysteria (not to mention ignorance) surrouncing aviation incidents.

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Coat

@Jon Pain and Thorsten: I think we have a serious problem here

The problem being that reader's sense of humour seems to have suffered serious failure and shut itself off about 400mm above the keyboard, unfortunately they have not been able to glide themselves in to the correct terminal and thus missed the point entirely.

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fly by wire..

Hollerith and Martin Beckett.

BOTH of you are wrong. These planes use Fly by wire systems which rid the cockpit of any mechanical connection to the rudder/flaps etc. Therefore a power out would render the plane uncontrollable.

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And what was one of the first press statements...

'We don't believe this was a terror related incident'

As if we are all living in constant fear of terror attacks, I think they have a little more propoganda to spout before that is the case.

Sorry I know its not mentioned but it was in the BBC's intial report, and I had to mention it because it annoys me that 'terror' seems to be the every other word on these peoples lips.

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Coat

If only the BOFH & PFY were there

They'd have put Linux on the aircraft computer in no time and all would have been well.

They have already done it once :P

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Stop

Failsafe means control surfaces operate without power

I agree that the bird angle doesn't really wash.

The fact that these 7 series beoings are soooo areodynamicaly effiecent and can glide for miles with very little power (yes they fly themselves folks) is probably what helped that pilot save hundreds of people from dying yesterday.

If indeed the plane did "shutdown" it's testment to the areodynamic economy of the wing design and the pilots ability. well done.

However these planes are DESIGED to continue flying in event of a bird strike.... yes these babys can (and regulary do) fly home on a single engine...FACT!

If it was a whole flock of geese taking out ALL of the engines.... well thats just unlucky!

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RE: Hollerith

"Planes are pretty much run by computers now because the huge majority of plane crashes proved to be the fault of the wetware flying the plane"

Well the Beeb had a pilot on yesterday saying that 95% of landings are still biologically controlled, and the computer is there as a standby.

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Tim
Joke

Apologies to Red Dwarf

Clearly Boeing did a good job on the 777. They obviously made the plane out of the same plastics they use for little girls' dolls - well known as the only thing that can survive a plane crash.

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@Tim Spence

"Well the Beeb had a pilot on yesterday saying that 95% of landings are still biologically controlled, and the computer is there as a standby."

He was talking about auto-land but on FBW airplanes every command input goes through a computer and the latter than decides what the airplane actually does, based on the control laws. This is supposed to prevent most human errors through envelope protection - when the computer does not allow the pilot to exceed critical parameters such as minimum airspeed and maximum angle of attack.

But humans proved they still can easily outwit the computer and crash the bloody plane if they want to...

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I'll post this on PPRUNE except I can't

A bloke on the telly was saying everything in aviation is duplex/triplex redundant except..... Heathrow. He should have added PPRUNE.

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Stop

RAT

For all you people claiming that an un-powered Boeing 777 is uncontrollable go and Google "Ram Air Turbine" and educate yourselves before claiming such a broad thing.

For the lazy a Ram Air Turbine is an emergency generator that pops out the bottom of the aircraft in the event of total electrical failure, it uses the wind going past the plane to provide electricity to power the hydraulics, it isn't much but better than nothing. (and the power naturally drops off with the speed.)

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Bird Flew

I want to know when does the luggage come off. (Just interested, I mean what if there are pets down there too)?

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Alien

Out of Petrol (Gas) ?

The plane crashed, wings were riped apart and no fire. Pilot reports the engines just shutdown and quit. Perhaps they ran out out petrol gas? Did anyone check fuel levels before they took off?

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Anonymous Coward

The quip from one of our managers was...

... Well, now I know what happens when you leave your mobile switched on during takeoff and landing...

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Jon

@ AC Browns signal blocker

Like this http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~wilkins/writing/Assign/topics/twa800-emi.htm

I'm sure he has some sort of jammer to prevent roadside bombs.

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Coat

This was a good landing

There's been a few comments here about whether this was a crash. I always thought that the rule was:

A Good Landing is one you can walk away from

An Excellent Landig is one where you can use the aeroplane again

Swish of coat through door....

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@pete - old pilots maxim

The rest of it is:

"and a better one if you can reuse the aircraft!"

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Dan
Paris Hilton

"Crash" and "landing"

Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.

Any landing you can't take off from again is a crash landing.

There is, therefore, such a thing as a good crash landing.

And the VAST majority of aircraft today are NOT fly-by-wire; the controls are directly mechanically linked to the control surfaces. The vast majority of aircraft are also not commercial aircraft.

Hilton, because she knows about direct mechanical linkages.

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Black Helicopters

err,

quick thought here for all those saying loss of power means he has no control over the fly by wire plane:

assume it was a very very unlucky bird strike or similar that took out all the engines, why would this instantly mean that the computers on board would fail? Loss of power means loss of engine power, not electrical power,

you really think those things are up there without batteries and UPS's?

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Re Media beat-up

And now we learn that the co-pilot landed the plane.

