Sunday, February 01, 2015

Engine fault that stranded Thomson tourists found in eight other planes: A problem in a Boeing 787 engine worried the regulator

A technical failure on a Thomson Airways Boeing 787 that left British holidaymakers stranded in Mexico has been found in eight other engines manufactured by the US conglomerate General Electric.

The problem, which involved the fuel nozzles moving out of alignment, occurred on the ground in Cancun in August.

As a result of the fault the engine would not start as the plane was due to take off, delaying a Thomson flight to Glasgow by a day. Thomson had to find accommodation and provide meals for the tourists before they could return them home, as well as issue an embarrassing apology.

Executives at the Civil Aviation Authority, which is the British regulator, were concerned that this was an “unusual incident”, and questioned whether engine manufacturers were managing their risks properly.

GE undertook an investigation and recently told the CAA that there had been eight similar issues in other engines worldwide. None of these involved British airlines, but the US giant had to make technical changes to ensure that other engines did not suffer such technical difficulties.

The problem also came at a bad time for Thomson, as it occurred only weeks after a flight from the Dominican Republic to Manchester had to make an emergency landing at a military airport in the middle of the Atlantic.

This was a more serious issue, as the plane’s right engine had to be shut down mid-flight. At one stage, the aircraft dropped by 500ft a minute so that the captain could fly at a safer, lower altitude before reaching the Azores, and 288 passengers were ultimately delayed by more than 11 hours.

A GE Aviation spokesman said of the Cancun incident: “GE has moved aggressively to determine the cause. GE and Boeing have developed an engine control software modification that will sharply reduce potential acoustic resonance (vibration) within the combustor that could lead to the alignment shift. The new software modifies the engine’s fuel flow characteristics to reduce the acoustic resonance level. The inspection program has been highly successful … . The company does not believe this is a safety or air worthiness issue for airline operators.”

A spokesman for the CAA said that GE and Thomson had “identified the cause and addressed the issue”.


Pilot and Dispatcher Asks National Transportation Safety Board to Reopen Investigation of Buddy Holly Plane Crash

LUBBOCK, TX AND STORM LAKE, IA -- A New England man, L.J. Coon, has asked the National Transportation Safety Board to reexamine the deadly plane crash that killed Buddy Holly of Lubbock along with J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens and the pilot, Roger Peterson. According to the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune, Coon is a pilot and an aircraft dispatcher. He contacted the NTSB to request the February 3, 1959 crash be reexamined. 

Coon said there is no mention of the fuel gages in the original accident report. He also said the plane’s center of gravity would be compromised with too much weight loaded on the rear of the plane. 

In an email to on Sunday, Coon said at a minimum the 1947 Bonanza 35 was 100 pounds outside the center of gravity and that's if the passengers had their luggage in their laps. 

Coon said in his email, “Attempting to load the 60 pounds of luggage into the Bonanza's [rear] compartment would prove interesting, especially if this luggage was allowed to move further to the rear away from directly behind the rear seating.”

While the fuel gauge was not described by the original Civil Aeronautics Board report, the fuel pressure gauge did show normal pressure. The investigation showed the engine was turning at 2,200 rpm at the time of the crash. 

Coon disputed the idea that Peterson was flying in white-out conditions. He said the visibility was still 6 miles at the Mason City airport and therefore, he disagreed that Peterson is to blame for flying in conditions that were beyond his experience. 

The original report said, “It is believed that shortly after takeoff pilot Peterson entered an area of complete darkness and one in which there was no definite horizon.”

Coon also pointed out that the front passenger seat included a pair of rudder pedals. If Holly had placed pressure on one of the pedals – accidentally, intentionally, or for whatever reason – Coon said it would have made control of the airplane more difficult. 

Will the NTSB reopen the case? Within the last week, the NTSB gave Coon instructions on what needed to be submitted for consideration and Coon is in the process of trying to follow those instructions to the satisfaction of the NTSB. 

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Beechcraft 35 Bonanza, N3794N, Dwyer Flying Service

Wrestlers recall plane crash off Tampa that changed their careers

Buddy Colt poses for a photograph along with one of his championship wrestling belts at his home in Tampa. CHRIS URSO/STAFF

TAMPA — Dennis McCord remembers minute details of the plane crash.

The time was 1 a.m. Safety was a 300-yard swim away. The light they stroked toward hung from the back porch of a home owned by Emelia Martinez.

