It was apparently overcast on May 8th, 1927, when the two French pilots aboard the “White Bird” disappeared somewhere off the U.S. coast near Maine. Or so its said. They’ve never been found but the story is important. That’s because back home this week, France announced that the two were actually the first to cross the Atlantic – not Charles Lindbergh. His surname could translate from German as “balmy mountain”. The French for White Bird is L’Oiseau Blanc, but I digress.
The aviators concerned were trying to capture the Orteig prize of $25,000 which as we all know, was and is, a fortune. If you’re earning rands in particular.
Unlike Lindbergh, the White Bird had two aviators so Charles’ solo flight stands. But what happened to François Coli who and Paul Tarascon, both WWI veterans?
The White Bird weighed 11,000 pounds of 5,000kg and was bedecked with a black skull and crossbones with a coffin and two candles inside a black heart. That was chillingly apt by the end of the doomed flight. It was painted white so it would supposedly be easy to spot when/if it came down.
Both clambered aboard their new Levasseur PL8 biplane around 5am on May 8th 1927. The aircraft had been redesigned to cope with the stresses of flying across the Atlantic in summer, with the expected thunderstorms and high winds at times. The redesign included an undercarriage that would be jettisoned on take-off which would reduce the overall weight, endurance of 7,000km and 4,000 litres of fuel.
The trans-Atlantic flight was supposed to be between New York and Paris and the winner had to ensure that they connected these two cities. But there’s a lot of debate about whether they made it as far as the Maine coast. In fact witnesses eastern Canada on the morning of May 9th described hearing a plane overhead and investigators today believe that its possible that’s where the White Bird ended up.
At least 12 different witnesses said they’d heard or seen the plane on the 9th May. But no sign of this aircraft has ever been found, in spite of at least one case of an obsessive who’s spent 30 years searching for the White Bird who believes it is submerged in one of the thousands of ponds in Newfoundland.
This mystery is a bit like MH370, with the aviators in the White Bird leaving their radio behind because it was too heavy. In MH370s case, someone switched off the radios. The plane also likely ditched in water because that’s the only place it could land, the aviators would not have tried to put the plane down on land because they would most likely not have survived. MH370 is thought to have ended up in the Indian Ocean.
In 1984, France concluded the aircraft HAD in fact reached Newfoundland, but said they believed the plane came down in one of the forests. We’re all guessing, of course.
Its an enigmatic tale. In 1992 bits of metal and pieces of struts were found in a Maine forest and the parts were described as similar to the build of the biplane. Engine metals were discovered near the town of Machias in Maine. Local residents described a large object which they called a really big motor that had been found in the woods and salvaged by loggers.
Still, Charles Lindbergh the balmy mountain remains the first person to have successfully flown solo across the Atlantic. He was paid the $25,000 and went on to have many more adventures as we know.
The two French WWI hero aviators, François Coli and Paul Tarascon, disappeared into that dark place in history where ghosts dwell.
Its been a frustrating three years searching for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board. What is apparent is that the mystery which at times had conspiracy theorists leaping about blaming the American Air Force, aliens and cockpit fires, is that we just know nothing about what happened.
I’m not a relative of anyone on board, but had this been the case, the terrible almost transfixingly macabre disappearance surely would have driven me to a visit to the Malaysian embassy in South Africa with photographs and demands.
In Australia, the Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) reported on Tuesday 3 September “The reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found.”
But it has to be said. Yet there are clues and we’ve perused these closely.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had simulated a similar route on his Flight Simulator at home. It’s not a normal route. It’s not like he was practicing for some emergency. His simulating featured a flight almost exactly like the one the plane is believed to have taken before disappearing.
The flight characteristics were those only a highly experienced pilot could have managed in the circumstances. The plane nosed over and dived towards the ocean and then was flared back 180 degrees and more than 30 000 feet below where the dive began. No beginner here.
