Tag Archives: aviation

A Pilot’s Perspective of Southwest Flight 1380

Blown engine of Southwest 1380The engine failure and cabin depressurization of Southwest’s flight 1380 on Tuesday morning, April 17, hit close to home. I’m a Boeing 737 pilot for another airline who has flown from New York’s LaGuardia airport to Texas.

This blog’s intention is to give people not in the airline industry some perspective of what the pilots and flight attendants of this flight might’ve dealt with.

First off, my condolences to the family of the woman killed on the flight. I cannot imagine the anguish they must be experiencing.

I also want to congratulate both the pilots and flight attendants for successfully handling this emergency. All airline crews train for emergencies, but only when one happens is do we learn who can push aside their fear, concern, and confusion and deal with the situation presented to us.

The details presented here come from what I’ve gathered from news reports and my own experience with this aircraft. I don’t have an insider track on the investigation. All thoughts and opinions are this writer’s.

The flight was climbing through thirty-two thousand feet on its way up to thirty-eight thousand when one of the blades on the N1 rotor—the large fan on the front of the engine that generates the majority of a jet engines thrust—departed the engine. Why is unknown at this time. That’ll be something the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will determine.

The departing blade tore away the engine inlet lip and part of the cowling, flinging parts against the fuselage and shattering a cabin window.

The pressure in the cabin at this stage of the climb would have been approximately seven pounds per square inch. When the window disintegrated, roughly one thousand pounds of force attempted to shove  the unfortunate woman sitting at that seat out the window.

Either the woman’s shoulders or hips, or heroic efforts of the passengers nearby who grabbed her, prevented her from being completely forced out the small hole.

In the cockpit, the pilots—two of them, not a lone one as the news media portrayed—were probably first alerted to this problem by a vibration more severe than they had ever experienced. When the rotor blade departed, the engine might have ingested some of the debris and damaged the internal turbine sections signaling an engine fire. Within a few seconds the window would have shattered, and the cabin altitude would have climbed above fourteen thousand feet signaling another warning to the crew.

The crew would have been confronted with two severe emergencies at the same time: an engine fire, and a cabin rapid decompression. Either one alone would have made this pilot’s heart pound.

Most likely, the crew donned their oxygen masks and established communications with each other. Time of useful consciousness at this altitude would have been approximately one minute. With the fighter-pilot like masks on they would not have been able to yell to each other. Once they configured their audio panel so that they could communicate through the aircraft’s intercom and overhead speaker, they would’ve consulted the Rapid Depressurization/Emergency Descent checklist and begun a dive for a lower altitude.

Getting to a breathable altitude, ten thousand feet or lower, would have been more important than dealing with the engine fire. The oxygen masks in the cabin would have deployed automatically, but that supply of needed air would only last for approximately twelve minutes.

The emergency descent procedure is to deploy the speed brakes by yanking on a lever beside the throttles—which would lift four desk size panels atop each wing that destroy lift and cause drag—and descend at the maximum airspeed of 335 knots. That would have given them a descent of five to six thousand feet a minute.

Some of the passenger reports of the vibration during this time might have been from the rumble the speed brakes make when deployed at this speed.

 Once they were in the descent and that checklist complete—which there are several more steps than mentioned here—they probably began dealing with the engine fire.

The initial steps in that checklist has the crew shutting down the engine that was on fire, a step they should have been diligent in identifying to each other. There have been instances in the past of crews getting in a rush and shutting down the operating engine. Then, they would have pulled the fire handle for that engine to deprive it of fuel and hydraulic fluid so there would be no fuel for a fire. Then they would have activated at least one fire extinguisher.

Meanwhile, while this was going on, the crew would need to communicate with air traffic control. The air traffic controller who was watching their blip on their radar screen would need to know why they were no longer climbing but descending rapidly.

On the recordings I’ve listened to, it was obvious the controllers who worked this flight went out of their way to assist this crew. Still, the controllers need to be told what the crew intends to do so they can clear the airspace in front and below them so that they don’t collide with another flight. Not only does the controller have this emergency flight to deal with, they still have to handle the other aircraft in their sector.

If the emergency flight is diverting to another airport, which this crew rightly did, the controller needs to coordinate with the controllers at that airport they have an emergency flight coming their way.

