Skip to main content

The company I fly for was recently looking for a new wide-body aircraft to replace our aging and inefficient DC-10s. The contenders were the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330.

Some of us were having a friendly discussion about this when I mentioned that I wouldn't mind flying the A330. One of the guys actually snapped at me "I think we should buy an American aircraft!"

Whoa! Easy there!

First off, I'm not the one writing the (very large) check for this. Secondly, while I'm all for buying American, we're in business to make a profit - not to subsidize a particular aircraft manufacturer. I want us to buy whichever plane is going to make us the most money. Waving the flag in my face doesn't put food on the table.

Note that we ultimately bought the 767. We already had 757s on the property and there is a lot of parts commonality between the two. They're also a common type-rating, so I'm already qualified to fly the 767. Makes perfect sense to me.

I still wouldn't have minded the A330. Heck, for what they're paying me, if they want to buy Tupolevs I'll start learning Cyrillic.

Having flown both Boeing and Airbus products, read on and I'll give you my impression from where I sit.

First off, I need to thank VTCC73 for his insight on the A320 and A330s. His rather extensive resume boasts 23,000!!! flying hours in everything from the 707 to the A330, with a sampling of everything in between. He gave me such an extensive education on the Airbus fly-by-wire system that I'm saving it in case I ever do have to train on the A330 someday.

My experience isn't quite as impressive but I've flown 4 Boeing products: B-52, KC-135 (707), 727 and 757. I've flown the Airbus A300 and A310, an A310 just being a shortened A300. Both have conventional flight controls. Fly-by-wire wasn't introduced until the A320.

A lot of people are a bit apprehensive about getting on an Airbus. "If it ain't a Boeing I ain't going" as even I used to say. Plus there's the inherent American dislike of all things French.

Boeing has been around for a long time and has a well-earned reputation for building sturdy, well designed aircraft. There are many legendary stories of B-17s limping home with half the tail shot off, the B-52 soldiers on 60 years after it first flew and the 727 was as rugged a jet airliner as ever flew. Back when Douglas was their main competitor, pilots would say "Boeing builds airliners, Douglas builds character".

Airbus doesn't have quite the legendary background that Boeing does. They've only been around since the late 1960s, although some of the parent companies have been around a lot longer. Airbus is largely a consortium of French and German companies. The British were also involved at various times. Hawker Siddeley designed the wing for the A300 and BAE had part ownership for a while. I think the Dutch (Fokker) have even been involved from time to time.

Both companies receive government subsidy in the form of military contracts. One reason Boeing gave us a sweet deal on 767s is they wanted to keep the production line open while waiting for the 767-based tanker to start production.

So how do the planes compare?

For starters, they both use pretty much the same engines from the same manufacturers. General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce (my favorite) all supply engines to both companies. A lot of 737s have CFM engines, which are a joint venture of GE and a (gasp!) French company.

From an aerodynamic and a systems standpoint they're both pretty similar as well. Air molecules and electrons don't know if they're in Seattle or Toulouse. The formula for building a cost-effective jet airliner is pretty much the same everywhere. They look about the same because the same equations went into designing them.

I'll compare the 757/767 with the A300/310 since I've flown both and they're both from roughly the same generation.

I talked about the A300 in detail here A300. I'll give the 757 its due in a later diary.

Both the Boeing and the Airbus have 3 generators (2 engine-driven plus 1 on the APU). Both have 3 main hydraulic systems plus a RAT (Ram Air Turbine) for backup. Both use a combination of hydraulic powered ailerons and spoilers for roll control. The landing gear and brakes are similar. The avionics are comparable, which is surprising since the A300 entered service almost 10 years before the 757.

Both have a high degree of automation. Both have "glass" cockpits and FMS (Flight Management System). Both have advanced autopilots with auto-throttles. Both can auto-land.

The automation on the Airbus was a little more intrusive in that it would physically try to keep me from doing stupid things with the airplane.

For example, if I tried to stall the A300, "Alpha Floor" would engage the auto-throttles and push the power up to prevent the stall. The Boeing would merely warn me of the impending stall but it wouldn't do anything about it. Since I have no business stalling an airliner, it doesn't really bother me that Airbus would try to help me out. If I've ever reached that point, something's gone horribly wrong and I'll take all the help I can get.

Overall I'd give the edge to the 757, but I'd say that's mostly because it's a newer design. Ten years is a long time in the world of electronics, and the systems are a bit more intuitive.

Airbus was the first to use composites structurally and also the first to introduce fly-by-wire. Boeing has gone down the same path. The 777 is a fly-by-wire aircraft, as is the 787. A 777 still has a yoke (probably to keep old-timers like me happy) but it's not connected to anything. Likewise Boeing is using more composites in their aircraft. The 787 is almost entirely made from composites.

Fly-by-wire makes some people uneasy. I've never flown an FBW aircraft but the people that do seem to like it. I downloaded the systems manual for our 777s, and the description of the fly-by-wire system was almost identical to how the A320/A330 was described to me. Once again, Seattle electrons work the same as Toulouse electrons. I'll go into more detail about how FBW works in a later diary.

VTCC73 gave me so much information that it really deserves to stand on its own - I can't do it justice here.

From a safety standpoint, both have the same amount of redundancy and both have provisions to maintain basic aircraft control even if all electrics are lost. Both incorporate the same degree of "envelope protection", which is a fancy term for "keeping me from doing something stupid with the airplane".

The safety records of both companies are pretty comparable. It's hard to get an apples to apples comparison, but the A320 family has had a hull-loss rate of .29 per million departures. It's closest Boeing equivalent, the 737-600 thru 737-900, has an almost identical loss rate of .28 (source Boeing safety study 2011).

Generally speaking, jet airliners are very safe and the newer ones are safer than the older ones. Even my beloved 727 had a loss rate of 1.21, several times that of its replacements, and it was considered to be one of the safest planes of its day. The early jets had loss rates 5-8 times that!

You're much safer getting on an A340 or 777 today than you would have been in a DC-8 or 707 back when Pan Am and TWA ruled the airways. So don't be afraid to get on either one.

Originally posted to Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 11:07 AM PST.

Also republished by Kossack Air Force and Central Ohio Kossacks.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  A couple of times (10+ / 0-)

    I have crossed the Atlantic on Airbus A330-400 (I think) when they were brand new.

    From a passenger point of view, the way US Airways had them configured made for a very comfortable flight.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    Who is twigg?

    by twigg on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 11:16:24 AM PST

  •  I have a question (10+ / 0-)

    that is not designed to diminish a pilot's skill level ... but I was wondering ...

    With modern aircraft, to what extent do you "fly" them compared with "programming" them to fly?

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    Who is twigg?

    by twigg on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 11:19:02 AM PST

    •  Both (33+ / 0-)

      The plane can be programmed to fly a programmed route or I can click all the automation off and fly it the old fashioned way.