The trajectory of the plane took it at low altitude and therefore conducive to radar avoidance, over Malaysia, then northern Indonesia, then South west into the deep Indian Ocean. Why? To avoid detection.
The point at which communication failure occurred was precisely at the point the pilot switched channels between Malaysia and Vietnam. The person who switched off the transponder at that point as well as ACARS and other systems was not only proficient, but had to be seated within seconds of the captain reporting the handover point to the Malaysians. In other words, the pilot or first officer.
I’ve written about this for three years and cannot, as the Australian’s have pointed out, prove anything until the plane is located.
But you don’t have to be an aviator to understand that there are some glaring issues which the authorities cannot begin to address. It all looks highly suspicious and the suspicion falls upon the Captain of the aircraft. I’m not going to say anything further because he too has family and no-one likes a wiseguy from another country thumb-sucking facts.
Still, let’s address facts we do have. It’s the most expensive search effort for any aircraft, is the largest and crosses many seas. It began in the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea and then shifted to the Indian Ocean off Australia.
The aircraft was last detected by radar in the Strait of Malacca and in the Andaman Sea. The engines of the Boeing 777-200ER sent ping messages to the Inmarsat communications network. Between October 2014 and January this year a massive survey was conducted of 120,000 km2 of sea floor south-west of the Australian coast.
Several pieces of the plane have washed up in Africa and Indian Ocean islands such as Reunion where the flaperon was found in July 2015
The ATSB says “It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era… for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board.”
It’s 440 page report also says:
“The underwater search has eliminated most of the high probability areas yielded by reconstructing the aircraft’s flight path and the debris drift studies conducted in the past 12 months have identified the most likely area with increasing precision,” it said.
But the money has run out.
The US has offered to bet more involved but Malaysia is now moving away from accepting any further searches for the plane. While Kuala Lumpur instituted live tracking of its aircraft, there’s still the fact that 239 people are gone. And no-one knows where.
Still, there is a slight glimmer of light about all of the above. Flight MH370 emphasised to the reasonably minded public that its unacceptable to live in a world where you can attack a little piece of rubber to your arm that tracks you around a bicycle track but where the latest commercial airliner could not be tracked in real time. Something about it costing $20m per year. Airliners have put profit before logic. That’s not a sustainable situation where I can lodge a chip in a local lion and then follow it around on my iPhone from Jamaica but SAA’s chairperson of the board can’t find her Boeing while she’s actually sitting on it.
The Boeing I mean.
So the International Civil Aviation Organization adopted new standards for aircraft position reporting over open ocean, also extended recording time for the voice recorder, and forces new aircraft sold from 2020 to ensure that the flight recorder ends up floating when planes are submerged.
Malaysian Airlines has become the first operator to monitor all its planes using satellites which will track aircraft in real time – this after its MH370 flight with 239 souls on board disappeared in 2014 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The mystery of the flight continues to fascinate and horrify aviators with so many of the basic questions unanswered. Who took control of the flight? Why? Where did the plane disappear? What happened to the passengers and crew? How did an entire airliner vanish?
After some criticism about the manner of the search, Malaysian Airlines has now agreed to sign up for the live monitoring of its planes in a new system which exploits satellite and GPS technology. This is a long overdue decision and the Malaysians must be congratulated in being the first to move its monitoring to a real-time approach.
There is also good news when it comes to the search itself. We may be a little closer to the answers after the Australian Transport Board published its latest report into the search on Friday 21st April. From the report:
The only thing that our recent work changes is our confidence in the accuracy of the estimated location, which is within the new search area identified and recommended by the First Principles Review (ATSB2016), and most likely at the southern end of that, near 35°S.
While at first glance this appears to merely confirm previous analysis, there’re quite a few interesting items in the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation )Oceans and Atmosphere report which was handed to authorities on the 13th April and released publicly today. Earlier attempts at computer generated modelling were linked to the manner in which buoys floated in the ocean, and not how a flaperon would react to currents and winds. This report has painstakingly pulled this specific data into a model which scientists at the CSIRO and ATB believe has allowed for a much more accurate rendering of the location of the fuselage.
