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A pilot's worst nightmare
May 2, 2011 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Putting aircraft back into service after storage is sometimes hazardous. Witness this TU-154, where control problems occurred approximately 30 seconds after takeoff.

The aircraft very nearly departed from controlled flight several times, and was landed without a scratch by apparently nearly superhuman skills. Pilots over at the PPrune forums are saying it's reminiscent of UA-232, only with a better outcome.
posted by pjern (73 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I want to fly with that crew from now on.
posted by showmethecalvino at 4:30 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the landing isn't actually seen.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 4:34 PM on May 2, 2011


Whoa. Terrifying to be on that plane, what an impressive save by the pilots. If the post hadn't given it away I would have expected to see a fireball rise from behind those trees. Good post, even for people who don't like to watch planes taking off.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:38 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Getting on the ground is easy, gravity takes care of that. Intact? !!!!!!! Ridiculous. And I'm not even a pilot. That was astonishing.
posted by ZakDaddy at 4:38 PM on May 2, 2011


Watched the first one: Was Ready to Flag this Post.

Watched the Next Two: Holy F*#@!*$ $#!^. How that plane reached the ground as anything other than a fireball I'll never know.
posted by MasonDixon at 4:41 PM on May 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


The pprune thread has lots of photos of the landing from a variety of angles.
posted by unSane at 4:44 PM on May 2, 2011


Here the link to the photo's

Hats off to the pilots, unbelievable airmanship.
posted by Long Way To Go at 4:46 PM on May 2, 2011


Holy God. Some of the compensating maneuvers must have been helped by giant steel balls swinging around and clanking into each other up there. I expected to see smoke on the horizon at least three times.
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:48 PM on May 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the whole sitting and waiting one minute and not seeing anything is kind of annoying. User experience FPP 101: don't make the user do more work than they have to to get to the primary content.
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:52 PM on May 2, 2011


If all I'd seen was the 2nd video there is no way I'd believe that plane ever got back on the ground safely. I didn't know you could get a passenger jet to move like that even if you wanted too - amazing flying.
posted by N-stoff at 4:53 PM on May 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


The video above the fold isn't the meat of the post, so yeah a couple points off for poor FPP structure.

Yeah, I'll cop to that. I got it in my head that the way to tell the story was in linear fashion. That's the way my mind works, and I had seen the second video before the first, and knew what was coming.
posted by pjern at 4:53 PM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't help but feel these vids would be much better with the Benny Hill music dubbed over them.
posted by Damienmce at 4:55 PM on May 2, 2011


Maybe some here wanted to see a crash landing and were let down.
posted by Brian B. at 4:56 PM on May 2, 2011


Fuck the haters, pjern, this is a great post.
posted by saladin at 4:56 PM on May 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


[Bunch of comments removed. Folks, please consider up front if any given in-thread comment about the structure of a post, or replies to same, is actually going to significantly improve the resulting thread; if you just don't like the post, or someone else's comment, flagging and moving on is the thing to do almost always.]
posted by cortex at 4:56 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


with the right editing software, this could've been one poorly shot video.
posted by ianaces at 4:57 PM on May 2, 2011


The first video was worth the post, although I was amazed when they landed the plane.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:58 PM on May 2, 2011


amazing, it was like watching someone land a kite.
That is first rate piloting. Can anyone translate the folks in the background?
posted by clavdivs at 4:58 PM on May 2, 2011


I want to fly with that crew from now on.

Even though i appreciate the massive balls of steel, i'm not sure i'd want to fly with a crew that thinks that flying that thing in the first place is a good idea :P
posted by palbo at 4:59 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Святое дерьмо!

I knew russain aircraft can be... touchy but russian pilots know these crafts well. A cockpit cam would have been great. I have never seen a plane pitch and yawl like that and land safe.
posted by clavdivs at 5:05 PM on May 2, 2011


Striker! You're coming in too low!