      For a while the philosophy was to use the automation as much as possible.

      Today we're rethinking that and putting more emphasis on keeping our hand flying skills sharp.

      Unless we're in really busy airspace I like to hand fly the plane up to around 20,000 feet. I usually take over for at least the last 1000 feet prior to landing.

      As I like to say "the autopilot doesn't need the practice".

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 11:24:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'll tag team your comment (13+ / 0-)

        The A320/330/340/380 family's original design philosophy was for the pilot to not hand fly unless absolutely necessary. (The A320 was initially designed without thrust levers! Wiser heads prevailed.) Several airlines policies direct their crews to engage the autopilot as soon as they were safely airborne through the landing using autoland unless operational conditions required otherwise. Hand flying wasn't forbidden, just strongly discouraged.

        Always using the autopilot is a good policy from the standpoint of absolutely precise navigation and fuel efficiency but it is horrible policy for maintaining pilot proficiency. Many airlines would prefer we let the system do the work. Mine even dictated autopilot use for departures, primarily, and some arrivals at specific airports. As MK says I have heard that several airlines are wisely, in my opinion, rethinking that policy.

        Throughout my career I always followed the suggestion of our 757 training department way back in 1986: alternate how you fly each leg. I might use the autopilot from after takeoff through the approach on my first leg of a trip. Then hand fly with the flight director on the next and without the flight director on the third leg. I can safely say I never used autoland unless I had to. The modern electronic magic made flying easier but I never lost the joy of flying the jet whenever I could.

        Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

        by VTCC73 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 03:55:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Just curious (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Powell, wader, twigg, Simplify
          I can safely say I never used autoland unless I had to.
          when you "had to", was it for training reasons, as opposed to some actual situation you found yourself in?
          •  Several reasons (5+ / 0-)

            1. Low visibility approaches where it was required. Our FAA approved Ops Specifications required an autoland when a Category 2 or 3 approach was flown. Basically anytime the visibility was below half a mile. We could land if visibility was as low as 300' if the jet was all up and the field equipment was operational. I never saw the ground until we were down on any of the Cat 3 approaches I ever flew. These things are always a goat rope. Getting on the ground is the easy part. Finding the gate is a terrific challenge.

            2. Maintenance requirement. The airplane is required to perform an autoland every 90 days to remain certified. Certain unscheduled maintenance on certain components of the system require a successful autoland to recertify the system. That might seem odd but the validation has to be in visual conditions and the jet is not permitted to operate in less than Cat 1 conditions until an autoland is successfully flown.

            3. Pilot qualification. Annual certification is done in the simulator but company requirements may be higher. We were required to do two a year.

            4. Demonstration. I've had several jump seat passengers, generally FAA inspectors but sometimes pilots from other airlines unfamiliar with Airbus, who asked about auto landings and were interesting enough to be worthy of showing off the jet. I don't know why but the only dorked up autolands have been when I was showing off the system.

            The airplane does a fantastic job. Never subtle, it always sticks the landing solidly in the landing zone. Humans usually do better but are unable to do it in the conditions of impossibly low visibility and with the machine's consistency.

            Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

            by VTCC73 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 07:51:24 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting stuff --- I have an old army buddy (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wader, KenBee, twigg, Ed in Montana

        who flies the Airbus for A Major Airline ( go figure -- he's, as I said, an Army reservist - no AF background at all. More to the odd pile, the current CO of his reserve unit is also a commercial pilot - cargo ). I know he likes it ( and has a huge amount of experience with it -- when it first came into service he was one of the guys who ran the simulator/trainer for those making the transition - a mixed bag of both Douglas and Boeing jocks ), and given that he not only has been on the Europe routes he's, of late he's been doing Sydny. He has to have an impressive accumulation of hours by now!

         You have given me some stuff to throw at him when we get together for an annual dinner next month. I might actually be able to fake that I know what I'm talking about for a couple of minutes.....which is two minutes longer than normal.....

        it tastes like burning...

        by eastvan on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 06:05:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Computer flies the Airbus (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Powell, KenBee

      One day in the motorcycle shop, around the coffee pot, an active airline pilot and a retired airline pilot* were chatting, and I was listening in.  The active pilot was telling how he'd just quit his job with a major airline that flew Airbus planes and gone to work for a commuter airline, the best non-Airbus job he could find.  He described the Airbus controls as several computers connected in series.  The pilot requests a maneuver, the first computer sees if that corresponds to it's programming, passes the result to the next computer, then to the next.  He said that the computers fly the plane, and that Airbus designed the planes for sales to third world carriers with minimally trained pilots.  He said that the pilots are prevented from flying the Airbus planes.  He'd read a technical report that was not widely distributed about the Air France flight 447 crash into the Atlantic, and it said that the pilots attempted to do everything right after some instruments failed.  The plane's computers did not let the pilots take control of the plane.  Everyone on board died.  He quit his good job after he read that report.

      *the retired pilot has some interesting tales.  He's worked as a captain with British Caledonian, delivery pilot with McDonnell Douglas, and other jobs.  He told of a ferry flight for repairs (no pax) from Istambul to London in a 727 with one bad engine.  Shortly after take off another engine failed.  Istambul was fogged in by then, so he had to head to Ankara on one engine out of three. The plane owner had to fix the engines there.  Another story was about a BCal flight from Lagos to London.  Full bookings and very strong headwinds over the Sahara.  He told the station agent to weight every passenger and their voluminous carry on luggage until a certain total weight was met.  Boarding s were ended at that weight, reservation or no reservation.  The headwinds were about triple the forecast.  He asked the flight engineer about the fuel status.  "We can't make it to London, but we might make it to Tunis for fuel."  They fueled in Tunis.

      •  I have to call BS on a couple of points. (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        zinger99, Sparhawk, wader, VTCC73, twigg
        He'd read a technical report that was not widely distributed about the Air France flight 447 crash into the Atlantic, and it said that the pilots attempted to do everything right after some instruments failed.  The plane's computers did not let the pilots take control of the plane.  Everyone on board died.  He quit his good job after he read that report.
        First, the pilots never attempted to do anything right, as the accident investigation report makes clear. They attempted, in fact, to do everything wrong -- not realizing the airplane was stalled.

        Second, I'm dubious that a pilot quit an Airbus job in favor of a "commuter" airline job (commuter jobs are shit). If this happened, there is way more to the story than the pilot let on.

        •  Flight 447... (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wader, Powell, twigg, PaloAltoPixie

          ...the co-pilot had the nose pointed upward almost all the way into the ocean (you get out of a stall by dropping the nose to gain airspeed and lift).

          The captain noticed what was going on, but too late.

