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back to article New account of Flight 447 disaster published

Lack of manual flying experience contributed to the crash of a fully functional commercial airliner two years ago, killing all 228 people aboard. Air France Flight 447 crashed while flying through an Atlantic storm in July 2009, the worst ever French aviation accident. The black box recorders were not recovered for almost two …

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Unhappy

Fly by wire?

The Popular Mechanics article makes for interesting reading indeed, especially how the two "joysticks" on the Airbus are not stynchroised, thus allowing the two co-piots at the controls to totally contradict each others actions

As sad as the event was and still is, the information gained from the flight data recovery will ensure this doesn't happen again.

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FAIL

All the data recorder reveals

is a school boy error.

Stalling is exercise 10b of the JAR syllabus for a private pilot's licence and covers symptoms of the approaching stall, the stall itself and standard stall recovery (which is the same in any plane - full power, lower the nose)

Looking through my logbook I did this exercise after 6 hours of ever flying a plane. The fact one of the first officers has not only gained his PPL, but also then a CPL and then an ATPL and then type approval for the A330 yet managed to forget standard stall recovery is a worrying one. Even flying without a functioning ASI is something any competent pilot should be able to manage, I'm surprised there wasn't a checklist to follow in such a situation.

I'd rather walk than fly Air France

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Really?

You don't know enough about what the pilots were experiencing to make the call you are making. You are massively oversimplifying the situation.

The fly by wire in alternate mode, the stall warning shutting off, the averaging of stick inputs, the complete disorientation the pilots were experiencing all added to the tragedy.

There was a significant chain of causality.

You are cheapening what really happened and I think you need to STFU.

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miknik..

The pilot made the error in combination with other factors.

The certification is not in cause.

If you were to rely only on companies that NEVER had crashes, you'll sure not fly often.

And certainly not on American ones.

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Scary fail for France's licensing standards?

Active stall recovery, much like with you, was done frequently and very early on when I was training for my license. In Canada where I'm from, so are recovering from spiral dives. Its been a while since flight school however I seem to recall my instructor telling me that the actively (meaning really doing it while flying a real airplane) recovering from stalls and spiral dives is NOT manditory in every country. Some countries, such as the US, just cover it in the classroom.

So either this Bonin guy (whom in my opinion single-handedly crashed that aircraft and killed all those people) was a complete moron who somehow ended up as a copilot on a commercial aircraft, or France's pilot training standards are severly lacking.

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Exiting stall...

Actually, some planes don't respond easily to that method of exiting a stall.

The phenomenon is called "deep stall", and mainly affects two types of planes. The first type is anything with a T-tail, where the horizontal stabilisers end up in the "dirty" airflow downstream of the stalled wings, and therefore you lose pitch authority. The second type is the F-16, whose flight computers are notorious for obstructing pitch-down input during a stall.

None of that, of course, excuses the pilots of that plane.

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@Glenn

Swept-wing jet airliners are not like the Cessna on which you probably learned to fly. If you stall them (which there are multiple safeguards to prevent happening) the flight path can soon become irrecoverable. It's quite likely that, once AF447 was deep in the stall regime the pilots were merely front-seat observers of the unfolding accident. We'll probably never know whether the world's greatest pilot could have recovered the plane - no-one's ever going to recreate the conditions for real, and they are way outside the limits of what any simulator is certified to replicate.

Recommended reading: Handling the Big Jets: An Explanation of the Significant Difference in Flying Qualities Between Jet Transport Aeroplanes and Piston Engined Transport Aeroplanes

(David P. Davies, 1973)

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@Gordon 10

You don't know enough about aviation. You shouldn't fly into storms (other pilots in the area at the time avoided this one). There will be standard procedures for instrument failure wirh a specific set of instructions to follow in such an eventuality. Loss of the ASI shouldn't result in crashing into the sea. You still have ground speed from the gps and an attitude indicator so you know if you are nose high or not, you have wind information from forecasts and from during the flight before the ASI failed so coupled with ground speed you have a reasonable idea what your airspeed is. The stall warning is independent of the ASI so no reason to ignore it when it sounds 75 times. If the nose is elevated 18 degrees, the stall warner is blaring and your groundspeed is around 100 knots in an A330 and you don't reduce the angle of attack then bad things are going to happen.