Amazing piloting -- well done!
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:06 PM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


looks like a fire in the background of vid 2, though, far away.
posted by clavdivs at 5:09 PM on May 2, 2011


This has been your weekly lesson on yaw-roll coupling.
posted by kiltedtaco at 5:11 PM on May 2, 2011


hi all. i'm new here (thanks mathowie!) but i've been flying a long time. these pilots were quite brave and very very lucky. the pprune forum is awesome but the jargon can be tough to disambiguate. the way it looks is that the airplane had a phenomenal amount of adverse yaw -- dutch roll. an airplane is aerodynamically controlled in the 3 axes of roll, yaw, and pitch. it's essential that the pilot(s) have coordination of all three at all times. In this case the dutch roll was likely due to lack of harmony between roll and yaw. a pilot can sometimes compensate for pitch by varying power. a possibility is that the crew was using a number of tactics to get back on the ground including power adjustments and any usable control surfaces. keep in mind that pilots, especially test pilots, train for these scenarios. the likely reason we see the aircraft flying around is the attempt to test what configuration might allow some kind of controlled landing.

on the other hand they may have been into the vodka during the preflight. almost all aviation accidents attrib to pilot error.
posted by lomcovak at 5:18 PM on May 2, 2011 [11 favorites]


oops. on preview. what kilted taco said.
posted by lomcovak at 5:18 PM on May 2, 2011


The folks on the PP forum mention the TU-154 but not its variant being in storage. News reports tell of T-154s being grounded and of this accident /and this one involving the T-154.
posted by clavdivs at 5:19 PM on May 2, 2011


Question: could a present day young, quickly trained, autopilot addicted and low waged airline pilot have survived this?
posted by elpapacito at 5:23 PM on May 2, 2011


The first video was a little scary, but wasn't heart-stopping. Then I opened the second and...holy crap. How in the hell...? I mean...?

The fact that that plane didn't just flip over and over and fall to the ground is astounding. I can't imagine being in it and not spending the rest of my life just hugging the ground and not letting go afterward.
posted by xingcat at 5:34 PM on May 2, 2011


В России, Туполев мух вас.
(sometimes)
posted by clavdivs at 5:37 PM on May 2, 2011


Can anyone translate the folks in the background?

"I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you."
posted by ShutterBun at 5:40 PM on May 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


A pilot's worst nightmare

I thought Russian airlines were pretty much everybody's worst nightmare. I heard one story of a passenger on Aeroflot that had a frozen quarter of a moose carcass as carry on luggage.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:46 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Q: left aileron
W: right aileron
O: left rudder
P: right rudder
posted by rlk at 5:53 PM on May 2, 2011 [24 favorites]


that is one cold still charlie.
posted by clavdivs at 6:00 PM on May 2, 2011


I followed UA-232 to this recount by a survivor. It's not the most gripping oral report ever, but I still think it's interesting because it's straight from the mouth of someone who was right there.
posted by Glinn at 6:13 PM on May 2, 2011


Holy crap, that would have been scary as Hell to be aboard.

No roller coaster on Earth would even come close to that kind of terrifying.
posted by bwg at 6:34 PM on May 2, 2011


There is a yakov smirnoff joke in there somewhere.
posted by Felex at 6:42 PM on May 2, 2011


Like a leaf in the wind...
posted by brundlefly at 6:49 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a pretty good transcript of a talk given by Al Haynes at the Dryden Flight Research Facility about the United 232 crash. He was the captain at the time.
posted by FishBike at 6:52 PM on May 2, 2011


FishBike: "Here's a pretty good transcript of a talk given by Al Haynes at the Dryden Flight Research Facility about the United 232 crash. He was the captain at the time"

I saw Al Haynes give that talk in person at an FAA safety seminar in Chicago. It was a humbling experience.
posted by pjern at 7:00 PM on May 2, 2011


On the weekend I was at my grandfather's 90th birthday where my uncle gave a speech on some of my grandfather's exploits as a pilot. He spent some years as a test pilot for aircraft returning from mods/major servicing in around the 50s or 60s. On one occasion the aircraft had its aileron controls reversed, which presumably would have been amusing, on another he had the engine flame out and fail to restart while some long distance from base (80 miles I think it was). The trick to getting out of that one seems to be to make sure you are really high when it happens.
posted by markr at 7:11 PM on May 2, 2011


a talk given by Al Haynes
Dang! Now that is gripping. I almost burned my dinner.
posted by Glinn at 7:12 PM on May 2, 2011


Okay, I have a high-school understanding of how planes work. What went wrong here? From the united references, I assume they lost all their controls at once?