That’s because the Flaperon reacts like a sail in wind, and more so because part of the same wing structure would also glide through the water like a boat. Combine these two aspects and it makes for very interesting data. The tests found that the Flaperon would move 20° left of the wind at an average of 10cm/s and would account for the Flaperon’s arrival time of the flaperon at La Reunion in July 2015. So the report states:
The value of this revised estimate of the flaperon’s drift parameters is that it increases our confidence in the accuracy of the drift model. The earlier simulations of the flaperon trajectory were only consistent with the arrival of the flaperon at La Reunion if a chance encounter with an ocean eddy took the flaperon south. That was plausible but not particularly likely.
While the scientists warn that that doesn’t automatically mean that the debris would DEFINITELY arrive at La Reunion, they’re now confident about the site of the crash itself. It’s still a vast area 25000km/squared. Importantly, they also now know precisely where the plane WOULDN’T be based on the same modelling. It’s a bit like the ancient Arab mathematicians discovering that 0 is very important. Nothing is as important as something sometimes.
“Nothing” was what my airspeed indicator read half way along a ground roll at Lanseria last week which was a real surprise. After all the checks (double checks in my case because I’m extra cautious), power run up and physical inspection, I still had a frozen pitot tube problem on ground roll. One moment power is 2500 RPM and airspeed is coming up nicely, past 23-30knots then suddenly – ZERO!
The SR20 had accelerated quickly at first and felt good but my airspeed indicator then read “——” indicating I had stopped when it was clear we were approaching V1 speed along Runway 07 at Lanseria.
The years of training kicked in, power back, brakes on, off at Alpha 1 and report to ATC that my flight was aborted due to technical problems. He asked as per the book if I needed assistance and I said no, trouble with airspeed and returned to the hangar.
After shutting down I looked into the tube but saw nothing. An instructor Michelle Roe arrived and turned on the pitot tube heat. After five minutes steam began to blow out of the tube and it was as right as rain but I had missed the window for my flight.
While the end of this story is positive, I sat there thinking about the Air France Flight 447 in 2009 that crashed because its pitot tube that was frozen, leading the pilots to take the instrument reading as correct when the real story was the plane was falling in a flat stall straight down into the Atlantic. In my case it was daylight and I knew immediately what the problem was because after seeing the computer flight display indicate zero on speed, I looked at the backup analogue old fashioned airspeed indicator which also read zero. At that point I knew that the pitot tube was blocked. But had it been at night and at 5000 AGL there would have been problems.
If it had been at night, the only solution here would be at first try the pitot tube heat while changing to autopilot, then if the airspeed failed to reappear, to pull the CAPs lever or Cirrus parachute system. The water in the pitot tube had actually frozen on a sunny day while on the ground and accelerating – I could only imagine how difficult it was for the Air France pilots. In my case the temperature at the time was 12˙C and the dew fall had been extremely heavy in the morning. The water was dripping off the plane as I did the checks and I noted at the time (see the picture above!) that the pitot tube cover had not been used on the Cirrus overnight, even though it was parked outdoors.
Usually the thing that concerns me most is the worry that an insect had crawled into the tube. But a visual inspection indicated the tube was not blocked by a wasp or similar. I just didn’t see how much water had flowed into the tube, and during the ground roll more water must have entered the tube leading to the block.
The design of the pitot tube goes back a hundred years or more with the basic principle a comparison of air pressure inside a controlled machine vs the changing air pressure outside. That produced a number of things, airspeed, rate of climb or descent, and altitude. So had I decided to ignore the zero reading on the pitot tube and taken off, my flight would have probably entailed a violent altercation with the granite cloud.
Instead because we’re trained properly, CCT was flying an hour later quite safely.
