Aviation / Current / History

Aviation Investigation Snow Job

Someone want to explain this possible claptrap to me?

The co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 purposely crashed the plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board, officials said Thursday.

“We at Lufthansa are speechless that this aircraft has been deliberately crashed by the co-pilot,” said Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said the co-pilot, 27-year-old German national Andreas Lubitz, apparently “wanted to destroy the aircraft.”

It’s unknown whether Lubitz planned his actions, Robin said. But he “took advantage” of a moment in which the pilot left the cockpit and “activated the descent,” which can only be done deliberately.

[Emphasis mine]

No, that is NOT true.  German and French accident investigators are deliberately pulling the the wool over the eyes of local law enforcement:

A Lufthansa Airbus A321-200, registration D-AIDP performing flight LH-1829 from Bilbao,SP (Spain) to Munich (Germany) with 109 people on board, was climbing through FL310 out of Bilbao about 15 minutes into the flight at 07:03Z, when the aircraft on autopilot unexpectedly lowered the nose and entered a descent reaching 4000 fpm rate of descent. The flight crew was able to stop the descent at FL270 and continued the flight at FL270, later climbing to FL280, and landed safely in Munich about 110 minutes after the occurrence.

The French BEA reported in their weekly bulletin that the occurrence was rated a serious incident and is being investigated by Germany’s BFU.

The occurrence aircraft remained on the ground in Munich for 75 hours before resuming service on Nov 8th.

The Aviation Herald learned that the loss of altitude had been caused by two angle of attack sensors having frozen in their positions during climb at an angle, that caused the fly by wire protection to assume, the aircraft entered a stall while it climbed through FL310. The Alpha Protection activated forcing the aircraft to pitch down, which could not be corrected even by full back stick input. The crew eventually disconnected the related Air Data Units and was able to recover the aircraft.

Following the occurrence EASA released emergency airworthiness directive 2014-0266-E_1 stating:

An occurrence was reported where an Airbus A321 aeroplane encountered a blockage of two Angle Of Attack (AOA) probes during climb, leading to activation of the Alpha Protection (Alpha Prot) while the Mach number increased. The flight crew managed to regain full control and the flight landed uneventfully.

When Alpha Prot is activated due to blocked AOA probes, the flight control laws order a continuous nose down pitch rate that, in a worst case scenario, cannot be stopped with backward sidestick inputs, even in the full backward position. If the Mach number increases during a nose down order, the AOA value of the Alpha Prot will continue to decrease. As a result, the flight control laws will continue to order a nose down pitch rate, even if the speed is above minimum selectable speed, known as VLS.

This condition, if not corrected, could result in loss of control of the aeroplane.

The EASA requires as immediate emergency action that the flight crew operating manuals must be amended with a procedure to keep only one Air Data Reference Unit operative and turning the other two off in following cases:

– the aircraft goes into a continuous nose down pitch movement that can not be stopped by full backward stick deflection
– the Alpha Max (red) strip completely hides the Alpha Prot strip (black/amber) without increase in load factor
– the Alpha Prot strip rapidly changes by more than 30 knots during flight maneouvers with increase in load factor while autopilot is on and speedbrakes are retracted

This incident occurred less than six months ago, and has me really questioning the competency of Airbus fly-by-wire programmers.  Yesterday I was willing to give the BEA (French accident investigators) the benefit of the doubt until they released a preliminary report, though I am hard-pressed to find that these agencies are anything more than industry shills.  But now it is clear the BEA will do anything to protect Toulouse-based aircraft manufacturers.

Building Bulls#%t Mountain


Since 2009 at the latest, a sick tendency has emerged to blame pilots for situations that unfold outside of how they were trained to react or for incidents in which flight crews had no control over their aircraft.  Air France 447 completely rewrote the book on turbine-powered transport-category stall recoveries, where AC-109-120 was released one month after the BEA’s final report on the A330 crashing into the Atlantic (some rewrite–essentially private-pilot stall recovery procedures were reincorporated into all stall recoveries in acknowledgement that “an airplane is an airplane is an airplane…) yet the first officer (and the crew of CO 3407) are still excoriated for not recovering despite pre-2012 procedures being deficient and potentially dangerous (not to mention deadly).

This tendency to blame a dead pilot for the deficiencies of their employers and the vehicles they and their employers fly hit full force 12 months ago.  Conspiracy theories ran and continue to run rampant about MH 370, the crashed (it is safe to assume that 777 crashed somewhere, right?) Malaysia Airlines Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight that vanished 08 March 2014, predominantly due to the fact that investigators were quick to blame the crew (and alternately either the captain or first officer intermittently) for committing suicide absent any evidence whatsoever.  The same is true of Germanwings 9525.

