Why Planes Have Barf Bags

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

This may sound odd, but this video of a plane nearly blowing off the runway in Germany makes me feel better about flying (if you haven't seen it yet, it's incredible... Unless you're already petrified of flying, obviously). I figure if THAT landing didn't break the plane, chances are I'm awfully safe landing in a little wind gust at O'Hare (though obviously the pilots in this case deserve all the credit, not the plane). I'm no expert (spent maybe 15 hours flying a little single-engine plane before I ran out of money to support my habit) but crosswind landings are nasty. As the jet is coming in for the landing, you can see the pilot has the nose pointing way off to the right, but it's still flying straight ahead... A good sign of a nasty crosswind. The problem over the weekend started once the wheels were actually on the runway, and a huge gust of wind blew the plane sideways. Why a plane was cleared to land at all on a runway with that kind of wind is a matter for the German aviation folks, but George Bibel knows all about aviation near-misses and disasters. He wrote the book, Beyond the Black Box: The Forensics of Airplane Crashes and will explain what happens in plane v. wind landings, why we had a happy ending in this case, and why this doesn't happen more often.

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There's a difference in command-authority between Boeing and Airbus aircraft. Do you think this made a difference in the pilot's ability to recover

Sent by adam bridge | 2:46 PM | 3-4-2008

Hi,
grew up in Iran where they don't have new airplanes(thanks to US sanctions) yet they still manage to have smoother take-off and landings. How is that possible? Are they really good at what they do or we're not well qualified or trained? Thanks you very much.

Sent by Damoon Moin | 2:49 PM | 3-4-2008

a landing such as this was very common at Kai Tak the old Hong Kong airport. Here are some examples:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTl1nQ9bO1Y&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1w4KEnkWIg

Kudos to the Luftansa pilot for getting everyone home safe.

Sent by John Zelewsky | 2:51 PM | 3-4-2008

God bless the Pilot! I can only imagine the g's...He is a hero.

Sent by liz | 2:55 PM | 3-4-2008

Every plane has a maximum demonstrated crosswind component, and it looks like this situation was way over the plane's maximum. That should have been clear to the pilot earlier as he neared the ground, and he should have begun the go-around earlier. Also, the B-52 does have steerable landing gear to handle such situations. (For the record, I've got plenty of hours flying small planes, but none in the heavy iron like this Airbus.)

Sent by Bob Sauer | 2:59 PM | 3-4-2008

God bless this pilot! I can only imagine the adrenalin and g's in the middle of the ordeal..This guy is a hero!

Sent by Liz | 3:00 PM | 3-4-2008

Once, before a flight from Seattle to San Francisco, we were all told to get off the plane, then told to get back on, get our luggage and get back off - there was a "mechanical problem" with the plane. Another plane was brought and we continued our travel without incident. I asked the flight attendant what had happened; she replied that there was a "hole in the plane". Apparently a luggage vehicle had hit the plane, creating a huge gash. The pilot had seen in while doing his final "walk around" visual inspection. The NTSB and FBI had been called in to find the driver of the luggage cart because he/she hadn't reported the collision as required. I asked the flight attendant what would have happened if we had taken off - she said the plane would have tore apart! I don't mind delays for "mechanical problems".

Sent by rea (ree) culwell | 3:02 PM | 3-4-2008

I heard the expert and listeners on NPR right here in Berlin, Germany on 104.1 FM.

I'm German and read all the reports by the German authorities.

Sorry to say, but a lot of your listeners and the expert did a lot of guesing so may I translate some of the news from German to English?

We had a very strong storm, a gale/hurricane named "Emma" in Central Europe this day. It killed several people and hurt a lot more. Serious damage was done everywhere. I can pesonally report from three trees who collapsed on parked cars (nobody hurt or killed luckily) and a lot of branches, leaves etc. on the ground.

The Lufthanse Flight was given the airstrip No. "23" by the local airtraffic controller and the airstrip 23 had not very good conditions regarding the heavy heavy winds.

The second landing attempt was made on another airstrip called "33" and this airstrip was far better because the winds were coming better.

It was also said in the news and reports, that the comprehensive training and education of the pilots by the German Airline Lufthanse avoided the crash - but what else can you expect from German Media? ;-)))

Sent by Paul H. from Berlin, Germany | 3:07 PM | 3-4-2008

I just listened to the NPR report on landing incident in German and was very disappointed that NPR could not find a commercial airline pilot or FAA official to discuss the incident. Being a pilot and reading the blogs over the past couple of days, it's clear to me that many people simply don't understand what happen here. The real question is whether the pilot tried to land an aircraft in wind and runway conditions that were outside the cabilities of the aircraft. If he did, it's negligence, plain and simple. Searching the web, I found the max cross wind component to be 33Kts with gust up to 38kts for the AB 320. I've heard a wide variety of wind speeds reported, the latest was that winds were in the mid 50s and gusting. Watching the video its pretty clear that the plane is having trouble tracking a straight line while crabing into the wind a good 30-40% so I suspect that the cross wind at the time of the approach were outside of limits during gusts. Hard limits are there to make it easier for pilots to make quick decisions. The pilot should have ask for a wind check over the runway threshold and if it was out of tolerance, initiated a missed approach. Period!