Go to your local flying club and ask anyone with more than a few hours flight experience and they will all tell you the junior co pilot basically screwed up and killed everyone. That's certainly the consensus at mine.

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"especially how the two "joysticks" on the Airbus are not stynchroised, thus allowing the two co-piots at the controls to totally contradict each others actions"

I literally felt sick when I read that. I knew some of the guys that wrote the A320 software and have tried to avoid the aircraft ever since as a result, but someone should be in the dock for that piece of shit design.

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I didn't say that it wasn't pilot error yes Bonin was the single main cause however there were significant contributing factors and blaming it on the training only was a cheap shot and you know it.

And as for your friends the only ones worth listening to would be those who have type certs on the a330/40.

Until then I'll rely on my own opinion based on 12 years aviation experience including working directly with the engineers who take 330's to pieces on a regular basis and an Airline who run some of the highest duty cycle 330's in the world since the model was brand new.

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@Chris Miller

You're much better read than me, but the Popular Mechanics article said one of the expert pilots they interviewed for the story had subsequently flown that situation in a simulator and had got out of it.

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Eventuellement = possibly, not eventually

It's a notorious 'false friend' (words in two languages that sound similar but have different meanings), so:

02:08:03 (Robert) Tu peux éventuellement le tirer un peu à gauche. = You might need to go left a bit.

Apart from that, it's all very sad. The icing on a couple of airspeed probes caused experienced pilots to drop an otherwise perfectly servicable plane into the drink with the loss of over 200 lives. It raises issues with the automation software and the pilot training - which in this case combined to cause an accident.

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Anonymous Coward

Not sure you can really blame the software, it detected an anomaly from the sensors which it couldn't handle, so did what it was programmed to do - yelled for help, i.e. turned control over to the supposedly-experienced pilots, who then ignored the information the plane was giving them while *they* screamed for help. When the captain returned to the cockpit and eventually realised what the situation was, it was beyond recovery. All in all, not unlike the inexperienced driver who brakes on snow, feels the car start to slide, and desperately stands on the brakes even harder trying to make the car stop, but sadly with far more serious consequences. One can only hope that, despite their public attitude, Air France do learn something about pilot training from this.

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You don't just 'blame the pilots' or 'blame the software'. Accidents in modern aircraft rarely have a single cause. And to say 'the pilot was insane' doesn't help much in preventing reoccurrences, which is the object of the exercise.

There were problems with (at least the UI of) the software. One particular instance was the fact that the stall warning was inhibited once the aircraft was fully stalled (essentially zero airspeed) - this is done to prevent erroneous warnings. From that point on, even when the Pitots unfroze and were working correctly, when the pilots tried to do the right thing (lower the nose) the airspeed exceeded the inhibition limit (but still far below stall speed) and the stall warning returned - a horrible trap.

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While it is true that you can't blame the software

for essentially the same reason you can't blame the girder that failed and collapsed the building, you can and ought to blame the software in the sense that if the pilot isn't getting regular practice and isn't aware of the circumstance causing the emergency, he isn't going to be able to pull out of it. We've got the same problem over here in the states with passenger trains that are mostly run on autopilot. When they dump control back to the fleshy in a red alert emergency situation, the fleshy has no idea what the correct procedure is and lots of lives can be lost.

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"A horrible trap"

Sure, but only if you've so badly stalled the aircraft to begin with that the pitot tubes aren't getting enough airflow to provide reliable AOA indication -- I gather that's what shut off the stall horn, rather than the low airspeed. Hard to call this a UI failure, I think, or solely a UI failure at least, when it didn't happen until the pilot had got the aircraft's attitude incredibly screwed up to begin with.

