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Rebuttal to Vanity Fair Story on AF447 Accident

Patrick Smith at "Ask the Pilot" takes on William Langewiesche's characterizations of pilots and cockpit automation. ( さらに...

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I am a big fan of Patrick Smith, and I think he generally does a great job with his "Ask the Pilot" pieces. However, as a professional pilot just like Mr. Smith, I think he has misplaced his anger. In this response to Langewiesche's very much on-point article, he says that he is "steaming mad" etc. with Langewiesche's characterizations of those of us who are professional pilots. I'm mad too, but for much different reasons than Mr. Smith, and not at Langewiesche. I'm mad that a 'well-trained' crew of a widebody jet could err so badly to cause what may survive as history's most well-known and most lethal falling-leaf stall. I'm mad that CRM, the concept that every single flight crewmember in this industry trusts to save our jobs and our lives, broke down so spectacularly in this case. I'm sad, too, because none of the three men at the front of that airplane saw what was about to kill them until it was far too late, and frankly I know how easy it is to be tired and cranky and complacent and end up making grave errors. These guys just didn't live to learn from their mistakes.

William Langewiesche, by dint of his equally significant experience in aviation and in writing, did all of his homework and has penned one of the most significant pieces on aviation safety in the last decade. Yes, it's damning, and as a professional pilot doubly so. But, damning or not, that doesn't chance the fact that Langewiesche is spot on with his analysis of the problems that lead to the crash of Air France 447, and that continue to dog the industry, as evinced by Asiana 214 last year, Colgan 3407 in 2009, and many other accidents and incidents that don't hold such a place in the public's mind. Smith is right in that pilots of "old-fashioned, seat-of-the-pants airplanes" also made "knuckleheaded" mistakes. Acknowledging failures of the past, however, doesn't do a damn thing to fix problems of the present. Pieces like Langewiesche's "The Human Factor", however, can start down the road to making things better.

Bravo, William Langewiesche, on a very well-done piece.
btweston 4
I think that the author was so jacked up about getting his feelings hurt that he missed the point of the original article. In fact, I wonder if he really read the whole thing.

Rather than responding to what was actually written (a deep and broad examination of a specific case, utilizing years of research data and the opinions of many different pilots and engineers), he decided to cherry pick a few parts which contravene his self image. Ironically, that mindset is one of the very things that the Vanity Fair article covers.

The idea that we cannot ask questions about the current state of the relationship between pilots and automation is absurd and irresponsible. As the article states, "...the mental makeup of airline pilots has changed. On this there is nearly universal agreement—at Boeing and Airbus, and among accident investigators, regulators, flight-operations managers, instructors, and academics." Those are some pretty solid sources. Is the "Ask the Pilot" guy accusing the VF author of lying? Sounds to me like he felt uncomfortable and perceived some personal offense, then decided to write a superficial, defensive "rebuttal." That's bush league, honestly.
"...the mental makeup of airline pilots has changed. On this there is nearly universal agreement—at Boeing and Airbus, and among accident investigators, regulators, flight-operations managers, instructors, and academics."

And becoming well recognized in the rank and file. It's a wonder we haven't lost more and I think a testament to the old heads still out there that give a damn.
btweston 2
Hear hear! Awesome comment. It's rare that wisdom and experience join forces with humility and writing skills here on the interwebs. Thanks for your point of view.
btweston 2
Wow that's embarrassing.... Pretend I didn't post that comment there... Damn you iPhone!
btweston 2
Make believe the above comment was for Keith VanLierop. My magical machine won't let me comment there... Speaking of technology lol.... Meh...
pretending. LOL
It went there on mine
Pileits 2
Having flown Airbus passenger airliners as the PIC for many years I found this article very accurate as to how the failings of the airbus cockpit design ergonomic's are a TOTAL failure that only creates confusion when so-call stuff hits the fan.
I hated the airplane from day one but had to fly it because there was no other airplane type available that my seniority could hold. (Read BOEING airplane)
A few years back I met one of the Airbus design engineers also long retired who even said he thought the that in his opinion airbus made a REAL mess out of an airplane that might have otherwise been good.
He admitted that airbus tried to make their cockpits "idiot" proof by taking away from the pilot essential information that he might actually really need when things go black over the ocean at night. I might add, Boeing never did that thus far and there in lies the major difference.

