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410 Club?
June 14, 2005 1:45 PM   Subscribe

"We're going to hit houses, dude," (NYT Reg. ), Alone in their 50-seat commercial jet, the two young pilots decided to see what it could do...A few minutes later, though, both engines were dead, and the pilots were struggling to glide to an emergency landing at an airport in Jefferson City, Mo. (or the non-registration Jefferson City NewsTribune version, or the NTSB site)
posted by R. Mutt (48 comments total)

 
I would do that in flight sims all the time...
posted by kuatto at 1:51 PM on June 14, 2005


Don't fuck around with airplanes, m'kay?

Morons.
posted by bondcliff at 2:07 PM on June 14, 2005


Anal Bombardier.

Sorry, wrong thread.
posted by NewBornHippy at 2:10 PM on June 14, 2005


It doesn't sound like insufficient training to me, unless these guys needed more training to get themselves out of a stupid jam that a more experienced, but equally stupid pilot, would be able to survive.

On preview, I thought for sure that this was a trailer for Big Lebowski 2.
posted by dreamsign at 2:32 PM on June 14, 2005


This crash is clearly the fault of the aircraft manufacturer who failed to installed a suitable voice recognition system. Whenever the word "dude" is detected in the cockpit, the plane should immediately engage the autopilot with no possibility of manual override and land itself at the nearest airport.

*sounds of laughter*
posted by DirtyCreature at 2:39 PM on June 14, 2005


Peter & Jesse's Not-So-Excellent Adventure.
posted by Doohickie at 2:41 PM on June 14, 2005


They got behind the energy curve on the climb and upon arrival at FL410 they were unable to maintain level flight within the extremely narrow speed envelope available at that altitude but yet did not immediately descend as is required when unable to maintain altitude.

Then they lied to ATC about their situation even though they were within deadstick range of 5 suitable airports at the time of engine failure.

Geez.

A lack of the right stuff and a series of dumb choices.
posted by bz at 2:43 PM on June 14, 2005


Okay, so they flew an airplane in a way that it was designed to be used, and it stopped working.

I don't see how that makes them moronic, it means that the plane has a design flaw. In particular, the engines should not have seized up. FAA regulations require that they should be able to be restarted if they fail.

Anyway, they're dead now so there isn't really much point in chastizing them.
posted by delmoi at 2:45 PM on June 14, 2005


I assume that The Darwin Awards are investigating.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:04 PM on June 14, 2005


But what a way to go!
posted by iamck at 3:11 PM on June 14, 2005


Okay, so they flew an airplane in a way that it was designed to be used, and it stopped working.

No, they didn't. They took it right to the edge of the design envelope and let it get out of control.

I don't see how that makes them moronic, it means that the plane has a design flaw.

The plane doesn't have a design flaw. If you drive a car 90 mph into a 90 degree turn, it's not a design flaw when the tires blow out and you go straight through the guard rail. bz said it right, a series of dumb choices.
posted by Mcable at 3:13 PM on June 14, 2005


All alone at the end of the of the evening
And the bright lights have faded to blue
I was thinking ’bout a woman who might have
Loved me and I never knew
You know I’ve always been a dreamer
(spent my life running ’round)
And it’s so hard to change
(can’t seem to settle down)
But the dreams I’ve seen lately
Keep on turning out and burning out
And turning out the same

So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time
posted by spock at 3:23 PM on June 14, 2005


Into the distance, a ribbon of black
Stretched to the point of no turning back
A flight of fancy on a windswept field
Standing alone my senses reeled
A fatal attraction holding me fast, how
Can I escape this irresistible grasp?
Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted Just an earth-bound misfit, I
posted by dreamsign at 3:30 PM on June 14, 2005


I've read only the Jefferson City Trib link, but...