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Happy

slang

Yes, indeed, the transcript avoids giving the accurate literal translation of 'putain' ('whore'), but in that situation, he isn't saying that. It's just an expression of alarm / frustration / etc., sort of like saying "damn" or "bloody hell". And it has an excellent mouth-feel for expressing this, as living in France for any length of time will tell you. (I'm racing towards three years, and yes, I say it too, sometimes. It occasionally is heard in the enhanced version, "putain de merde".)

Similarly, "bordel" isn't translated at all. The observant will note its similarity to "bordello", and it does indeed mean nothing more and nothing less than "brothel" when used in a technical sense. When used in casual speech, however, it means something similar to "tangled mess" - "dans ce bordel de merde" (lit: "in this brothel of shit") is sometimes heard.

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re: slang

"It occasionally is heard in the enhanced version, "putain de merde".)"

Works in a similar way in Spanish, "puta mierda".

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Headmaster

slang with more context

Yes, literally it means "whore". When used of a person, the closest English equivalent is probably "bitch", in the way it might be used by American rappers: a denigrating, disrespectful term for a woman, and an even more insulting term for a man who is totally "owned" and powerless.

ObTrivia: there was a 1990 anglo-italian-french movie starring Timothy Dalton called "La putain du roi", and although IMDB says otherwise, my memory says that when I saw it, the title was translated as "The King's Bitch".

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"Computer rashly let meatsacks take over"

Is this really the sort of story for an attempt at humourous Reg-isms?

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Is there any other sort of story?

Or are we going to get a bunch of whining about respect for the dead, &c.? I hope not; one of the reasons I read .co.uk rather than .com is because so few of my countrymen do likewise, and there's really nothing more American than the kind of complaint it sounds like you're making.

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Anonymous Coward

@ColinP

To be fair, an *actual* sack of meat may have done a better job in the cockpit than this hapless trio of cheese-eating surrender monkeys!

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WTF?

please

Remember Bill Hicks and George Carlin were both American were both as irreverent as any Ricky Gervais(sp?). Don't let our very loud very small minority of bible thumping right wingers give you the wrong impression.

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FAIL

300+ million people in USA

but the opinionated limey knows us all.

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fyi Jackwaggon

Colin is much more likely a UK name than an American one.

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FAIL

nothing more European

than killing 200 people due to the European love of bureaucracy. Nobody could be bothered to take ownership of preventing such an obviously preventable tragedy.

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"The opinionated limey"

was born and raised in Mississippi, thank you, and my experience tells me that progressives are at least as susceptible as traditionalists to this kind of sanctimonious moralizing.

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Anonymous Coward

ll

If you say "Colin" to a Merkin in my corner of Merkinland they'll spell it with two l's.

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putain

While the literal translation is 'whore', your typical frenchy will use it almost as an all purpose swear word - think of it as a french version of 'bloody', and about as naughty.

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Headmaster

Poor old Vladimir

Because of the similarity, French newsreaders take care to refer to him as "Poutine" (pronounced "poot-een") rather than what it really sounds like.

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Not quite.'putain' is much stronger than 'bloody'; it's much nearer to fuck or shit. There's no way you'd see anyone on prime time tv use that word unlike 'bloody' over here.

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Wrong.

French TV does have a "watershed" time, but it's not immediately clear to me (a) what time it is and (b) what's allowed before versus after. Certainly I've heard both 'putain' and 'merde' on 101%, a thirty-minute magazine show that airs daily at 7pm on Nolife.

That said, the French have odd standards on age ratings. /Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia/ is rated 18 in the UK, but the French DVD of it I just received has a 12+ rating (not allowed for under-12s).