But today, 40 years later, McCord’s strongest memory from that February morning was the silence of the Cessna 182 cabin as he and the three other men on board realized they were lost in a blur of rain and clouds off the shore of Davis Islands.

The four were professional wrestlers. Silence was not in their nature. They knew something bad was about to happen.

“The silence was eerie. Then we heard a loud boom,” said McCord, 65, of Greeneville, S.C., a graduate of Robinson High School who was known in professional wrestling as “Austin Idol. “The next thing I remember are the white caps.”

McCord was the first to free himself from the plane and swim to the surface, he said.

Gary Williams, known as wrestling manager Gary Hart, was next.

Then came Ronald Reed, aka Buddy Colt, who was piloting the plane.

Robert Schoenberger, the wrestler Bobby Shane, never made it out of the plane. He drowned in his seat at age 29.

The accident happened during a time when Tampa had no professional football, hockey or baseball.

Professional wrestling, operating then under the guise of legitimate competition, was the city’s top attraction. The performers were Tampa’s most famous residents.

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The four in the crash were considered “bad guys” in the industry, willing to cheat and maim to win.

In a testament to how convincing they were, some people in Tampa actually cheered the news of the crash, said Bruce Mitchell, a professional wrestling historian and columnist with Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter.

Schoenberger was a rising star in the ring and was considered a future creative force for the industry.

When wrestling fans today hear the nickname “The King,” Mitchell said, they think of WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Lawler of Memphis. But the crown gimmick was created by Schoenberger.

The crash Feb. 20, 1975, was a turning point in the lives of the victims.

McCord was able to continue his career, despite a crushed foot.

Williams, who died in 2008 at 66, is remembered as a manager but also had performed as a wrestler on occasion. Not after the crash, though. He suffered lingering pain from a broken wrist and injured back.

Reed, Florida’s first top villain, the man the fans paid top dollar to see as he got his comeuppance, never wrestled again. He snapped both ankles in the crash. His feet dangled to the side as he swam.

“It changed my life,” said Reed, 79, who still lives in Tampa. “But it’s not something that I constantly think about.”

McCord agreed.

“You can’t live in the rearview mirror. Every morning you have to move on to that day.”

Reed and McCord rarely communicated in the decades after the accident and have not spoken at all in years.

“We never really knew each other,” McCord said. “We had just met maybe a few weeks before the crash.”

Still, they acknowledge they are forever linked by that day.

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Reed was discovered by a professional wrestling promoter in Houston while training for a power lifting competition.

He was a natural with his immense physique, Marine toughness and background in amateur wrestling and martial arts.

Less than a year later, he was headlining a show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden against “Killer” Kowalski, real name Edward Spulnik — one of the industry’s biggest stars at the time.

Professional wrestling was different then. The big name today, WWE, did not dominate the landscape.

Instead, each area of the country had its own local promotions and champion that came under the umbrella of networks such as the National Wrestling Alliance, the American Wrestling Alliance or the World Wide Wrestling Federation, which later became the WWE.

The regional stars would travel the country to build their national fame in hopes of garnering enough fame to earn one of the major promotions’ world titles and the money that came with it.

That’s where Reed was headed, he said, when the plane crash dashed his ascent.

“I was promised a world title run with the NWA,” he said.

Reed wrestled many of the greats of the era, including Lou Thesz and “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers.

He won eight different titles along the way, including the North American Heavyweight Championship.

And he was one of the era’s most hated wrestlers.

Bleach-blonde baddy Reed was infamous for jabbing his thumb into his opponents’ neck to cut off their breathing.

Fans didn’t just want to boo him, they wanted a hand in ending his career.

One time, after he bloodied beloved Danny Hodge, more than two dozen fans rushed the ring to get at him.

“I started slinging a chain around to protect myself,” he said. “It was intense.”

Then there was the time a fan fired a gun at him. The bullet missed but skimmed the neck of another fan.

“He seemed very real,” historian Mitchell said. “He gave great tough guy interviews that gave the impression he would have torn your head off if he wanted to. And he had that type of style in the ring. He was real good.”

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In 1972, Reed competed in Championship Wrestling from Florida, headquartered at Tampa’s Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, wrestling’s Madison Square Garden of the South.

In 1973, he won the Florida heavyweight title and held it through 1974.

McCord began wrestling in Tampa a year later.

He grew up in Tampa but had no interest in wrestling until he heard how much the performers earned.

