More Structural Issues in the AF 447 Crash

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


In response to the loss of Air France 447, a French pilots’ union today asked its pilots not to fly the Airbus 330–the design of the crashed plane. Much has been made of the possible pitout tube failure on Air France 447. These tubes are sensors on the wings which might be prone to freezing up and distorting air speed, which in turn might mean the pilots were flying at too slow or too fast a speed to get through the thunder storms in the region.

There is a different theory having to do with the plane’s possible structural flaws, which brings us back to the question of composite aircraft materials, which I wrote about last week. Parts of the tail, recovered Monday, appear intact; the tail looks like it was ripped off the plane at the points of attachment. You can get some idea of what it looks like from thisFrance 24 video.

To some observers, this bears a striking resemblance to the loss of the tail in the devastating American Airlines 587 crash in New York in November 2001. That plane was an Airbus 300. In an interesting comment on the Whatsupwiththat blog, a reader, Adoucette, writes:

The disturbing thing to me is that the A330 design is derived from the A300. Both have composite tails. In the AA-587 crash in Nov of 2001, the NTSB blamed the failure of the A300’s composite tail on the co-pilot. The NTSB claimed that the pilot made dramatic rudder inputs to counter wake turbulence from a 747 which had departed Kennedy two minutes earlier….
The NTSB said that the pilot, to combat mild turbulence, over controlled the aircraft by swinging the rudder fully to one side and then all the way to the other side, and it was this over-control which exceeded the tail’s design limits….

Now if this is possible from rudder inputs in mild turbulence in clear air at relatively low airspeed over NY, consider what could happen at high speed in major turbulence over the ITCZ [Intertropical Convergence Zone, a storm-prone area where trade winds converge].

Also making its way around the web is a report from NASA’s Langley Research Center on the possible effects of lightening on composite aircraft:

Traditional aircraft act as Faraday cages when struck by lightning, which means that the charge stays on the exterior of the aircraft.  However, as more aircraft are built using composite materials, we will need to understand the direct and indirect effects of lightning on those aircraft.  The researchers at LaRC are studying the  hazards of lightning on composite aircraft.  Some of the issues include the fact that magnetic flux can penetrate avionics wiring, and that lightning damage is often more severe than tests would predict (see this presentation for the full discussion).  Magnetic flux can penetrate composite aircraft more easily than metallic aircraft, inducing voltage and current on avionics wiring.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate