In less than 20 minutes Barak Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. A few hours later, George W Bush, now a common man, flies home to Crawford Texas where he will hopefully retire quietly.
He’ll fly on a VC-25A, the Air Force designation for the specially modified Boeing 747-200B. On the trip, the aircraft will be known as either Air Force 28000 or 29000. The aircraft are only referred to as “Air Force One” when the sitting President is on board. Actually, any airplane that is carrying the President is officially Air Force One.
Mr. President, I’d like to invite you to come up to Brampton for a ride in a Cessna 172R. It would be so cool to make this radio call:
“BRAMPTON UNICOM. AIR FORCE ONE ON FINAL TO RUNWAY 33, HARD STOP”
Did you hear about the plane that ditched in the Hudson River yesterday? Just kidding. The media is on this one non-stop. And so is the ‘Net. “The pilot’s a hero”, “No, he was just doing his job”. Back and forth, back and forth.
Over at Fark, there’s a long thread about the pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, III. One posting really sums things up:
Sully did a superb job. It’s hard to think of a worse place to lose all your engines. Mountainous terrain at night is bad, but all you will kill on the ground is a moose. NYC? There is no place to go that isn’t going to take out a whole bunch of people. But to put this in perspective, picture the worst test you took in college. Make it 10 multiple choice questions. Now put the teacher in front of you with a shotgun pointed at your head, who says "you have 180 seconds to get all 10 questions right, and if you get any wrong, any of them, I *will* blow your head clean off, right then. now … go." Flying pilot is flying. Non flying pilot is grabbing checklists, scanning instruments, shutting off beeps and voices etc. Passengers are starting to scream. No real idea what happened (they almost certainly did not see the birds) and you can’t see the engines from the cockpit. Speed is bleeding off rapidly. Lower the nose. You have to figure out what of maybe 5 or 6 different scenarios that could have made the symptoms you are seeing (compressor stall? some sort of fuel failure? bad pumps, contaminated fuel? funky french computer programming? bird strike? maybe a real honest to god shoe bomber?). While you are flying and your buddy is pushing buttons, reading checklists and scanning gauges, your choices are changing. The right answer, which you don’t know yet, is changing because your position and altitude are changing. Turn towards westchester? Stewart? Teterboro? The river? Picture taking that multiple choice test in which you have 180 seconds to get 10 questions right, but the questions themselves change every 5 seconds. Can we even do an air restart at this altitude and airspeed? Plus, as your non-flying checklist reading compatriot is struggling, you have to start concluding you aren’t getting the engines restarted. Which now is a whole different mindset. Look for something, anything to land on that isn’t a huge building or a bridge. Tell your non-flying buddy to start thinking water landing – a whole different set of checklists. Tell the cabin crew. start shutting stuff off. Oh yeah, has anyone told the controller anything yet? Watch the airspeed, no stalls here. Squawk 7700? Maybe say I love you to your wife and kids, who will at least get to hear you in the voice recorder? Buddy, whats best glide for this weight, look it up right now. Whats the suggested configuration for a water landing, flaps what 10?, 0 what? What does the wind look like near the surface of the river, we don’t want to hit in a crab, or you get that whole flipping over breaking up thing. Sh*t there’s a bridge. Stretch the glide just a tad. Christ there’s a lot of sh*t in NYC. Please, mr. ferry boat captain, look up. Keep it stone cold level. Actually use those rudder pedals for once. Hey, it was good working with you. Bang. Jesus H. Christ we are still alive.
The entire flight crew of US Airways 1549 is to be commended. The passengers are to be commended. The ferry captains and emergency responders are to be commended.
Just a few more days before George Bush boards Marine One on the White House lawn and makes that trip to Crawford Texas where he can cut wood, fall off his bike or do whatever the hell he wants as long as he goes away.
Let’s take a few minutes to look back on the eight years that sent the United States down the shitter and unfortunately has the rest of the world swirling in the bowl.
As an update on my Christmas Miracle story about the Continental 737 that ran off the runway in Denver and burst into flames with only minor injuries, USA Today is saying that sources are speculating that the pilot might be to blame.
A preliminary report released by investigators suggests that the pilot was fighting a strong crosswind on the takeoff run. Instead of using the rudder pedals to keep the aircraft on the centreline he tried to correct using the nosewheel steering. This is dangerous and, if true, just plain dumb.
The wheel, highlighted by the arrow is made to allow turning at low speed. Anyone who’s been on a commercial airplane at a large airport knows there’s no such thing as a straight line from the runway to the gate. Without the ability to turn those front wheels the pilots would have to rely on brakes and power (just as I have to do in the little Cessna).
As you start a takeoff, either in a Cessna 172 or a Boeing 737, all steering is done with the rudder which is the moveable part of the tail fin. To try any other steering method is dangerous and crazy.
Once again, this is only a preliminary report but as a possible cause it’s a doozy.
Continental Airlines flight 1404 began its takeoff run at 1808 MST on Saturday evening at Denver airport for a routine flight to Houston. Carrying 115 passengers and crew, the Boeing 737-500 series airplane was heavy with fuel as it thundered down the runway.
Preliminary indications are that, just after lifting off, something went wrong with one of the engines and the pilots aborted the takeoff. In their attempts to slow and stop, the aircraft veered left off the runway, shot across the grass and finally came to rest about 200 yards from an airport fire station. A fire broke out but, amazingly, everyone evacuated with a number of injuries but no fatalities.
115 people will have an extra reason to celebrate this holiday season. They’re still alive.
UPDATE 1: Jon over at Flightblogger makes the point that we shouldn’t call it a “miracle”. Pilot and flight attendant training and a well manufactured airplane ensured that everyone survived.
UPDATE 2: Passengers are saying that a pre-boarding announcement said that the plane had “engine problems” but they had been corrected.
At 7:04 EST (12:04 UTC) the Sun reached its Southermost declination. Winter officially arrived. Cold, but not as cold as yesterday, and light, fluffy, beautiful snow. The days start to get a little longer and winter settles in for the next few months.
Perhaps it’s a good time to skate away on the ice of a new day.