          (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
          Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

          by Sparhawk on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 06:30:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  There were three pilots ... (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Sparhawk, KenBee, twigg, PaloAltoPixie

            ... the captain appeared on the flight deck too late to assess or correct the situation.

            The two junior pilots applied a variety of control inputs, neither -- apparently -- grasping what the other was doing or attempting.

            There are ergonomic factors unique to Airbus aircraft (such as the sidestick controls) that certainly contributed to the confusion.

            Such an awful tragedy.

  •  "both can auto-land" (9+ / 0-)

    Don't know if I like the sound of that.

    I don't always dislike french stuff, best high altitude helicopter and it must be half a century old.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 11:24:52 AM PST

    •  When we landed in Malta (14+ / 0-)

      It was thick fog.

      I had a window seat and didn't see the ground until about five seconds before the bump.

      That plane landed on the centerline of the runway, right at the point of maximum tyre marks.

      When we were taxiing in the pilot came on the tannoy and announced

      "We are safely down at Malta International, and George did it all".

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 11:30:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  We don't use auto-land very often (18+ / 0-)

      We only use it for very low-visibility approaches with as little as 300 feet visibility.

      It actually takes more work to set the plane up to auto-land and babysit it than to just land it by hand.

      All the systems on the plane have to be "full up" and we've got one hand on the go-around button in case of any glitches.

      It's pretty amazing to watch it do its thing. It will even track the localizer down the center of the runway after it touches down.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 11:32:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Maybe you should watch Airplane again. (13+ / 0-)

      Helluva week to give up glue sniffing.

    •  low vis landings (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, RiveroftheWest, ban nock

      Cat IIIc landings allow landing with 50' visibility (essentially none). IIRC, the 747 cockpit is 47' above the tarmac, so technically, a pilot has to be able to see the ground in order to fly it. AFAIK, nobody actually allows cat IIIc landings, but it seems likely some people fudge and land below minimums.

      A pilot friend of mine claims that he flew (as a passenger) into Seattle once, and it was impossible to see anything until after they arrived at the gate. He was convinced from the way they taxied on the ground that the pilot was being directed by ground control ("progressive taxi"?), and the pilot probably couldn't see the markings on the runways and taxiways.

      There was also an incident some years ago where an airline pilot, flying his own plane into Seattle (to get there for a flight that he was to fly out), crashed into some of the ground equipment there. He'd apparently been landing in 0/0 conditions for years...

      Also IIRC, the 747 was one of the first autoland aircraft, if not the first. However, it turned out that plunking 175 tons down on the same 50' chunks of concrete is really, really hard on runways -- even concrete 4' thick or more. They wound up modifying the systems to offset the landings a bit in random directions to save wear and tear on the concrete.

      •  The navy calls these sea stories. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KenBee, Powell, ban nock, markdd

        There might be elements of truth but there are misunderstandings that render the overall tale to be fiction. Specifically, there are no Cat 3C runways in the world as far as I know. The pilots have to be able to see the taxiway light to get to the gate. Fortunately, all low visibility airports have embedded taxiway lights and special markings to aid finding the terminal. It is still an incredibly challenging task in horrid visibility. It is also possible a tug can be sent to tow the aircraft to the gate. This is extremely rare and suffers from the same difficulties, or more, than what the crew faces trying to taxi in. Lastly, the dispersion of landing points for autolandings is great enough to not require reducing system accuracy. The system, even old model DC-10 and 747s, is not all that laser like accurate.

        No worries though. There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about aviation.

        Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

        by VTCC73 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 08:09:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Know the difference between (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          VTCC73, Powell

          a sea story and a fairy tale?  A sea story starts "This ain't no s**t"

          “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

          by markdd on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 09:50:13 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Well, yes. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Powell

          I did note that IIICs don't officially exist.

          But the Seattle pilot was real; he landed fine, but crashed while taxiing to the tiedowns. It made the papers here in MN at the time.

          I've heard the story about the 747 landing system, and also heard it confirmed but with the detail that it was the MLS landing system that was responsible, from someone who worked at Mitre. (I don't know if that makes it more or less credible; he's not a pilot, but definitely a tech geek.) I have my doubts that MLS even exists any more -- augmented GPS would be cheaper and probably better.

          •  The problem with the whale is (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Powell, PaloAltoPixie

            the guidance system on the aircraft. It was pretty rudimentary compared to even the DC-10. It could be coupled to the INS or ILS and be reasonable accurate. Within the tolerances of the navigation system which in the case of the old mechanical gyro INS was measured in miles. It could be coupled to the radio navigation as well but suffered from the limitations of nearly the same lack of precision as the INS. The 747-400 was a different beast an on the level of current state of the art machines.

            All of that being what it is, I doubt a line jet airliner of any generation is would be accurate in landing spots to require any lessening of accuracy of the aircraft or ground guidance systems to compensate for runway durability. Weather conditions alone will impact touchdown point, sometimes significantly. I can understand some measurable increase in accuracy if you're talking about highly tuned test equipment under ideal conditions but not what I understand the story to be. Many of the 757 and 747, or DC-10, autolandings I experienced were on the runway within 25' of center line but seldom was there any consistency to touchdown point along the runway.

            One brief story about how accurate navigation has become. Bear in mind we're still talking tens to hundreds of feet of error. Several years ago the agencies charged with managing the traffic over the Atlantic became concerned that the extreme accuracy of navigation systems actually increased the probability of a midair collision should there be an error in the assignment of route, altitude, or direction of flight (NAT airways are one way but can have wrong direction traffic under normal operations) along the North Atlantic Track System. It is an area of the world outside of radar coverage for air traffic control. There was real reason for concern.

            In the old days of Delco and Litton INS on pre-glass cockpit airplanes there would be a stream of aircraft all over the sky. What should have been a nicely aligned stream stacked up all going the same way was instead a gaggle spread over a few miles. That was the reason tracks were separated by sixty nautical miles horizontally.

            That changed beginning with the 767 and 747-400 and got worse with the newest generation who had GPS assisted INS. Airplanes were withing feet of where the box said they were. This cause wake turbulence problems when close but vertically separated traffic was on the same track. We were permitted to laterally offset to mitigate the problem which provided the idea of how to mitigate the risk in case of an error that placed jets on opposing direction but at the same altitude and track.

            The just short of mandatory system is called SLOP, Strategic Lateral Offset Plan. Every aircraft programs an offset of one or two mile right of course. Brilliant idea because aircraft manufacturers and GPS have made the system too good. I understand the same system is now employed on the North Pacific tracks.

            Media stories are notoriously inaccurate with respect to aviation issues. I'll leave it to you to consider why I'd consider anything I read or heard in the media as minimally accurate.

            Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

            by VTCC73 on Sun Mar 10, 2013 at 01:21:13 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  When I worked (14+ / 0-)

    For MickeyDee we would call the Airbus a Yugo. Of course McDonnell-Douglas is no more. Goes to show what  we knew. We made great planes but magement sucked. Thanks Scotty.