Dealing with the numerous steps on both of these emergency checklists—something they don’t want to skip or not follow thoroughly, or they could cause other problems— and dealing with air traffic control can add additional stress. Without knowing it, a controller asking questions of their intentions which the crew may not have had time to consider, or while providing them information can interrupt their completing the checklist or dealing with the emergency in the cabin. The airline I fly for suggests one pilot fly the aircraft and deal with air traffic control while the other handles the emergency checklist.

Compounded with this, would have been the three flight attendants had their own emergency to deal with. Not only did they have a rapid decompression, they also had a medical emergency.

If the flight had been smooth prior to the emergencies, the flight attendants would have been out of their seats. Two of them might have had the beverage cart out in the aisle. When the cabin depressurized, they would have had to decide to use a free mask that dropped out of the ceiling, or rush to their jump seats and retrieve a portable oxygen bottle. In this model of the 737 each passenger service unit deploys four masks.

If they were breathing from a mask dropped from the ceiling when they noticed they had a medical emergency, they wouldn’t have been able to attend to them without possibly passing out. Only after being notified by the pilots that they had descended to an altitude where oxygen was not needed would they have been able to attend to the injuries; unless they had retrieved their portable oxygen bottles.

 It will be interesting to know if the flight attendants and passenger that gave the gravely injured passenger CPR continued to do so through the approach and landing, or did they take their seats and buckle in. Knowing they were landing in a stricken aircraft their self-preservation might have urged them to take their seat. It’s possible their compassion for this dependent passenger overruled their own survival.

At some point the pilots and flight attendants would need to talk to each other, yet another distraction for the pilots, but one that is critical. The flight attendants would need to inform them of the numerous injuries and ask what the plan was. In other words, how long before we’ll be on the ground, would they be evacuating or bracing for impact.

This would have happened while the pilots were preparing to land at an airport they had not planned for. They would need to learn what the weather and landing runways were, program the flight management computer and tune the navigation radios for the approach as well as discuss the landing.

It appears there was some miscommunication in the conversations with the flight attendants. Considering the stress both were experiencing that is understandable. From the recordings I’ve heard the captain reported to air traffic control a passenger might have been blown out, which wasn’t the case. It also would have been the flight attendants who informed them about the missing cowling. Though the flight attendants probably reported it as the captain did to air traffic control by stating, “a part of the aircraft was missing.” The pilots can not see the engines from their seats and neither one would leave the cockpit to go take a look.

 The 737 flies well on one engine, but it is more difficult than flying with two engines. Every power change will require an adjustment of the flight controls as the aircraft will attempt to roll towards or away from the operating engine. It has also lost more than fifty percent of its thrust considering the weight of the dead engine and operating engine is not on the aircraft’s centerline. Flying the aircraft on one engine is something crews practice every nine months at most airlines. Still, the pilots were not in the simulator and would know they could not screw up. Also, having injured passengers onboard might have urged them to hurry the approach so they could get medical treatment.

 Most crews will never experience either one of these emergencies, let alone compound emergencies. I haven’t in my career and hope I never will. Even without the death of a passenger, I imagine the stress now with the media attention and the numerous questionings they will go through from the NTSB, FAA, and their own company will be considerable. Knowing that a passenger died on one of their flights will probably be something they will carry with them for a long time.

I applaud this crew for their handling of these emergencies.

First Chapter of novel, Blamed.

 

BLAMED Small-promoChapter One

 

The crushing pain radiating up from my legs yanked me out of unconsciousness. My arms dangled above my head and my hands rested on the overhead panel of the aircraft. Comprehending I was upside down was difficult to grasp with the fear of blacking out again threatening to overtake me.

I yelled and squirmed in an attempt to stop the slide into nothingness and to relieve the agony in my legs. Neither relaxed the all-consuming pain. If anything, my thrashing sharpened it.

We were on approach to Dallas-Fort Worth when… what? Nothing came forth that explained why I’d be upside down and in such misery. A black hole occupied my memory of what happened between everything being normal as we approached the runway and… now.

Wind whistled through the smashed cockpit windows, ruffling my hair. Shards of glass littered the overhead panel. Smoke that stank of burned jet fuel and something else I couldn’t place drifted in.