Sent by Old Man | 3:43 PM | 3-4-2008

Crosswind components aside, if there is a gust midway down the runway the plane's crab angle doesn't account for that and it momentarily exceeds the crosswind component for the type. The first officer was performing a reasonable high-crosswind landing (I've seen nastier crabs) but he was out of his league when the side gust came in. The pilot was right to let the first officer land the AC and get this experience and he was right to take over when conditions exceeded his partner's ability to control the airplane. Although it is ultimately the pilot's decision to land or abort or even select an alternate airport, the controllers might have had wind and gust information that exceeded the aircraft's ability. The investigation will show who ultimately gets blamed for this, but the guys in the cockpit weren't at fault.

Sent by Richard H | 3:49 PM | 3-4-2008

Have a little flight training myself. I read somewhere that European pilots prefer a crabbing technique where as American pilots use a sideslip method. Any truth in that? Would a side slip have worked better?

Sent by Stompbox | 5:22 PM | 3-4-2008

G's wouldn't be an issue here. Probably a bit more movement in the airliner than those who fly just for travel are accustomed to. But no bone crushing G's.

Sent by Nick | 8:43 PM | 3-4-2008

Was just wondering. Were there any americans onboard this flight. Thats usually one of the first things reported.

Sent by Jerry G | 7:23 AM | 3-5-2008

I am a commercial-rated pilot with more than 40 years experience, although I have never flown for the airlines, and I studied aeronautical engineering in college. I share Old Man's disappointment that you didn't include an A320-rated pilot in your discussion. George Bibel may indeed be a well qualified after-the-fact accident investigator, but it was like fingernails on a blackboard to hear him repeatedly using standard flying terminology incorrectly.

The aircraft's left winglet was damaged due to ground contact. You can be assured that the the final report on the incident will read,"Probable cause: 1) Attempt by the flight crew to land in conditions that exceeded the demonstrated crosswind capability of the aircraft. 2) Failure of the flight crew to maintain directional control of the aircraft during landing. 3) Failure of the flight crew to use proper crosswind landing technique. Contributing Cause: High crosswind component."

The only question I have is whether the A320's fly-by-wire flight control system played a part in the incident. Could it be that the FBW system would not allow the aircraft to be cross-controlled sufficiently to keep the right wing down? I don't know, but I'd be interested to hear from an A320 pilot or an engineer familiar with the type.

Sent by Marvin McInnis | 9:30 AM | 3-5-2008

Everyone is applauding this pilot for making a heroic landing when they should be condemning him for landing an aircraft that is obviously outside this aircrafts envelope for crosswind landings. He should have been applauded for diverting the flight to an airport with conditions that where within the published cross wind limits for this type/model/series of aircraft. Those decisions never make the news or if they do it is because of public outcry about the passengers being inconvenienced. I am a pilot and also an experience accident investigator. I investigated an accident where the pilot landed outside of weather limits instead of diverting 60 miles to a clear airport. All occupants perished in the accident. Mans ingenuity cannot always overcome mother nature???s forces. I was appalled at the expert guest???s attitude that the Lufthansa landing was acceptable and even if it crashed most passengers would survive. That is not an outcome that you can calculate or predict. No matter how advanced your technology the old aviation axiom still holds true: ???The sky, to an even greater extent than the sea, is terribly unforgiving of errors???. Aviation is as safe as you make it. These passengers were lucky to be collecting their baggage at the turnstile verses their loved ones claiming their remains at the morgue.

Sent by W. Quinlan | 11:10 PM | 3-5-2008

It's true I am not a pilot and I did not cross all the T's and dot all the I's with respect to piloting. However I stand by my original assertion; this plane was no where near a disaster. The most likely scenario is exactly what happened, the plane flies away safely (because of piloting skills).

Even if the plane crashes there are many precedents to be optimistic about the result. A very similar accident occurred in the Netherlands in 1997. Because of excess cross winds the plane landed very hard. The landing gear collapsed, yet everyone walked away.

http://www.flightsafety.org/ap/ap_mar00.pdf

There is always a danger of leaking and igniting fuel. In 2005 a bad landing in Toronto severely burned the plane, yet all 301 passengers and crew safely evacuated in spite of half the exits not working. Pictures of this plane and other unusual accidents are shown on my blog

http://beyondtheblackbox.com

George Bibel
Author, Beyond the Black Box: The Forensics of Airplane Crashes

Sent by george bibel | 12:10 AM | 3-6-2008

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