In an airbus aircraft when major flight control systems begin to fail the airplane becomes a nightmare to try and fly. Meaning the flight controls degrade themselves into operating modes that feel and handle entirely different from the normal airplane. In effect the pilot is now flying an airplane that handles very differently then the airplane they were flying before the failure.

As a Capt flying the airbus I very MUCH objected to the fact that the control sticks are not mechanically linked in anyway. If you are the non-flying pilot you have no visual cue as to what control inputs the pilot flying is using. Where as on Boeing aircraft with mechanically link control WHEELS you SEE the controls moving as the flying pilot maneuvers the aircraft (call that visual feedback) Airbus give the non-flying pilot none of that information that Boeing does! No visual feedback is a large reason why that AirFrance A-330 smacked the ocean.
The pilot flying never released the full back pressure on his stick during the entire fall into the ocean. In other words the airplane remained in a stall condition all the way to the end and nobody could see what he was doing leading to the death of hundreds of people.

All you "flamers" out there have at it. @Jeremy Kidick and how many actual hours of flight time do YOU have in airbus cockpits??
All my time was in a Boeing but even at that I heard enough from close friends to see that was a big crock and I would have objected too. Glad you survived.
Airbus would have you think theirs is an automated cockpit with no real need for a pilot. Well, the SHTF on this flight and due to the simple non linking of the control sticks brought down an A 330 an full load of PAX. If they are going to try and outpace Boeing, they need to pay attention to some of the things they have done over the years. They really can't brag about miracle on the Hudson, cause while not a big fan of how he has turned out, Sully is one hell of a pilot and could have landed anything there
btweston 3
I don't know... I seem to recall a couple of Boeing pilots who trusted the robots flying their plane into a seawall not too long ago. It's really just about knowing how your machine works, whether you play the oboe or fly sophisticated multimillion dollar aircraft.
Well, you are correct. There is the age old argument to go with that about which would have held up the best, the Boeing as it did, or would the Airbus have scattered on down the runway, probably killing a few more. The FLCH is a well known thing on the Boeings and by his previous Boeing time, he should have known about it, but his recent time was on the Bus. One reason they crashed was to much time prior in the cockpit of the bus and a false sense of security, not to mention the culture thing.
I was on a test flight of a Boeing 737 once upon the completion of a heavy maintenance check and one of the things the flight crew has to do is to take the plane up to FL350 and turn off the hydraulics to make sure that the plane doesn't go out of control or deviate too much when there is a sudden loss of hydraulic power to the flight controls. The flight crew did this and everything was within limits, successful test flight, but instead of turning hydraulics back on and heading back to the airport the crew decided to fly around for a while without hydraulics just to feel it, because it has a completely different feel to it, absolutely nothing like if the hydraulics were still on, your first point of the aircraft being completely different when the flight controls degrade goes for ALL aircraft.

The linking of control sticks would be nothing more than a convenience. You are telling me that PROFESSIONAL pilots cannot comminicate what they are doing. Even though the Airbus does not have linked sticks, they still have THREE methods available to see what the other is doing. 1) Verbally, not once did the PIC simply ask what the PF was doing with the stick. 2) Visually looking over to SEE what he is doing. 3) Visually again by looking at the flight control surface indication screen.

The only thing that crashed that plane was the idiot holding the stick nose up. The PIC even told him SEVERAL times to put the nose down as he was probably checking the horizon indicator periodically.
Well, it goes to show that no matter how hard you try, you can't over come stupid. As far as the control sticks not linked, in this case it was dark and PNF could not see and panel was going blooey. One problem I see is that PNF did not call my Airplane and take control, as he was senior. Either way and what ever the reason though, the crash cause was holding the nose up. Whether panic, gut feel, or faulty panel, it crashed and they all died.
He took control twice, called it out only once, but the FO kept taking it back right away and he tried just doing without taking control a couple times and got the DUAL INPUT call out from the plane, bottom line, there was no CRM and the PF (FO) should have been the PNF the whole time. IMHO
Should have just bitch slapped him and took it. That would have got his attention and showed that he was serious. As far as FO staying PIC, he crashed the plane while the other one tried not to. idk
linbb 1
Just telling him did no good I see the point of having linked controls as then you would know what the other was doing not just talking about it which did NO good.
Well, you make the comment that it degrades into an airplane that handles very differently than the one they were flying. Never having flown one and just hearing secondhand, I wonder how much training is done in this regard or is the arrogant attitude that it won't happen just shrugged off. This PF, if I remember right, failed to recognize that law was changing and he was getting the Aircraft back.
Hello All,

I found the article in VF and the many comments I have read very interesting. I believe there is validity in both.

