UPS1354 at Birmingham, AL BHM

UPS1354 crash BHM

The all weather runway at BHM was closed by some one in ATC at the request of the field electrical maintenance office. This was done on a scheduled basis, ahead of time, probably in writing. Why did or didn’t someone in ATC coordinate the scheduled arrival of the UPS 1354 with the maintenance work request? Who and why did someone in ATC make the decision on a night with IFR or MVFR weather to give priority between a scheduled airline arriving at 5am and a field electrician for the main all weather instrument runway, to the field electrician? UPS Airline is a scheduled FAR Part 121 airline, so how is it that no one in BHM FAA ATC office did not know or keep track of this schedule? Why, when the FAA departure to arrival flight-following flight plan (old circuit B) generated by the departure from Louisville (SDF) of UPS 1354 come off the printer in the BHM ATC office, did the ATC supervisor not clear the field electrician off the all weather runway in time for this scheduled arrival? Who made that decision and why? Was it an arbitrary decision or was it in keeping with FAA ATC SOP?
Why did the NTSB not delve into this question? Why did no one ask this question? Did somthing influence NTSB & FAA investigators to not look here? In my opinion we owe it to the flight crew members, who for some unexplained reason, were forced by BHM ATC into shooting a non-precision 1940’s technology instrument approach over dangerous hilly terrain on a foggy night, all while a perfectly good, multi-million dollar, latest technology precision instrument approach system lay unassigned so that someone could change out light bulbs. Why have all this expensive, highly engineered technology at all, if it can be over ridden by what appears to be the policy of “two levels of safety” amongst people in the FAA rearing its ugly head, once again?


Air Asia 8501 Crash: Cause is No Mystery-Thunderstorms Can Kill

Captain Paul Miller in cockpit

Captain Paul Miller, Night Flight

In the 1931 novel “Night Flight” by Saint-Exupéry, we learn that even intrepid pioneering aviation heroes in the end are not match for thunderstorms in Patagonia.  We find out that thunderstorms can and will kill. We loose the wonderful hero of this timeless novel, a story of some of the earliest commercial night mail pilots. It is a book that professional pilots and readers the world over have kept popular for over 80 years.

Now we see the crash of Air Asia 8501 as the latest dreadful and inglorious chapter in the story of commercial aviation. Thunderstorms can kill.

Thunderstorms can kill with hail, turbulence, lightning and icing.

Hail will shred aluminum leading edges of the wing and tail. Hail will bend, dent and destroy the leading compressor blades of a turbine engine, components spinning at tens of thousand of revolution per minute. Hail will dislodge and destroy the multitude of radio antennae and necessary flight probes sticking out in the free airstream. Hail will pock-mark, crack and puncture flight deck windscreens, windscreens that protect the flight crew from 300 mph winds, minus 60 degree temperatures and air so thin humans can not inhale enough oxygen to live.

Turbulent vertical wind shears will load up a wing with positive two times the acceleration of gravity one moment and slam back in the opposite direction the next with an equal and negative acceleration, and keep doing this over and over again.100_3975

Lightning can burn holes in fiberglass, aluminum and composite components of an aircraft exterior and flight surfaces.

Clear icing can coat an aircraft with a slick covering, increasing its weight beyond the wings ability to sustain flight. Rime ice can build quickly on flight control leading edges, disrupting the airflow needed to sustain controlled flight, raising drag significantly above the engines ability to push forward and again adding weight.

Thunderstorms can and have destroyed numerous aircraft in the history of commercial flight.  The danger to commercial aircraft is so severe that US commercial pilots are required by the FAA and their companies to remain clear of thunderstorm cells and even the overhang of ice crystals, sometimes referred to as the anvil.

Are modern commercial passenger and cargo aircraft safe to operate inside of thunderstorms? This question has been asked numerous times in the week since Air Asia 8501 disappeared from radar screens.  Let’s examine the current FAA standard specifications for commercial transport category aircraft. Are commercial aircraft and engine building companies required to produce aircraft and engines capable of sustained flight in conditions of hail, lightning, icing and severe vertical turbulence?  If so, were any of the current transport category aircraft and engines now flying ever certified by such field tests? Data please?

Are any US certified commercial passenger or cargo airlines currently certified to operate inside thunderstorms in their operation specifications or OpSpecs? I know of none. Are  FAR Part 121 airline dispatchers required to demonstrate their knowledge of thunderstorm avoidance flight planning and flight following by the FAA in order to be certified to operate as a dispatcher?

