Am I “On Crack” When It Comes to Flight 447?

PUB_GT_Aircraft_Composite_Content_1980-2010_lgThat’s what one of my readers wants to know. He made this comment in response to my coverage of the Air France 447 disaster, which questions whether the growing use of composite  materials in aircraft construction might have played a role in this and other recent crashes. I think it’s a pretty important subject of inquiry, since more and more of these fiber and resin materials are used in commercial airplanes every year. And apparently a lot of people are as riveted by this subject as I am, since there’s plenty of discussion on the web, and even a larger than usual number of comments on my own posts.

My original long post on this subject inspired one comment from someone who lost a relative on American Airlines Flight 587, also in the Airbus 300 series, which crashed in New York City in 2001 after its composite-made vertical stabilizer detatched in flight–something that might or might not have happened on AF 447. He wonders whether there have been “instances where a metal vertical stabilizer has broken off the fuselage, in-flight, on large conventional passenger jets.” I don’t know the answer to his question, but I’ve sent it to people more knowledgable than myself, and hope to have a response I can pass on soon.

The rest of the comments on this post (including one from an aircraft engineer and one from an Airbus 330 captain and instructor) accuse me of being irresponsible and inflammatory. One says that I might as well have asked whether aliens shot down AF 447.  Another inquired, “Are you on crack?” and then went on to say that “implying that composite parts caused the vertical stabilizer to detach from AF447, and thus doomed the flight, is premature at best, and irresponsible as a whole.”   

I encourage everyone to read all of these critical comments, which are written by knowledgable people and contain valuable information. As someone who has a ticket on an Air France Airbus A340 next month, I sincerely hope they’re right in saying that the composite parts are safe. I agree that it is “premature” to conclude that these parts played a role in the AF 447 and/or AA 587 flights. I also believe it is premature to conclude that they didn’t play any role. And I’d feel a lot better if we knew for sure, before sending any more jetloads of people out over the Atlantic Ocean in these planes.

My posts on this subject are intended to raise questions, not answer them. So far, all anyone has is questions. Even though some 400 pieces of wreckage have now been recovered, French investigators today stated:  “We don’t have new specific information that allows us to say this is what happened.” This means that we can’t rule out the possibility that composite parts were a contributory factor, just as we can’t rule out a number of other possible causes.

What concerns me most is what seem to me well-substantiated claims that the composite parts may not have undergone sufficient testing before new aircraft models began flying, and that they now lack effective routine ground testing between flights. These issues were raised by such reliable sources as the New Scientist, which recently published an update on the subject. If nothing else, the AF 447 crash suggests that we ought to take a serious look at the efficacy of testing protocols for composite aircraft construction, especially before the new generation of high-composite planes starts flying.

I’ve also gotten some comments from friends who wonder why I’m writing so much about airplane safety on a blog that’s supposed to be about the politics of aging, from the point of view of an old person. The only age-related reason I can give is that I grew up in an era before there was such a thing as a consumer safety movement, and that I happen to have been a witness (and perhaps even a minor participant) in the birth of this movement. 

ccb6eb6709a0fb1280861110_L__AA240_Back in the mid-1960s,  I began reporting on a car called the Chevy Corvair. At the time, the safety problems in that vehicle were being brought to life by an obscure young consumer activist named Ralph Nader. I was widely attacked as an irresponsible alarmist, while the auto industry responded with a blizzard of experts and even put a detective on Nader to try and get something on his personal life to smear him. But Nader perservered, and the questions he raised were taken up first by the late New York Senator Pat Moynihan and later by Bobby Kennedy. This eventually led to the institution of the first auto safety standards.

My response to the experts charging journalists like myself with ignorance and sensationalism is: Answer our questions and respond to the general public, which you serve. The aircraft industry and the airlines would be nowhere without the subsidies we taxpayers fork out through the federal government, and the tickets we buy on these planes. We have every right to ask questions of any conceivable sort, and to expect clear, evidence-based answers. There are always, in such cases, conspiracy theorists who won’t be satisfied by any amount of evidence. I’m not one of them, and neither, I believe, are many of the others who are asking similar questions–and getting a similar mix of (approving and attacking) comments in response.

I would also argue that we also have every reason to be skeptical, knowing how much money the aircraft manufacturers have sunk into the future of composite parts–and also knowing the airlines’ history of putting profits before public safety, and the FAA’s weaknesses in holding them accountable. This was one of the grim lessons people should have learned from 9/11, if they hadn’t learned it already.