He was a close friend of the late Mike Gossett, better known as professional wrestler Mike Graham and son of Eddie “Graham” Gossett, head promoter for Championship Wrestling from Florida.

While hanging at the Gossett home, McCord overheard the father on the phone making a $1,000 deal for a wrestler. He decided he wanted paydays like that.

McCord was trained by Tampa professional wrestling legends: Jack Brisco, the wrestling name of Fred Brisco; Yasuhiro Kojima otherwise known as Hiro Matsuda and Bob Roop, who used his real name in the ring

Eleven months after getting started, in 1972, McCord found steady wrestling work in Nashville performing as tough muscle man “Iron Mike” McCord, Mike being his real middle name.

His first paycheck was $160 for six days of work per week

“I thought, ‘Where is my $1,000?’” he said. “I was starving.”

But he made the big bucks soon enough.

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Like Reed, McCord was a natural. He was a three-sport athlete at Robinson — baseball, football and basketball — and competed in power lifting after graduation.

He left Nashville and worked in Carolina and Australia, then spent a year with the WWWF in New York and returned to Tampa.

Just before McCord came back, Reed received his pilot’s license and bought a plane.

That was normal for successful wrestlers at that time, Reed said.

Tampa was the heart of Florida wrestling but performers had gigs in cities up and down the state and across the Southeast.

A plane allowed them to make it to more shows and earn more wages and make it home each night, saving money on hotels.

A plane paid for itself in the long haul, especially if others flew along and kicked in gas money. That was the deal on the day of the crash.

The wrestlers enjoyed a smooth flight to Miami, performed there, then boarded the plane for the trip back to Tampa.

The weather forecast, according to archived reports of the incident, was clear in Tampa until 4 a.m.

The sky in Miami was full of stars at takeoff, McCord recalled.

But when they neared Sarasota, they learned Tampa International Airport was closed to traffic due to a storm.

Pilot Reed said he wanted to land in Sarasota to wait out the bad weather but was instead rerouted to the small Peter O’Knight airport near the tip of Davis Islands.

Reed figured that meant storm had missed that area. By the time they reached Tampa, and learned otherwise, it was too late to turn back.

“It was raining like hell,” Reed said. “I banked into a cloud and couldn’t see. When that happens, you get vertigo. You can’t tell up from down or left from right. I was trying to find the landing mark and then bang.”

They were engulfed in darkness in wintery cold water.

If not for that back porch light, Reed said, they would not have known which way to swim.

“You don’t think about your pain or how hard it is to swim,” he said. “You think about surviving. And three of us did.”

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Once they made it to shore, Reed and McCord hoisted Williams onto the dock of the home.

The residents called police and helped the injured wrestlers to safety.

“It was a shocker. Huge names in the wrestling business had gone down in a plane crash,” said local radio personality Tedd Webb, who was a friend of the performers. “I hung out with McCord and Gary a lot during those dark days. They fought hard as hell to come back.”

Williams kept the “Gary Hart” stage name and spent most of his career in Texas after that.

McCord reinvented himself as “Austin Idol” — a flamboyant man who dubbed himself the “universal heartthrob” and spent most of his time in Memphis.

“What an amazing talent,” historian Mitchell said. “Before Hulkamania, there was Idolmania in Memphis”

Reed remained in the industry for a few years, as a wrestling manager and commentator in Florida, but it wasn’t the same.

“It was like going from being a brain surgeon to a hospital orderly,” he said. “I wanted to be in the ring.”

He went into hardware supply sales and found that his wrestling fame helped business.

“People knew me so were willing to listen to me,” he said.

As for flying, he took to the air as soon as he was medically cleared.

“I’ve never been nervous about crashing again,” Reed said. “It was an accident. A tragic one, but still an accident.”

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NTSB Identification: MIA75AM061

14 CFR Part 91 General Aviation
Aircraft: CESSNA 182J, registration: N456BC
 FILE    DATE          LOCATION          AIRCRAFT DATA       INJURIES       FLIGHT                        PILOT DATA
                                                               F  S M/N     PURPOSE
3-0770  75/2/20    TAMPA,FL            CESSNA 182J         CR-  0  1  0  NONCOMMERCIAL             PRIVATE, AGE 39, 105
        TIME - 0120                    N456BC              PX-  1  2  0  BUSINESS                  TOTAL HOURS, 55 IN TYPE,
                                       DAMAGE-DESTROYED    OT-  0  0  0                            NOT INSTRUMENT RATED.
          MIAMI,FL                    TAMPA,FL
        TYPE OF ACCIDENT                                         PHASE OF OPERATION

You're Fired! Airport Staff Booted After Russians Push Plane Down Runway


Several employees at a Western Siberian airport have been fired following an incident that saw passengers being asked to push their own plane down a runway in temperatures of minus 50 degrees Celsius — presumably to discourage staff from pulling a similar stunt.