Regardless, those must be the best pilots ever to land the thing in that condition. Planes just aren't supposed to wobble in that many axes simultaneously.
posted by dvorak_beats_qwerty at 7:28 PM on May 2, 2011


You mean it's NOT supposed to do that?
posted by Evilspork at 7:39 PM on May 2, 2011


Once upon a time I was driving a 4WD vehicle at very high speeds on very loose gravel upon very narrow county roads, and I almost lost it. We slid a half mile with the left side forward, I gently corrected, and then we slid for another half mile with the right side forward. I gently corrected once more, and we almost came nose forward, but then we just stopped. So I only had to back up like 6 feet, and then pull gently forward and go on about our way.

Mine was operator error. And mine was only in two dimensions.

This was exponentially harder.

Both for them and for me, I think vodka might have been part of the situation.

Impressive as hell.. Yes, I should be dead. Many times over.
posted by yesster at 7:43 PM on May 2, 2011


I like the phrase "departed from controlled flight" very much. That's distancing language.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 7:54 PM on May 2, 2011


Paul Mantz [previously] would have been proud: It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - The Flying Scenes.
posted by cenoxo at 7:56 PM on May 2, 2011


And: Holy crap, I can't believe that thing didn't disintegrate.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 7:58 PM on May 2, 2011


"Rumor is aileron feedback problem - system treated any aileron motion as external force, and attempted to "correct". Rudder was the only fully functional control."

From this post.
posted by dvorak_beats_qwerty at 8:09 PM on May 2, 2011


I have to say that was really helpful for me. I am not without a lot of nervousness when I fly. In fact, I am often scared shitless. Clear air turbulence is the bane of my existence. But, when I see this, and I see the darn thing lands safely I realize that the pilots do have a lot to do with it and that these planes can take a lot of pressure before they break apart. Believe it or not, I will rest easier having seen this.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:11 PM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


The guys on the forum keep complimenting the Tupolev for holding under together under the flight stresses, which suggests that modern western ariliners might not fare so well.
posted by unSane at 8:25 PM on May 2, 2011


Okay, I have a high-school understanding of how planes work. What went wrong here? From the united references, I assume they lost all their controls at once?

I'm not sure that it's publicly known what went wrong. It doesn't look at all like they lost all controls. I think it's more likely that they lost either roll or yaw control, probably roll. The weird wobbling going on is actually the only thing that makes the aircraft controllable in this situation. As lomcovak was saying, when you yaw a plane with the rudder, that actually induces a slight roll. You can then counteract this roll with rudder motion the opposite direction, and you get a roll back onto your original direction. This causes the wobble, which looks crazy and is annoying when you're in controlled flight (it often appears very slightly). But if the aircraft lost use of the ailerons, the only remaining way to control roll is via the rudder (yaw-roll coupling) or differential thrust. The fact that yaw-roll coupling works is why this aircraft made it to the ground. It took differential thrust to get the United flight to the ground, and you can see that it's not as good of an option.

Also, the pilot, though doing a good job just by getting the plane back in one piece, is probably unintentionally exacerbating the dutch roll. Because when your plane is hits 35-40 degrees bank angle, you sure as hell want to bring that thing back to level, and probably overcompensate.

The stresses on the airframe really don't look bad to me. It's doing a lot of pitching and rolling obviously, but the airframe is designed to handle that. And it's probably flying with somewhat large sideslip, but nothing exceeding the conditions of a bad crosswind landing. Any airliner that could not handle these conditions would never be certified.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:34 PM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thing about the yaw/roll coupling is that the whole thing is very delayed. So if you want to roll the plane, you have to do rudder input, which yaws the plane, and then slowly it rolls. So there's no way of correcting anything in a hurry, which does make it very easy to get into a positive feedback loop.