Are any US certified commercial airmen trained and certified for sustained flight operations inside thunderstorms? Not that I am aware of.

Is FAA air traffic control required by their own regulations to vector commercial aircraft around thunderstorms? Is the national weather service required to keep FAA ATC informed of areas of thunderstorm activity?

So how is it that airlines around the world, operating commercial transport category aircraft, airlines such as Air Asia, in aircraft such as Airbus 320 family, under the direct supervision of a trained and certified dispatchers with access to current up-to-the-minute satellite photographs of, not only thunderstorm cells in the planned flight path of the airline’s flight, but areas and lines of thunderstorms, do not advise their own company flights of safer routes? How is it that the local and enroute air traffic controllers, whose ground-to-air radar is exceptionally good at depicting weather,  might deny a flight’s request to divert around or over a massive area of thunderstorms and then not offer some safe alternative assistance?

Where is the team work, the coordination, the combination of minds needed to improve commercial aviation flight safety?100_0306

Is any of this new information to any certified crew member, airline, ATC, regulator or manufacturer in commercial aviation? Have not thunderstorms been killing commercial flights and flight crew members since the beginning of manned flight. Don’t we find the first popular documentation in the 1931 book, “Night Flight” by Saint-Exupéry. Here our crew members operate aircraft with piston engines, wooden spars and canvas wings.

Now here is the airline industry, more than 80 years since Night Flight with turbine engines, steel spars and aluminum wings. Yet, thunderstorms are still killing commercial flights. Why was Air Asia 8501 the most recent to join the long list?

I wonder if  Saint-Exupéry  would say, “Imagine that? Nearly a century has passed since I wrote my book and this story is still timely in terms of flight safety!”

The chapters are new, the planes are new, the pilots are new, but the story is timeless: Thunderstorms can kill.

Early morning sun rising through clouds.

Early morning sun rising through clouds.

Qantas Weight and Balance: Don’t Scrape Your Tail, Instead Hold Your Nose Steady

The below cited flight safety story contains a reference to an ATSB report, about which I have a comment. The story alleges that the report cites an incorrect weight and balance calculation as the problem. They say, “This meant that the captain had to apply a significant amount of back pressure [to the yoke] at takeoff, running the risk of the aircraft’s tail hitting the runway. The report states that he was also forced to exceed the calculated takeoff safety speed. In my opinion this is an incorrect observation, could yield a report that could confuse flight crew members and therefore not serve the Safety Purpose.

In my opinion, flight crew should be given this report. When planning a takeoff,  a procedure to overcome errors in weight and balance calculations should be briefed, planned and discussed.  There is never a reason for flight crew to apply an increase in back pressure of the yoke during take off above the normal level. If the aircraft weighs more than the amount listed on the weight and balance forms, the aircraft will still fly just fine, albeit at a higher speed. All a flight crew member has to do is reference the Take Off Aircraft Data for higher weights. Most often the increase in take off speeds is within 10-15 knots even for a gross error.

In this case the aircraft actually weighed less than the weight and balance form  (W&B) stated. A tail heavy acft is like an aircraft with part of its forward weight missing. Just add that missing weight to the current weight on the W&B, move up to a new higher theoretical take off weight. Remember that take off occurs at the take off attitude and angle of attack (AoA-TO). The take off speed goes up and down in proportion to the weight when the acft is in balance.

The ATSB report leaves us with the impression that the correct procedure is to pull back on the yoke and thus raise the nose of the acft above the take off attitude and AoA. Doing so would result in a tail scrape or tail strike. But in fact raising the nose above the take off attitude, even at the correct speed for weight would cause a tail strike. The correct procedure is to set the take off attitude and let the acft lift off on the wings as the wings generate lift equal to or greater than the actual weight. So the error here is that there are several take off attitudes, a range of take off angles of attacks or a series of yoke back pressures or nose attitudes. In fact, there is only one. The ATSB should consider amending their report to serve the Safety Purpose. IMG_2508