More than 70 people aboard a regionally operated flight to Krasnodar from Igarka — a town in Russia's Krasnoyarsk region more than 100 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle — were asked to disembark in order to help prepare the plane for takeoff in November last year.

Word of the incident quickly made the rounds in the international media, with footage of the passengers pushing the plane in icy conditions gathering hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.

Neither the airport's air safety inspector, the ground technician, nor the on-duty traffic controller raised any objections to the passengers pushing the plane, despite the fact that this contravened air safety laws, the Interfax news agency cited Oksana Gorbunova, an assistant to the Western Siberian prosecutor, as saying Friday.

As a result all three employees involved in the incident have lost their jobs, Gorbunova said, adding that both the airport itself and the air steward on duty at the time will face disciplinary action.

The aviation safety inspector and the steward have also been fined 1,500 rubles ($21) for violating air safety requirements, Gorbunova was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Despite the drama, the plane involved in the incident eventually took off without any problems and arrived at its destination in Krasnodar two hours later, having incurred only a slight delay.

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In Sweden, Remote-Control Airport Is A Reality

 As our plane touches down in Sundsvall, Sweden, the horizon is all snow and ice. A small air traffic control tower sticks out above the white horizon.

But this airport actually has two air traffic control centers. The second one is just a short walk from the airport runway.

Inside a ground-floor, windowless room, there's a display that looks exactly like what you'd see out of an air traffic control tower. You can see the snowy runway, you can see the trees, you can even see a car pulling into the airport parking lot.

But instead of windows, these are actually screens. And the airport you're looking at isn't the one in Sundsvall. It's the one in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden — about 105 miles away.

Ornskoldsvik is the first airport in the world to land passenger planes remotely. This summer, an airport in Leesburg, Va., will become the first American airport to use the new technology.

Erik Backman runs the remote airplane landing center in the town of Sundsvall. He explains that the town of Ornskoldsvik has a tiny airport, and it's expensive to keep air traffic controllers there who spend hours with no planes to land.

So they decided to have one team in Sundsvall that could handle both cities.

"The day you have one air traffic controller who can control two airports, then you have some good benefits according to costs," Backman says.

A 'Paradigm Shift' For The Industry

In Ornskoldsvik, a set of cameras and microphones delivers a real-time image to Sundsvall. Of course, new technology is notoriously glitchy.

And a problem landing an airplane is far more consequential than a laptop freezing up.

Backman says when he saw the first mockup of this technology in 2004, he was dubious. The room had to be dark, the pictures were jumpy.

But a decade later, they've been landing planes remotely for months without any major problems.

Mikael Henriksson, the project manager, has been an air traffic controller for 40 years. He says in all his time looking out tower windows, there were only three big innovations: blinds to block out the sun, thicker glass to block out the noise, and bug zappers to get rid of the flies.

Now, he's had a chance to play with this new technology, and he can't believe it only arrived near the end of his career.

"For the air traffic controller, this is like airline pilots going from propeller to jet," Henriksson says. "It's a paradigm shift."

Many Uses, Including Potentially For The Military

Because once the windows are replaced with screens, you can overlay all kinds of information on the display: airplane numbers, runway incursion warnings. You can zoom in, or switch to an infrared view to see through thick fog or darkness.

And that might make this technology useful even for big, crowded airports.

Anders Carp is head of traffic management at Saab, the Swedish defense and security company that created this technology. He thinks there are worldwide — even military — applications.

Airports in dangerous places could have a camera house instead of a control tower, he says. The air traffic controllers could be a few — or a few thousand — miles away in a safe environment, because it doesn't matter whether the remote tower is across town or on the other side of the earth.

Back in the Sundsvall control center, a plane descends toward the Ornskoldsvik runway. We watch it move across the screen. The sound shifts in stereo as the plane rolls along.

The passengers — and even the pilot — have no idea whether they've been brought in for a landing from the tower they can see out their window, or from this hidden, remote center more than a 100 miles away.

