At exactly 20.23 on the 21st January 2019 Guernsey Coastguard received an alert from the island’s ATC that a light aircraft had disappeared off their radar 15 miles north of Guernsey.
The terrible report has been followed up by Welsh football club Cardiff City which issued a statement saying they have ‘genuine concerns’ over the safety of their new record signing, Emiliano Sala.
From mid-morning on the 22nd, two helicopters, two planes and one lifeboat were reportedly searching for any sign of the missing plane.
It is thought to be a Piper Malibu P-46T, which is a single engined turbo-propellor driven aircraft which had reportedly taken off from Nantes in France and was flying to Cardiff in Wales.
Two people were on board according to French officials, Sala and the pilot.
A search model has been created based on the likely ditching location and an intense search is now underway.
The weather conditions after the disappearance worsened rapidly, but it is believed the aircraft was flying at 5000 feet and following VFR rules. After passing Guernsey the pilot reportedly asked ATC for permission to descend, then contact was lost as it flew around 2300 feet.
That is low flying in anyone’s book. What was a multimillion dollar sportsperson doing in a plane flying so low?
French journalists have confirmed that Sala was seen walking through border control in Nantes and it is believed he was on board the Malibu. Some hacks have described the aircraft as a private jet, but it isn’t. It’s a turboprop.
Cardiff City, known as the Blues, unveiled their new fifteen million euro Argentinian player only last week, and he had returned to France after Saturday’s announcement with a view to flying back to Cardiff last night.
Other pilots flying a similar route report some icing around 3000 – 5000 feet and wind shear between 2000 feet and 2500 feet. However it was not deemed dangerous. Clouds were reported at 5000 – 6000 feet, well below the level the Malibu was believed to be operating.
The search continues.
UPDATE: Tuesday 5 February
A body has been spotted in the wreckage of a plane carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala which was discovered in the English Channel after a short search.
The Piper Malibu N264DB disappeared on 21 January en route between Nantes in France to Cardiff in Wales with the Argentine striker on board.
The only other person aboard the Piper was the pilot David Ibbotson.
Marine Scientist David Mearns assisted the Sala family and said the aircraft had been located off Guernsey on Sunday.
On Sunday February 3rd 2019, Mearns posted tweets including one which said “The families of Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson have been notified by police.”
He was referring to the discovery of a substantial portion of the plane wreckage. A submersible UAV craft was sent to inspect the wreckage and afterwards officials said that a body had been seen in footage.
But they would not be drawn into any further comment.
Cardiff City football had signed Sala for a record of £15m and he was due to start training at the end of January.
South Africa scored a major scientific coup on Monday 14th January 2019, but it appears the Hacks of Habit aka local media thought stories about DJs being naked or some kids in a classroom were more important.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Schweizer-Reneke story about four black kids perched at the back of the class separate and unequal is unforgivable.
At the same time, it was also a useful distraction for habitual Hacks who apparently think science stories are far too complex to think about while contorting yourselves into whirling pools of screaming self-righteousness.
And how shareable on social media to boot? So many media outlets happily shared the picture, although it was quite clear those in the picture were far too young to be scrutinised. Technically this broke the Media Code, but that’s another story.
A quick scan of local media headlines on the day showed just how utterly landlubbered and bereft of imagination these gatekeepers of self-importance were. The only real coverage was on ITWEB, some government websites and Engineering News.
That was about it for headlines.
The rest thundered off into an intellectual dead-end, trying to outdo each other to get exclusives about a story that everyone already had so that the huffing and puffing lower middle class could exhaust itself and its expensive data exchanging redundancies on the social media platform of choice.
How pathetically South African.
The North West town is named after a Swiss man called Reneke by the way.
The hullabaloo overshadowed a moment of national interest. The really important story on Monday was the one about the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) being selected by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to become the designated regional provider of space weather information to the entire aviation sector in Africa. Almost a billion people. Forget Schweizer-Reneke and its Swissness, population “a few”.
This is much bigger news for South Africa than a North West junior school, but it involves real science and therefore the average South African editor is immediately, and apparently, disadvantaged.
SANRA’s windfall is our national pride, people. It means all aircraft flying anywhere across Africa will now rely on SANSA for space weather information.