It isn’t the public’s job–or mine–to prove that airplanes (or cars, or food additives, or prescription drugs, or any other product upon which our health and safety depend) are not safe. It’s the job of the corporations that make these products to prove to us that they are safe. Right now, I have my doubts about the safety of certain aircraft. I’m waiting–and hoping–to be proved wrong.

30 responses to “Am I “On Crack” When It Comes to Flight 447?

  1. Bob Hartunian

    Ridgeway;
    You are mixing the use of composite materials with poor structural design; they are separate and should not be condemned together. Composite materials have been successfully flown for 40 years on military and commercial aircraft with good results and no surprise failures when proper design principles are followed.
    There is a major difference between US plane and Airbus vertical attachment in that US designs carry primary spar structures down into the fuslelage to distribute bending moments past the fuselage interface into the frames of the structure. This type of design reduces concentrated loads at the bolted joint and carries loads down deep into fuselage where they are easily reacted in frames. The Airbus design attaches the vertical to the fuselage at basically a single attach plane with bolts. During high loads on the vertical, the shear and tension loads on the bolted joint are higher than would be with the US designs. So it is much more of the design philosophy used than of the composite materials.
    Before you go raving on about composites being questionable, do some homework about the differences in design where the real issue lies.
    Bob Hartunian
    Retired Boeing Composites Guy

  2. You have every right to ask questions about Composite parts. And of course, experts should give convincing answers to questions.

    But I think you may be wrong here about this AF 447. As far as I know, the jetliner was brought down because It flew at much higher speed than it should have because of the problem with Pitot tube which was sending wrong data. Any Jetliner , whether made of All Aluminium or Composite parts would have gone down. The injuries on passenger bodies is consistent with Jetliner breaking up midair.

  3. You’re not on crack.

    There are several factors at work in this mess.

    1. Engineeritis. Engineers who simply cannot conceive that they are wrong. Many engineers just didn’t think this could happen — a break-up in mid-flight (and the evidence from the recovered human remains strongly supports that conclusion).

    When engineers decide they are right, God help anyone who disagrees with them.

    2. Manageritis. The best engineers rarely become managers — they like engineering too much. The managers are often dimwitted pencil-pushing money-grubbers. And they hate bad news. The role of moron managers played absolutely central, pivotal roles in both the Shuttle Challenger and Columbia disasters. (There is an outstanding piece by information designer/architect Edward Tufte on how a favorite presentation tool of engineers and managers — PowerPoint — played a role.)

    Try explaining something to a manager. Explain the same way you would to a child. At the end, the child gets it, not the manager. (Same with great reporters and their politically, monetarily minded editors.)

    3. There are precedents. Decades ago, engineers found out about metal fatigue the hard way. Bend metal back and forth a lot, it will break along the crease. Some early, large jet aircraft (there was a specific model of British passenger jet airliner, can’t remember which) did not allow sufficient, designed flexibility in the wing. Metal fatigued, aircraft crashed.

    4. There is good evidence (admittedly not conclusive) that the Swissair 111 crash off Long Island was in some measure a result of arcing from overload in the 1st class in-flight entertainment system.

    5. Early DC-10s (now renamed MD-11s) had a design flaw with the closing of an aft cargo door.

    6. Computer modelling and testing. Aircraft manufacturers have pushed for increased reliance on computerized testing in certifying new aircraft models. Computer scientists will swear up and down that this works. Bullshit. It does work, within the limits of the model.

    7. Hydraulics and electronics. Many aircraft no longer use hard cabling for hydraulics. They use fly-by-wire. But, if there is a massive failure of electronics, you’re boned.

    There is a lot of redundancy in these aircraft. And as Mr. Hartunian points out, there is a difference between materials and design.

    In other words, there are a lot of hairs to be split. And the higher you go up the corporate chain of command, the less the high-paid muckety-mucks like to confront problems.

  4. Hey, Jim,
    Good work researching this issue and exposing it.
    In answer to your question, I recall that the tail blew off of a JAL 747, which then crashed into Mt. Fuji. My recollection is that it was a different problem, where the rivets or metal separating the hollow tail from the pressurized cabin failed catastrophically, so that the pressurized air rushed into the tail and it kind of popped open and blew off entirely.

