Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Flight 3407 Crash: "Pilot Error" or Stall? Accident or Design?

By Alex Constantine

Just a note to point out that the NTSB and media have gone on at length about the pilots' "inexplicable" response to Flight 3407 stall warnings.

"Pilots are trained to react to such [stall] warnings by speeding up and lowering a plane's nose." - USA Today

This mantra has supplanted "ice on the wings."

True? "Colgan's training program does not include simulator training into how pilots should react when the stall warning system activates, sources said." USA Today may be correct about pilots in general, but not the two who died on February 12 in Buffalo, New York.

The aircraft stalled - for unexplained reasons - at low altitude over a populated area as the turboprop slowed to make its landing.

Radar data shows that Flight 3407 dropped from 1,800 feet above sea level to 1,000 feet in five seconds.

The media have stopped talking about that stall, the ultimate reason for the crash, and in this shell game we are to concentrate on the pilots' professional, personal (and financial) flaws instead.

"Pilots are trained to react to such warnings by speeding up and lowering a plane's nose." True? A comment left at USA Today by a former pilot trainer for Pinnacle Airlines .- other aviators may dispute the policy, but what has been taught to Pinnacle pilots?

"This is incorrect ... It would be correct in general aviation, (the source for this article seems to be a collegiate training program instructor) but unfortunately at Pinnacle airlines, and all of the other airlines I have flown for, pilots are trained to go max thrust and maintain altitude during a stall. This entails pulling back on the control column... My understanding is that this was mandated by the FAA. I was a simulator instructor at Pinnacle, the owner of Colgan, and was forced to teach this procedure, though I always told my students to do what they had to do under the circumstances to keep the airplane flying. In reality, in most circumstances, this is to lower the nose. Here it may have been that the pilot was following procedure... doing what he was taught to do, to maintain altitude, and due to the changed conditions, icing, over controlled."

Lowering the nose may work - but its an emergency response to an already critical condition, and comes with no guarantees. The pilots had mere moments to respond.

The plane had been disabled - by accident or design?

Emphasis should be placed on explaining it, but almost no attention is given to this at all, an insignificant detail. It wasn't ice. What caused the stall, forcing the pilots to take emergency measures that they weren't properly trained for in the few moments they had left?

Notice that sabotage is not even even considered by the NTSB. And that, I believe, is by design, like the stall itself, and concentrating on "pilot error" is a means of limiting the NTSB investigation to reach a predetermined conclusion.

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