Thursday, September 22

Knowing me, I would've been the idiot in 23A watching the screen and going, "Man, those poor bastards are so screwed."

Whoooooaaaa! Next time take the parking brake off, chief! Posted by Picasa

Somewhere Jerry Bruckheimer is slapping his forehead in anguish, wondering why he never thought to make a movie about a crippled airliner that can't land safely so it has to circle the airport for hours and hours, and in the meantime the media starts covering the story and the passengers in the cabin get to watch the news coverage of their own impending doom. Only in Bruckheimer's version, the passengers somehow figure out that it's an act of sabotage, the saboteur is a Muslim terrorist who's riding on that very plane, they try to overpower him, both pilots get shot in the struggle, and the controls have to be taken over by unemployed housepainter and former Gulf War fighter jock Nicolas Cage and [insert up-and-coming hot blonde actress you've never heard of here], who land the plane in a shower of sparks and burning jet fuel. On the 405.

Not to be minimizing the passengers' plight here, because had I been on that plane myself I probably would've been somewhere between panic-attack-havingly and pants-poopingly scared, but while the danger faced by the passengers was certainly present, I don't know it was necessarily lethal. Sure, everyone involved was preparing for the worst-case scenario because that's their job, but probably the worst thing that had a reasonable chance of actually happening was that the front landing gear snaps in half upon hitting the runway, the nose of the plane hits the ground, the plane skids into the grass and you've got one royally messed-up Airbus A320, but everyone still makes it out alive.

Be that as it may, though, I've got to give props to Airbus for building one sturdy-ass airplane. Figure that thing was probably going 120-160 miles an hour when it touched down, and though the front tires were surely shredded into mini-Twizzler-sized pieces, the landing gear stayed rock-solid and locked into position. Kinda makes you wish your car was built like that.


Steve said...

As someone who was standing in DFW airport last night waiting on my connecting flight and watching the JetBlue thing unfold on a TV in the WH Smith book store surrounded by airline pilots and flight attendants who's general murmurings were that these people could be really fucked, I'd go with the poopy in the pants response. Kudos to the pilots and Airbus.

ACG said...

In defense of the people concerned for their lives, a snapping nosegear wasn't really the absolute worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario probably involved the plane landing and taking a sharp turn to the left or right as soon as the 90-degrees-off-center nosegear hit the ground, possibly causing a wing to catch ground on the side of the runway and snap off and/or flip the plane over, turning the fuselage into a great big rolling Tylenol of doom.

I wasn't able to watch the entire thing, but I did see the landing, and I'll admit that all I could think as it happened was, "Right on the center line. Right there. It's beautiful. Man, if that wheel was facing forward, and, y'know, turning, that would be a beautiful landing." I think that's a real testament to the skill of the pilot, and probably to his ability to successfully maneuver a plane while sitting in a pair of drenched boxers.

Josh said...

Actually, replace "Nicolas Cage" with "Bruce Willis" and "Jerry Bruckheimer" with "Joel Silver," and the movie pretty much was already made - "Die Hard 2." Granted, the reason the planes couldn't land was a bit different, but they were circling and circling, and eventually had to make an unorthodox trip to the ground.

Jo Fish said...

Actually, it would not have ever yawed into the nose gear, it had too much forward energy to do that, and it (the nose gear) did exactly what it should have done: was destroyed by friction.

It looked like the pilot "aero-braked" after touchdown, which basically means he used his airfoils (wings and flaps) to produce enough drag to slow the plane down, by slowly rotating the nose up as airspeed decreased. Common technique. Then the nose touches down when there is insufficient speed to allow it to remain airborne, probably less than 100 knots. It's one of the reasons he had to burn off gas, so he'd have a slower approach speed. Also, if he were too heavy on touchdown, he'd have possibly driven the main gear through the wings which would have been a sub-optimal situation (seen it happen before).

The interesting thing about landing gear "emergencies" is that they really aren't "Emergencies". Nothing is urgent, and usually, as with the Jet Blue flight, they had lots of time assess and work out a solution (smooth landing, foam on the runway if the nose gear collapsed).

The guy flying and landing the plane remembered what he was taught when he was a student: a good full-stall landing will make you a hero. He's a hero. And a damn good pilot.