  •  I'm more worried about the random (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock, RiveroftheWest, Powell, wader

    727 and DC-8s still flying, as well as any of the Brazilian turboprops

    You're much safer getting on an A340 or 777 today than you would have been in a DC-8 or 707 back when Pan Am and TWA ruled the airways. So don't be afraid to get on either one.

    Warning - some snark above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013

    by annieli on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 12:06:43 PM PST

  •  Boeing is broken (18+ / 0-)

    In the late 1990s, Boeing was taken over by the same type of government-milking, Wall Street envying greedy assholes who seem to have now captured every major US-based company.

    They were more focused on financial engineering and management fads than aeronautical engineering and old-fashioned continuous improvement.

    With guidance from McKinsey, they soon set out to milk the taxpayers of illinois to move their HQ from the Seattle area to Chicago - which better positioned executives to toddle off more regularly to Washington DC to milk the bureaucrats in the Pentagon.

    The move also had the advantage of taking those executives out of the greater Seattle community - you don't want executives feeling bad when they run into the workers they're shafting around town.

    Then they went outsourcing crazy - partly tied to the union-busting instinct, partly tied to an obsession to repeating all the mistakes of the auto industry.

    With new model aircraft, Boeing should be on the upswing right now. But its a broken company with a broken culture.

    Its only a matter of time before some new set of greedy asshole managers (recruited into the junior ranks by the last generation) decide to exit the commercial aerospace game altogether to focus on milking DoD, and its overseas counterparts.

    An American tragedy, emblematic of the trends that will ultimately destroy all manufacturing in this country.

    Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore

    by Minerva on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 12:26:10 PM PST

  •  Do you fly for FedEx by any chance? (4+ / 0-)

    I've been under the impression that they are one of the few companies still flying DC-10s.

    •  I prefer (11+ / 0-)

      not to name my employer, but it would be easy enough to figure it out.

      They're a pretty conservative company and I'm not sure how they'd react.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 01:06:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  DC-10! (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        terabytes, Powell, KenBee, Simplify

        I bought a $500 charter round trip ticket to Paris from Oakland in 1997 or so. The equipment ended up being a DC-10 operated by World Airways (!), which at that time I didn't think was still around. And while I'm fairly good at recognizing written languages, I could not recognize the predominant language on the cabin's signage (English was there in smaller print). Considering that whatever airline had it before used a language I had not seen before, I think it is fair to say that said previous airline did not buy the DC-10 first-hand. Thus, it is likely I was on a third- or fourth-hand jet. No matter, it performed fine, except when one of the attendants forgot to disarm the emergency slide when it was time to load the food into the cabin. You can't stuff those back into the container, so we had to wait, in Paris, while a spare DC-10 slide could be found. Hahahaha. It added 7 hours to what already was a 2 hour delay (which was partly due to a bomb threat at CDG: "me: should we be concerned? policeman: no, this happens every day, but you still have to move 100 meters over there").

        As a passenger, I think my most common plane is a 737, which has quite a few different sizes these days (Alaska Air).

        The GOP jobs plan is to manufacture outrage.

        by Doug in SF on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 02:39:06 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  We bought our planes from all over (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Powell, KenBee, Simplify

          Most of our jets were converted to freighters from passenger jets.

          So when they're too worn out for the airlines, we get to fly them :)

          I can usually tell where it came from based on what language is on the signs in the bathroom.

          I've seen Turkish, German and Dutch.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 03:24:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  What is a "glass" cockpit? n/t (5+ / 0-)
  •  As a Boeing employee (18+ / 0-)

    I'd have to say that this was an excellent diary.

    Reality is both aircraft have component parts built all over the world, so the "buy American" meme doesn't really hold.  I've always found it interesting reading the diaries that talk about Boeing outsourcing jobs overseas -- I too wish that was not the case, but the reality is that the outsourcing is done in a sort of "grease the wheel" fashion to get contracts with foreign governments to buy aircraft.  It's like "if we buy X from you guys, will you buy 50 737s from us?"  

    And the competition with Airbus is stiff -- they have the A340 to compete with the 777, the A330 with the 787/767, etc. etc.  Many of our customers have mixed fleets.

    So in the face of this competition, I guess it is nice to "buy American", caveats and all -- I, and the 80,000 employees of Boeing say "thanks!"

    The Meek Shall Inherit NOTHING -- Frank Zappa

    by LickBush on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 12:41:10 PM PST

    •  Many countries have content requirements (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Powell

      in order to sell them your products you have to some of the parts made in their country.  Years ago one of my employers wanted to sell product into Canada.  We set up the "Toronto Development Center" it consisted on a VP and a secretary in a building in San Antonio, TX.  Their paychecks were drawn on the Bank of Toronto, problem solved.

      “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

      by markdd on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 10:04:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Every time I've flown on Airbuses (Airbii?) (8+ / 0-)

    while taxiing, I hear loud noises coming from the cargo hold area. Almost like a barking dog or someone sawing wood. Never heard it on Boeings. What on earth is that noise?

    "How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?" - George Carlin

    by yg17 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 12:58:35 PM PST

    •  I think it's a PTU (Power Transfer Unit) (10+ / 0-)

      In order to save gas, it's common to only start one engine until just prior to takeoff.

      I think what you're hearing is the pump that's pressurizing the one hydraulic system until that second engine is started. That's why you don't hear it all the time.

      It kind of sounds like a dog going "woof woof woof".

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 01:11:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was stationed in Belgium (5+ / 0-)

    in the USAF in the late '60's.  Plum assignment - SACEUR's airfield at Chievres AB.  I befriended a Belgian Air Force Meteorologist who taught me a great lesson.  He said, "You know we Belgians who were aware learned English and Russian because we didn't know who would win the Cold War."  He was a good and kind and very smart man.  The Belgians, more than most, have lived through all kinds of changes in nationalities over the centuries.  They have wisdom that most cannot imagine.

    •  I just remembered (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Powell

      Franz (The Meterorologist) also spoke Dutch and French fluently (as do most Belgians) and the local dialects of each of those languages.  My fiance, at the time, spoke half a dozen official languages and was a translator for NATO.  

  •  Airbus and Boeing both suck as technology drivers. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    antooo, Powell

    Which is unsurprising given that they're both massive, horizontally integrated industrial monopolies that dominate entire continents.  They're now both so ossified that change of any kind can only occur in small increments, on multi-decade timelines, at enormous expense, and usually well behind schedule.  My grandfather flew at the same speeds and altitudes I can, and in considerably greater comfort (though higher relative cost), and if my father had been rich he could have flown higher and faster on the Concorde - an option now closed to the world.

