Stupid, false, aviation memes: #273

Given recent, unfortunate news, a lot of uninformed people are repeating the old, falseAirbus crashed cause pilot was overriden by computer!” meme about AF296, when an Air France Airbus, making a low-level fly-past of an airfield, crashed into trees at the end of the field.

The actual facts of the matter, as determined by the official investigation reports, unless you choose to believe the conspiracy theories, indicate the crash was due to a number of human faults on the day.

  • The flight-crew were not properly briefed – the charts provided to them of the airfield (and to which AF did not usually fly) did not show the high-trees at the end of the field.
  • The captain disregarded audible warnings from the highly accurate radio-altimeter and instead relied on his less accurate and/or miscalibrated barometric altimeter, which led him to make the fly-past at around 30m AGL instead of the 100m AGL he had been instructed to make it at (which would have prevented the crash).
  • The pilot applied power too late to climb above the trees. There are some suggestions the engines failed to react (from which the false meme about the computer overriding the pilot seem to have sprung), however high-bypass, fan jet engines are known to be slow to spool-up at the best of times, even more so at low-altitude and low-speed. It’s also possible one engine may suffered a performance problem right at that time, due to an understood feature of turbo-fan jets (compressor stalls) – one which Airbus re-iterated in a technical memorandum not long before the crash, which the captain likely would have read.

In short, there were a series of errors. Even being kind to the captain, he failed to fly at the approved altitude and he failed to leave sufficient margin to allow for the physical, performance limitations of his engines. It was, in the greater part, caused by pilot error.

More comments (some useful) are in this slashdot story sub-thread.

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