A Check-in Error Caused Takeoff Problems for Qantas Flight (Time, Sept. 4)
    Airline employees incorrectly registered 87 children as adult passengers, creating an imbalance in the aircraft’s weight distribution
A Perth-bound Qantas flight from Canberra had a close call earlier this year, with the pilot having to make a risky last-minute adjustment to get the aircraft off the ground.
A report released Wednesday by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said that a problem was caused because a group of school children on the Boeing 737 had been checked in as adults and assigned the standard adult weight of 87 kg.
The children – comprising more than half of the flight’s 150 passengers – were all seated in the back of the aircraft, resulting in it becoming nose-heavy. This meant that the captain had to apply a significant amount of back pressure at takeoff, running the risk of the aircraft’s tail hitting the runway. The report states that he was also forced to exceed the calculated takeoff safety speed.
The rest of the flight went off without a hitch, but it was a tense few moments for the pilots. The ATSB later found that the final load sheet overstated the aircraft weight by 3.5 to 5 tons.
Qantas told the ATSB that it has issued a notification to check-in staff, reminding them to ensure that children are registered as children in the airline’s systems.

MH 17 : Is War Downing Of Commercial Airliners a Security or Safety Issue ?


When a purposeful human pulls the trigger on a sophisticated surface to air missile launcher, but does so without any of the intelligence available to the casual browser on the internet, is this a human error or a military mistake? If the distinction between a commercial airliner and a military target is not discernible by the person with authority to fire such weaponry, how can that person know what they are doing?

Military targeting of airborne craft is a multi step process, involving identification as well as detection. This is done so as not to engage non-combatants which may well be in the conflict area.

Commercial airliners are on internationally published flight plans, on internationally published routes, arriving at and crossing national air boundaries on a set schedule. They are in constant communication with all international air traffic control service providers.

Why then would any government give surface to air missiles to a group of people who are not capable of monitoring the international commercial air traffic routes and who are not capable of distinguishing between a commercial airliner and a military target?

Suppose the target detected but not identified had been an Aeroflot airliner?

We should all consider therefore whether or not the downing of a passenger carrying commercial airliner is a security issue or a safety issue?  Safety issues deal with human error. Security issues do not.



MH370-Were there Hazardous Materials Loaded into the Cargo Hold?

The question of hazardous materials being carried on passenger aircraft has arisen in the quest to determine what happened to MH370. But very little information has surfaced concerning the cargo that was loaded by Malaysian Airlines into MH370.

So the question remains unanswered: “Were hazardous materials loaded into the cargo hold of MH370?”


Problem Solving Skills Training a Factor in Fort Hood Shootings?

Captain Paul Miller preparing for a coming storm.

Captain Paul Miller preparing for a coming storm.

Solving the mystery of shootings at military activities may involve how the force is trained. First, my sincere condolences to all who have suffered a loss in this and other similar tragedies. Second, my hat  is off to the Army Training Command for doing a great job of training soldiers for today’s force.

Now in the case of certain individuals, if their problem resolution skill set is not broad based by the time they enter training, there may be a small sub set of individuals who acquire the only elements to the skill set in military training. However if all of the significant training (in their mind) involves some type of gun, bomb or other type of violence and destruction, at the end of training, this might possibly be the only tool in their problem solving skill set.

In combat, as well as civilian life, that actually can be a very big weakness. In civilian life, we can see that violence is most often the worst choice of action. But in combat operations, there may be many times where the most powerful weapon a soldier has is his or her ability to out-think their enemy.

In summary, I would encourage Army training policy makers to consider two steps:

1. Do initial problem solving assessment for new members of the force

2. Train soldiers to develop a wide spectrum of problem solving skills to add to their skill set, to use in combat and then use outside of combat as adults in a challenging world.

If the only adult problem solving skill that a soldier acquires in formal training is to attack with deadly force, then that can be a problem. And that problem may well become a severe liability on base and off base.

MH370 Solved?: Did Antenna Bracket Failure Rip Open Fuselage Hole?


Did an unfinished FAA/Boeing Air Safety Directive or AD doom MH370? Reinforcement to the fuselage mounting bracket for certain radio antennae on B777 aircraft may have been required by a recent FAA AD. However completion was allowed for an extended period. Metal fatigue and other cracking failure modes common on aluminum cyclically pressurized fuselages could lead to pressure vessel failure in the uncorrected configuration. In the event of a pressure vessel failure through metal rupture, normal pressurization differential by engine bleed air could then exacerbate the rupture further, as could high dynamic pressure from the high speed descent initiated by flight crew members in response to a rapid depressurization. If an antenna was connected to the ships ACARS or the transponder system, loss of the antenna would render the unit nonfunctional in terms of how the ground stations were reading that data.

A second B777 AD relating to  emergency oxygen plumbing, if it had gone unfinished by maintenance could have rendered some oxygen backup systems ineffective. The work completion was not immediate and could have been deferred.

Combining this B777 AD information with the disappearance of MH370 may give investigators and others interested in the fate of this flight something to consider. A loss of comm, a rapid decompression, a divert and emergency descent all seem to fit what we know so far. The transponder and the ACARS might not have been “switched off.” Instead, if either or both of their antennae were rendered inoperative by a metallurgical fatigue or other similar material failure, to the outside observer, these various electrical devices would appear inoperative. Why? Because it is the exchange of their radio signals that we use to determine their operation from the ground. In a like manner, a small fire in baggage area from a stowage of lithium batteries or even a small explosive of a criminal nature might again cause a similar system failure.



Battery Cargo Lobbyists Victorious over Commercial Aviation Safety? What Happened to MH370?

100_0306Though ticketed passengers did not suspect, battery lobbyists had been victorious over the very best commercial aviation safety advocates. Through private meetings, where financial benefits of shipping dangerous lithium batteries to the battery industry by air freight are fostered, did lobbyists convince passenger airline executives to allow carriage onboard passenger commercial flights?

Many commercial aviation safety groups opposed the shipping by air freight, even cargo pilot groups and passenger pilot groups, who by the way hold identical commercial FAA flight ratings. ALPA, CAPA and other pilot industry safety groups have opposed the carriage of lithium batteries as air freight because passenger aircraft carry air freight in their cargo holds. That is correct, there is more than luggage in the cargo hold of passenger flights. There are live animals, mail, company maintenance items and air freight, to include lithium batteries, in these cargo holds. But hundreds of reported lithium battery related fires in flight related incidents have prompted safety groups to advocate regulations prohibiting these shipments.

Now comes along MH370 and Kuala Lumpur  and Malaysia and 500 pounds of lithium batteries and 239 ticketed passengers and flight crew and cabin crew. Why did they all come together? Were not the warnings of commercial aviation safety experts sufficient to prevent this confluence of danger? Have the battery lobbyists been victorious in over riding all of the Safety Purpose?  We may never know what happened to MH370. But we do know that publicly released statements from Malaysian Airlines document that about 500 pounds of lithium batteries were onboard MH370.

Has there been  a victory celebration in the halls of the Lithium Battery Cargo Lobbyists and Battery Industry? Do they consider the defeat of the very best efforts of commercial aviation safety experts to influence government safety regulators in the US and apparently in Malaysia a victory for business over commercial aviation safety?

Will it now be time for the defeated to spend time mourning the loss of family, friends and colleagues who were aboard MH 370, UPS 6, Asiana 991 and other similar tragic disaster flights? How has it become that paid lawyers and public relations experts who are battery industry lobbyists can prevail over the very best efforts of hundreds of commercial aviation safety advocates?

Early morning sun rising through clouds.

Early morning sun rising through clouds.

MH 370 and UPS 6 near Dubai, 2010: Same Mishap Repeated?

100_3975When UPS 6 crashed near Dubai in the evening of September 3, 2010,  (…/2010-Interim%20R.) ( the crew had been in a battle for their lives for about 20 minutes. Upon first realizing cargo area temperatures were rising and that smoke and fumes were entering the cockpit, the crew made a turn towards a divert field, began a descent to landing, put on their oxygen masks and attempted to quell the fire.  The crew was overcome by the smoke and heat, despite their best efforts and the plane crashed while the crew was attempting an approach to land. Communications with air traffic control were immediately effected by both the use of oxygen masks and the growing smoke and heat in the cockpit. Navigation and aviation back to the divert field were effected by the fire destroying electronic navigation components and flight control components. In essence, the crew was overcome and the plane was overcome by the fire in the cargo compartment. In the end, the plane crashed into the desert sand in the descent the crew had initiated.  The investigation revealed that a fire most likely caused by lithium batteries

About twenty minutes after MH 370 began its flight, the aviation, navigation and communication changed dramatically. Was it due to a fire caused by lithium batteries carried in the cargo hold? Was it due to an explosion or fire related to material brought aboard by terrorists? Though this may be unknown at this point of the investigation, the flight path of the flight, the changes in navigation and changes in communication both verbal and those by automated reporting systems seem to indicate high levels of similarities between these two mishaps.