    While this is not the same as having the tails rip off where they are joined to the body of the plane because of stresses, it does indicate a problem with aluminum, too.

    I think it’s pretty clear, though, that the composites are problematic, and that economics is pushing their use, perhaps at the expense of safety.

    Cheers,
    Dave Lindorff

  5. Michael Kenny

    “I grew up in an era before there was such a thing as a consumer safety movement”, says Mr Ridgeway in justification of his speculations. May I point out that this is a European plane and airline safety has always been much more closely regulated here than in the US. For that reason, consumer groups tend to be concerned about things like fares and passenger rights, but to leave safety to governments. The French authorities are investigating this crash and there’s no reason to suspect any dishonesty, present or future. Politically, that just wouldn’t wash in Europe. Moreover, as a matter of common sense, what advantage would there be for an aircraft manufacturer to conceal a design fault and keep selling planes that broke up in flight? Thus, Mr Ridgeway’s problem is not the state of air safety in the America of his youth, but his ignorance of the way in which European governments and aircraft maufacturers have operated since the dawn of aviation.

  6. Court Keyes

    Jim,

    Virtually every new airplane design had weaknesses which were only discovered after some flying time. There is a long list: the F111, the Osprey, the DC-10, the 737, etc.

    Composites have been tested in labs, but that’s not the same as real world use. In the real world, airplanes can land in a hot, tropic environment, then fly in an extremely cold environment. Moisture can work its way into laminates where it can freeze and thaw repeatedly. Nobody knows what could happen after thousands of these hot/cold cycles. It is not too far-fetched to expect composites to weaken with time.

    Dave Lindorff makes a good point but got some details wrong. The 747 that hit Mt Fuji had a maintenance flaw. It was supposed to have a double row of rivets where maintenance mistakenly put in a single row. So each rivet saw twice its expected load. The whole riveted section blew and wiped out the tail section hydraulics. Without tail control, the plane was uncontrollable and thus doomed.

    But you may recall the Boeing 737 (or 757) which blew open in Hawaii. There were cracks in the aluminum skin which ripped open in flight. One flight attendant was swept out and to her death. But the pilot was able to land with the passengers sitting in the open air.

    There are numerous examples of material failures and design failures. I think you are correct to bring up the possibilities. And anybody who thinks your are on crack is just ignorant himself.

  7. Before you worry about being accused of raving by Bob Hartunian, the Retired Boeing Composites Guy, ask him just how many Boeing passenger aircraft have composite vertical fin spars flying and certified right now. Or composite wing or horizontal stabilizer spars? The new 787 will have composite vertical fin spars when they actually fly it (next month, maybe) and I believe that’s it. Sure, aircraft manufactures have been putting composites on aircraft for years but they haven’t been making composite spars until Airbus did with it’s A3xx series. And the vertical fin broke off at the fuselage attachments on the AA 587 Airbus 300 that crashed in New York in Nov. 2001. Now, Mr. Hartunian description of the Boeing composite stabilizer spar attachments sounds much, much more structurally sound than the Airbus method but it is disingenuous to state that “US designs carry primary spar structures down into the fuslelage to distribute bending moments past the fuselage interface into the frames of the structure.” It might on the 787 design but all previous Boeing passenger jet aircraft aluminum horizontal and vertical stabilizer (or wing) spars “attaches the vertical (or wing) to the fuselage at basically a single attach plane with bolts.”

    I retired from United Air Lines after being a structural and flight control rigging lead. Our crew removed our airlines entire fleet of Boeing 737-291 horizontal and vertical stabilizers to renew the aluminum spar attachment bolt bushings.

    There is a post at “http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message819111/pg2” that has a report from a “maintenance professional who salvages airliner airframes for a living” who speaks well of Boeing products as compared to Airbus.

    Also, “A Brazilian Naval unit reportedly found the complete vertical fin/rudder assembly of the doomed aircraft floating some 30 miles from the main debris field.” That is a very direct indication of the vertical fin coming off early in the accident and the aircraft continuing down the flight path (more or less, it would have been a rather sickening feeling in the cockpit).