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Mikael Henriksson works at an air traffic control center in the town of Sundsvall, Sweden. But the screens show the airport in the tiny town of Ornskoldsvik, more than 100 miles away. It's the world's first facility to use new technology to help passenger planes land far away at an unmanned airport. Rich Preston/NPR

Officials meet to address airplane safety after recent calamities

WASHINGTON >> Government and aviation industry officials from dozens of countries are meeting in Montreal this week to try to find consensus on how to keep from losing airliners like the one that vanished without a trace in Asia and another shot down in Eastern Europe.

It is only the second high-level safety conference in the 70-year history of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, but last year was calamitous. A Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared in March and has not been found. In July, another Malaysia Airlines flight was down shot down while flying over an area of Ukraine where ethnic Russian rebels are trying to secede.

There is broad agreement that the agency should build a database where governments can send intelligence or warnings about risks to aircraft flying over conflict zones. Historically, though, nations other than the United States rarely have posted public warnings about such risks in other countries. Few have global intelligence networks, and it has been considered almost impolite for one country to issue a warning about another. Instead, the practice has been for each country to issue warnings only about its own airspace.

But that is changing.

ICAO, the U.N. agency, sent an urgent warning to members on Jan. 14 that airlines flying over Libya risk being shot down. On Jan. 22, the European Aviation Safety Agency distributed a French warning that flights over Pakistan might be subject to “terrorist attacks.”

Ukraine had warned airlines flying over its territory to remain above 32,000 feet. The Malaysia plane, however, was flying at about 33,000 feet from the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, when it was fired upon.

A majority of the 298 people aboard were Dutch citizens. The Netherlands wants airlines to tell passengers before takeoff whether a plane’s flight path will cross a conflict zone. Airlines and other nations say that goes too far.

While sympathetic to the Dutch concerns, “we’re also confident that an ICAO centralized database represents a reasonable balance,” said Kenneth Quinn, former general counsel at the Federal Aviation Administration.

There also are disagreements about whether database information should be screened before being made public, and how to handle conflicting or inaccurate information. Besides official intelligence, the database is expected to include media reports and other unofficial information.

The U.S. does not believe the U.N. agency is capable of evaluating the information and wants sources of reports be identified so users can decide how much weight they want to give them, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is politically sensitive. “There may be conflicting information, but you don’t make the world safer by protecting people from ambiguity,” the official said.

As for keeping track of planes, there is agreement it needs to be done better, but no certainty on how to do that.

The U.N. agency and the International Air Transport Association, the world’s leading airline trade group, want long-haul flights over ocean to report their whereabouts every 15 minutes. If a plane deviates from its route or if there is some irregularity, the plane automatically would report its position every minute. That way an impact site should be within about 6 nautical miles of the last reported position.

Some airlines are balking at the potential cost. There also is disagreement over whether specific technology solutions should be required or whether airlines should be allowed to choose their own, so long as a plane can meet the reporting standard.

Malaysia Airlines 370 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard. The Boeing 777 was capable of reporting continuous location information by satellite, but the system was not in use. The plane is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean. More than 25,000 square miles of ocean have been searched, but nothing has been found.

Current global aviation standards require that airliners flying long distances over water report their position about every 45 minutes, but satellite services can provide more precise information. Customers of Spidertracks, a New Zealand company that provides satellite-based tracking mostly to charter operators flying to remote or dangerous parts of the world, can monitor the movements of planes in near real time on their smartphones or laptops and exchange two-way text messages with the aircraft.

Part of the need to find lost planes is for the recovery of flight data and cockpit voice recorders, also known as “black boxes,” to learn what happened.

European regulators and aircraft maker Airbus want planes equipped with black boxes that automatically eject and float to the surface in the event of a water crash. The boxes would have emergency locator transmitters, but there are doubts about their effectiveness.

Boeing officials, who oppose the idea, have told aviation forums that the company is unaware of a single instance in which one of its airliners has been found as the result of an emergency locator transmitter. The company wants the flexibility to decide which technologies work best.

One way to get around the need for floating black boxes would be for airliners to stream much of the data via satellite to ground stations or cloud data storage sites. But cost is a major factor, and there are concerns about privacy and security.

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that black boxes and flight tracking methods also be made tamper resistant. MH370’s transponder and other equipment that might have been used to track the plane shut down during the flight. Global aviation officials suspect they were deliberately turned off, but without the plane or its black boxes there is no way to know for certain.



International Civil Aviation Organization:

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