Thursday, December 08, 2011

The most dangerous part of an airplane

Popular Mechanics explains the amazingly stupid human error that led to the crash of Air France 447 in 2009.
Perhaps spooked by everything that has unfolded over the past few minutes--the turbulence, the strange electrical phenomena, his colleague's failure to route around the potentially dangerous storm--Bonin reacts irrationally. He pulls back on the side stick to put the airplane into a steep climb, despite having recently discussed the fact that the plane could not safely ascend due to the unusually high external temperature. * * *

Almost as soon as Bonin pulls up into a climb, the plane's computer reacts. A warning chime alerts the cockpit to the fact that they are leaving their programmed altitude. Then the stall warning sounds. This is a synthesized human voice that repeatedly calls out, "Stall!" in English, followed by a loud and intentionally annoying sound called a "cricket." A stall is a potentially dangerous situation that can result from flying too slowly. At a critical speed, a wing suddenly becomes much less effective at generating lift, and a plane can plunge precipitously. All pilots are trained to push the controls forward when they're at risk of a stall so the plane will dive and gain speed.

The Airbus's stall alarm is designed to be impossible to ignore. Yet for the duration of the flight, none of the pilots will mention it, or acknowledge the possibility that the plane has indeed stalled—--even though the word "Stall!" will blare through the cockpit 75 times. Throughout, Bonin will keep pulling back on the stick, the exact opposite of what he must do to recover from the stall.
An inexperienced pilot, a co-pilot who didn't ask enough questions, and a pair of sticks that don't work in tandem, so the co-pilot isn't forced to notice that the pilot is about to kill everyone on board.

The transcript is well worth reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment