Be­ware ex­perts with tun­nel vi­sion and a drum to bang

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Pat­malone

Idly chan­nel-flick­ing, I chanced upon a TV pro­gramme called ‘In­side the Cock­pit: The Con­corde Crash’ on Chan­nel 5, and my flick­ing thumb was in­stantly stilled. It turned out to be a worth­while dis­qui­si­tion on the cir­cum­stances of the Gonesse ac­ci­dent−the first half, any­way. The sec­ond half de­gen­er­ated into a jumble of non-se­quiturs and red her­rings, lent spu­ri­ous au­then­tic­ity by the fact that the worst al­le­ga­tions were made by two Con­corde cap­tains, John Hutchin­son and Brian Walpole.

John Hutchin­son has been bang­ing this drum for years, al­though he re­tired be­fore Gonesse and took no part in the re­turn-toser­vice process that in­volved a metic­u­lous study by pi­lots on both sides of the Chan­nel of ex­actly what hap­pened on that day. The ac­ci­dent, he said on the TV pro­gramme, was the fault of the crew. “If they’d stuck to op­er­at­ing that air­craft in a stan­dard way, then, I would ar­gue, that crash would not have hap­pened,” he said. To back him up, for­mer BA Con­corde Gen­eral Man­ager Brian Walpole ac­cused the Flight En­gi­neer of pan­ick­ing and shut­ting down the num­ber two en­gine, which, he said, had “dealt the death knell for ev­ery­one on board.”

The flight crew−cap­tain Chris­tian Marty, co-pi­lot Jean Mar­cot and flight en­gi­neer Gilles Jar­dinaud−are not around to de­fend them­selves, but some­body must be­cause they were not to blame, and it’s dis­turb­ing to hear them tra­duced by peo­ple who should know bet­ter. More re­cent Con­corde pi­lots who know the facts, who were part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and who flew the ac­ci­dent pro­file in sim­u­la­tors count­less times, will tell you that the crew of Air France 4590 did noth­ing out of the or­di­nary be­fore the flight and han­dled the emer­gency with skill, but from the sec­ond F-BTSC hit a sliver of ti­ta­nium al­loy on run­way 26 at CDG on July 25th 2000, the flight was doomed−noth­ing they could have done would have pre­vented the ac­ci­dent, noth­ing they did af­fected the out­come.

’SC crashed, they say, when the fire burned through all three hy­draulic sys­tems, green, blue and yel­low, and the con­trols went to neu­tral just as the num­ber one en­gine failed. What­ever is said about weight, about C of

G, a miss­ing spacer, a bro­ken run­way light, even about the co-pi­lot’s li­cence being in­valid be­cause his med­i­cal was four days out of date, the air­craft flew, and the crew did a nearex­em­plary job of keep­ing it in the air. There was no panic on the flight deck−all three men con­tin­ued to talk in mea­sured tones and to do their im­pos­si­ble jobs right to the end. Had the hy­draulics not failed the air­craft might even have reached Le Bour­get, less than a mile be­yond the crash site, but many of the pas­sen­gers would be dead−those in the rear had al­ready died from toxic fumes be­fore the air­craft hit the ho­tel.

The idea floated by John Hutchin­son that the fill­ing of Con­corde’s fuel tanks was non-stan­dard pro­ce­dure is non­sense−it was en­shrined in the BA Con­corde Nav­i­ga­tion Man­ual un­der ‘High Level In­cre­men­tal (HLI) Fuel’ which says up to 1,200kg extra can be loaded if re­quired. In­deed, Cap­tain Marty

What­ever is said... the crew did a near ex­em­plary job of keep­ing it in the air

could have been crit­i­cised had he not taken on extra fuel; the peren­nial prob­lem with Con­corde was too lit­tle fuel, not too much. Air France’s Chief Con­corde pi­lot, Edgard Chillaud told me the Paris con­trollers didn’t un­der­stand how crit­i­cal fuel was in Con­corde, and he once started a row when they vec­tored him so far east on take-off that he asked whether they were di­vert­ing him to Moscow. In­deed, John Hutchin­son’s co-com­plainant on the TV pro­gramme Brian Walpole was per­ma­nently grounded by BA in 1988 af­ter land­ing a New York Con­corde with so lit­tle fuel that the air­craft was un­able to taxi to the ter­mi­nal at Heathrow. BA Con­corde cap­tains rou­tinely took on HLI fuel−on the sched­uled flight to Bar­ba­dos, for in­stance, you had to. Marty had a heavy air­craft, and Paris is 180 miles fur­ther from New York than Lon­don. In tak­ing le­git­i­mate HLI fuel, he did noth­ing un­usual or wrong, de­spite Hutchin­son’s in­fer­ences.

The miss­ing un­der­car­riage spacer, in­ex­cus­able en­gi­neer­ing er­ror though it was, is a red her­ring. Fast-taxi tests with an Air France Con­corde at Istres showed that if any­thing, it would cause Con­corde to run right, rather than left as it did af­ter the tyre shred­ded.

What­ever forced early ro­ta­tion on Marty, the air­craft flew. When the fire warn­ing sounded on the num­ber two en­gine Gilles Jar­dinaud pre-empted by a few sec­onds Marty’s fire drill call by shut­ting down the en­gine−when Marty asked for “fire drill” Jar­dinaud replied “al­ready done”. Jar­dinaud showed some hes­i­ta­tion when faced with in­ex­pli­ca­ble surges on en­gines one and two, but he didn’t ever panic, and he was not re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of ev­ery­one on board.

A dozen fac­tors, some of them so un­likely as to be barely be­liev­able, led up to the ac­ci­dent, but Con­corde crew who have run end­less sim­u­la­tions say that the air­craft flew un­til hy­draulics and num­ber one en­gine failed, and con­trol was lost. It was never pos­si­ble for the crew to save it, and they don’t de­serve the op­pro­brium Hutchin­son heaps upon them. The BEA re­port falls short be­cause the French ju­di­ciary had pri­or­ity over the ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tors and got in the way, but the vast con­spir­acy Hutchin­son al­leges is hot air, and the knee-jerk Fran­co­phobes who lap it up need to take a re­al­ity check.

Con­corde went back into ser­vice with Kevlar tank lin­ings, which An­dre Tur­cat told me were never nec­es­sary be­cause the Goodyear tyres had been replaced by spe­cial-com­pound Miche­lins which would not have ex­ploded. But it was not BA’S in­abil­ity to af­ford the main­te­nance that fi­nally killed Con­corde, as Hutchin­son’s TV pro­gramme claimed, it was the sec­ond Gulf War. The French had in­vested a lot in Sad­dam Hus­sein and didn’t want him re­moved, and their re­fusal to sup­port Bush caused fury in the States. French fries were re­named Free­dom fries, French mus­tard was taken off the shelves and there was an almost to­tal boy­cott of Air France. Amer­i­cans made up more than seventy per cent of Con­corde pas­sen­gers, and with its Con­cordes leav­ing New York with as few as five pas­sen­gers, Air France was los­ing around £1 mil­lion a week on the ser­vice and per­ma­nently grounded the fleet. It was po­lit­i­cally in­con­ceiv­able that the Bri­tish should be al­lowed to con­tinue to fly Con­corde when the French could not, so Air­bus pulled the type cer­tifi­cate and that was the end.

Not a pretty story, but not the story Hutchin­son tells. He needs to stop grind­ing his axe and let the blame­less Marty, Mar­cot and Jar­dinaud rest in peace.

Pat has worked as a jour­nal­ist on three con­ti­nents and is a fixed-wing pi­lot and for­mer he­li­copter in­struc­tor with 1,500 hours TT

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.