There are old pilots
And there are bold pilots
But there are no old bold pilots.
posted by alumshubby at 3:33 PM on June 14, 2005


But as an automatic system tried to push the nose down, to gain speed and prevent the stall, the pilots, for reasons that are unclear, overrode it.
I don't see how that could be explained by anything other than insufficient training. The plane can only do so much.
posted by knave at 3:40 PM on June 14, 2005


Yeah, even if the engines did sieze, there seems to be a rather nasty chain of operator error, starting with operating the plane at 2.3 Gs of acceleration just for fun, not realizing that the plane will handle differently at that altitude, not maintaining sufficient air speed to maintain lift, and killing the autopilot's attempt to avoid the stall.

Of course, this, like many accidents may be explained by a nasty synergy of mechanical and operator failure. (Don't know about the engines yet.) But if you operate any machine at near the limits of it's tolerance, you increase the probability that something will fuck up.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:02 PM on June 14, 2005


Right. Planes should be designed to keep themselves from flying into a stall, but do they really need to put some kind of restraint system in the pilot's seats to incapacitate the ape-brain that mistakes a bombadier for an F-15?
If this becomes more common, maybe the airlines will install altitude limiters, as rental agencies limit the speed their cars will accelerate to.

what a sad example of human error.
posted by Busithoth at 4:08 PM on June 14, 2005


Okay, so they flew an airplane in a way that it was designed to be used, and it stopped working

From what I've read there is a very definite speed/altitude envelope from which an engine can be satisfactorily re-ignited. See here. They tried to relight the engines way outside of this envelope repeatedly and this led to burnout of the engines.
posted by DirtyCreature at 4:10 PM on June 14, 2005


they sure bought the farm on that one
posted by pmbuko at 4:11 PM on June 14, 2005


I don't see how that could be explained by anything other than insufficient training. The plane can only do so much.
It is hard to really know how someone is going to react when things go pear-shaped, no matter how much training they have had. You can do all the simulations you like, but it is just not the same. People can be as cool as a cucumber in training or simulated exercises, then go off the planet when things go wrong for real. It is more likely that a lack of experience could cause something like this, because there is nothing like real experience to build a store of knowledge of what to do when things get to where the instruction manual stops.

Conversely, I have seen people who have been in real-life emergency situations and handled them perfectly, but are unable to do so in simulation.

Accidents are by nature uncontrolled situations and it is almost impossible to predict what will happen.
posted by dg at 4:27 PM on June 14, 2005


The black box recording is pretty wild. Like a morality play, really.
posted by Mid at 4:29 PM on June 14, 2005


Wow, that recording is scary.
posted by dg at 4:49 PM on June 14, 2005


delmoi: Okay, so they flew an airplane in a way that it was designed to be used, and it stopped working.

I don't see how that makes them moronic, it means that the plane has a design flaw.


busithoth: Planes should be designed to keep themselves from flying into a stall

The same capability that was a liability for these idiots is an asset for other circumstances. Or, in other words, it's quite possible that the modifications necessary to satisfy the proffered flaws above would render the plane unsafe, impractical to fly, or both.

Most planes I know of have a "maneuvering speed" beyond which (essentially) full or abrupt movement of the controls can lead to structural damage. This same control authority is what makes it possible to land the plane safely in windy conditions.

Some disagree as to whether planes should be allowed to stall---it's possible, even easy to make a plane that doesn't (apparently the B-2 bomber will not allow a stall), but in simpler planes this comes with the price of reduced elevator effectiveness and therefore less controllability.

We could have similar discussions about cough syrup, steak knives, Q-tips, ice skates, and a million other things. Mcable has made the same point with his car example. Built-in safeguards are often not a reasonable substitute for responsible use.
posted by tss at 5:06 PM on June 14, 2005


ground control? do you read me? told u i was hardcore.
posted by fire&wings at 5:33 PM on June 14, 2005


The plane doesn't have a design flaw. If you drive a car 90 mph into a 90 degree turn, it's not a design flaw when the tires blow out and you go straight through the guard rail.

90 degrees, huh? In the context of driving that makes no sense.

At any rate, I seriously doubt that most car tires would blow at 90 miles an hour simply from cornering to tightly. Skid: yes, pop: no. Unless there was a design flaw.

Now that I think thing about it, i agree that there was certanly some operator error, such as preventing the plane from nosing down. You should allow the pilot to fly the plane, but it should at least warn them...

