Interview with a Test Pilot
My last day at the FAA seminar, for lunch, I walked to the adjacent restaurant where we'd all been eating lunch durig the week. The only other guy who showed up was the old white haired guy who sat about 6 people away from me the prior day.
We recognized each other and grabbed a booth. There was room for two more, but no one else showed up.
The conversation soon turned to pilot stuff. He started flying A-4's in the Navy. I tried 5 times to get into a military pilot slot, but was to tall. Then he became a military test pilot. I've got some hours in, but don't have my pilots license yet. He worked for McDonnell Douglas, McDonnell Douglas/Boeing, and then Boeing with out ever changing his desk.
But the thing that got him through the heart, he talked about it like it happened yesterday, was the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash from January 31, 2000.
When I moved up here and jumped into the highly active aviation world in 2001, the transcripts of Flights 261's voice recorders were smudged and dogeared. Every hanger and av shop had one and you couldn't read it and marvel at the professionalism of the pilots who were doing everything they could to keep the broken plane in flight. Even up to the point where they were flying inverted to keep the plane from diving.
Except that the fuelflow systems on air transport planes aren't designed for acrobatics and starve for fuel in a few minutes and then the engines flame out. Aircraft have a glide ratio, even multi engine transport planes flying upsidedown, but sooner or later they do come down and in the case of Flight 261 everyone died.
This gentleman flew that plane and landed it safely. Then he did it again with a different technique and landed. He told me that the trick that you see in movies where they move everone to the back of the plane would have been a big help and there were other techniques that would have helped.
Amazing what you can do in a simulator.
The airline and the FAA never called the manufacturer while the broken plane was in the air. He never heard about it till after everyone onboard was dead. There was nothing he could have done since he didn't know they needed help.
His business partner and best friend died two weeks ago in a plane crash and talking about that, didn't wrench his gut the way Flight 261 did.