So now we know. At least, we know what experts probing MH370 suspect happened in the final moments of the flight in March 2014, somewhere off the West Coast of Australia and over one of the deepest parts of the Indian Ocean. Two hundred and thirty nine people were aboard the Boeing 777 when it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released a report on Wednesday which analyses wing flap debris which they say shows the aircraft was not configured for a landing. How it ended up in the opposite direction to where it was going is still a mystery.
Australia’s Transport Minister Darren Chester has told a media conference that the search will continue until the end of this year, and that the plane wreckage is still believed to be in the area being probed.
That’s a vast area 120,000 kilometres square. The ATSB says somewhere in that area is a plane which from satellite communications show it could have been in a “high and increasing rate of descent” when it disappeared from radar.
Aviators call this various things. One is a death dive. All from the damage assessed on a flaperon that washed up on a remote beach months after MH370 vanished.
It could be one of the most important pieces of information since the crash as some have said the pilot or someone may have glided the plane into the ocean, and if that started from 36 000 feet it means the Boeing could be up to 250km outside the search area.
A blog I wrote last year analysed the scenarios and one featured the pilot or first officer being implicated in the final moments. This is a very sensitive and legally fractious view and one which cannot be proven – yet.
It’s the chilling view of the End of Flight Simulations in the report that attracts attention.
In April 2016, the ATSB defined a range of scenarios for the manufacturer to simulate in their engineering simulator. Values included the aircraft’s speed, fuel, electrical configuration and altitude, along with the turbulence level.
The results have all been aligned to the point two minutes after the loss of power from the engines. This is the theorised time at which the 7th arc transmissions would have been sent.
The report also has these two points:
Some of the simulated scenarios recorded descent rates that equalled or exceeded values derived from the final SATCOM transmission. Similarly, the increase in descent rates across an 8 second period (as per the two final BFO values) equalled or exceeded those derived from the SATCOM transmissions. Some simulated scenarios also recorded descent rates that were outside the aircraft’s certified flight envelope.
The results of the scenarios, combined with the possible errors associated with the BTO values indicate that the previously defined search area width of ±40 NM is an appropriate width to encompass all uncontrolled descent scenarios from the simulations.
This is crucial too, but keep in mind that the ATSB has said constantly that the scenarios are not the only ones possible – but are the most likely. The damage analysis of the flaperon washed up on Reunion is now central. From the report:
“Damage to the internal seal pan components at the inboard end of the outboard flap was possible with the auxiliary support track fully inserted into the flap. That damage was consistent with contact between the support track and flap, with the flap in the retracted position. The possibility of the damage originating from a more complex failure sequence, commencing with the flaps extended, was considered much less likely.”
Finally the ATSB says on their initial report published on November 2nd:
The right outboard flap was most likely in the retracted position at the time it separated from the wing.
The right flaperon was probably at, or close to, the neutral position at the time it separated from the wing.
This is still no salve for the horror family members continue to suffer – waiting for signs of where their loved ones lie on the floor of one of the world’s most isolated oceans.
For 239 people on board the vanished Malaysian Airlines MH370 the latest International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) announcement is moot. For those using airliners to gad about, its not. ICAO has ordered three important changes to commercial aviation.
Aircraft must carry autonomous distress tracking devices that can transmit location information once every minute in distress circumstances
The Cockpit Voice Recorder or CVR must record at least 25 hours so that they cover all phases of flight for all types of operations
Aircraft must be equipped with a means to have the Flight Data Recorder recovered and made available in a timely manner
This is significant. In an age where Facebook knows exactly where you’ve been and where you are, where you can carry a little piece of software to locate your own phone when its stolen, not having a proper tracking device for a commercial airliner seems to be rather anachronistic.
A bit like FIFA refusing to use goal line technology but much more relevant to life. And death.
Reality check. Airlines have five years to institute the changes. But at least there’s change. So lets take a little look at what it could mean.