Most planes I know of have a "maneuvering speed" beyond which (essentially) full or abrupt movement of the controls can lead to structural damage. This same control authority is what makes it possible to land the plane safely in windy conditions.

Okay, so why not disable maneuvering ability if the plane is going to fast?

It sounds like they would have had no problems at that altitute if they'd let the autopilot do it's job. I don't see that it would have been too hard to have the plane give them a warning that the plane was near failure.
posted by delmoi at 5:40 PM on June 14, 2005


ground control? do you read me? told u i was hardcore.

oh man. that's it for me folks.
posted by puke & cry at 6:25 PM on June 14, 2005 [1 favorite]


[sound similar to paper rustling]
posted by odinsdream at 6:52 PM on June 14, 2005


#
posted by jmgorman at 7:38 PM on June 14, 2005


Idiots!
posted by ericb at 7:58 PM on June 14, 2005


hmm, i've done things that stupid; but luckily within the altitude of merely broken bones.

Twenty somthin' and 410 club, whooohoooo!!!!

You guys are too hard on these guys.
posted by canucklehead at 8:05 PM on June 14, 2005


At any rate, I seriously doubt that most car tires would blow at 90 miles an hour simply from cornering to tightly. Skid: yes, pop: no. Unless there was a design flaw.

Actually, many probably would. Most passenger cars are H rated or below, meaning they are not meant to be taken over 130MPH in a straight line, at risk of tire disintegration. Add lateral force and you're probably on the edge of that design envelope. Most people driving cars probably aren't aware of this limitation, but what made things worse for the guys flying that plane is that they knew the upper limit of that plane, and willingly chose to approach it.
posted by zsazsa at 8:32 PM on June 14, 2005


Didn't listen to the recording; not going to. Listened to enough of them to last a lifetime.

That being the case, correct me if I'm wrong, but this sounds like they resisted the altitude correction because they were close to their intended goal. You can push things a little further when close to stall, but the signals are clear. There's a reason why this was a daredevil stunt. If the aircraft had been designed to fly at this altitude... sounds like they'd be competing for higher.

Experience would have taught them to take the situation more seriously once the flameout occurred, but training doesn't do that. (take low-level wind shear -- knowledge tests about 10 years back determined that one in ten pilots knew what to do fast enough to save their craft. one in ten)
posted by dreamsign at 8:49 PM on June 14, 2005


Maybe The Byrds said it best:
Eight miles high, and when you touch down
You'll find that it's stranger than known
Signs in the street that say where you're going
Are somewhere, just being their own
Nowhere is there warmth to be found
Among those afraid of losing their ground
Rain gray town, known for its sound
In places, small faces unbound
Round the squares, huddled in storms
Some laughing, some just shapeless forms
Sidewalk scenes and black limousines
Some living, some standing alone
posted by paulsc at 8:55 PM on June 14, 2005


delmoi: While we are at it, how about training wheels on motorcycles?

Seriously, there is only so much we can do to protect people from stupidity. Part of the problem is that behavior that is "stupid" in one situation, may save your neck in the next.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:17 PM on June 14, 2005


Oh, problem two with gimping a system to prevent human error.

While it is easy to identify 95% of the different types of human errors in using a system, and redesigning your system to prevent those errors, getting rid of the remaining 5% becomes more difficult, and getting rid of the last 1% is even more possible. You quickly hit a point where you can't reduce one type of error without increasing another type of error.

In the long run, the easiest solution for the problem might be to say, "Don't do it on our dime, with our aeroplane. If you do, expect to spend the rest of your career driving a baggage truck."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:25 PM on June 14, 2005


Okay, so why not disable maneuvering ability if the plane is going to fast?

If I had to hazard a few guesses:

1. There may be extreme situations where even over VA (maneuvering speed) you want to retain full control authority. Say the hydraulics/control cables malfunction and you need to push the yoke full forward to maintain control. Depending on how the computer limits you, this may not be possible. Or consider a freak turbulence upset, near miss, or whatever where the choice is between an overstressed plane that won't fly again and likely death.