All pilots know that the usual terrestrial weather systems are crucial to being able to take-off and land. Also crucial, is the various radio/radar/GPS/GNSS systems on board that allow pilots to navigate and communicate.
SANSA is to partner with one of the ICAO’s three global space weather centres, Pan-European Consortium for AviationSpace Weather User Services or PECASUS. The only other is controlled by Russia and China which may decide to use the information, let’s just say, not in the interests of science in Africa.
PECASUS falls under ICAO, the international Aviation organisation. The Department of Science and Technology issued a statement about this on Sunday afternoon which trumpeted the advantages for the country.
“South Africa’s designation as a regional space weather information provider will grow the science, engineering, technology and innovation sector, offering opportunities to develop scarce skills and increase national research output, while ensuring that usable products are generated from the knowledge,” it said.
Space weather can be pretty grim. Huge surges in sunspot activity send radio waves streaming out across the solar system, hammering earth. These can be extremely violent.
These were first really understood many years ago, in 1859. That’s when an amateur astronomer called Richard Carrington climbed up into the loft of his country estate, opened the dome and pointed his telescope at the sun.
He was keeping tabs on large sun spots, when suddenly two gave off what he called “… intensely bright and white light” and after five minutes they vanished.
That night, telegraph communications across the world failed. Sparks were reported from some, others set papers on fire and auroras were experienced all over the nighttime sky, glowing brightly. Birds woke up believing it was dawn these were so bright.
This was known as the ‘Carrington Event’.
In 1972, a similar event knocked out AT&T systems in the USA and led to the company redesigning its entire subsea cable operation. In March 1989, a powerful solar flare set off power blackout in Canada that left six million people without electricity.
Then in 2000, the Bastille Day event occurred – July 14th to be exact. This registered X5 on the solar flare scale (yes there is one) and caused satellites to short circuit, while some radio stations stopped broadcasting.
Then in October 2003 our nearest star (yes, the sun) unleashed a hefty uppercut across the solar system. This made the Bastille Day event seem insignificant. The spacecraft measuring flares blew up, and eventually all sensors topped out at X28, but later it appeared the flare actually reached a peak strength of X45.
So you begin to appreciate South Africa’s importance in aviation. We are the only country in Africa with space weather capabilities, so it makes sense for SANSA and PECASUS to work together for the good of aviation on the continent.
“The country’s space science programme is feeding the knowledge economy and placing the national system of innovation at the centre of South Africa’s developmental agenda,” the department added.
Just in case you think this space weather thing is not serious, a note from my Aviation files will serve as a warning.
“Space weather refers to the conditions on the Sun and in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere that can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems and can endanger human life or health.”
Modern aviation now relies on flights over the Arctic, whereas during the Cold War, China and Russia did not. But Space Weather affects the poles far more than anywhere else, so it’s even more important to watch this phenomenon now. At the same time, each burst of energy from the sun can impact the earth based on when these electromagnetic rays strike the globe.
The effects include loss of HF radio transmission and satellite navigation signals, navigation system disruptions and general avionics errors. Flight planning includes space weather for a reason.
So as you prepare for your next flight over the equator and into Europe or Dubai, to catch the next flight out to San Francisco, consider the work SANSA will be doing with PECASUS and NOAA.
The Hawker Siddeley Harrier, developed in the 1960s, is the first of the Harrier Jump Jet series of aircraft that could land vertically. But since then it has taken half a century longer to land one of these vertical takeoff aircraft on an aircraft carrier fully loaded with all its weapons without hovering alongside. I’ll explain.
SpaceX is landing its booster rockets back aboard floating launch pads, so what’s the big deal you ask? I suppose it’s a saving at the same time as being a wondrous piece of flying. To land a plane vertically on a heaving deck of a ship while fully armed with missiles and fuel totalling 2,000 pounds is what the big deal is all about.
Previously, the Hawker would have to jettison its payload before landing by a different method, hovering alongside the aircraft carrier. That could see hundreds of thousands of dollars being dropping into the sea if it hadn’t fired off its inventory, never mind the environmental impact over the years.
But the other big difference is that the old fashioned Hawkers would approach the ship very much as a helicopter, hover alongside, crab over the landing area, then touch down.
