Tuesday, November 13, 2001

"Duh!" Headline of the Week

Pilots Could Do Little if Engine Fell Off
The New York Times
The Airbus A-300 that crashed shortly after takeoff from Kennedy International Airport shed part of one of its two engines, raising the possibility that the jetliner suffered a catastrophic breakup of the engine or that the engine itself detached from the plane an event so severe that pilots do not even train for it.

The plane carried two General Electric CF-6 engines, one under each wing, and these normally would have been at or near maximum thrust on departure. Fast-rotating internal parts have been known to come lose on such engines, sometimes penetrating the outer shell of the engine and sending parts as missiles into the plane.

...The plane can fly on one engine, but if an engine fell off or broke up, it could destroy the three hydraulic systems, which are required to fly. The plane's flight control surfaces, the moveable panels that the pilots use to make it bank, climb, dive and change direction, are run by the hydraulic systems, and the loss of an engine means the automatic loss of two hydraulic systems.

(Thanks for drawing my attention to this, Ron. Get your own blog and I won't steal material from you. [g])

Well, yeah, count on the New York Times to state the obvious. Well, I guess it's obvious that when a plane falls apart in mid-air, it's going to fall.

But even as late as 11pm (when I arrived at work and heard this on MSNBC), the live anchor (Lester Holt, with the cutest little model of an Airbus A300, complete with American Airlines colors: Do they keep them around the newsroom just in case?) was clarifying this same point with an expert observer (whose name will be protected because this had to be embarrassing for him -- and besides I don't remember who it was).

Holt had him explain -- and I got the feeling from his tone that this wasn't the first time today he'd said it -- that yes, the plane could fly controllably if the engine had simply failed, but not if it actually fell off.

Do the media think we're that stupid? Or is it something unique about New Yorkers?

Or is it possible that they are right?

[Later: The chirpy morning anchor (Jeannie Ohm of MSNBC) apparently hasn't been listening to her own network's coverage. "The question that people are asking is, 'How can a plane just fall out of the air?'" Well, last I heard, even aeronautical engineers are divided over what exactly holds them up in the first place (Angle of attack! Bernoulli principle! Angle of attack! Bernoulli principle! Duck season! Wabbit season!), but somehow I don't think that's where MSNBC wanted to go. Hey, Jeannie? Check your web site. Search for "Engine falls off", if you're having trouble finding it.]

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