2. Determining with sufficient certainty when it's safe to limit control authority may well be "AI-complete," for the reasons outlined above.

3. More complicated systems can engender more subtle problems.

4. It's more economical to train pilots not to be idiots. Usually the risk of one's life is a powerful incentive not to test the design limits of one's aircraft.
posted by tss at 9:56 PM on June 14, 2005


BTW, for what it's worth, the problems these guys experienced didn't have to do with VA at all---that was just an aviation example of why it's not always bad to have enough rope around to hang yourself.

You're right---if they had let the plane do the flying, they'd probably be alive today. Nevertheless, the plane retains the ability to climb to FL410 and assume dangerous speeds precisely because these same abilities allow the plane to fly very safely and very efficiently throughout a wide range of flight regimes and flight conditions---in the hands of capable pilots who have the common sense not to hotdog at performance extrema.
posted by tss at 10:07 PM on June 14, 2005


Okay, so why not disable maneuvering ability if the plane is going to fast?...

1. There may be extreme situations where even over VA (maneuvering speed) you want to retain full control authority.


You know what one option is in case of a fuselage rupture at high altitude? Turn the plane over while going into your dive. A passenger plane. Why? To maintain positive G in the dive.
posted by dreamsign at 10:09 PM on June 14, 2005


there is only so much we can do to protect people from stupidity.
True - you can make things foolproof, but you can't make them damn fool proof.
posted by dg at 10:40 PM on June 14, 2005


When I said that planes should be designed to keep themselves from running into a stall, I was thinking of the autopilot which took over when these guys cruised past the upper performance envelope. Reading the transcipt, it seems like they pushed it to 41,500 feet, before declining.

I don't like automatic transmissions, ABS, or any other components which get between me and a car's performance (though manual steering ain't a favorite of mine.) There's a responsibility with any vehicle you control, and introducing a microchip to interpret how you want the thing to act, because you're too incompetent to control it yourself is the wrong direction to head in.

This post is an excellent example of why I was so impressed with this post's story. Opposite ends of the spectrum.
posted by Busithoth at 11:08 PM on June 14, 2005


"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect."

Yeah, carlessness, incapacity, or neglect. Folks, these "dudes" were idiots, god rest their silly souls. What a tragi-comedy of errors. Sure, we'd all like to be Captain Kirk calling "flight level 410, Sulu". The real sky ain't like that. This wasn't an *accident*.

Read some more NSTB transcripts for a real education.

And aw christ, a Bombardier CRJ200.


RAWHIDE:
Yeah. Well, last night he kills a guard and breaks out of the Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane. Ten minutes later he cops a Maserati Bora... Totaled it, a block away.

RENO:
Holy moly.

BUCKAROO BANZAI:
A Maserati Bora.

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:11 PM on June 14, 2005


Planes should not be piloted by people. If the machine can fly itself, and if one or two backup systems can take over as needed, human pilots should be removed from the cockpit.
posted by pracowity at 12:59 AM on June 15, 2005


Rubbish. Machines can, and perhaps should, fly planes 99.9% of the time. Machines flying the remaining 0.1% will promptly imperil plane and passengers.

Your statement is at least 20 years ahead of its time, I think. As a grad student working in robotics, it's my firm belief that machines aren't up to the task of ensuring the reliability we get from human pilots. There are simply too many parts to break, especially those parts that furnish the data necessary for a computer to make safe decisions.

Still, seeing the progress I see, I'm not tempted to turn my flying hobby into a career---in part for fear that it might not last my professional life.
posted by tss at 4:43 AM on June 15, 2005


Here are a couple of facts that didn't seem apparent in the NYT article.

CRJ 200s are certificated (yes, that's the dumb FAA word) to FL410 (41,000 feet altitude). If it's certificated to 410, you can fly it to 410, subject to the operating limitations (no doubt including a max weight). I don't have a CRJ POH (Pilot's Operating Handbook), but any limitations to doing so (such as a recommended higher speed to avoid stalls) are supposed to be written there. We don't know if the pilots had read or been trained on the limitations, although it would have been irresponsible of them to have been flying without reading the POH completely. Maybe the POH is missing information that should be there, and will be added as a result of this accident and investigation.