Russia developed a Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL), but it required deck nets, which is not the same as an aircraft flying to a halt using brakes on board a heaving deck. Still, the Yak-38 “Forger” became operational with the Soviet Navy in the early 1970s and had a few technical issues. One was its incredibly high fuel consumption which reduced range after being flown vertically. While it technically achieved the SRVL, the use of nets meant it was not a true example of an autonomous landing. Nets are another form of cable which catch the plane as it arrives at normal landing speed.
The SRVL technique is far more difficult. The aircraft hovers behind the ship, then lands straight down the deck using its own brakes instead of dropping and flying at a measly 60 knots. Most general aviation aircraft are close to stalling at this speed, it is really slow.
The physics required and the skill to achieve this has taken more than 25 years of planning to get right. It’s taken longer to plan and carry out this landing than it took NASA to plan and conduct the latest Mars Landing called InSight.
And for codgers flying about like me, this story is motivational. That’s because the United States Civil Air Patrol was involved, which features mainly retired pilots who continue to fly on various duties for the nation.
CAP Maryland Wing 2nd Lt. Peter Wilson is the hero of this story, and his tale is fascinating. He was flying the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and landed on the deck of the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. What he achieved was fairly simple in terms of the goal. The land the F-35B straight down the runway, without a wire and hook, and carrying more than 2,000 pounds of weapons and fuel. It was fully loaded.
Lieutenant Wilson has been directly involved in training for this one landing since 2006. That’s when he and his family moved from the UK to Texas to be closer to the Lockheed Martin aircraft factory. They moved again to Maryland to be near the Pax River Naval Air Station.
But he started working on the project even before training formally started. For over twenty years he’s worked as a test pilot for BAE systems, and much of his time at the company has been focused on achieving the feat of a SRVL.
So on October 14 2018, he donned his kit, climbed aboard the F-35B which was fully fuelled and armed, took off in the usual way (being slung into the heavens), then flew back to the HMS Queen Elizabeth and landed on deck without a cable, braked, stopped. Wiped sweat from his brow.
As pilots, we use lights to guide is in for visual landings, they’re called PAPIs. Precision Approach Path Indicator. In the case of Lt Wilson, the PAPIs were a range of lights on board the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
There are 21 pairs of lights embedded in the ship’s runway centre line, where the pilot sees red lights marking the beginning and end of the touchdown zone. He/She must then aim at a single pair of white lights that show them where to land on the heaving deck. As the bow rises, the lights move further forward, as it falls, they move further back.
After Wilson landed, a second test pilot flew off and completed the same test successfully. The UK is now working on making this process operational which could save the Navy millions of dollars over the next few years as it flights Vertical aircraft into missions.
I once flew a Focke-Wulf Piaggio D149. Yes, it was one of the more memorable flights and yet, was also one of the shortest. A hop from Rand Airport to Lanseria, co-pilot aboard the Piaggio D149 FWP, licensed and produced by Focke-Wulf of Germany, manufactured in 1953, registration ZS-FWP. Zulu-Sierra Foxtrot Whisky Pappa.
Historic, total time 0.3. Which is 15 minutes. Why the excitement you ask? As I will explain, Piaggo Aerospace is one of the oldest motor or tech companies in the world, with its history going back to 1884. Unfortunately, the aviation arm is now bankrupt. More about this matter below. But first, a memory.
It’s Spring in Johannesburg, temperature 30˙, really hot on 21st October 2008. and the plane had not flown for a year and flight instructor Russell Donaldson busied himself around the hangar checking the “warbird”. The D149 single engined “beastie” as Russell called it was manufactured after the Second World War, and it smelled of old oil, ageing leather and hot aluminium.
No pictures exist of that day, just this entry in my logbook. Russell would probably just shrug anyway, he’s flown just about everything with wings since he took off in 1962.
The year of my birth.
We were far too busy that morning at Rand Airport ensuring that this aged plane would actually get us off the ground in weather that was both hot and high. Being a rookie, my role was to hand tools to Russell who spent more than an hour going over the log book, the engine, and the plane. We weren’t entirely certain it would start.
But FWP turned over and purred like a big cat. Its thundering engine made the seats tremble, the Lycoming GO-480 B1A6 flat-six geared piston engine blasting away.
