Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Was Air France Flight 447 Brought Down by Turbulence?

From the Christian Science Monitor comes a fascinating report on meteorological analysis of the stricken airliner's flight path. The link to Tim Vasquez's blog, below, with his analysis of the weather conditions that may have caused the accident is technical but worthwhile reading.

Was Air France flight 447 brought down by a 100 m.p.h. updraft?

Or were its two jet engines snuffed out by hail or heavy rains?
In the absence of a black box, the leading theory now is that the Airbus 330-200 was brought down by a 300-mile-wide band of tropical thunderstorms that it could fly neither around nor over.

Brazil’s defense minister confirmed Tuesday afternoon that military planes found a three-mile path of wreckage in the Atlantic, hundreds of miles from Fernando de Noronha, a Brazilian archipelago.

Professional pilots and meteorologists are digging through the available data – flight routes, satellite images, aircraft specifications, and weather reports – and spinning out several likely causes.

One of the most detailed and cogent pieces of analysis of Flight 447’s last minutes – winning the praise of pilots around the world – is a blog by Tim Vasquez.

Here's one of Mr. Vasquez's more intriguing speculations:

Due to the high cloud tops and freezing level at 16,000 ft, there was extensive precipitation by cold rain process and it is likely the MCS was electrified. Lightning of course being considered with good reason since the A330 is one of the most computerized and automated airliners in service.

From my neophyte's perch observing weather patterns, it seems they've become more severe and unpredictable partly as a result of global warming. Are modern airliners like the Airbus A330 at a disadvantage under such conditions because the advanced computerized and automated avionics might be susceptible to lightning?

Perhaps we should bring the reliable old DC-3's back into commercial service.

1 comment:

I'm Not Ned said...

Speculation is just that. Right now the unknowns out weight the facts so jumping on one scenario over another is pretty much pointless.

But that doesn't stop us!

Re: weather. With the electrical and decompression alerts sent to the base it's possible they lost the front wind screens to ice impact or such. The water/damage could cause the faults reported and incapacitate the crew.

Re: equipment failure. The A330 has a history of auto control failures where it uses faulty pitch indications to "correct" the flight into a nose dive. Events like this have come close to exceeding the aircraft's operating point (ie. the wings almost came off).

Re: everything else. A wire frayed? A hydraulic failure? A crack broke open an exterior portion of the skin? An engine fell off? All of these things HAVE HAPPENED on commercial flights.

There really is nothing to go on except the approximate size of the debris field, the make/record of the aircraft and crew, and the flight conditions.

Lot's of speculation...

Can you imagine how hard it will be to locate the boxes? 2.5 miles is pretty freaking deep!