The other suspicion is that due to rapid growth, their airline had not trained them properly, and in my opinion it also would have been irresponsible for the airline to have failed to ensure that they were familiar with the operating limits of the plane. If I were a passenger in a CRJ and we needed to climb to 410 (say to avoid nasty weather at lower altitudes) I would certainly want my pilots to be trained to do that. I'd prefer to have a captain who has real training and experience flying at the full performance envelope of the plane, including maximum performance takeoffs, landings, climbs, descents, turns and altitude limits.

The airline's chief pilot tries to blame the accident pilots by painting these pilots as irresponsible thrill-seekers, but unless it's in the company flight operations manual that what they were doing was prohibited, he's probably going to take some heat for inadequate training. The operation of the flight is ultimately up to the PIC (Pilot In Command), and although they come across as doofs, they may have had good reasons to do most of what they did. (It sure seems like they should have reported the dual engine failure, but there are repercussions for declaring an emergency, so I can see why they would have waited.)

We also don't know if the engines experienced "core lock." The engine manufacturers will do everything they can to make sure that the investigation reports that they didn't. FAA certification rules require that the engines not be subject to core lock, but the rules also required that Boeing 737 rudder pedals not enter a region of reverse command, and it took three crashes, and a near crash before they figured that one out. (The near crash allowed the pilots to report what they had experienced -- the earlier pilots were dead).

Although this is interesting reading, it would be more responsible to wait until the NTSB is done before speculating on what happened.
posted by surlycat at 5:40 AM on June 15, 2005 [1 favorite]


surlycat: If it's certificated to 410, you can fly it to 410, subject to the operating limitations (no doubt including a max weight). I don't have a CRJ POH (Pilot's Operating Handbook), but any limitations to doing so (such as a recommended higher speed to avoid stalls) are supposed to be written there.

On the other hand. Lift is a function of (among many other things), air speed, atmospheric pressure (altitude), and pitch. It was my impression that perhaps the basic task of flying a plane was learning how to adjust the variables you can control (such as power and pitch) in dynamic response to the variables you can't, (pressure and turbulence.) So does it really need to be said that a wing will have less lift at 410 than 210, all things being equal?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:22 AM on June 15, 2005


Machines flying the remaining 0.1% will promptly imperil plane and passengers.

As if drunk retired air force pilots are so safe. Human pilots endanger the plane (and everyone on the flight path) for the other 99.9% of the flight.

You are in peril every time you get into a metal tube going 600 mph a few miles up in the air. At least a mechanical system does what it's suppose to do and doesn't get bored or tired.

So they need to start with cargo planes and then, when the accident rate in automated flights is shown to be the same as or lower than the rate in piloted flights, switch passenger flights to autopilot.
posted by pracowity at 11:25 AM on June 15, 2005


Machines flying the remaining 0.1% will promptly imperil plane and passengers.
And that is why airline pilots earn the big bucks - for being there on the .01% of occasions when things go wrong.
posted by dg at 7:52 PM on June 15, 2005


From the NTSB's Human Performance Factual Report:
The captain graduated high school in the spring of 1990. From August 1990 to May 1995 the captain attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in FL and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical science. According to an application for employment dated September 16, 2002, he worked briefly in a non-aviation job from March to May 1996. The application listed the following aviation positions held: glider tow pilot for Island Soaring in Maine, from May 1996 to August 1996; flight instructor for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University from August 1996 to October 1999; first officer at Trans States Airlines from January 1999 to May 2006; and captain at Gulfstream International Airlines, Inc. in FL, from June 2000 to September 2002.

The captain's resume in his personnel file stated total flight time of 5,685 hours, including 1,724 hours as pilot-in-command under 14 CFR Part 121 operations. The resume listed "FAA High Altitude Physiological Training" as one of the items under the heading Certificates & Ratings.
This guy was no slouch hired off the street. I think the company had every reason to believe this guy to do the job and every reason to disavow the guy's behavior. In short, he should have known better.
posted by Doohickie at 7:56 AM on June 16, 2005


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