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@I_am_Chris

I think you are wrong - putain is not very strong. I don't know about prime time TV, but I remember hearing two of Brassen's songs that used it (it occurs in the chorus of "Putain de toi" and in the last verse of "La complainte des filles de joie") about half a century ago on prime time radio in France (while his "Fernande" was banned from radio because the chorus contained "je bande" and "la bandaison papa ça n'se commande pas" - that use of bander/bandaison was thought to be a bit too much). Best translation I can think of for putain in a phrase like "putain de toi" is "you tramp", or for "putain" on its own "oh damn". The dictionary I use on the rare occassions when I need a French disctionary gives it as "putain: exclamation exprimant la surprise; (grossièrement) prostituée" so I guess its use as an exclamation is not regarded as grossière.

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Anonymous Coward

Bad stall training in the airline industry

The issue that is grabbing most attention is that pilots are being taught to pull the stick back in a stall in order to retain height. This seems to be fundamentally wrong and a far bigger cause of the accident that this article implies.

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Not according to Popular Mechanics

The linked article clearly states that pilots are trained to drop the nose in the event of a stall, and indeed anyone who's spent more than fifteen minutes screwing around in Microsoft Flight Simulator, or even just looking at the Wikipedia page on aerodynamic stalls, can figure that one out for himself.

For that matter, unless France's pilot certification requirements are a joke -- which I doubt -- everyone on that flight deck would have had to demonstrate ability to recover a stall before being allowed anywhere near a revenue flight.

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Boffin

Loss of height

I've read that some of that is due to some (FAA?) requirement that stall recovery should involve a specified maximum loss of height -- to the point where some pilots undergoing checks got reluctant to push the stick too far forward, lest they exceed that maximum. True, stall recovery should involve losing as little height as possible, but specifying a maximum height loss gets counter-productive.

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Bronze badge

It probably depends what your flying

It your flying a single engine prop powered light aircraft, if you stall then you probably do need to nose down as you don't have the power/weight ratio to simply power your way out of a stall.

I don't know, but I suspect that 4 jet turbofans at full throttle probably produces so much thrust that the benefit of going nose down is marginal, since I suspect that a packed airliner has a gliding profile similar to a brick. If that is the case, then diving wouldn't help much in the first place, and would put you nose down when 4 jet turbofans start pushing you along the line of flight which might take you into the ground in the time it took the plane to recover and get nose up if on approach.

Since I doubt those people writing the airline safety documentation are idiots, you have to suspect that someone has sat down and calculated that it's simply safer to keep nose up and go full throttle to recover.

Still, i'm sure your better qualified to comment than me or the experts!

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FAIL

> I suspect that a packed airliner has a gliding profile similar to a brick

wrong. the typical jet performs remarkably well as a glider considering it has 2 or 4 big engines dangling from its wings. which mean the aerodynamics can't be anywhere near as good as they'd be on something that was actually designed to be a glider. despite this, jets of today tend to have glide ratios of 18:1 or theresabouts. ie for each foot of altitude lost, the plane goes forward 18 feet. even a shitty 50 year old one-prop cessna has a glide ratio of 12 or 14 to one.

the idea that any plane immediately falls from the sky when the power is taken off is just silly. remember the airbus that ditched in the hudson after it lost both engines at take off?

btw take a wild guess what the engines of a jet are doing in the last 20 minutes or so of a flight when the plane's descending to land.

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"I don't know, but I suspect that 4 jet turbofans at full throttle probably produces so much thrust that the benefit of going nose down is marginal"

Errr you'd be wrong in your suspicion I'm afraid. The biggest problems with any jet engine is they have to spool up, gravity's instantly responsive. Also the aim of a stall recovery is to get the air flowing over the wings the right way, a stall means your descending so pointing the wings in the direction your travelling makes the recovery one hell of a lot quicker.

And according to the transcript, it looks like the people driving sort of forgot to pump the throttles for a while and then when they did they tried to go for a nose up max climb attitude amore appropriate to sea level.

Theres so many basic mistakes and areas for improvement in that reconstruction its scary. Add that to the later QANTAS A380 engine debacle where the crew had to spend 30 mins clearing alerts to understand what was wrong and you've got to wonder if there are some seriously wrong UI decisions in Airbus

Who said this didn't have an IT angle?