    The ACARS readout in the first minute says that the auto pilot kicked off followed by both pilots primary flight display errors, alt flight control law in place, auto throttles kidded off, a TCAS nav error (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System), another error with the both pilots primary flight display. Then, a flight control rudder travel limit fault. That could have been when the vertical stabilizer, with rudder still attached, departing the aircraft. Then a couple of flight control maintenance warnings before the end of the first minute when the pitot system errors turn up. It could have just as well been that the aircraft was not pointed straight ahead and the two pitot systems disagreed rather than icing was affecting them.

    The whole pitot tube/sensor debate could have been interjected to shift focus away from the structural design question and the missing vertical fin.

    If you do get a responce from Mr. Bob Hartunian, you might ask him what would happen when a large, all or mostly carbon graphic composite aircraft if (when) it crashes and burns and all sorts of carbon strands float up and into nearby electrical power lines and equipment? I believe there will be a lot of short circuits.

  8. The JAL 747 accident Dave Lindorff refers to was actually caused by a repair done improperly by the Boeing fly away crew. They completely missed installing one or two rows of rivets in a doubler. It wasn’t the aluminum’s fault.

  9. There was a competitor to the early Boeing jets about 50 years ago called the Dehavilland Comet. It had large windows that tended to blow out at altitude, and it took several incidents before the plane was grounded. It was also the end of British aerospace technology as a major player, leaving the market to Boeing for decades. There might be some ironic parallels.

  10. Philip O'Carroll

    You absolutely are on crack. These are engineering and accident investigation discussions which really don’t benefit from the journalistic megaphone. Could it be related to composites? Conceivably, but it could also be weather, pilot error, even metal fatigue or a bomb, there is not enough evidence available to you.

    All you are doing is casting uninformed doubt on a reliable aircraft from Airbus and also casting doubt on a new aircraft from Boeing. These are two companies that both produce excellent products, which are extremely safe by any objective yardstick.

    As a knowledgable pilot said “if we had found a door, people would be questioning the doors” As it is a tailplane was found. This is the first fatal accident on this type which has been in service for 17 years and with over 1000 delivered. The comparison with the Dehavilland Comet is entirely bogus.

    If you want to flag a transport safety issue which escapes mainstream news, why don’t you look at flight safety in Africa. Why don’t you look at the safety of merchant shipping. One merchant ship sinks every week and nobody in the media bats an eyelid.

  11. In my experience as an engineer, the kind of engineers who respond to questions like the one you asked about composite materials, with remarks like — are you on crack? or snide remarks about aliens– are almost invariably engineers who have some personal or emotional investment in a particular answer –not impartial investigators seeking the truth.

    In fact, I can’t think of a single instance in my entire life where a person responding in this way wasn’t protecting turf or income –often just intellectual or emotional turf. It’s amazing how rabidly an engineer will defend something he doesn’t really even know anything about, but just believes to be true because he learned (or mislearned) it that way, or experienced it in a single instance.

    And while engineers may be more susceptible to forming conclusions based on evidence than the general public, I’ve encountered plenty of engineers who are absolutely impervious to any evidence that contradicts previously held beliefs.

  12. The vertical stabalizer did break up in flight for sure. It’s the largest piece they have managed to find but the reason why is what we want to know. The fact the pitot tube was blocked or seems to have been blocked meant that the normal automatic limiter placed on the vertical stabalizer was removed. If the pilots kicks the rudder in normal flight at cruise speed for whatever reason the limiter will only allow the stabalizer to move a couple of degrees, but without it, the pilot was doing 700mph with his vertical stabalizer at right angle to the plane. The strees that caused would of ripped the tail off any aircraft, composite or metal.

  13. Keep asking questions.

    I’m struck by the difference in public debate and the way I would approach a problem as an engineer. In some ways, this comes down to the difference in the way language is used in the two worlds.

    As an engineer, one useful step of trying to figure out why this plane went down would be to brainstorm a lot of various ideas as to what might have happened. Someone probably stands next to a white-board writing them all down as everyone in the room tosses forth ideas.

    The key is, each one stays potentially valid until it can be PROVED that it didn’t happen. Only then does it come off the list. Engineers would probably make some judgement calls on where to put resources based on which items on the list seem more likely. But, they still wouldn’t completely take something off the list until they could prove it didn’t belong there.

    Yours sounds like a very valid question to ask. Especially since it seems to touch on maintenance procedures regarding new materials on aircraft. That seems to be an area that has a history of being a weak spot. There’s a comment before mine about something not being the metals fault because it was installed wrong. But, making sure all the people who might work on a plane know how its correctly installed is both vital and something that at times causes problems in large organizations and bureaucracy.