Aircraft Must Carry Autonomous Tracking Devices
The device cannot be switched off by naughty pilots wanting to commit suicide in the air. Unlike a possible scenario in the case of MH370. Someone turned off the ACARS and Transponder both of which allowed radar and communication. These would then switch on in a “distress circumstance”. So they’re not actually on all the time? Why not? And they’ll then transmit at least once in a minute. A minute is a very long time in flying/aviation. Things happen in milliseconds.
Just a side note. I ran a mobile phone applications company in the early part of this century called Mobile Active Digital. One of the projects we worked on was a 140 character system which used global positioning satellites to download short bursts of messages to the Around the World Yacht Race crew featuring bad weather warnings and alarms. And the crew could miraculously upload 140 back. Kind of GPS email. That was in 2004/5. This is 12 years ago and still ICAO doesn’t seem to get its head around a basic need. Track these aircraft from satellites in real time. The system doesn’t have to link to mission critical computers on board. It can be separate so that ground-based hackers can’t do it any damage.
We produced a 140 character system which used global positioning satellites to download short bursts of messages to the Around the World Yacht Race crew. And they could upload 140 back.
2. The CVR must record at least 25 hours
At the moment CVR’s record up to 2 hours on a loop. It’s presumed that this is not long enough to pick up conversations about issues on board by previous crew or incidents like hard landings which may not always be reported. The recordings would not mean more weight as the existing hard drive recording systems using hardware that could be upgraded to capture more time quite easily and for very little additional cost.
3. Must make FDR recoverable in a timely manner
This is an odd one. The ICAO report has not specified how this is supposed to be achieved. The present system using a beacon that gives off a radio signal for around 30 days and is insufficient for the kind of search underway in the Southern Indian Ocean where MH370 is thought to reside.
Recoverable in a timely manner? So will it deploy using an explosive device? Will it give off a dye of some kind in air and water? Will it expand or provide a more powerful radio signal? Will these FDRs and VCRs give off a magnetic signal or some kind of ultraviolet radiation so that a probe under water or on land could locate them using light?
It’s five years to go so these questions will obviously have to be answered sooner rather than later.
The ominous and mysterious jigsaw puzzle that is MH370 may have another piece. Authorities in Mozambique have displayed a tiny bit of composite white material they say may have come from the Boeing 777. It’s a smidgeon of a thing, really really small.
That’s after a flaperon from a 777 washed up on the island of Reunion last year – more than a year after Malaysian Airlines MH370 vanished with all on board.
There’re still a few lunatics who believe that the crew and passengers are being squirrelled away by some nebulous US/Chinese/Malaysian/Afghanistani/Pakistani etc group. But for the rest of us who live on the planet full-time, the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean around 7 hours after it took off. Speculation would have it that the pilot probably drove the thing South Westerly then settled the aircraft gently upon the water so only a few bits broke off. Why? For a host of personal and political reasons that we won’t go into here. If you’re interested, read my previous blog.
No aviation mystery since Amelia Earheart has been as pervasive and extensive. If you remember the terrible Air France 447 disappearance there was not much real mystery about its fate. Bobbing bits of plane appeared shortly after it disappeared a few hours out of Rio de Janeiro en route to France. In the case of MH370, not much has appeared besides the flaperon which investigators say its more than likely from the Boeing.
A small triangle of composite washed up off Mozambique with “Don’t Step” clearly emblazoned on the top. So the president of Mozambique’s Civil Aviation Institute (IACM), Joao de Abreu, told journalists on Thursday 3rd March it may be from the airliner – but warned that any speculation it was definitely linked was premature.
That’s wise. Unlike the flaperon, the bit of what could be horizontal stabiliser appears to have no sea-life growing on its upper or lower area. The flaperon on the other hand had drifted around the sea for a year before it washed up in Reunion. Marine biologists said the barnacles found on the flaperon were more than likely proof it had been in the water around a year. And aviation experts confirmed it was indeed a Boeing 777 flaperon.
In this instance, none of this is apparent.
One thing is, however. The currents and winds would be able to push this piece from the Indian Ocean off Australia all the way to Mozambique. That is not being debated.