The nose dropped, the plane turned to the left, and he corrected for this. A situation that he would surely have met many times in flight simulatior training.

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Humans overriding computers

>>> Would the stupid pilots panic and use the override whent he computer was doing a better job?

I have read fatal aviation accident reports that say this has already happened. The one that comes to mind is a helicopter crash somewhere in Great Britain where city, sea, mountains, and of course clouds are all mixed together. The "visiting" pilot and the old-hand pilot (acting as co-) believed the autopilot had a tendency to cut the corners on its turns, so they manually prevented the start of the turn for some time.

Shortly after that the terrain collision warning sounded very briefly, etc..

Official reviewers' rumor was that this model autopilot did not have any such corner-cutting tendency. I have no idea where the fatal misconception originated. I suppose eventually these misconceptions would be bred out...

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Bronze badge

RE: err,

well, batteries are heavy and, as others pointed out there always is backup power anyway - air motion around the craft. I do not know how planes work but explanation that the engines are the only normal (i.e. not counting contingency ones) source of power is plausible to me.

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@Thorsten

Yo - when you can drive your car off an 800ft cliff and walk away from it, you'll be able to call that a landing rather than a crash

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a new angle

The pilot obviously banked the aircraft to reduce lift thus the plane dropped intentionally so it would be nearer the ground when it hit it. The auxilary power unit was deployed to provide control surface avionics hence one sees the APU exhaust flap open in the pictures. The pointed end was raisedd to reduce speed. Loss of engine power was probably because there was a fuel problem caused by problem with fuel. Great bit of flying and the pilot is a hero to avoid what could have a terrorist incident in different circumstances.

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Co-pilot was flying

Latest news is that the co-pilot was actually flying. That it was the pilot (Peter Burkill) who revealed fact this just pushes this whole tale to another level.

This is probably a karmic pay-back to mankind to balance the most recent Big Brother series.

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Stop

777 gliding properties, UPSs and so on

Airliners have nice gliding properties but only in what's known as the clean configuration and relatively high airspeed. The landing configuration (lots of flaps and slats, landing gear down) is just about the opposite of that and flying at minimum airspeed doesn't help. So no a 777 it's not such an excellent glider in that situation. The plane needs quite a bit of power just to maintain the glide slope. So indeed if the plane lost all power then the pilots did an excellent job of energy management - it could have ended up a lot shorter than it did.

And no planes don't typically have a lot of batteries and "UPS"s. When the power from the engine is gone it's either an APU (takes a while to start) or a ram air turbine (probably the same). So indeed it's typical for at least big parts of a plane to actually shut down at least for a moment. The important bit is that it still continues flying just as it did and it can still be controlled some way or another. And when the power is back everything restarts just about immediately and functions correctly. Hence lack of Windows presence in the aerospace industry...

Just speculating but birds ingested in both engines doesn't sound to be like the most unlikely cause for the event. Both engines shutting down at 400 feet in landing configuration and low airspeed would explain the outcome and indeed the pilots did OK (but then every pilot is kind of trained to do what they did, it's just that not everyone gets to demonstrate it and it's not something airline pilots regularly train for in the simulator, I can imagine a certain amount of pale faces and sweaty hands in the cockpit after the event).

(not a triple-seven-pilot myself but an active night-rated and almost-instrument rated private one)

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Anonymous Coward

"...a flock of geese was responsible for killing the engines"

Shouldn't that be the other way around?

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Boffin

Re: RAT

True enough. Get a double engine failure & resulting loss of power and you end up in a reversionary mode with the RAT deployed and unnecessary systems shut down, including some cockpit displays. Between RAT, batteries & hydraulic accumulators you have enough control to keep the aircraft flying, and to try to deal with whatever happened.

There is also limited mechanical backup for some of the control surfaces. Exactly how much depends on the aircraft type. Airliners at least will glide by nature (if sufficient height exists they always tend to recover into a glide, assuming the airframe doesn't fail first) so you can cope with limited direct control and/or no engines.

As for fallback/override modes, these exist but are basically options for deselecting some of the control filtering. With everything active the FCS will stop you exceeding various comfort and performance parameters eg. AOA, roll rate etc. etc., sometimes known as 'carefree handling and manoeuvring' because as long as you don't hit anything you don't have to be too careful about what you do with the controls. Though some of the cargo might complain!

Switch out the FCS (press the button or if feeling brave pull circuit breakers) and you end up in direct law, at which point you effectively have direct unrestricted control of the aircraft. This feels quite good to fly as you can explore the handling which is much sharper when unfiltered; the downside is you could end up with serious problems as there's nothing to stop you doing something unrecoverable, or which might break the aircraft except your own actions at the controls.

.

Re: lack of fire. The tanks would be pretty empty after the flight given the distance, though I guess the main reason for no fire would be that the landing gear ripped through the gear well as the mountings failed under stress, but this part of the wing didn't include any fuel storage as the gear well, gear support structure & main spar would have taken up all the useful space at that point. Hence no ruptured tanks, and no fire.