Aren’t There Rules About Evidence?

See if you can spot it:

For eight minutes, during which the cockpit voice recorder revealed Lubitz said nothing but was breathing normally, the 27-year-old ignored captain Patrick Sonderheimer hammering on the cockpit door and did not respond to increasingly urgent radio calls from air traffic controllers and nearby aircraft. Emergency codes allow crew to enter an aircraft cockpit in the event of an incapacitated pilot, but the co-pilot is thought to have intentionally overridden the system, which is a post-9/11 security measure intended to prevent hijack.

“It could only have been deliberate,” said the French prosecutor Brice Robin, who gave the chilling account of the flight’s final 10 minutes. “He did this for a reason we do not know … but it can be seen as a willingness to destroy the aircraft.”

What evidence is presented here?  It’s just wild innuendo.  Do we know Lubitz was conscious?  Normal breathing does not indicate the Germanwings first officer wasn’t comatose.  4U 9525 was cruising at FL380 (a pressure altitude of 38,000 feet measured above mean sea level with an altimeter setting of 29.92 inches/1013.25 milibars that is also known as flight level, abbreviated FL).  European regulations don’t dictate pilots must don an oxygen mask when one pilot leaves his/her seat above FL250 as American regulations require, but the time of useful consciousness at FL380…


…could have spurred Lubitz (whose flight training included a stint at Lufthansa Flight Training’s ATCA facility in Goodyear, AZ) to don his mask.  If he did don oxygen, was it contaminated?  I don’t know, but neither does the BEA.  Do we know Lubitz overrided the cockpit entry system?  Again, no we don’t.  The door could have jammed or been blocked innocuously–I was stuck in the cockpit of an Embraer regional jet once because the jumpseat adamantly refused to come out of its grommets, trapping all three of us (the captain, the first officer and the jumpseater) until maintenance was able to pop it out after we landed and had taxiied to the gate.  The same phenomenon is not unheard of with cockpit doors becoming jammed, especially onboard pressurized aircraft.

Would there have to have been an extremely unlikely series of events for this tragedy to both incapacitate Lubitz and crash the A320 he flew?  Yes, but I do not need nor want to speculate as the answer will be shortly at hand.  All the innuendo in the media currently is due to what was recovered from the CVR (Cockpit Voice Recorder), which hangs Lubitz on the fact that his reactions were to do and say…nothing. 

This illustrates an essential truth that accident investigators seem to invariably miss.  CVRs are far less illuminating than the second the two “black boxes” modern air transports carry: the flight data recorder (FDR).  FDRs record hundreds of parameters, ranging from all switch positions to which switches are pushed in what particular order on everything from flight guidance panels (autopilot input) to access control panels (cockpit door) along with attitude, airspeed, altitude and position data.  4U 9525’s FDRs, assuming they survived the crash and are serviceable, will determine what Andreas Lubitz actually did and, more importantly, show what the Germanwings A320 was doing in those last minutes before it impacted the French Alps. 

Granted, the 4U 9525 FDR could vindicate the assertion that Lubitz intended to crash the A320.  Pilot suicides are not unheard of in aviation, though they usually are accompanied with a overt action such as a captain disconnecting the CVR/FDR circuit breakers or involve a first officer reciting “Tawkalt ala Allah” in a litany before turning off EgyptAir 990’s engines and plunging into the Atlantic.  A steady 4,000 ft/min descent until impact, with no action or words spoken, is unusual.

Protecting the Manufactures

But the sequence isn’t out of character for the A320 family of airliners.  As the November Lufthansa A321 incident LH 1829 demonstrates, Airbus’s fly-by-wire programming can put its planes into hazardous situations with no pilot input at all.  It is too bad this incident isn’t common knowledge for it would reduce automation proponent idiocy and shut up stories like this B.S. from Forbes (who am I kidding, B.S. Mountain is impervious to uncomfortable realities).

But for those that live in reality, the Lufthansa incident (and perhaps 4U 9525 if the same problem reoccurred) is a wake-up call.  LH 1829 along with QZ 8501 and AF 447 really call into question the design of the European manufacturer’s alpha floor (stall protection) and overspeed flight control laws.  One need not be a conspiracy theorist to believe the BEA will do almost anything to protect French aircraft manufacturers’ interests.  To be fair, the same issue has cropped up with American manufacturers:

Is Germanwings 9525 another SilkAir 185/Egypt Air 990 or LH 1829/Lauda 004 (or another type of crash entirely)?  We don’t know, but as long as writers like Patrick Smith (who really should know better) don’t question the incentives that are pushing accident investigators to blame individual dead men and women rather than address serious safety hazards, the answer will not be ascertained.


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