Does failure of regulatory authorities to comprehend that a cargo aircraft mishap caused by a fire from hazardous cargo could one day lead to the loss of a passenger aircraft hauling the same cargo reveal a fallacy in regulatory logic?  Do regulators reason that until a loss occurs, there is no reason to restrict commerce? But what if the loss of an aircraft due to lithium battery caused fire is a cargo aircraft? Do regulators reason that only cargo aircraft should be restricted from carrying lithium batteries? Should regulators reason that passenger aircraft should also be restricted from carrying lithium batteries?

Are we looking at what is called regulatory two levels of safety, one for cargo flights and one for passenger flights? Is the great fallacy in regulation that passenger flights also haul massive amounts of air freight, and the attempt to create two levels of safety to carve out an exemption for cargo flights in reality results in no level of safety when it comes to carrying hazardous cargo?

Are MH 370 and UPS 6 essentially the same mishap recurring all over again? Was in fact MH 370 a preventable mishap?

Captain Paul Miller in cockpit

MH 370: Probable Location for Search Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, Missing B777 Was Hazardous Cargo Aboard?

MH 370: Probable Location for Search

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, Missing B777

Was Hazardous Cargo Aboard?

Are Cargo Safety Regulations Important for PASSENGER Aircraft Flights?  Two Levels of Safety May Mean No Level of Safety



MH 370 flight crew members witnessing an overheat in the large cargo compartments of their Boeing 777, would most likely do the following steps:

1. Don oxygen full face masks, check for full oxygen flow for breathing and clearing of smoke from eyes and reestablish communications via the mask microphones

2. Run fire suppression checklists

3. Begin divert to nearest available airport and begin descent for landing, with the goal of landing as soon as possible, certainly less than 20 minutes. But after the turn to divert, if the crew becomes incapacitated by smoke and fumes, the aircraft would continue to fly on whatever heading was established. Considering natural static and dynamic stability of many transport category airliners, such as the Boeing 777, the aircraft would remain flying while the nose of the aircraft oscillates slowly up and down to maintain  stability.

Looking at what is known about the flight path of MH370, the crew appears to make a sudden turn directly towards a very long 13,000 ft long runway airport. Communications by radio cease.  Fishermen at sea in the area of the 13,000 ft runway reported witnessing a large aircraft flying low during the time frame consistent with the flight parameters possible arrival in that area. This scenario is consistent with smoke and fumes in the aircraft for whatever reason may have been occurring on the flight.

The captain was an experienced international captain. The first officer was an experienced flight crew member [albeit reportedly with a tendency to invite friends and acquaintances  to the cockpit, although whether that was on the ground at terminal only has not been established].  The captain was resourceful by creating his own flight simulator at home, most likely for the purpose of training himself to perform the hundreds of standard operating procedures (SOP) required of B777 flight crew members during semi-annual regulatory checkrides. It is also quite probable that the captain invited  other crew members to join him in these SOP procedure training sessions. A check of the software companies who sell flight simulator software world wide reveals that tens of thousands of people own these same home simulators, some for professional training, some for entertainment. More than half a dozen vendors make this type of software  and it is globally available on the commercial software market.

Personal history of the flight crew members appears stable.  As with many flight crew members they have been long engaged in their profession and are dedicated to always learning more.

So where could investigators look next in their investigation? How about the known or unknown hazardous material that was loaded as cargo or baggage? Is not the cargo hold of  MH 370, a B777 is capable of hauling large weights of cargo? Was any cargo or baggage trans-shipped, that is, loaded aboard MH 370 from flights connecting booked passengers to Beijing? Who checked all of the cargo and baggage that was loaded onto MH 370? Who was supposed to check for hazardous material to ensure documentation or restriction of prohibited items from passenger flights? Who may have shipped cargo or baggage of prohibited items and why? Should not this more likely scenario be at a higher level of priority than looking at the captain’s personal flight simulator?

Hazardous cargo can catch fire and spread quickly. See the mishaps of the 1996 ValuJet crash in The Everglades outside of Miami, Florida or UPS 6, September,2010 in Dubai for substantiation. The Swiss Air 111 inflight fire again substantiates that time is very limited when a crew is dealing with this emergency.

Lobbyists for the airline passenger and for the cargo business side have long argued against comprehensive commercial airline hazardous cargo regs, convincing legislators and regulators that more regs are unnecessary as is enforcement. At the same time they haul for profit as much cargo as they can get their hands on, plus luggage containing uninspected material, shipped as innocent personal belongings. Two levels of safety may mean no level of safety.

My guess is that the aircraft is in the water not far from where the fishermen said it was, or flew in the direction that the fishermen said it headed and is located out that vector.