    In the rest of the world, this seems to be met with ‘You can’t even ask that question.’ There seems to be this bizarre belief that says no one can even raise a possibility unless they can prove out of the gate that its absolutely true. As an engineer, that sounds like nonsense to me. Unfortunately, this type of ‘logic’ is rather common, and is what often leaves this engineer shaking his head at his fellow descendants from monkeys.

    Keep asking questions.

    The good news is that from the comments you give, the people investigating the crash appear to be thinking sensibly. They say its a possibility until they can prove it isn’t a possibility. Which is the correct answer and attitude.

  14. PS … my main knowledge of composite materials comes from watching car races on tv. These materials are used extensively in race cars, due to their strength and lighter weight.

    Here’s one example that illustrates their strengths and weaknesses. On an open wheel race car, like an Indy car or an F1 car, you can see the suspension parts that hold the front wheels attached to the car. Once these were metal, now they are made of composites.

    When they are doing what they are designed to do, they are strong enough to take the loads and lighter than metals. That’s why the engineers use them.

    But, every once in awhile you see a car hit something it wasn’t supposed to hit, which puts a load in a different direction on these parts. The old metal parts would just bend, but stay in one piece. Sometimes the racer could keep driving the car. Or at least they held together enough to get the car back to the pits.

    The composite parts are different. If a car hits something that puts a load in a different direction on them, these composite parts tend to just shatter. Which means the car goes out of control and crashes.

    Composite parts can be very strong in bearing the loads that go in the direction they were designed for. But they can be very brittle and fail completely when asked to take smaller loads in a different direction.

    Don’t know if that example has any relevance to the plane crash. But it does show the different sorts of problems that can arise when changing from metal to composites.

  15. Allen Brooks

    For your perusal: http://www.consortiumnews.com/2009/062009a.html

    It is far from the first related incident on an Airbus concerning a Vertical Stabilizer. It is entirely reasonable to ask these questions given the history of the Airbus.

    Incidentally, many merchant ships that are currently operating are well over 70 years old and subject only to the rigorous Liberian or Panamanian maritime inspection regimes. Mr. O’Carroll attempts to compare apples with oranges! Few Airbuses compare with the decrepit tramps which ply the coastal sea lanes.

  16. Finally! A little more intellect and a little less crack. Your more recent post is, thankfully, more balanced than the previous.

    I apologize if my previous post sounded irate, but allow me to explain: I’m a scientist. I believe in asking questions, and attempting to answer those questions, whenever possible, with prospective, well-controlled experiements, rather than retrospecitve conjecture flavored with media embellishment. To illustrate, let’s use the case of the AA587 vertical stabilizer separation. Many media sources have described the separation as being the result of failure of the composite parts that had fastened the stabilizer to the aircraft’s structure. In most cases, these articles were framed in such a way as to imply that, had Airbus deisgned their vertical stabilizers to be mounted using a more traditional approach (ie, a la Boeing, and with metal rather than composites), perhaps the stabilizer would not have detached. As a scientist, the only experiment that would convince me to accept this theory as a possibility would be one that prospectively compares the failure rates of vertical stabilizers from both Boeing and Airbus aircraft in similar transport classes. The experiments would have to be designed properly–ie, they would have to be representative samples and appropriate controls would be required–and would need to be free of confounds. If, after such testing concluded, data indicated that yes, in fact, Boeing tail fins were less likely to fail than Airbus stabilizers, under similar loads and in similar transport class aircraft, then I might be inclined to subsequently ask if the Boeing fins were superior by design, or rather because of the materials used. Again, as a scientist, I would test this hypothesis separately. Only then would I feel comfortable implying that composites on Airbus aircraft resulted in downed flights–or, the corollary, that Boeing aircraft were safter because of a proportionately less frequent use of composites and a more ‘traditional’ design (which is, after all, what so many pundits are implying, isn’t it?)

    Again, my aversion is to media misinformation that sets the uninformed public into a frenzy. Asking speculative questions is fine, but tempering them with factual scientific information, and an honest dose of “I don’t know”, goes a long way to stimulating discussion without adding to the already overbearing American obsession with unqualified media garbage that passes as news.

  17. Rob Bartsch

    I watched Flight AA587 from NYC crash from my office bulding in 2001. The tail broke off that Airbus plane and was found in the bay – away from the rest of the reckage.