(RC trainers often only have rudder/elevator/engine and turn by using yaw/roll coupling. The delayed input + stability makes them easy to fly but you can't get them out of a bad situation in a hurry, and an airliner is a lot less stable than a high wing RC trainer).
posted by unSane at 8:40 PM on May 2, 2011


He landed that plane...LIKE A BOSS

PLANE!
Y U NO FLY STRAIGHT

sorry been reading that other website
posted by Xoebe at 8:46 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like the phrase "departed from controlled flight" very much. That's distancing language.

People who make machines airborne apparently make a specialty of this.

What's it called when you fly a plane straight into the ground or a mountain?

Controlled Flight Into Terrain

What's it called when a rocket explodes unexpectedly?

Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly
posted by the mad poster! at 9:16 PM on May 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


I kept waiting for the explosion in the third video. That was stunning piloting.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:24 PM on May 2, 2011


The TU-154, NATO codename: Careless.

I was overjoyed the one time it turned out we were flying in one of those, and the leg room was AMAZING, but I didn't mention the appauling safety record to my wife until we had landed.
posted by Artw at 10:13 PM on May 2, 2011


system treated any aileron motion as external force, and attempted to "correct".

Hey, nothing like the airplane actively fighting you every inch of the way, huh? Holy shit.
posted by pjern at 10:16 PM on May 2, 2011


The UA-232 accident was profiled by the tvshow Mayday. Part 2. Part 3.
posted by Harpocrates at 11:14 PM on May 2, 2011


The guys on the forum keep complimenting the Tupolev for holding under together under the flight stresses, which suggests that modern western ariliners might not fare so well.

The Tech Orders for the aircraft I work on suggest that full rudder deflection is NEVER a good idea. Like, tear the airplane down looking for stress fractures kind of a bad idea. You can do it - but only once.

I've done aircraft design before and much like any other complicated piece of machinery, changing one aspect of the design affects just about everything else. You can make the ailerons bigger for better roll response, but now you have unacceptable dutch roll, so you need to resize vertical stabilizer, which means the rudder needs to change, and now you've got another oscillation to worry about...

When you get it right, though, it's pretty cool. Airplanes generally want to fly straight. They don't want to fall out of the sky. You can give the controls a good whack and the nose will bounce a little and then return right to straight-and-level. Generally, you really have to work hard to put the airplane in an unrecoverable situation.

If course, if parts start breaking than you're on your own.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:29 AM on May 3, 2011


I'm betting there was a garage full of mechanics who got a stern talking to once the pilots got to them.
posted by gjc at 5:40 AM on May 3, 2011


stern talking to

with a monkey wrench, if it were me
posted by unSane at 6:40 AM on May 3, 2011


A sort of vaguely similar thing happened during the first Space Shuttle re-entry. High up in the atmosphere, the air is so thin they still have to use thrusters for control rather than relying on the aerodynamic control surfaces.

It turns out that during a certain phase of re-entry, some not previously understood aerodynamic weirdness causes the yaw thrusters to have the opposite effect from the one intended. Firing those little rockets disrupts the airflow enough that the net force produced points the wrong way!

So you have a situation where the computer is trying to keep the pointy end forward, but every time it tries to make it go left, it goes right instead (and vice-versa). The pilot, John Young, fairly quickly noticed the sideslip meter was pointing way off to one side and staying there, so he took manual control and managed to figure out what was going on well enough to apply yaw control inputs in the opposite direction than usual.

Even more amazingly (to me) was that re-entries for the next 3 flights were all hand-flown because of this problem, so pilots had to learn to do the same trick 3 more times before the control software was fixed to account for this.

I bring this up in the larger context of "good pilots can deal with really weird control problems" that we're talking about in this post and also because it made me wonder about the cause of the problems shown in the video.

For example, could it have been a yaw damper that was set up incorrectly and moved the rudder the wrong way (thus making it a yaw amplifier instead)? But I've been reading a few comments on the web that say a TU-154 doesn't even have a yaw damper, because the wing anhedral is sufficient to prevent a dutch roll from happening all by itself.