Where there’s smoke, there’s… Fire! I had to get the flight attendants and passengers to safety! Then a realization hit me. We had been ferrying the empty aircraft from a maintenance facility in San Salvador.

Ned! Why hadn’t the first officer, who had been the pilot flying, made a sound?

When I looked across the cockpit, I shrieked.

The overhead panel had bowed in and crushed the forty-something husband and father’s head backward at an extreme angle against his headrest. A lifeless eye bulged from his distorted, bloody face. It stared straight ahead.

The laid-back pilot with a dry sense of humor looked like a ghoul from a Hollywood movie.

How could he be dead? He’d been joking with me just moments ago.

To distance myself from the sight, I squeezed my eyes shut while fumbling for the seatbelt buckle of my five-strap harness, then hesitated. If I released it, I would plant my head into the overhead panel, which was filled with numerous toggle switches. Even if I didn’t impale on a switch or break my neck, the agony in my legs made me question if I could work them enough to crawl from the aircraft.

I risked a glance. Whatever had happened to us had bent the instrument panel down, trapping my lower extremities under it. The femur in my right leg poked out through a tear in my pants. A constant stream of blood ran from the tip of the broken bone.

I recoiled, and the bone moved.

An intense spike of nausea erupted, emptying my stomach. Vomit burned my throat, ran into my eyes, and up my nose.

I swiped my face with my arm to clear my vision. This movement sent a wave of blackness rolling through me. A part of me welcomed it to end my misery. Another part worried I wouldn’t ever wake from it. I couldn’t leave my wife, son, and daughter.

The sounds of large diesel engines approached. Air brakes hissed. Were they from the crash and rescue trucks?

“Help.” My cry was a gurgle from the vomit in my mouth. I spit.

The smoke outside was now so thick, I couldn’t see the ground. Would they find me before I was consumed by fire? “Help!”

I didn’t detect any movement or hear any voices. I would not become a victim. I had to get out.

A stabbing pain in my side had grown in intensity, making it harder to breathe. When the yoke was rammed into me, had it broken a rib or my sternum? Punctured a lung?

A shove on the yoke to move it forward proved futile.

With a heave, I pushed against the edge of the glareshield, normally at shoulder height but now waist level, hoping to ease the pressure against my chest. The crushing force didn’t slacken.

It also intensified the torture in my legs. I doubted a chainsaw cutting into them would hurt worse. The bellow I unleashed didn’t summon the strength needed to distance me from the yoke.

I sat as still as I could, panting.

The gulps of air I took didn’t relieve my shortness of breath.

If I could slide the seat back, I might breathe easier and free my legs.

Why hadn’t I thought of the seat adjustment lever?

Twisting to yank that lever at the base of my seat felt like a knife stabbing my chest. With my free hand, I shoved on the crushed instrument panel. The intensity of the torment was so great, I almost blacked out.

If I did, I might either bleed or burn to death.

Through gritted teeth, I pushed on the glareshield yanking on the seat adjustment lever. When I didn’t move, I unleashed a howl.

I stayed rammed against the yoke.

When I attempted to shove with my feet, unimaginable agony consumed me, bringing on the darkness I’d been fighting.

Naming a Character

BLAMED Small-promoWith my feet propped up on my desk, and a legal pad in my lap, I study the list I’ve written on it. The creak of crutches behind me expels a sigh from me. “Do you have to do that?”

“Hey, you said I’d be on crutches all through the story, so I thought I’d practice,” the character in my upcoming airline thriller, Blamed, said.

I go back to contemplating the list.

“You know, it’d be easier to pace on these if that dog wasn’t lying in the middle of the floor.”

My faithful friend, Hunter, lays nearby as he always does when I’m at my desk. “Get used to it. You’ll have a golden retriever in the story.”

“Really? Cool. I like dogs. Have you named it? Or is it nameless like me?”

“Casey.”

He tests speaking the name. “Casey. All right. That works. So what are you thinking for me? Since I’m a pilot, it should be something distinguishing. Like… Buck Teager.”

I shake my head. “That’s too close to Chuck Yeager. Besides, your first name will be Bill. It’s the last name I’m having trouble with.”

Bill stops his pacing. “Bill. Okay. That works. But why Bill? Seems pretty common.”