Also remember that near empty tanks are actually more dangerous than full ones as they tend to explode due to the fuel vapour. The 787 will have a standard-fit inerting system to prevent this, but the 777 doesn't yet have this option, and I don't think anyone has retrofitted so far.

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Whatever happened (seems like engine control/avionics failure?) it looks like they just didn't have the height or airspeed to do much about the situation, gear down late on an approach really isn't the best time to try to deal with this kind of thing. A couple of minutes earlier and an unpowered approach might have been exciting, but the glide & touchdown would have been much easier as there'd be time & margin to adjust, and very few would probably have known what had happened unless they read incident reports.

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J
Dead Vulture

Icon says it all

'nuff said

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Silver badge
Alert

New Rules....Passenger safety of secondary importance?

In the past, whenever there was an unexplained accident, the whole fleet of that particular aircraft would be grounded as a very valid precautionary measure. But that wouldn't be something Boeing would be happy about ..... or their Airline customers. Although maybe they have rethought that financial inconvenience?

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Anonymous Coward

Pilot vs co-pilot flying

Sorry to continue my boring pedantic rant but there are actually two actual qualified pilots aboard every 777. One of them is the pilot-in-command (PIC) of the aircraft and the other one is not. One is the pilot flying (PF) and the other is the pilot not flying (PNF). The two distinctions are independent so 50% of the time it's not the "captain" (pilot-in-command) flying (or pushing the buttons of the autopilot) but the "co-pilot" and indeed the "captain" is just assisting (reading checklists and selecting flaps etc as commanded by the PF). And when something goes wrong and the PIC is the PNF then typically it makes sense for him to stay that way and instead concentrate on solving the problem and let the less experienced but equally skilled guy next to him keep controls. So still nothing unusual there.

One thing to keep in mind is that total loss of power (if that indeed was the case here) in landing configuration at 400 ft is just one of the things that the plane is sort of not really designed for. It's a bit like total power loss immediately after take-off - lots of effort goes into making that a very unlikely event but if it does happen anyway then it takes a lot of luck to avoid a disaster. You're not in total control anymore in a way, you can obviously turn the potential disaster into a certainty by doing something wrong but you're not guaranteed to be able to prevent it anymore no matter what you do. Not that you'll ever stop trying though. That's just the way things are for aircraft. Every pilot knows that and hence there's always that special moment when you're cleared for take-off and think once more if you really want to open the trottle or if you should just taxi back to the terminal and go and have a cup of coffee or something instead.

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Anonymous Coward

777 backups

I worked as Flight Line Avionics Tech for Boeing Experimental Flight Test on the first few 777’s. About 16 months. Known as WA001 and WA002. It IS fly by wire but the elevator has a wire / cable backup.

The engines are Rolls, GE or Pratt’s they are similar but different. They have onboard FADEC type controls right on each engine. You could say they are fly by wire. If they loose signal from the auto flight systems and or the throttle quadrate transmitters in the isle stand of the cockpit they should go to FLIGHT IDLE which I was told would keep the aircraft airborne, especially close in with flaps extended.

I can tell you for a fact Boeing went to the 9’s on all the wiring for the fly by wire.

In case of catastrophic failure, each of the three Flight Control Computers has just beneath them there own UPS, if you will. They will maintain electrical power and control, but for a short time only, basically just the time needed to deploy the

RAT or Ram Air Turbine. This deploys automatically from the belly, it is a blade or prop arrangement connected to a drive unit that ‘Pops down into the air stream and turns like a mini wind mill generating power. This will supply emergency power electrical and hydraulic. I was working the aircraft in Flight Test when Boeing flew out and turned of all the power on the aircraft and flew it on ONLY RAT power.

Boeing tests more extensively than anyone else. A777 was tested to the point of destruction across the street from flight test, the so called Iron Bird. They pulled the wings off, not a cheap thing to do at 140 million a copy.

The questions I have are? Why was control lost to the engine throttles, if that is what happened. Did they go to flight idle? If so why did the aircraft glide path continue to be to steep? And how and did the RAT perform? You can thank God for the result of this incident as I do. I have flown many hours aboard the 777. But consider thanking the airlines commitment to good employees and their training and of course Boeing and their stubborn relentless flight test programs.

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Silver badge
Thumb Up

"It's a good landing if..."

Stop me if I'm wrong, but I believe the poster a ways up the page may have been paraphrasing the legendary Chuck Yeager of X-1 sound-barrier-breaking fame.

Anyway, though... the wife and I do a fair amount of flying -- that is, riding on airplanes -- and after all that time, still, everytime we're on approach, all of my sensory cues fool me into thinking we're too low, too slow, and we're not going to make it. I'm sure that happens to a lot of folks. I wonder what those folks were thinking when it dawned on them that Holy Shit/e, we're _really_ not going to make it.

I'm especially impressed that the pilot was able to glide it in, as I was always under the impression that an aircraft that size had about as much "glide" as a set of car keys.

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