I must admit I was nervous, yet all my job entailed was to flip the undercarriage lever up and keep a close eye on the oil pressure, and a little radio comms. Russell was going to heave the “beastie” into the air and needed every ounce of focus on the aircraft.
The run up took 15 minutes as we listened for any sign of engine trouble. It also gave the Lycoming time to heat up so that any oil leaks or fuel fires would hopefully start now, if they were to start at all.
No fires. We’re off.
Russell taxied out to runway 350 and turned left at the threshold instead of right, saying he wanted as much runway as possible. He also knew that at the end was a golf course, a couple of warehouses, and mine dumps. If we had to go down, rather there than towards suburbia on runway 290.
Runway 350 is 4800 feet long and 50 feet wide – 1463 x 15 meters. That’s not a lot of space for mistakes.
We began the 4750 run from the very edge of runway 350.
My heart was in my mouth as the old warbird gathered speed, and finally 70 knots – ROTATE!
As the wheels left the tar I flipped the undercarriage lever up and fixated on the oil pressure and temperature gauge. All good so far.
We just cleared the trees and I saw golfers eyes flash past below. That was low.
After we climbed to 6500 feet Russell said “You’ve got her” and I held the stick. No yoke or side lever here it was just good old fashioned stick between the legs stuff.
A few minutes later we were in Lanseria Airspace, Russell took over, undercarriage down, land.
What an experience on so many levels. But this tale has a sad ending. Piaggio Aviation, you see, have just declared business rescue – the company is bankrupt.
Which is confusing because Piaggio also produces the wonderful moped known as Vespa which is a roaring success.
Founded in 1884, Piaggio Aero Industries is one of the world’s oldest aircraft manufacturers and has always designed unusual planes. Probably the most unusual is its final plane, the flagship P180 Avanti II, a twin-engine, turboprop executive aircraft known for its “distinctive styling, spacious interior and low fuel consumption”.
The main problem, however, has been the business of aviation. There’s no doubt the Avanti II is the best of its kind in the world.
The company manufactured in short bursts, and that was its achilles heel. For example, the Avanti Evo is one of the best looking planes ever built. Yes, beauty is sometime in the eye of the beholder, but here’s a picture.
Here’s another :
The Avanti II producer is now insolvent, in special administration. That is despite being bought by a Sheik. Well, by Mubadala, an investment fund based in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
This is a real pity for world aviation and pure blooded brilliant aviation design. The company was busy with unmanned reconnaissance aircraft design too, called The Hammerhead. As you can see, the Evo is pretty much a Hammerhead.
Piaggio are probably more famous for the Vespa, through the official motoring company Piaggio & C. SpA. They produce seven brands, including the Vespa, Gilera, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Derbi and Scarabeo.
Quite a change from a company that was formed to build locomotives and railway carriages.
As with all Italian mechanical engineering companies, at first the company build defence type machines too. Like motorboats, then anti-submarine motorboats, aeroplanes, seaplanes, and onwards to land.
Between 1937 and 1939 Piaggio broke 21 world aviation records for both aircraft and engine design. The most feared for allies was the Piaggio-P.108 bomber.
That attracted attention, and in 1940 the company’s Pontedera plant was flattened by Allied bombing. After the war, the company diversified and the MP5 or Paperino (Italian name for Donald Duck) was born. All because the first Vespa was so strangely shaped.
After a few rejigs, the Vespa proper (which means wasp) was born, and by the sixties, more than a million of these fund bikes were rolling around Europe.
And Italians got a new word – “vespare” which means to go around on a Vespa.
But I must say I’m rather sad. The fantastic Piaggio D149 that I flew across Johannesburg in 2008 remains in my memory for its pure-bred power and excitement.
One of these is still around in South Africa, the ZS-FWP that I flew has been altered to a ZU-FWP non-type certified and is hangared last I heard at Baragwanath airfield.
Not sober. That was how Captain Arvind Kathpalia was described after he tested positive for alcohol levels in his blood that would have floored a college drinking club master of the CH3CH2OH before an Air India flight AI-111 from Delhi to London.
The drunk was supposed to fly a 787 Dreamliner with about 300 passengers on board.
No doubt it was sobering for these 300 upon hearing their great and glorious chief aviator had been saved from himself by a simple puff into a plastic straw.
