Tag: Blog

Tuning the other radio to approach while monitoring the advisory frequency can save your life. These few words mean so much and are so misunderstood.

When Air Traffic Control utters these words while a pilot is conducting an instrument approach to an uncontrolled airport or one where the tower is closed what it means is that it’s okay for the pilot to change to the airport advisory frequency to announce his intentions to land and to caution other aircraft that might be in the traffic pattern or waiting to take off that an aircraft is on the instrument approach.

The idea behind this phrase is great. In this fashion other aircraft that might be operating under visual flight rules (VFR) should be on the lookout for an aircraft emerging from the clouds on final and give way. They might also announce their presence on the frequency so the pilot on the instrument approach will be aware of their presence and look carefully to avoid them when and if he breaks out of the clouds during the approach.

Therein lies the rub. It is possible that the pilot on the approach will fly his aircraft to minimums, like 200 feet above the ground before he looks out to see the runway environment. At that point it’s too late to see and avoid the other aircraft and the hazard of a collision with an airplane operating under technically legal VFR is possible.

But that isn’t the only risk and this one is the worst. Often when the controller approves a change to advisory frequency, all too often the pilot switches his primary radio to the advisory frequency without tuning in approach control on the second radio and turning up the volume so he can listen on both radios. Why does this happen so often? Because the pilot is concerned that he won’t be able to hear aircraft on the advisory frequency responding to his call in the blind or that he will not hear their calls in the blind confused instead by the chatter on the approach control frequency.

What some pilots don’t understand is that approach control radars have a low altitude alerting feature that is customized to instrument approaches at that airport. In short, it flashes the data block and sounds an aural alarm to the controller should the aircraft on the approach deviate from the establish approach parameters of safety. This occurs even after the frequency change and until the instrument flight plan is closed. The controller is then obligated to give a low altitude alert that goes something like: “November (AIRCRAFT NUMBER) low altitude alert, check your altitude immediately!” Now this is one great safety feature because if the pilot is concentrating on the approach and perhaps misses an “off” flag on his instruments, follows a false glideslope, has a sticking or lagging altimeter, or just loses his concentration, that nagging controllers’ voice can be a wake-up call that saves lives. If given timely, the proper response is to check ones’ descent, execute a missed approach if necessary and sort things out instead of crashing into the terrain below.

The pilot can’t do this if he has either failed to insert approach control’s frequency in his second radio or doesn’t have the volume up loud enough to hear the alert. This simple oversight has prevented the avoidance of many accidents.

When on an instrument approach lots of stuff is going on. With the advent of GPS, WAAS and who knows what next, the pilot workload has been increased not decreased. This alert feature which has been around for years and ignored too often by controllers and missed by pilots can make a huge difference. In most accidents we have investigated, the controller gives the low altitude alert and only talks to himself because the frequency has already been changed in the primary radio by the pilot. Sometimes the alert is given too late because controllers ignore them due to too many false alerts. The result is often a crash. Everyone makes mistakes so tuning the other radio to approach while monitoring the advisory frequency can save your life. DO IT !!!!!

– Arthur Alan Wolk

Note: The term VFR means the operation of an aircraft under “visual flight rules” ie. the FAR’s. Some time ago the FAA began to use the acronym VMC, “visual flight conditions” to describe what we pilots knew for an eternity as VFR. Those of us pilots old enough know that VMC is the FAA’s acronym for “velocity minimum control” and has to do with the velocity below which a twin engine aircraft will no longer maintain directional control if the critical engine fails on takeoff. The constant changing of well known acronyms by the FAA brings to mind one that most pilots would like to have implemented with regard to the FAA’s continued existence. Its known as DOA.

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The Wolk Law Firm has received a demand letter from NTSB General Counsel that it clarify comments made about the NTSB’s role in investigating the fiery crash of a Gulfstream IV at Bedford, Massachusetts.