    Anyway, since the fin and rudder from AF447 was also found a significant distance from the other reackage, it is probably safe to assume it broke away from the body too.

    If this is the case, the question remains; why?

    If the autopilot was turned off or the flight speed sensors provided conflicting data, the computers that control the flight surfaces may not have appropriately limited the rudder movement as designed.

    If that is true, the pilots may have used too much rudder causing the rudder and fin to break away from the plane.

    The conclusions reached in the AA587 crash are strange to me since they state the primarly reason for the crash resulted from the pilots who used too much rudder.

    Well, that seems like a half truth if the computer that ran the flight surface controls did not limit the rudder movement based on flight speed.

    If fly-by-wire systems were not used in these planes, would the pilots have used too much rudder causing a crash?

    Even if it is found that Airbus planes have tail structure issues, that conclusion would not address the possible design flaws associated with fly-by-wire systems including computer flight surface programs that might allow pilots to subject the airframe to too much stress.

  18. Mr. Ridgeway: You are not on “crack” at all, and staying alive (when flying on airplanes) is directly related to the “politics of aging;” as in being able to continue to age. I have not flown on an Airbus plane since Flight 587 went down in 2001. When I saw the photo of 447’s tail section intact and in the water of the south Atlantic I thought here we go; flight 587 all over again. I recall WWII film footage of aluminum B-17’s returning from bombing Germany, and many of the planes had most of their vertical stablizers shot away by flak, but they got back. The tail section was not blown off the B-17s. My opinion is that the amount of money (Billions) and jobs (hundreds of thousands) involved at Airbus means that no government is going to tell us the truth about the safety of the composite parts. And corporate media will call anyone who questions the general safety of Airbus planes because of the composite parts a “conspiracy nut.” My answer is fine with that, I’ll vote on safety with my money; there are lots of Boeing 747s, 57s, 67s, and even 77s that will do just fine for getting around the world with relatively few composite parts. Don’t let this story go….

  19. I’ve worked several years in aviationmaintainance with KLM and was educated in aircraftconstruction and enginemechanics. Aircrafts are generaly designed on flexebility. They are operating under constant fluctuating stresses. Therefore loads are spread as much as possible over over the entire aircraft. That’s why they use rivets, nails, bolts or glueing in stead of welding as much as possible. A plane in flight is structural moving all the time. Due to compression the fuselage expands a few centimeters each time it reaches altitude. The wings can bent several meters before breaking due to this flexebility in design. Metals and this way of constructing and bonding them together have the flexibility to accept the tremendous fast changing loads that can occure during a flight. The composit joints that are used to connect the tailfin to the fuselage by Airbus do not meet these type of construction at all. The tailfin is fixed to the fuselage with 6 pair of carbonfiber strips bolted with titanium bolts on each side of them. In the crash of flight 587 the carbonfiber strips broke and the bolts were intact. In this type of construction the full load is only on this carbonfiber strips and the bolts which attache them. No load is spread onto the fuselage like in conventional design. Carbonfiber is very strong, stronger then steel, but only in specific directions and amounts of movement. It is a laminated material witch means it has not evrywhere the same strenght in the component. It tends to fail and break suddenly when a weak spot is overstretcht. It will not bend like metall. In this way it is unforgiving. When you overload it, it just kind of explodes without any detectable warning. It happened on flight 587 killing 265 people and maybe it happened on flight 447. Finding the complete tailfin and rudder hardly damaged, at least prove to me these parts snapped off from their carbonfiber yoints to the fuselage. The weakest point in this construction as it clearly suggests. I think it gives Airbus a serious reason to evoulate this type of construction. But I can imagine their concern cause their whole fleet of aircraft would be on the ground and the company would easely go bankrupt in such a case. I hope these people are responseble enough.
    greeting, Gerard

  20. http://ad.easa.eu.int/blob/easa_2005_2515_E_F20050530tb_en.pdf/AD_2005-2515_1

    An A310 in flight from Varadero airport (Cuba) to Quebec (Canada) experienced the physical loss of the
    majority of the rudder structure at cruise altitude. After a safe landing of the aircraft, an inspection showed
    that the rudder front spar portion between the three servo control actuators and the lower rudder hinge
    arm down to rib zero remained on the aircraft, the rest of the rudder was missing. The CFRP rudder PN fitted on the A310 aircraft involved in the reported event is also installed on certain
    A330 and A340 aircraft.