I would love to read some sort of official report about this, if anybody can find one.
posted by FishBike at 7:21 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Control Reversal
posted by backseatpilot at 8:29 AM on May 3, 2011


I'm convinced that they replaced the stick with a keyboard, and all operations were done via a QWOP interface.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:31 AM on May 3, 2011


Judging by the obviously mothballed craft on the ground, is it safe to assume this happened during a shakedown flight from a storage/maintenance center and not on a regular passenger flight?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:09 AM on May 3, 2011


Here is another view of the landing showing the landing roll-out.
posted by exogenous at 11:25 AM on May 3, 2011


Wow, I've been in bumpier landings than that on a crosswind approach to JFK!
posted by unSane at 12:02 PM on May 3, 2011


The U-232 crash (1989) was the inspiration for the crash scene in the movie Fearless (1993) with Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez. It's a great movie. Thumbs up. Jeff Bridges survives the crash but his personality is so transformed by the experience that he finds it difficult to relate to other people, and other people are frustrated by their inability to understand him.
posted by marsha56 at 1:07 PM on May 3, 2011


... a present day young, quickly trained, autopilot addicted...

That's just offensive. There is no reason a young person couldn't be just as safe a pilot as an old guy, and I don't know where you get this "quickly trained, autopilot addicted" stuff from. Short of medical school I don't think there's a longer training program for anything. I'm confident 95% of line pilots would do just as well. (It's the same principle as getting to Carnegie Hall: Anyone can do it, all it takes is practice practice practice. Ordinary people simply don't have the inclination to put in the effort that's required. I worship the ground they walk on.)

Patrick Smith over at Salon has made this point many times: we hear about "superhuman flying skills" every time there's an incident, but at the same time we have the "glorified bus driver" nonsense. Airline pilots are very well trained, and well tested (every 6 months) and need to be paid much more than they make. Getting into a taxi or a friend's car scares me stiff, but I never worry about the skills and abilities of airline pilots.

(Except for pilots of smaller airlines being overworked and not getting enough sleep. That is a real problem, and that's what you get with weak unions and airlines with too much power to influence the FAA.)
posted by phliar at 1:56 PM on May 3, 2011


Wow, I've been in bumpier landings than that on a crosswind approach to JFK!

There was an awful lot of burning rubber smoke in that landing video. I'd be surprised if there wasn't serious landing gear damage. But then, these parts are probably considered expendable.

BTW, under backseatpilot's link on Control Reversal, at the end of the wikipedia link, I found this amusing document. They're talking about an incident when some maintenance tech hooked up an airliner's aileron controls backwards. Now this quote ought to be in every service bay in the world:

The aircraft had just come out of maintenance. Maintenance is a known
risk...significant problems may arise through maintenance of complex
systems.


..possibly resulting in Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:46 PM on May 3, 2011


Maintenance is a known risk...significant problems may arise through maintenance of complex systems.

I read the NTSB Accident Database and the number of crashes that include the phrase "just came out of maintenance" is astounding.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:07 AM on May 4, 2011


Here are some famous ones:

American Airlines 191, a DC-10 which crashed in 1979 after an improperly overhauled wing engine separated from the airplane.

Air Transat Flight 236, a transatlantic flight from Toronto to Lisbon which ran out of fuel in part due to an improperly installed part.

The last one, fortunately, didn't end up in a crash, but it was close.
posted by rhombus at 11:18 PM on May 4, 2011


charlie don't surf writes "I heard one story of a passenger on Aeroflot that had a frozen quarter of a moose carcass as carry on luggage."

Before regulation tightened we used to regularly send my uncle home from his biannual visits with about 20 lbs of frozen Salmon steaks in his carry on.

backseatpilot writes "I read the NTSB Accident Database and the number of crashes that include the phrase 'just came out of maintenance' is astounding."

There have been at least a couple 737s that have had an engine fall off during flight after maintenance. Really, you'd think secure the engine to the plane would be number one on the check list.
posted by Mitheral at 8:15 AM on May 5, 2011


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