It’s the second time in less than two years that Kathpalia was apparently poegaai before a flight. Just to add insult to injury for South East Asian aviation buffs, Captain Kathpalia is also a board member at Air India and in charge of air operations.
The mid-afternoon flight was delayed while a stand-by pilot was called in, and Kathpalia is now shamed across the country. This should never have happened, he should have been removed from the roster a year ago when he crooked a breathalyser test and was caught red-handed on CCTV.
What must come as a bit of a shock is that (ex)-Captain Kathpalia was promoted into the position of overall command of Air India operations in January 2017. That was only two months before he was blotto in Delhi the first time around.
It’s a year later and he’s blotto again.
Worse news still, every year at least twenty pilots are grounded for failing the breathalyser test according to the Times of India.
It also reports while its a crime to drive under the influence in India, its not a crime to fly under the influence.
Yes, the aviation authorities can suspend you, but there is no criminal charge. Which is why pilots continue to try to fly while babelaas because they haven’t experienced the delights of Delhi or Mumbai correctional service system.
It’s only when you’re punished that you stop doing bad things. In South Africa you’re arrested as a driver and flung into penitentiary and that’s as a driver, while as a pilot a dronk gat aviator would be suspended immediately and probably lose his/her license.
As soon as we begin to fly as student pilots, the instructors are on the lookout for drug and alcohol abuse. They lean towards you before each flight, subtly checking your eyeballs and during the briefing, and reminding you that alcohol is a poison.
They tell you stories of the hippie from Durban who partook assiduously of a delicate herb and was last heard on radio reporting he was flying in an easterly direction out of Virginia Airport in heavy clouds and singing “No coastline no cry”.
Wreckage never located.
The little ditty pilots recite is “8 hours between bottle and throttle”.
According to FAA rules :
A pilot may not attempt to fly an aircraft or even attempt to be a crew member of a civil aircraft1:
Within 8 hours after consuming alcohol;
While under the influence of alcohol;
While under the influence of any drug that impairs a person in a way which is is contrary to safety;
While having a blood alcohol concentration equal to or greater than 0.04 grams per decilitre of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 litres of breath.
Airlines can deny you boarding rights if you’re drunk AS A PASSENGER.
If you have six beers and then a few shooters, let say three, that amounts to a binge. This takes up to 72 hours to work out of your system fully. Yes, 8 hours later you are what appears to be sober, but the hangover you’re enduring is actually the alcohol slowly squeezing out of your body.
Imagine a pilot experiencing babelaas followed by moderate to severe turbulence.
(ex)-Captain Kathpalia was previously caught cheating the system in March 2017 when he was asked to breath into an “anayzer” and refused, leaping aboard his plane instead.
The Delhi to Bengaluru flight AI-174.
When he landed back in Delhi later that day, he entered the testing office and made a false entry in the log book but was caught on CCTV.
The Indian Pilots Union filed a complaint against Kathpalia and his possible bottle buddy, former joint Director General of Civil Aviation in India, Lalit Gupta, who appeared to cover for him during his hearing.
Eventually Kathpalia was suspended for 5 months, but miraculously Gupta and his ilk signed him back into the left-hand all powerful Captain’s chair and back into his job as head of Air Operations after a paltry three months.
Ja-nee, all you need is high friends in places.
Hangovers are not for pilots. The main symptoms of a hangover are exactly what you want to avoid as a passenger, let alone a pilot.
Drinking all night then trying to fly 300 people to another country is not just stupid, its criminal.
Hangovers cause mood swings, they cause a drop in blood sugar, dehydrate you, cause sleep deprivation, increases the heart rate and leads to a loss of focus.
It also causes shaking and a sensitivity to light. Dr. Lindsay Henderson who’s a psychologist quoted by Insider says hangovers include “dehydration and a drop in blood sugar, both of which have distinct physical symptoms that include dizziness, nausea, fatigue, muscle weakness, shaking, numbness, racing heart, and confusion.”
Not what Captain Biggles wants as she begins the steep descent into Nepal’s notoriously dangerous Lukla Airport in the Himalayas, throwing up into the little bag and shivering while wishing for hair of the dog.
This blog has complained frequently of the uselessness of Indonesian Aviation authorities.
