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Monday, February 16, 2009

Continental Plane crash- a Tragedy

Ok I know that every body is talking about the Continental Connection commuter plane that crashed near Buffalo, N.Y.

Was the weather a factor, was it in a roll, did the pilot have on auto pilot?

While this was a tragedy, this sounds like a text book icing situation. The news media barely understands how this works so let me tell you. I am a pilot, but of course keep in mind that I have no access yet to the facts in this case but:

Consider that to create lift (and therefore flight) you must have SMOOTH airflow over a wing (see picture) producing lower pressure above the wing making the wing quite literally rise. Further consider all the factors involved in flying an aluminum aircraft through a swirling gas (air) that has different temperatures at different levels at different times. Variables like airspeed outside air temp, direction of relative wind, rate of decent , moisture content of the air, temp/dew point spread … if you mind does not explode you can easily see how ice could build up… reducing the ability to produce lift , and adding weight although the weight was likely not as big a factor.

While this plane likely had de-icing boots to break ice off the leading edge and other de-icing measures it is possible to overwhelm these systems.

Now consider that if ice built up slightly quicker on he left wing first. The air would start to swirl over the wing not just smoothly go over the surface, that wing would fall causing the aircraft to roll… simply applying a correction might easily have been an overcorrection as the other wing was also on the verge of stalling. This would make a bad situation worse. They literally may have fallen like a rock once both wings had enough ice to significantly disrupt the airflow.

Why did other aircraft have little or no problem with the same airport the same morning? Sadly a change in altitude up or down a couple of hundred feet could have made the difference or maybe they descended slower through the cloud deck, remained in the clouds longer or a 100 other factors that just came together at the same time to make this a bad situation.

I have only encountered ice once or twice, and it scares the begisies out of me. I have neither the training or the equipment to fly into “known icing” situations like these professionals did. I doubt they did anything “wrong” and it is unlikely that these particular set of circumstances would all come together and overwhelm the deicing system in the way it appears to have. Again, I have no access to the facts but this is my two cents.



At 12:25 AM, Blogger J said...

This is all too technical for me with 3 hours sleep. Can you get like a laser pointer and some charts and graphs and stuff?


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