On March 8 its the two-year anniversary of the plane’s disappearance while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew aboard. That timing alone is pretty cruel for the family of those on board.
The interim statement by Malaysian authorities into the mystery of MH370 has been released and its painted an increasingly poisonous picture of aviation in that part of the world. If you wanted to conduct a Harvard Business School analysis into how NOT to manage your aviation business, Malaysia has cornered the market.
Item 1: One of the batteries on the plane’s Flight Data Recorder had expired in 2012 and no-one had ever replaced them. No-one in the Malaysian Civil Aviation Authority picked this up. Shocking.
Item 2: The Supervisor in charge of Malaysian air traffic was asleep and had to be woken up when it became clear the plane was missing – which would have been a disaster for survivors – in fact it took 5 hours for Malaysian authorities to realise they had a crisis on hand.
Item 3: The first Malaysian search aircraft took off TEN HOURS after the plane was officially registered missing. Half a day almost. Shame. Useless.
Item 4: Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers could barely understand one another, and the Vietnamese failed to respond at all to the first emergency call from the Malaysians. When the latter had eventually awoken from their slumber. International aviation is governed by an ability to communicate in English. But these standards are abused – particularly in this region.
Item 5: Malaysian commercial and military ATC’s do not talk to each other. Which compounded the problem and added to confusion.
Item 6: Because the Malaysians were so slow they Vietnamese were also slow, taking another 20 minutes to begin asking why the plane had not reported to them in a hand-over call which is usually supposed to happen immediately after a point is reached. Like as in seconds. Twenty minutes @ 600kph is a lot of airspace travelled before the decidedly slow officials started to think about why the silence.
By now if you read this blog you’ll know what I think happened. The pilot disabled the ACARS & Transponder, told the 1st Officer to go get him something – locked the door and switched off the air filtration and compression system after donning an oxygen mask. The passengers and crew would have succumbed in seconds to the 36000 feet thin atmosphere and passed out – no time to make a mobile phone call. Then he climbed to 40 000 feet just to make sure. Everyone was dead within 5 minutes. One positive for the victims. It was painless and not like a wing coming off and spending minutes in terror plunging to the ocean.
The pilot then turned and dived steeply avoiding radar. He followed a low-level path out to sea past Indonesia, and continued at the altitude for a while. Or not. We don’t know.
Finally he ditched the plane in a low speed accident that would have meant little wreckage. It sank to the bottom of the Indian Ocean in one of the deepest and most inaccessible parts of the world.
Why? Because Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s wife left him taking their three children on the day of the flight. And only hours before, Shah’s close friend and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had been arrested on what looks like trumped up charges of sodomy. Shah knew that the plane was full of Chinese holiday-makers and businessmen and women and he really really wanted the Malaysian government to feel the full weight of an unhappy Beijing. Specifically because he knew how he could make an entire airliner disappear. He wanted his children to benefit from his life insurance – unlike previous pilot suicides which were not paid out by life insurers. So that meant DISAPPEAR. And he more than likely had switched off the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder to further confuse investigators if they ever found the plane.
Simple? Yes. Speculation? Yes. I’m not reporting here. I’m writing a blog about what I think happened. Based on a whole year of tracking this event.
Shah also knew what we know that the management of aviation in Malaysia is rife with corruption, maladministration and extremely poor attention to detail so giving this lot the run around was as easy as pie.
And where is Shah? Did he escape the plane on a raft? No, he’s more than likely dead. It was a murder suicide on a massive scale. Sorry if his relatives feel saddened by this version made public. But every experienced pilot I’m now reading has come to believe that this is what happened to Flight MH370.
We also now know that the final voice on the ATC recordings was not the 1st Officer as originally reported – it was Shah.
Flight MH370 disappeared with 239 passengers and crew on board after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing, on 8 March. We may never find the fuselage.
But we may find something. Here is a picture of where plastics flow around the world’s oceans, courtesy of Adrift.org