Earlier commentaries focused on the elevator controls as the likely cause of that tragedy. In fact another GIV suffered a similar yet not fatal incident in 2006 at Palm Beach International and yet another just occurred at Eagle, Colorado. At Eagle the flight crew pulled back on the elevator control and got nothing. They aborted the takeoff and stopped within feet of the end of the runway which was longer than the runway at Bedford.

Since those commentaries were published on this site others have also contacted the Wolk Law Firm.

The NTSB has refused to allow representatives of the families to bring competent experts to examine the wreckage of the Bedford aircraft and in particular the elevator control servo and associated hardware. The NTSB has declined to allow the families’ representatives to listen to the Cockpit Voice Recorder or see a transcript and has also declined to publish the results of the Flight Data Recorder tracings. This is true even though the NTSB had had this information within hours of the accident. Rumor has it that the Eagle, Colorado aircraft was taken to a Gulfstream facility for examination and testing.

In its preliminary report of the Bedford accident, issued after the NTSB listened to the Cockpit Voice Recorder, and looked at the Flight Data Recorder which revealed the flight deck crew in Bedford is said to have referred to “aircraft control” before they attempted to abort the take-off. In the Eagle, Colorado incident, the flight deck crew uttered similar words as well. Such excited utterances are common when the cause of the emergency is related to the controllability of an aircraft.

Since those words were apparently uttered at a time when back pressure on the yoke and hence the elevators was being applied, the aircraft control referred to is the elevators.

If they do not work, the aircraft will not rotate for takeoff just as in Palm Beach, just as in Eagle, and just as in Bedford.

The Gulfstream has a dual elevator control servo which combines two hydraulic systems into one unit to provide system redundancy in the event of a single hydraulic system failure.

It consist of two pistons that oppose each other and they are connected to a common linkage. There is also a manual back-up that is supposed to allow elevator movement even in the event of a dual hydraulic system failure. For reasons that are not now apparent, the cable back-up has proved inadequate. That control system was designed in the 1960’s by the same company responsible for the B-737 rudder control servo. The Wolk Law Firm’s nine year effort at proving the defect in the B-737 servo in the face of industry denials is well known.

It has been our firm’s experience that design philosophies that result in unaccounted for failure modes usually pervade the product line. We are investigating whether the dual redundant design in the GIV is in fact truly dual redundant, or whether it is just redundant enough to satisfy certification authorities. There is only a single elevator servo in the GIV just like there was only a single servo in the B-737 rudder.

After the Eagle incident The Wolk Law Firm published another commentary referring to a document production made by the NTSB as well as making comment on the flight deck crew’s reported utterances in the Bedford incident. The NTSB hasn’t yet published the docket and no documents were produced further to two separate FOIA requests. The Wolk law Firm assembled documents on its own and the NTSB has been stonewalling document production even though The Wolk law firm is entitled to them under The Freedom of Information Act. The families that The Wolk Law firm represent are also entitled to the documents up to now assembled by the NTSB under the Family Assistance Act, but the NTSB has ignored the mandates of that Act as well. The NTSB is concerned that it would appear that we were permitted to hear the CVR or read a transcript, but that was neither said nor implied by the commentary. The NTSB also is miffed at the suggestion that based on some forty years of investigating aircraft accidents that were unduly influenced by manufacturers’ participation, this Bedford investigation would likewise be compromised. The fact that manufacturers’ investigators report to their legal departments and hence their insurers doesn’t seem to bother the NTSB. The fact that

a study called The Rand Report issued years ago brought into question the cozy relationship between the NTSB and the manufacturers it invites to participate in investigations to the exclusion of representatives of the victims still doesn’t trouble the NTSB. Nothing has changed.

So to address the concerns of the NTSB directly, nothing was intended to imply that the NTSB released its docket on this accident to The Wolk Law Firm. Nothing was intended to imply that the NTSB released a transcript or allowed The Wolk law Firm to hear the CVR or see tracings from the FDR. Only the manufacturer of the aircraft and its safety/accident/legal/defense investigators were allowed to do that. In fact the NTSB continues to stonewall production of any documents concerning the Bedford accident.