For me, the best thing about the article is it has created a discussion both pro and con concerning the items stated in the VF piece. Discussion is good, it creates awareness and by stating thoughts, facts, and opinions we have to articulate both verbally and in writing our thoughts.

This discussion, when done both emotionally and logically helps to affirm or question our beliefs. Reply comments (discussion) may pose both pro and con statements.

The civility within the comments on this page is very nice. Respectful and an implied agreement to disagree at times, seemingly without ad hominen attacks. Very rare on any blog and very impressive..

This says much about the commentators.

In all, I believe the author of the VF article has done anyone associated with Aviation a service. By association I refer to pilots, aeronautical engineers, passengers and the curious, etc... By service I refer to discussion.

Thank you
Had the same thing happen at 410 in a BE-400, iced up pitots, lost the FDC and A/P, A/S, etc, in turbulence near TRWs. One thing the Beech had was AOA, and it made the descent a relatively calm event till the ice melted off and everything returned to normal. IMO all transport aircraft (>12,500 lbs.) should have AOAs, not offered as an option. Part of the fun sim work was flying AOA and power settings.
Seems to me this Airbus had the AOA as they are pretty much standard anymore, but that because the panel was going blooey, he either didn't trust it or didn't use it. I personally think all the bells and whistles just overwhelmed them.
linbb 1
And about those old steam gauges they don't have any more. Just an old ex pilot talking here as never flown glass before or yet I guess. Too many things going on for me.
Well, the glass is nice but going from steam to glass, out of a 707 to a 757 took more than a SIM to get used to. That first actual flight was a real trip, for me and FO.
All commercial jets have AOA's, just usually no read-out for them, only the stall warning, sink rate, etc...
Sorry to say Patrick but William is also an ATP, and being the son of the author of Stick and Rudder I'm going to say he is just as or more knowledgeable than you on the subject. His article was spot-on and it was a great read.
Patrick is an ATP but seems to have looked only after his own nest in recent years. He has pretty much decided to stay as long term FO for his current airline rather than take full responsibility as a captain; at least that was his say in his last article. You can sit back and bitch more from that position.
Not going to flame you, but my opinion regarding the bus being inferior to a Boeing is totally different because of actual no shit life or death experience where if I'd been in a Boeing I wouldn't be writing this. I needed to rotate early (v1 - 30) to try and get over an air canada aircraft that had entered the runway. Full aft stick and we cleared the air canada plane less than 50'. We didn't have time to attempt the Boeing max effort of pulling in and out of the stick shaker to get max effort out of the airplane. I still remember thinking the gear was gonna drag the top of the fuselage as I saw the top of the rudder in the side window.

Hate on the Airbus all you want. I'll take the bus every day of the week and twice on Sunday. But I won't get on one in a third world country. No way. You have to know what's going on with the airplane and make it work for you.

Can flying ANY airliner make you lazy and lose some proficiency? Of course. It's up to the pilot to make sure that doesn't happen. I handfly the bus a lot. So do my co pilots. Is that what the company trains us to do? No. We do it to stay proficient.
Well, 3rd world mx and proficiency leaves a desire at times and I think you have a right to feel that way. You make a perfect case though of FLYING THE PLANE, regardless of the situation, and I think that this is probably the point of contention between Patrick and the other article. In any profession, you have those that want to hang on to the basics and those that want to push buttons and just don't care. That is the difference in Professionals.
jthew1 1
William should read Wolfgang's (Langewiesche) "Stick and Rudder"!
btweston 1
You think he didn't? Exclamation point?
Tell us how you really feel. ;)

It's a shame such a sensationalist piece of junk appears in a major publication, but your rebuttal (and others, I'm sure) is read only by those who know your website exists.
btweston 3
That's funny, the only sensationalism I saw was the butthurt article written by the "Ask the Pilot" guy.


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