    When Elon Musk is done spreading humanity into space and revolutionizing the automotive industry, I hope he puts his hand to giving us the first serious progress in aviation since 1970.  He's spoken about it vaguely - in terms of an electric supersonic jet - but I hope some day we get to see that, and there's effectively zero chance of either Boeing or Airbus doing a damn thing to majorly improve either the speed, altitude, or comfort of the typical flying experience.

    Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

    by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 01:25:38 PM PST

    •  They build what the airlines will buy (18+ / 0-)

      Running an airline is a numbers game. Profits are measured in pennies per passenger mile.

      We fly around at .80 mach because that's where the fuel economy is.

      Concorde was a very advanced aircraft but they couldn't turn a profit even at $10,000 a seat.

      If you're going to cruise at faster speeds you need to take skin temperature into account. That's why the SR-71 was made from titanium. Even if you've got the thrust to go that fast it becomes a materials problem.

      It would probably be better just to get out of the atmosphere altogether. Build something that goes suborbital and you can get to anywhere on the planet in 90 minutes.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 01:46:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think this is only ostensibly the case: (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Powell, wader
        They build what the airlines will buy.
        Boeing or Airbus alone have more than enough resources to shift the state of the industry to the point that airlines would purchase a significantly more advanced aircraft - exactly what happened in previous generations with the transition from turboprops to mid-altitude jets.  The reason they don't is simply that it involves a major up-front investment without the market being guaranteed in advance.  

        They're so bloated and ossified that they can't do anything unless they know for an absolute fact - or as close to it as possible - what will come of it before they even do it.  Real progress is impossible in such a state.  They're just reiterating the same aircraft over and over with incremental adjustments.

        We fly around at .80 mach because that's where the fuel economy is.
        There are other economies at higher speeds and altitudes, but you have to make a leap in capability that requires major investment and doesn't allow incremental steps toward it to be profitable.  The fact that Boeing poured so much time and money into the 787 - an incremental improvement on technicals like fuel economy - and still screwed it up proves that this approach is ultimately irrational.
        If you're going to cruise at faster speeds you need to take skin temperature into account. That's why the SR-71 was made from titanium. Even if you've got the thrust to go that fast it becomes a materials problem.
        Great point.  And the fixed cost of such a developmental program with much less certain returns is why they would rather blow billions screwing up a Baroque incremental evolution than pursuing fundamental capability advances with potentially explosive benefits.  They're incapable of taking risks, and the ironic result is that they become less and less able to do anything at all, even modest things.
        It would probably be better just to get out of the atmosphere altogether. Build something that goes suborbital and you can get to anywhere on the planet in 90 minutes.
        Point-to-point suborbital may eventually augment or replace intercontinental air travel, but the problem is that the amount of energy involved is not that much less than going full orbital (since a transcontinental arc is a major fraction of the Earth's circumference), so progress on that front will likely proceed in tandem with progress on space launch costs.  However, a stratospheric air-breathing system would probably end up being more efficient at some point.  I'm glad so much effort is going into space development, but it's sad that aviation has turned into a dinosaur.

        Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

        by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 02:36:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I would think (7+ / 0-)

          that if it were economical to cruise at very high mach numbers the military would want it.

          They care about efficiency, albeit for different reasons than the airlines. More efficiency means greater range and/or weapons load.

          Keep in mind that the original 707 came out of Boeing's work on bombers and tankers for the Air Force. Most of what they learned about building large jets came from the
          B-47.  The 707 came from the same prototype that the KC-135 was developed from.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 03:21:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The military does want it. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Powell, wader

            The have been - very, very, very slowly - developing hypersonic technology with the X-51.  Ironically, it's Boeing doing the contracting, but I'm not going to hold my breath that they would ever try to use what they develop commercially these days, because as we've noted airlines wouldn't commit up-front to buying radically advanced aircraft and Boeing refuses to invest its own resources in changing the market.

            Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

            by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:22:49 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Hyper Loop! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Powell, Troubadour

      Don't be fooled by appearances. In Hawaii, some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen. --- Matt King

      by hobie1616 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:02:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think you miss the all important fact (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Powell, wader, Troubadour, KenBee, patbahn, Simplify

      that the customer drives the product in aviation. MK made the point before I chimed in. Operational costs drive the modern airline and the number one cost is fuel. Anything that drives down fuel usage while not greatly increasing aircraft acquisition cost will be a strong seller. Thus, incremental improvements are all that are possible given the lack revolutionary technological solutions to the extreme environment of high speed and high altitude flight. Both of those are the realm of the military and research.

      The one exception to that was Concorde. It was a magnificent aircraft. It was, as has often been said, proof that British Aerospace and the French (predecessors to Airbus) could make an airplane that would lose money at a 100% load factor.

      The incremental improvements haven't been inconsequential. The 707 (KC-135 actually) that I first flew weighed less than 300,000# but used about 18,000# of fuel per hour with a cruise mach of .84 or so (.91 max IIRC). The 747-400 weighed up to 878,000# but only used 23,000#/hour at a normal range cruise of .855-.86. That's the difference of 1950's and 1980's technology in engines, structures, and aerodynamics. Not insignificant in my mind.

      The next generation, A330, topped out at 513,000# but used an average of 12,000#/hour. Any cruise faster than .82 mach and fuel consumption skyrockets. The point is that we are hitting the point of greatly diminishing returns that can only be overcome by revolutionary technology advances. I'm not really aware of anything on the horizon that is also commercially viable in an airline industry.

      Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

      by VTCC73 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:26:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, but it's also true that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Powell

        manufacturers can move the marketplace beyond where it currently is if they're willing to move forward on their own initiative and risk.  Only building things that customers already know they want is a recipe for stagnation, and that's exactly what the industry has got.  Concorde was an example of moving forward before the engineering was ready to make it economical - I've heard plenty of professional opinion that with today's technology, a supersonic aircraft could be economical, not to mention quiet enough to have unrestricted air routes.  

        But the manufacturers don't know that for absolute certain, and the airlines won't commit to such a thing in advance the way they would with an incremental change, so it just doesn't happen.  That's ridiculous, and has led to the sorry state of the industry today - the emphasis on squeezing every last penny out of everything instead of expanding the envelope of capability so you don't have to.

        Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

        by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 07:50:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Given the cut throat competition (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          KenBee, Powell

          in the airline industry and the razor thin margins in a highly cyclical nature of the business I fully understand a business being reluctant to take huge chances on moderate risk technology much less bleeding edge gear. Airline execs are not a bunch of geniuses but they know to have near certainty before buying. You may remember Boeing's attempt to launch a high flying speedy airliner before they engaged retrograde mode and popped out what became the 787. The reason was uncertain economics. Even the 787 too risky for Delta's Richard Anderson. Northwest was the North American launch customer for the 787. Anderson bailed on the order during the first big 787 delay pushing back deliveries to 2020. By then it should be a mature system that will be rid of the economic uncertainties that exist today. Pretty smart move. Or blind luck. But that is how a good airline exec should think.

          Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

          by VTCC73 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 08:28:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The reason it's cutthroat is because (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Powell

            there's no other basis on which to compete but price, which is because consumers don't have any other options.  When you introduce major differences in capability, the market becomes heterogeneous and it's not as easy to squeeze every penny.

            While something like the Concorde didn't have a good value proposition - over $4,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars per ticket for a mere 2.5 factor of increase in speed - a different dollar-per-additional-mph ratio would have different economic results.  For instance, if you could afford to fly 1st class at 560 mph, wouldn't you be willing to fly coach at the same price for twice the speed?  A lot of people would, and the airlines know that.  They just don't care because it's still not an absolute certainty.  That whole industry is degenerate and incapable of positive change.

            Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

            by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 09:15:29 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Blended Wing-Body (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Powell

            Boeing should've done the Blended Wing-Body instead of the Sonic Cruiser. A BWB could have saved ~20% fuel burn for minimal new technology required. Heck, they've done a lot of the development work already.

            Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

            by Simplify on Sun Mar 10, 2013 at 11:55:09 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Electric jets would be every interesting (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour, Powell, KenBee

      What I've heard from Elon in interviews on the subject makes me believe that he was interested in small private aircraft rather than large commercial airliners.  He also stated that significant advancement in battery tech is still needed.

      That said though, an electrically powered aircraft would have some interesting differences from a hydrocarbon fueled aircraft.  First, a disadvantage is that a battery or capacitor powered aircraft would not getting lighter as the flight goes on since it isn't burning any fuel.  Current planes get more efficient the less fuel they have since they are getting lighter but an electric plane wouldn't.  It would however simplify a pilots life having a plane that weighed more or less the same all the time.

      A potential advantage would be cost.  Electricity is cheap and electric powered systems are generally cheaper to maintain.  The latter is because they usually have fewer moving parts and experience less changes in temperature.  The problem though is energy density which translates to efficiency.  A Joule of electricity might be much cheaper than of jet fuel but the battery to store it weights a lot more.  But if we get batteries with an order of magnitude better energy density things could become very economical for electric planes.

      "It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said." "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain

      by Quanta on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 07:25:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Electric aircraft could also be faster (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Powell

        and more robust.  There are fewer mechanical things happening in an electric than one powered by combustion of a fuel, so there's less to go wrong, but also you can dump power directly into the engines as fast as you please - electrons can travel much faster than fluids.  So the only limitation becomes efficiency and the robustness of the actual moving parts and airframe.  

        But if at any point you want to just sprint at maximum speed, you could go much faster than subsonic jets today can.  In fact, once the energy density issue you identify is dealt with, supersonic might be more practical than it is now.

        Ask me if I'm afraid. I say, "Of course not. I'm a fool, and fools never die."

        by Troubadour on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 08:06:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The point about the Airbus being more 'helpful' (5+ / 0-)

    is a bit worrisome. I believe it was a factor in the Air France crash of an A330 over the South Atlantic.

    As I understand it, the computers were making power adjustments and possibly trim changes in response to  sensor readings that were in error because of icing. This was happening in a way that wasn't obvious to the crew, so they didn't have full situational awareness - and didn't realize it.

    The situation eventually deteriorated to the point where the computers gave up, started setting off all kinds of alarms, and stopped trying to fly the plane. The crew wasn't able to figure out what was happening quickly enough to cope. Airspeed had deteriorated, they had gotten into an attitude that led to a stall, and by one report I've seen the pilot at the controls froze in panic and never initiated any maneuvers that might have led to recovery.

    To summarize: a serious flaw in the sensors misled the computers controlling the fly by wire systems, the interface design of the flight controls kept the pilots from realizing what was happening, the cascade of computer failures and alarms overwhelmed their ability to comprehend in time to avert the stall, and their training had not prepared them adequately for the situation in which they found themselves.

    And I'm left wondering if the other pilot in the cockpit could have done anything if he'd realized his partner had frozen at the controls. How exactly do you override someone when you're essentially wiggling a joy stick instead of controls physically linked to cables and hydraulics?

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 01:27:38 PM PST

    •  Someone trained on the A330 (14+ / 0-)

      could probably answer better.

      From what I've read it was a combination of systems failures and human failures.

      They were indeed getting erroneous airspeed readings.

      However they still had functioning attitude indication. They should have recognized that they were at 16 degrees nose high - much too nose up for that altitude.

      First rule of business - ALWAYS FLY THE JET! Set a known pitch and power setting.

      They essentially flew a malfunctioning but perfectly flyable aircraft into the ocean.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 01:51:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The trick is... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Powell, wader, KenBee

        sorting out the critical piece of information among all the other bits being thrown at them. From a recreation I saw on NOVA, they were getting a lot of contradictory information thrown at them by the flight systems.

        I think the NOVA show was put together before they finally retrieved the flight recorders, but they made some pretty accurate assumptions in recreating what went wrong. The hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror cliche understates what happened.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 02:22:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  They also had available to them ... (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        VTCC73, wader, KenBee, patbahn, Simplify

        ... FPV (flight path vector) indicators that were, apparently, biased out of view.

        The FPV symbology is selectable by the pilot, but not all pilots like to look at the FPV "cluttering" their displays. It's a damned shame, as this single indication would have reliably indicated the accident aircraft's true flight path. An unreliable airspeed event should have been easily identified and managed by a crew familiar with the FPV symbology and appropriate power settings.

        One take-away of this accident for me is that more and better training in the use of all available cues is crucial -- particularly in such advanced aircraft, where pilots are largely isolated from primary control of the aircraft.

    •  You have hit one of my pet Airbus myths. (9+ / 0-)

      I'll probably diary this now that MK has published the Airbus vs Boeing diary. Until then let me take a stab at pounding a stake through the heart of the misinformation.

      The A330 has three separate, independent sets of pitot static sensors. This system of sensors provides dynamic and static air pressure sensing to air data computers that the generate airspeed, altitude, and vertical velocity data for use of many systems throughout the aircraft. A primary user is, of course, the crew. In many aircraft this is the only data available for knowing your altitude, airspeed, or vertical velocity. That is not so in virtually any modern airliner or cargo aircraft. None of this data is necessary to maintain a flying attitude or at any time and a flying airspeed or altitude for a significant amount of time.

      The A330 navigation suite consists of inertial reference systems aided by GPS. This system provides all of the attitude and position data to the crew. A fully functional system is self contained requiring only GPS radio contact with satellites. Even absent GPS it is completely capable of accurately determining where you are in space and over the ground. Air data and GPS only refine the system's capability and make the crew's job a bit easier due to display issues.

