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THE MAGAZINE OF AIR MOBILITY COMMAND

Mishaps with a Moral

By MAJ JONATHAN R.N.K. WEAVER, HQ AMC Flight Safety

MIRACLE OF BA FLIGHT 5390

On June 10, 1990, a British Airways BAC 111 with 81 passengers and six crew members experienced an explosive decompression when the pilot’s side windscreen blew out and sucked the captain partly out of the window. A quick acting flight attendant managed to grab the captain before he completely departed the aircraft, and the copilot managed to safely recover the aircraft to an emergency landing. Luckily, everyone aboard—even the captain—survived the ordeal with only minor injuries. It was later found that the pilot’s windscreen had been improperly installed on the aircraft the night before the accident, and the pilot had loosened his harness even though both pilots’ seatbelts were fastened.

MORAL: A founding father of military aviation, Major General Benjamin D. Foulois designed the “airplane seatbelt” with inspiration from leather riding saddles. While the Wright Brothers made their first historic flight in 1903, it would be nearly eight years before then-Lieutenant Foulois would add the lifesaving item to the minimum equipment list of military aircraft. In the interim, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge was killed in 1908 when he and Orville Wright crashed in the 1908 Wright Military Flyer. The addition of the safety belt by Lt Foulois likely saved countless lives in aviation and—through its proper application—will continue to save more. All AMC assets have guidance that directs the usage of seat belts while occupying a duty position but allow for some leeway in the use of the shoulder harness when not in a critical phase of flight. While the removal of a shoulder harness may be more comfortable at cruise, so is remaining within a cockpit after an explosive decompression.

CONCORDE MISHAP

On July 25, 2000, one of the most complex aircraft ever designed was destroyed by a small strip of metal debris. Air France 4590, a Concorde supersonic jet transport, was catastrophically destroyed, impacting the ground outside Paris, France, and killing all 109 people on board, as well as four individuals on the ground. As determined by the accident investigation board, the aircraft struck a metal strip that had fallen from a Continental Airlines DC-10 that took off only a few minutes before the Concorde. The metal strip, found to be a titanium alloy, sliced into Concorde’s tire, causing it to explode and send fragments into the underbelly of the aircraft, immediately rupturing and igniting its pressurized fuel tanks. Investigators also determined that the metal strip was improperly manufactured and improperly installed by a rushed mechanic.

MORAL: Foreign object debris, or FOD, is always a great risk to aircraft. When we rush to complete tasks or deviate from flight manuals and technical orders, we induce human error into an already complex situation. While the choices we make might not affect our own aircraft or the outcome of our mission, this is a clear example of the “domino effect” and how our choices can have dire consequences for others.

Stay safe, my friends!