The latest is ANOTHER Lion Air incident which also happens to be the worst air crash of 2018.
One hundred and eighty nine people are dead.
If there is one thing you must know deep in your marrow, dear reader, it is this:
Do not fly on any Indonesian low cost airline if you value you or your family’s life.
Australia, which admitted isn’t Indonesia’s closest chommie*, has banned its officials from flying on Lion Air with immediate effect, along with the company’s two other related airlines.
“Following the fatal crash of a Lion Air plane on 29 October 2018, Australian government officials and contractors have been instructed not to fly on Lion Air. This decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear,” said Australia’s Federal Authority on October 30th.
Here is a list of Lion Air incidents over the past decade and a bit for those who think this blog is surrendering to anti-Indonesian propaganda.
On 14 January 2002, Lion Air Flight 386, a Boeing 737-200 crashed after trying to take-off with an incorrect flap configuration at Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport. Everyone on board survived but the aircraft was written off
On 4 March 2006, Lion Air Flight 8987, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, crashed after landing at Juanda International Airport. Reverse thrust was used during landing, although the left thrust reverser was stated to be out of service. This caused the aircraft to veer to the right and skid off the runway, coming to rest about 7,000 feet (2,100 m) from the approach end of the runway. There were no fatalities, but the aircraft was badly damaged and later written off.
On 24 December 2006, Lion Air Flight 792, a Boeing 737-400, landed with an incorrect flap configuration and was not aligned with the runway. The plane landed hard and skidded along the runway causing the right main landing gear to detach, the left gear to protrude through the wing and some of the aircraft fuselage to be wrinkled. There were no fatalities, but the aircraft was written off.
On 2 November 2010, Lion Air Flight 712, a Boeing 737-400 (registration PK-LIQ) overran the runway on landing at Supadio Airport, Pontianak, coming to rest on its belly and sustaining damage to its nose gear. All 174 passengers and crew evacuated by the emergency slides, with few injuries.
On 13 April 2013, Lion Air Flight 904, a Boeing 737-800 (registration PK-LKS; c/n 38728) from Bandung to Denpasar with 108 people on board, crashed into the water near Denpasar/Bali while attempting to land. The aircraft’s fuselage broke into two parts. While Indonesian officials reported the aircraft crashed short of the runway, reporters and photographers from Reuters and the Associated Press indicated that the plane overshot the runway. All passengers and crew were evacuated from the aircraft and there were no fatalities.
On 6 August 2013, Lion Air Flight 892, a Boeing 737-800 (registration PK-LKH; c/n 37297) from Makassar to Gorontalo with 117 passengers and crew on board, hit a cow while landing at Jalaluddin Airport and veered off the runway. There were no injuries.
On 2 April 2017, about 300 litres of fuel spilled on the tarmac at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya. Pictures taken by passengers on board showed fuel pouring out of one of the aircraft’s wings. Shortly after, all passengers were evacuated and the plane was grounded for further investigation. No casualties were reported. That same day a representative from Lion Air was summoned by the Indonesian Transport Ministry to clarify the incident. An early statement by a Lion Air representative said that the leak was caused by a non-functioning safety valve and overflow detector.
On 29 April 2018, Lion Air Flight 892, a 737-800 (registration PK-LOO), made a runway excursion at Jalaluddin Airport after landing under heavy rain conditions, resulting in the main nose gear to collapse. There were no fatalities.
On 29 October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610, a 737 MAX 8, crashed in the Java Sea 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, with all 189 passengers and crew onboard missing, presumed dead.
If you’re not convinced that I am correct about the dire warnings, then you have the self-preservation characteristics of a Kamikaze pilot.
Never allow your loved one’s anywhere near one of these carriers. Everyone wants to fling their sallow & pasty bods into one of Bali’s lovely seascapes, and some are lured by these nefarious low cost snake oil aviation companies.
Do not play with your life dear reader.
Avoid Indonesian low cost airlines like the plague. Pay the additional fee and fly Emirates or Qantas or British Airways or Ethiopian Airlines or South African Airlines.
Indonesian aviation has been a sea of lies, a swamp of corruption, a mosh pit of nepotism.
This crash comes only months after it received a positive safety rating following an ICAO audit. This incident may reverse the rating.