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Gimli Glider

The "Gilmli Glider" incident in Canada in 1983 is also worth mentioning. A Boeing 767 ran out of fuel mid-flight (an imperial/metric mixup combined with a faulty fuel gauge) and the pilots managed to successfully land the plane with only minor damage. The minor damage was due to the nose wheel not being fully down due to the power loss and due the the brakes having to bit hit very hard due to coming down a bit too late, rather than the plane doing anything brick-like. Everyone on board the plane was completely okay and the aircraft was back in service soon afterwards.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimli_Glider

There are not many incidents like this, because multiple engine failures are incredibly rare. You have to run out of fuel, have simultaneous bird strikes, fly through a cloud of volcanic ash, or something like that. Independent mechanic failures due to faulty engines simply do not happen, as modern engines are incredibly reliable.

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True...

It is very weird they continued to pull up. You natural instinct in a stall is even to go down and increase speed, your body can usually feel a stall. All very strange. Then again I have never experienced a stall in a big plane like that, maybe you don't feel it.

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@AndrewG

"And according to the transcript, it looks like the people driving sort of forgot to pump the throttles for a while and then when they did they tried to go for a nose up max climb attitude amore appropriate to sea level."

Just so.

Basically, a behind-the-power-curve maneuver. IOW - Not enough thrust available at that point to do what they wanted. That late into the stall, even with throttles to the firewall, the engines would not have been able to power the aircraft out of the 'stall' portion of the envelope without a healthy assist from gravity.

My father used to do incident investigation, and his opinions on the cockpit discipline and coordination in this case is unprintably profane.

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WTF?

I understand that one stick doesn't move when the other does, like in a Boeing, so they don't feel the actions of the other pilot; but why isn't there some sort of alarm when both are being moved at the same time, so they at least know about the conflict?

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Devil

Cockpit is no place for democracy

"Averaging" between inputs is a terminally bad idea. Better to have priority in cases like this and the captain being able to flip it if need be from the back seat.

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That's why every pilot knows (or ruddy well should) that "You've got her" (or similar) means you are to take control and that "I've got her" is the correct response, indicating he should now keep his paws off. In the event of an emergency where a pilot thinks he should take control unilaterally, he should announce the fact and ensure that an appropriate response is received (assuming his counterpart is conscious).

If both pilots are attempting to fly the same plane at the same time, there's been a catastrophic failure of basic procedures somewhere along the line. This sort of thing is usually referred to as "pilot error" in the inevitable post mortem.

There is one exception here and that is when for some reason (e.g. hydraulic failure) the pilot flying the plane is unable to move the control surfaces, at which time he may call for the bloke in the second seat to assist. Applying extra "grunt" in this manner is utterly pointless on a fly-by-wire aircraft and should never be used in such.

Thus if lack of synchronisation becomes an issue, the lads at the controls have fucked up. Big time. Fortunately the aviation industry isn't above telling pilots what they should damned well already know, so I'd expect such an alarm to be amongst the recommendations of the inquiry.

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From what I can read elsewhere

that summary goes a lot further than the official enquiry has done so far. It seems plausible, but I wouldn't guarantee that the official report will be identical.

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Mushroom

That is probably something that will be considered REALLY carefully from now on.

Its a classic 'we never thought of that one' situation ..

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Multiple stick input on FbW planes ...

... is surely redundant, and therefore shouldn't be allowed to happen. Is there any reason why there shouldn't be only one stick live at a time (subject to the relevant override controls being suitably distributed)?

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Wonder if this will get reported in France?

It's interesting (if that's the right word) that as soon as the first indication of pilot error came out, Air France responded "couldn't be, not OUR pilots", and the French mainstream press stopped reporting anything about it.

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Well, *some* parts of the US press where into "Airbus plastic material failure / fly-by-wire-too-much-automatics failure, couldn't happen to Boeing oh no"

I was disgust.

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