      Pay attention because this is important: the loss of pitot static information in an A320/330/340/380 due to freezing or faulty pitot tubes is a complete non-event. For emphasis - non-event.

      I don't want to get into the specifics of working a loss of airspeed and altitude information event in an A330 but let me state that it is about a five or six step, short steps, to configuring to continue the flight once you get beyond the initial surprise. Thirty seconds of the guy not flying setting up the pilot flying with everything he/she needs to continue to a safe landing airport. But that only works, as Major Kong said, if somebody bothers to keep the blue side up. The crew had everything they needed to keep flying safely until they figured out what happened. Even if it took hours.

      My company had experienced about half a dozen of these events on our A330s. I had not heard about those events before AF447 (less than optimal operational communication in my mind but industry normal in my experience) but I knew how to work the problem without killing everyone. Most likely nobody but the two guys in the pointy end of the airplane would have known anything unusual was going on. Just like occurred on the six events at our company.

      I do not know how the crew of AF447 managed to do a high dive into the Atlantic Ocean. I've read the transcripts of the cockpit tapes and much of the accident report. I know what happened but I do not have the slightest idea how they let it happen. It would take a fairly long diary to explain my opinion of the many things this crew did that don't make sense to me but I can't know why. Humans being human anything is possible but I can say with complete confidence that it did not have to happen due to this malfunction.

      Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

      by VTCC73 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:56:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've looked at a number of accident reports (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Powell, VTCC73, KenBee

        in Flying magazine over the years, and one of the things that comes through is that an accident is seldom caused by any one thing. They usually grow out of a chain of events.

        Pilots might still have been able to avoid disaster, but they did the wrong thing, or they did the right thing at the wrong time, or they misinterpreted something and persisted in what became a fatal error. Or maybe once they got past a certain point, there were no more options. And so on.

        The Strike Eagle that went down in Libya is the subject of an article in Air Force Magazine.

        "...the accident report stated that the fighter "departed controlled flight" and went into a left spin."
        Why it did so turns out to be a question of the way it was loaded at the time, mechanical difficulties, and
        The official accident report found that the loss of controlled flight was due to the weight imbalance on the Strike Eagle's right side and the fact that Harney performed an approved combat maneuver—but at an untested altitude above 30,000 feet. The acci­dent board said, "Ambiguous F-15E technical order guidance concerning maneuvering limitations with aircraft lateral asymmetry" contributed to the accident.

        Although maneuvering with lateral imbalance was considered acceptable at moderate angles of attack, the flight simulator tests the board conducted showed that "an asymmetrically loaded F- 15E flying at high altitude is prone to depart controlled flight and enter an unrecoverable spin" at that angle of attack.

        The board said the pilot was not at fault, but added, "Evidence suggests that the [crew] was overconfident in the maneuvering capabilities of the F-15E.

        The whole article is a fascinating analysis of what happened; the mission, mistakes made, the rescue, things that went well. A good read.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 08:03:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Mostly agree. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xaxnar

          There are no single point failures in aviation. Even a wing falling off will be preceded by several indicators that the system could or should have discovered. AF447 is a case study in a robust system being overcome by circumstance, events, and failings. Everything had to come together in that plane, on that route, that night with that crew to end up being fish food. There are so many spots where a minor difference would have changed everything. That is what I love about aviation. The system is robust, generally fault tolerant, and I always felt it is completely safe when I did my job and trusted others to do there's. but then my spidy senses were always on the look out for errors and ill conditions.

          Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

          by VTCC73 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 08:38:16 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Some good friends of mine worked on the (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, PeterHug, Powell, killjoy, wader, Farugia

    first digital FBW aircraft, a modified F-8 Crusader. We were part of the MIT team that had developed the Apollo primary guidance, navigation, and control system (PGNCS) system, so it wasn't surprising that NASA asked for our help:

    By the late 1960s, engineers at Dryden began discussing how to modify an aircraft and create a digital fly-by-wire testbed.

    Support for the concept at NASA Headquarters came from Neil Armstrong, former research pilot at Dryden. He served in the Office of Advanced Research and Technology following his historic Apollo 11 lunar landing and knew electronic control systems from his days training in and operating the lunar module. Armstrong supported the proposed Dryden project and backed the transfer of an F-8C Crusader from the U.S. Navy to NASA to become the Digital Fly-By-Wire (DFBW) research aircraft. It was given the tail number "NASA 802."

    Wires from the control stick in the cockpit to the control surfaces on the wings and tail surfaces replaced the entire mechanical flight-control system in the F-8. The heart of the system was an off-the-shelf backup Apollo digital flight-control computer and inertial sensing unit which transmitted pilot inputs to the actuators on the control surfaces.

    As far as being a fan of an automated system that is "keeping you from doing something stupid with the airplane," it's clear that you aren't astronaut material. I recall hearing this story often:
    And one of the things I remember trying very hard to do was to get permission to be able to put more error detection and recovery into the software. So that if the astronaut made a mistake, the software would come back and say "You can't do that." But we were forbidden to put that software in because it was more software to debug, to work with. So one of the things that we were really worried about is what if the astronaut made a mistake -- We were also told that the astronauts would never make any mistakes, because they were trained never to make mistakes. (Laughter)

    So we were very worried that what if the astronaut, during mid-course, would select pre-launch, for example? Never would happen, they said. Never would happen. (Laughter) It happened.

    In fact, they went back to read the program notes and we had a program note saying "Do not select PO1 mid course." I was so happy that that it was in there. That was Apollo 8, Jim Lovell's mission. We had the program note "do not select PO1 during flight." I still remember the program note.

    We must drive the special interests out of politics.… There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will neither be a short not an easy task, but it can be done. -- Teddy Roosevelt

    by NoMoJoe on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 01:28:20 PM PST

  •  Which one flies my bags for free? nt (4+ / 0-)

    That's not even "gun control". It's more like "massacre control".

    by Inland on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 01:37:11 PM PST

  •  If it ain't Boeing I ain't going (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Powell, Lefty Coaster

    I'm still in that camp for a number of reasons. Even though, through the magic of cognitive dissonance, I have it on good authority from someone who knows the situation there that it's a miracle any of their planes get off the ground.

  •  I came across the shot up B-17 photo this week (7+ / 0-)

    B-17 photo B-17shot_zps4bb917ba.jpg

    But what about corporate culture today at Boieng and Airbus?

    Is this a good starting point?

    Boeing versus Airbus: The Inside Story of the Greatest International Competition in Business

    Newhouse lays it on the table in chapter 1 when he notes that when Airbus outsold Boeing in 2004 and 2005, the root cause of this historic juxtaposition was that Boeing's troubles were the result of a number of factors; from their arrogance, a tendency to rest on their laurels, taking their customers for granted, combined with a corporate culture enmeshed in politics.