Indonesian aviation authorities were previously criticized for poor management and safety. An EU ban on Lion Air was only lifted in 2016 after numerous incidents like those outlined above. After the investigation which will follow, perhaps it will find its name amongst those blacklisted once more.
And now, another 189 people have died.
Perhaps the Boeing concerned experienced engine problems. Perhaps the maintenance crew failed to connect A to B. Perhaps pitot covers were left on. Perhaps … perhaps.
Indonesian aviation has grown incredibly quickly over the past two decades as its economy thrives. There are a remarkable 17 000 islands that make up this nation, and now it needs a proper aviation authority with a proper code of conduct for such a vast network of airports. The old boy network of winking officials must be caustically removed as a matter of urgency.
And the men who’ve facilitated a poor attention to aviation detail need to go to jail.
This apparently happened by mistake, but when you look at some of the facts, that mistake was a big one. By all accounts, it was not a dark and stormy night back on October 11 2018 at Belgium’s Florennes Air Force Base. Its located about 4 kilometres South East of the city of Florennes in the Walloon municipality.
Base authorities say a maintenance worker accidentally caused a 20mm Vulcan cannon to open fire from an F-16 jet on which he was working, destroying an F-16 parked opposite, while damaging another aircraft nearby. Miraculously no-one was hurt in the incident but one F-16 took the full brunt of the Vulcan, it caught fire and exploded as it was fully loaded with fuel awaiting an afternoon sortie.
“You can’t help thinking of what a disaster this could have been,” said Col. Didier Polome, the base commander, speaking to Belgium TV.
Two fighter squadrons operate out of the Airbase, 1 Squadron which dates back to 1917, and 350 Squadron, founded in the UK in 1942 during the Second World War.
Both units fly the F-16 Falcon.
But how could a maintenance worker mistakenly trigger a dangerous high speed cannon that fires more than 70 rounds in 0.5 seconds? That’s enough power to literally rip a wall in half. In this case it appears the cannon rounds missed a wall erected between the hangar and the apron, passing through a small gap. For more read on.
There are a few things here that need clarity. For instance, what was a fully armed F-16 jet doing inside a hangar being worked on by an engineer? Surely even in an operation environment, the jet is “made safe” before someone goes tinkering on the vehicle? Again, I try answer this below.
The 20MM Vulcan is a gatling gun, which means its not just a cannon, its a cannon with an attitude. As the 6 barrels revolve, they proceed through the different stages of the gun firing cycle, which produces an utterly terrifying firing rate of 6,600 rounds per minute.
The engineer apparently let fly for a few seconds. Maybe two seconds. That means 120 High Explosive or Armour-Piercing rounds flew out of the hangar and into the parked F-16. It blew up almost instantly according to reports.
Rules governing armed jets and maintenance
If the F-16 is to undergo light maintenance, which involves a series of checks more than anything else, only the bombs and missiles are removed from the plane. After this incident, perhaps they should consider removing the massive ammunition drum too.
There is a process to make the Vulcan 20mm Cannon safe during storage and maintenance.
It takes the following, according to the F-16 Flight Manual.
Rounds limiter switch set to ON with rounds counter set to 990. (set to OFF or ON with 510 or less on counter when hot gun needed)
Electrical safety pin installed. (Removed when hot gun needed)
Clearing sector holdback toll installed. (Removed when hot gun needed)
The really important note here is that every single step above must be taken to ensure the gun won’t fire on its own.
It takes a huge 35 horse power to actually fire this weapon, with it’s massive alloy barrel and the pressures required to move 20mm shells so quickly.
So either it needs the engine running, or a hydraulic test rig to be setup which is used to check landing gear, flight controls, brakes and the gun system.
But the big problem is how to setup “fire on the ground” options. It goes like this
Find the GND JETT switch and switch to ENABLE.
Select gun mode (A/A or A/G)
Select Master Arm switch to arm and
Press the trigger.
So as you can see, dear friends, all of the above means someone has to have screwed up really, really badly to have managed to fire one of the most lethal cannons every designed on the ground into your own airforce.
I’m not suggesting anything like a conspiracy, just that it is a truly shocking event that fortunately ended well compared to what could have happened had these rounds missed the F-16 and hit a motorway or similar nearby.
Need I say that the Belgian Air Force is investigating?