“I’m using my late brother in-law’s name. He too was a pilot.”

“Bill it is. Let’s test out what you’ve thought of. Run them by me.”

Luckily, no one is home to hear me having this conversation, or I’d probably be locked up in a mental ward. But I’m sure every novelist would understand letting a character assist with choosing their name.

“Here’s what I’ve thought.” I hold the pad up. “Kopp.”

Bill scrunches up his nose. “Kopp? Bill Kopp? Think about it. In the story I’m in an airliner accident. Won’t people think I should have kopped to it?”

“Yeah, you’re right.” I run a line through the name. “How about Wilde?”

An eyebrow is lifted. “Isn’t an airline pilot supposed to be a buttoned-down rational person? Not a wild Bill?”

“Good point.” Another name gets crossed off. “Wilbur. No, forget that one. One of the Wright brothers was named that. Butler.”

“Bill Butler. Who probably would have the nickname, BB. Seriously?”

“Hadn’t thought of that. Then I can scratch off Bower too. Hunter.”

“Your dog’s name? Wow, your imagination is amazing.” Bill rolls his eyes.

“How about Egan?”

“Egan? Bill Egan.” Bill looks like he’s tasted something bad. “I suppose, if you’re really set on it.”

“Fine. You come up with one.”

“Let’s see.” He resumes pacing with the crutches. “Mid-fifties. Pilot. Do I have a sense of humor?”

“Yeah.”

He stops and smiles. “Kurt.”

“Like James T. Kirk?” I shake my head.

“No, Kurt. K-U-R-T. But the similarity could be a joke. Since I’m an airline captain, my rank and name probably will be spoken a bunch of times throughout the book. Captain Kurt. It could be a little joke.” Bill lights up. “Hey, I could even say in the story at some point that my mission is to boldly go where no airline has gone before.”

I chuckle. “If that thought was interjected during a serious moment, it might give some levity to the scene.”

He’d nodding. “See. It’s a good choice.”

“Yeah, but… Kurt is too close to Kirk. How about Kurz?”

With his hands held in front of him like he’s making a frame, he says, “Bill Kurz.” He gives a nod. “Not bad. Close to Kirk so the line will work, but still unusual. Works for me.”

“Bill Kurz it is.”

“Am I married?”

I type Kurz on my list of character’s names. “Yeah.”

“What’s my wife’s name?”

“That’ll be a possible topic for another blog.”

If you want to read what Bill’s experienced in Blamed, it will be published in December 2016.

Writers, do you have these same conversations with your characters?

Mishap on Christmas Eve

Santa Claus and sleighSeveral years ago on Christmas Eve, I flew a flight from Houston to Calgary. It was a clear night with a sky full of stars. I’d turned down the cockpit lights and leaned ahead so I could look up and take in the majestic beauty. Although I would’ve preferred being home with family, I wished I could share the beauty of the night with others.

 Nearing the U.S.-Canadian border, the traffic collision and avoidance system began to yell at us. “Traffic. Traffic.”

 The first officer and I both checked the navigation display to see where the yellow dot was located in reference to our aircraft, and whether it was above or below us. The dot that represented the aircraft that had the potential of colliding with us was on my side of the aircraft and below. We turned our attention outside searching for the aircraft.

 Several seconds went by while the dot on the screen moved closer to our aircraft. Neither the first officer nor I spotted the other aircraft. As clear a night as it was, we should’ve seen the red and green navigation lights.

 When the dot was within three miles of us, the yellow dot turned to red and “Climb. Climb,” was announced.

I disconnected the autopilot and eased the yoke back making the 737 climb. Both of us frantically searched for the other aircraft. When the dot on the navigation screen merged with our aircraft, I spotted the traffic.

I blinked and looked again. Some old fart with a long white beard that blew out behind him, wearing a red coat and cap, was flying a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. The back of the sleigh was stuffed with a bag full of multi-colored items.

As the other, err… aircraft flew several hundred feet below our left wing, the reckless pilot lifted a mitten-clad hand and waved.

 I couldn’t believe it. The man and his reindeer were moments away from becoming a headline and he had the gall to wave like it was no big deal? Not only was his life as well as the lives of the one hundred and fifty people onboard our aircraft in danger, the lives of those beautiful eight reindeer were moments away from death.