    Boeing then realized the depths of its problems and attempted to change its course. This, combined with bad-luck and mismanagement at Airbus, contributed to Airbus finding itself a distant number two in 2006. So much so that Airbus NA President Henri Courpron lamented that Airbus failed to manage being number one. Airbus made the same mistake Boeing made earlier; they got caught looking back, not ahead.

    Newhouse notes that the success of Airbus was not that it is inherently lucky or unlucky. Rather, Airbus was building very good airplanes and doing in a less expensive manner than Boeing, and with a much smaller workforce. Airbus basically took pages from Boeing's playbook and beat them at their own game.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 03:01:52 PM PST

  •  I always thought that Airbus had cooler passenger (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Powell, VTCC73, KenBee

    interiors; more hi-tech looking.

    Having lived in Seattle lo these many centuries, I'm supposed to wave the pompoms for "The Lazy B."

    I think the MD merger really screwed with the upper management.
    Moving HQ to Chicago only endeared them to the anti-union mouthbreathers who clogged the local birdcage liner (The Seattle Times) LTEs with their drivel.

    The "extreme wing" of the Democratic Party is the wing that is hell-bent on protecting the banks and credit card companies. ~ Kos

    by ozsea1 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 03:03:13 PM PST

    •  More important: quieter & more space. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Powell, RiveroftheWest, KenBee

      Time makes more converts than reason. Thomas Paine, Common Sense

      by VTCC73 on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:01:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The interiors (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Powell, KenBee

      are as others have said is down to the airline. The most configurable is the A380 which can go from all "cattle class" to the height of luxury with individual bedrooms in first class. A380 interiors outfitting is carried out in Germany, not sure about the more standard interiors in the smaller jets.

      "Who stood against President Obama in 2012?" - The trivia question nobody can answer.

      by Lib Dem FoP on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:08:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I got to ride business class in an A380 (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        killjoy, RiveroftheWest, KenBee

        It was very nice. I've flown business class on other airliners but I've never had so much room.

        It was almost civilized.

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:30:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Got nothing against anything French (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Powell

    However, most of the Airbus planes I've flown except for business class in the largest ones have been configured for the least passenger comfort and have had very little padding in the seats.  This has been true in business class, as well.  For only that reason "if it ain't Boeing, I [don't wanta be] going."

  •  Interesting.... (5+ / 0-)

    ....from a British perspective, Airbus seems to be a lumbering Franco-German behemoth which has successfully sounded the death knell of British commercial airliner production.

    British participation in the project has been complex and its withdrawal messy. Hawker Siddeley was one of the original partners, with a 20% share, but its successor company BAE Systems was reduced to subcontactor status before a FORCED sale of its share to the parent of Airbus, EADS.

    Meanwhile, the BAE plant outside Chester is still making the wings for every Airbus aircraft, and the aeroengineers there have proved to be adept at producing very efficient wings. They are collected in an Airbus A300 Beluga and flown to France for final assembly.

    Britain 'missed the 'bus' this time...and there will be no more British commercial airliners.

    •  I'm reading an interesting book (4+ / 0-)

      Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World, by James Hamilton.

      It deals with the British aircraft industry from the end of WWII through today.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 03:59:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes...it is a very fine explanation... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Powell, KenBee, Simplify

        ...of how a country with an excellent chance to dominate in several areas of aerospace, managed to set its feet in concrete then throw itself in the English Channel.

        The Miles M.52 might have broken the sound barrier before any other aircraft - until civil servants stepped in; forced mergers of light/business aircraft companies with vastly different philosophies (Miles and Auster) leading to the death of both; the decree that MANNED fighter aircraft would ALL be cancelled (the disasterous 1953 Defence Review); the refusal to back the Vickers transatlantic project; the appalling cancellation of the TSR2....I could go on and on and on.....I saw some of it from the inside...and I was appalled!

        'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

        by shortfinals on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:22:05 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  The rule of thumb is (6+ / 0-)

      you need to sell 500 copies of an airliner to break even on the development cost.

      I think that was always a tough hurdle for the British companies because there was only so much demand in the domestic market.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 04:00:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I forgot to add (5+ / 0-)

    Both companies are going to be facing competition in the narrow-body market from Embraer and Bombardier.

    Both are working on 130-seat airliners that will put them into competition with the smaller versions of the 737 and A320 series.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 05:46:10 PM PST

  •  Close to on topic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, Powell

    I was watching a Smithsonian Channel show about the PSA Flight 182 crash (727 vs. Cessna collision over San Diego).  Part of the investigation centered on Boeing's Eye Reference Design.  Boeing had set up the cockpit so that the pilot could adjust the seat to place his eye line on the same plane that the design team had designed the cockpit around.  At the eye reference point the 727 flight crew would have had the Cessna in sight for nearly 3 minutes.  Turns out that PSA pilots were in the habit of setting their seats lower for a better view of the instruments.  in that position, they had less than a minute to spot the plane before it hit them.

    As usual, this was not a singe point of failure incident.

    My question is; is there any truth to the set the seat to the eye reference option?

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Sat Mar 09, 2013 at 10:38:41 PM PST

    •  It's been a while since I was on the 727 (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Simplify, Powell, markdd

      I had to dig out the manual and look.

      There was an "Eye Position Indicator", which was just 3 little plastic balls that sat up on the glareshield.

      If you adjusted your seat so that they were all lined up you were supposedly sitting in the recommended position.

      O O O

      I forget if I ever really used it or just put the seat where it felt right.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sun Mar 10, 2013 at 01:40:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks (0+ / 0-)

        What they showed was a white ball with 2 red ones mounted 'behind it" on the center post of the front windscreen.  Not sure how the system worked.

        “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

        by markdd on Sun Mar 10, 2013 at 08:51:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  A BIG Difference (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, Powell

    ..between Airbus and Boeing FBW planes is Boeing uses back driven cockpit controls.  The wheel, column, pedals, and throttles all move when the airplane automatically moves the controls or when a pilot does (if one pilot makes a control input the opposite ones move too).

  •  That's the view from the front seat... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Powell

    But in back with the passengers, Airbuses suck.

    I hate 'em.  Noisy, uncomfortable, and a rough ride, IMHO.

    Boeings are always as smooth as a baby's bottom.

    But then neither one can hold a candle to the late, great, and sorely missed Tristar, at least from where I sit.

    No greater sounding engine than those old RB-211s, either.

  •  As a transportation economist (0+ / 0-)

    one of the things that fascinates me is the competition between Boeing and Airbus.  I had the feeling from the operational costs standpoint that the jets they offer were pretty comparable.  It is nice to have a pilot's eye view.

    Reporting from Tea Bagger occupied America

    by DrJohnB on Tue Mar 12, 2013 at 11:54:38 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site