The NTSB is also concerned that The Wolk Law Firm referred to the NTSB reluctantly releasing  documents. These documents which took a lawsuit to get released related to five other accidents and not the Bedford accident where the NTSB continues to refuse to release documents.

The Wolk Law Firm sued the NTSB for collaborating with aircraft manufacturers to keep documents and suspect parts from it until after the statute of limitations has run on lawsuits for the deaths of aircraft occupants. This has happened a number of times, not to mention the number of suspect parts that have been lost or damaged by the NTSB or destroyed to the point that no useful information can be further gleaned from them.

The FOIA request for the docket and the filing of that lawsuit were close in time and the amicable settlement of that lawsuit also occurred round the time the documents on Bedford were requested. The Wolk law Firm declines to speculate on the motivations of the NTSB but its experience is that the NTSB does not timely honor Freedom of Information Act requests and even asks manufacturers whether they can release certain documents before doing so. Allowing manufacturers to write

narratives of accidents, reviewing accident reports before they are released to the public, examining their own parts in their own facilities to determine whether they are defective is also routine for the NTSB.

Comments made by The Wolk Law Firm were based on their knowledge, experience, reports by others and reports by the NTSB following the Bedford accident, study of the aircraft systems and thousands of hours spent studying and uncovering flaws in aircraft control systems that baffled NTSB investigators. For example, the elevator control servo and its mechanisms was not thoroughly examined at the scene before the aircraft was moved from Bedford to its storage facility in spite of the flight crew referring to aircraft control prior to the crash. The failure to carefully examine it, remove it, laboratory test it and metallurgically  analyze it before the aircraft was moved is inexplicable and indefensible.

In our opinion the cause of the Bedford crash is and always will be a failure of the elevator control system, just like it was at Palm Beach, just like it was at Eagle and just like it was elsewhere. Getting demand letters from the NTSB won’t change anything, won’t solve anything, and don’t mean anything. I trust this clarifies concerns the NTSB had that it had reluctantly produced documents that might help The Wolk law firm assist the grieving families of those killed in this tragedy. No chance of that.

Arthur Alan Wolk, Esq.

 

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LATEST AIR ASIA 8501 THEORY PREPOSTEROUS

Aviation Attorney Arthur Wolk says a recent emergency airworthiness directive may explain what could have caused crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

The latest word from the Government of Indonesia is that the cause of the crash was entry into a thunderstorm that resulted in so much ice accumulations that one or more engines failed and the airplane stalled.

Any ice accumulation sufficient to shut down one of these engines would literally have to be so large that it covered the entire engine inlet. The aircraft is equipped with inlet heat to prevent just such an accumulation which has never happened even without inlet heat. The inlet is about 6 feet around.

Large ice accumulations if the heat was off could cause foreign object damage to an engine but it would take far more than one engine being damaged to cause the loss of this airplane.

Loss of an engine simply means the crew must descend to a lower altitude but this crew ascended so power was available and thus the engine didn’t fail.

An aerodynamic stall that apparently is misunderstood by the Government official is also virtually impossible due to a single engine failure.

The remaining engine  has more than enough power to maintain flight albeit at a lower altitude.

The Emergency Airworthiness Directive issued December 10th says that ice can prevent angle of attack sensors from operating, pitch the airplane nose down and prevent the sidestick controllers from allowing the crew to pull out of a dive. That scenario is far more likely as is a breakup due to turbulence.

If the pitot tubes used to provide airspeed data to the computers iced up, the aircraft can stall due to misinformation provided to the flight control system.

The current theory appears to be generated from industry representatives attempting to establish pilot error as the cause rather than airplane defect. That undue influence on investigators happens all the time.

If they don’t figure out or disclose or fix how the airplane’s computer architecture contributes to these accidents, they will continue to occur.

The weather was bad, and perhaps the crew should have refused to take the flight but Airbus needs to be transparent about how pilots need to have the last word how the airplane operates not the computers that interface with them.

Arthur Alan Wolk

January 4, 2015

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