 I hope the Federal Aviation Administration found him and grounded him permanently. He’s a danger to others. I also hope SPCA finds a home for those reindeer so they won’t be put in danger.

Final Authority, by Robert Dobransky and Joesph Dobransky

Dobransky Final AuthorityThis is one of those airline mysteries that is filled with authentic details. You’ll feel like you boarded a flight and can’t get off until you’ve landed at your destination.

Written by two brothers who fly for competing airlines, their experience with the large complicated industry is revealed in their realistic look at fictitious Global Alliance Airline and several of the key people who run it.

I would have given this book a five star rating instead of four except for a couple of issues.

The authors would bring the story to a stop to go into a lengthy tale of a character’s backstory, when I feel this could have been layered in throughout the novel, or left out. I also felt the authors overly dramatized several of the characters who weren’t pilots. A couple I questioned how they rose to their lofty position within the airline, an issue many pilots have with their airline’s management, but in this case it came across as exaggerated. Lastly, I questioned the need of the prologue. It showed the trouble the protagonist Captain Bruce Bannock faced at some point in the novel, yet it wasn’t until the very end of the novel its purpose was revealed. I read the majority of the book questioning what the prologue had to do with the story.

That aside, the authors did an excellent job showing the lengths some within an airlines hierarchy will do to seek power and wealth. Offsetting this group were some qualified, hard-working individuals who did the real work at keeping the airline operating while it faced the crisis portrayed. The authors showed this latter group realistically.

And, extremely important to this reviewer, the flying details were exacting. Readers interested in an airline mystery that could potentially happen will enjoy this book.

I look forward to reading more from these authors.

 

Equal Time Point by Harrison Jones

Harrison Jones Equal Time PointThe details in this book are accurate and it is apparent the author is a retired airline pilot. The events that are depicted could also happen, something which makes this pilot shudder.

An airliner on an Atlantic Ocean crossing runs out of fuel and ditches miles from any land or boats. It is only a matter of time before the passengers and crew perish.

I thought the story started off slowly making it easy to put down. It reminded me of the Airport movies in the seventies. The author spent considerable chapters showing some of the recurrent training pilots receive leaving the reader with no doubt of the emergency they’ll face later in the story. The airline and its associated problems are described. We’re introduced to the crew which the author does a great job of depicting. Then finally, the villain is introduced. It was from this point the book held my interest.

The ending was dragged out and could have been summed up quicker. I would also have liked to have seen more emotional attachment to the main characters. This is a trait that’s difficult to write, but I feel the author will do a better job of this in later novels.

My gripes aside, once I was hooked, I sped through the remainder of the story. The crash and the events that follow kept me on edge and made this pilot think, “How would I handle that situation?”

The twist near the end was cleverly written and accurately depicted. The author gets a pat on the back for coming up with it.

This author has a couple of other books published which I will read. I recommend this book to lovers of mystery novels. I rate this book four stars.

Eric Chandler’s, Down In It

Eric Chandler's Down In ItReaders who might wonder what it is like to eject from an F-16 in Afghanistan and try to stay alive will find this book intriguing. The fact that the author is a retired F-16 pilot who has flown several missions in that war torn country makes the details in the story authentic.

The premise of the story is: Doug “Hoser” Mackenzie is shoot down over the mountains and has to evade capture if he wants to live.

I would have given this book a five star rating instead of four except for two issues.

I would have liked a little more emotional connection through the story. While the character was drifting down in his parachute, he didn’t seem all that concerned. Nor did he seem upset that he’d been shot down, something I think would be devastating to any pilot.

Also, the author uses flashback to show the type of character the pilot is. This reviewer is not a fan of this method of storytelling as I feel the story comes to a halt while the author develops the character. Therefore, several times I questioned if dwelling on Hoser’s past was appropriate when I was worrying about him evading the people chasing him. Other readers may not consider this a deterrent though.

At the story’s conclusion I understood why the author chose this method as I was left hoping the experience of being shot down would make Hoser a better person. Although that made for a character arc that was satisfying, it took me several days of thought to understand why the author wrote the book the way he did.

 This was a quick read that gave this reviewer a taste of an author I’ll follow.