  21. Since the Airbus company is owned by several European governments, I assume it would not go bankrupt if their fleet was grounded.

    Unfortunately, now that there is only two competing manufacturors of commercial planes, the economic impact of grounding one fleet would be very sever.

    William John Cox has written about the history of tail issues with Airbus planes and also has obtained information about the computerized messages that were sent by AA447 to Air France headquarters before the crash.

    http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2009/06/19/ground-the-airbus-by-william-john-cox/

    I assume if the black boxes from Flight 447 are not found, Airbus will continue to stonewall and we will see other catastrophic failures and unnecessary deaths.

    It is interesting to note that Boeing has just delayed their tests of the Dreamliner because it needs additional structural strenghtening. Apparently, this plane has a 100% composite tail and rudder.

  22. john daggett

    i am appalled that the faa is allowing the air bus series to continue to fly. they must be grounded. it is a proven fact that the composite material is not flexible and can not bend and does not have the strength. besides it can not protect against lightening. the plane 447 when down because of flying into this storm and the computers were defective causing a stall and crashing in the ocean. please where is the president of usa. does he have the strength to be a leader or must more people die because he is 47 and no knowledge and wisdom. yes he can read something prepared for him but is he able to think and know that the air bus series will have more accidents and more deaths. dr. john daggett 717 bowen st oshkosh, wis 54901

  23. Composite helicopter rotor failure due to lightning strike.
    http://www.pdfxp.com/pdf/www9-9flightsafety9-9org/hs/hs_jan_feb98.pdf

  24. One more url. Strange the pdf. is not available.
    http://tinyurl.com/lq2t6z

  25. In 1988, a new Airbus plane crashed at the Paris Airshow. Apparently, from subsequent press reports and Court findings, Airbus tampered with the black boxes in an effort to cover up the design flaws in this aircraft.

    And an NTSB official stated Airbus tried to interfer with the conclusions reached in the investigation of the AA587 crash in NY which involved another of many tail snappings.

    These events suggest that Michael Kenny’s view of European crash investigations is some high flying fiction.

    The correct action now is to ground the fleet and fix the issues but unfortunately, that will probably not happen anytime soon so we can expect more unnecessary deaths from these flying coffins.

    Hopefully, we will find the black boxes but I suspect the French are not looking very hard.

  26. Rob Bartsch

    Now that we are into July, I assume the hope of recovering the black boxes from Flight 447 are extremely small.

  27. Rob Bartsch

    Apparently, the search for the black boxes will be called off on July 10th.

    French investigators have concluded that the plane did not break up in flight but, rather, belly flopped into the Atlantic.

    This conclusion is inconsistent with the autopsy reports from South America that said the clothes of the victoms were torn off which is consistent with a mid-air breakup of the plane.

  28. Rob Bartsch

    Apparently, the black boxes from the recent crash off India may be recovered. Since there have been many instances of computer malfunction in cases of aborted Airbus landings, I assume the boxes will tell the same story.

    Unfortunately, efforts to shade the truth may be at work.

    It may turn out that fly-by-wire systems are not unsafe, but the computer systems that overide pilots actions are at fault and should be changed. This seemed to be the issue with the Paris Air crash in 1988.

    The many tail snapping episodes on Airbus planes are alarming but, again, it may prove to be a computer issue rather than a structural design short comming. If the rudder should not be fully deployed left or right at 500+ notts then the computer or another fail safe system should be in place to prevent this.

    If the cause of the Flight 587 crash was a result of the pilots jamming the rudder full left, then right, why did the fly-by-wire or computer flight control system allow this?

    Clearly, something is wrong here. My recommendation would be to ground the planes.

  29. Rob Bartsch

    The French investigtors have been succesful in their efforts to shut down press reports on the status of the investigation.

  30. The BEA (French) report indicates that their conclusion that the aircraft hit the water intact is based on (1) wreckage from all areas of the plane were found relatively close togeather, (2) doors and other structural parts show signs of impact from the belly of the plane, (3) the galley equipment shows compression signs – again from the bottom, and (4) the tail shows signs that it snapped based on a strong force from the rear to the front.

    Preliminary evidence from the 51 autposies seems to contratict this conclusion, however.

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