Skip to comments.Learning From A Disaster
Posted on 02/08/2006 7:47:11 PM PST by Hal1950
Learning from a disaster
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Thomas W. Gerdel Plain Dealer Reporter
At about 18 minutes after 8 o'clock on the evening of July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 rumbled down a runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The Boeing 747, with 212 passengers and crew of 18 headed for Paris, climbed into a clear sky to about 15,000 feet off Long Island, N.,Y.
"Look at that crazy fuel flow indicator there on No. 4, see that?" said the captain. The time was 29 minutes after 8 o'clock. A minute-and-a-half later, the cockpit recorder captured sounds of mechanical movement in the cockpit, an unintelligible word and then a "very loud sound."
A moment later, the captain of an Eastwind Airlines Boeing 737 reported, "We just saw an explosion up ahead of us here - it just went down into the water."
Although theories persist that the explosion, which killed all aboard, was caused by a missile fired at the plane, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the probable cause of the disaster was an explosion of the nearly empty center wing fuel tank. A short circuit in the flammable fuel/air mixture in the tank was blamed.
The safety board's conclusion is leading to new rules requiring airlines to modify commercial jet aircraft to reduce the risk of explosions - citing the TWA Flight 800 and explosions involving three other airliners since 1989.
The rules could also make planes safer from missile attack by terrorists, one expert said.
The rules are expected to benefit Parker Hannifin Corp. of Mayfield Heights with millions of dollars of sales.
Parker, working with subcontractor Honeywell International Inc., is supplying a new fuel-tank safety system that substitutes non-burning nitrogen for volatile oxygen in the tanks through a separation system that Parker helped develop.
The system's core technology - the unit that removes oxygen from the air - is supplied by Parker, which has four decades of experience in building such units for military planes.
Liz Verdier, a Boeing spokeswoman, said Boeing already has decided to begin installing the new system on all new 747s and 737s this year.
Verdier said the company will make available kits for retrofitting existing airliners if the FAA decides that the 3,200 planes in the current fleet, including planes made by Airbus and Boeing, should be covered by the new rules. Total cost for the conversion is estimated at more than $800 million.
Airbus continues to analyze the FAA proposal and is preparing comments, said Mary Anne Greczyn, a company spokeswoman. She said Airbus will meet whatever standards are set and will take FAA guidance into account in designing its newest aircraft, the A350 and the A380.
The Air Transport Association, an airlines trade group, is also studying the FAA proposal and has not taken a position for or against it. "It's a complicated issue," said Basil Barimo, vice president of operations and safety.
Since the TWA Flight 800 disaster, airlines have spent a lot of effort to redo wiring, install new fuel pumps and take other measures to prevent ignition sparks from occurring, following more than 80 FAA directives, Barimo said. He said the proposed standard does not eliminate oxygen in the fuel tank, but only reduces it. In addition to the initial cost, the new systems would add weight and increase operating costs for each plane, he said.
"We have to make sure we spend our money on the biggest risks first," he said.
For decades, military planes have used such systems to help prevent fuel vapors from igniting once the craft has been damaged by a missile or anti-aircraft shell. Until now, those systems were considered prohibitively expensive for commercial airliners.
However, seven years of intensive government-industry research, - some of it done at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland- has convinced the FAA that those technologies can be achieved at reasonable cost "to protect the public from future calamities."
Adopting the technology could make passenger planes less vulnerable to some forms of terrorist attacks, said Jim Burin, director of technical programs at the Flight Safety Foundation in Washington, D.C. He said "inerting" could reduce the risk of explosions from external threats such as a shoulder-fired missile. However, the technology would offer little protection against a bomb or explosive placed inside a plane, he said.
William Waldock, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said the system could provide added protection from incendiary bullets.
If adopted, the new FAA rules won't force airlines or plane manufacturers to adopt specific technologies. Instead, they would set acceptable levels of flammability exposure in fuel tanks. But Boeing has embraced the Honeywell-Parker system.
Verdier said the company had spent four years investigating other technologies including cooling systems and the use of foam to displace fuel vapors in the tank before accepting Parker's "hollow fiber membrane" technology. "We think the one we have is the best," she said.
Parker has been involved in aviation fueling since 1927, when it supplied a valve system linking the 16 fuel tanks aboard Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis airplane, which made the first successful trans-Atlantic crossing. The company's involvement in inerting systems goes back to the mid-1960s. said Ray Bumpus, marketing manager for fuel tank inerting systems at the Parker Air & Fuel Division in Irvine, Calif.
Bumpus said the membrane technology used on the Boeing 747 is similar to one that Parker helped develop for the U.S. Air Force's F-22 jet fighter. Parker also helped develop inerting systems for other military planes including the C-5 cargo plane and the F-16 and F-117 jet fighters.
Airplane parts, including flight controls and other hydraulic and pneumatic aerospace components, are a $1.5-billion annual business for Parker, which had $8.2 billion in sales in fiscal 2005.
"They want to continue to grow that business," said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets in Cleveland.
even when some raghead's shoulder-launch scores a direct hit?
My question is this; why is oxygen used to fill the empty space? Isn't oxygen highly explosive? And if Nitrogen is used causing added weight but reducing volitility, then why can't a lighter inert gas, such as helium, be used?
Helium would make the Pilot's voice sound funny . . .
So do the pilots suck on the fuel valves or something? LOL!!
Hey, those over-the-pond flights get long. Entertainment is called for!
I did not read Richard Clarke's book ("Against All Enemies") but I swear I remember hearing an interview or something that said the book contained the story of how he helped concoct the center fuel tank as the "exit strategy."
military planes have used such systems [now installed on 747s] to help prevent fuel vapors from igniting once the craft has been damaged
"Once the craft has been damaged." Interesting.
Like a small bomb exploding in a seat over the center fuel tank?
Journalist Peter Lance claims that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (who I believe tried it once on a 747 but the bomb was left in the wrong row and didn't explode the center fuel tank) was responsible for ordering the TWA 800 bombing.
All this while Mohammed was in jail and was tricked into trusting a nearby jailed NY mob figure who arranged a "mob-run" way for Mohammed to make phone calls from jail -- the "mob" was the FBI but unfortunately Mohammed used a dialect of Arabic unknown to the translators. Anyway, Mr. Lance is on the web and has a web site.
hmmmm. Sounds suspicious.
They're referring to the oxygen in the air which naturally fills the empty tank, along with fuel vapor.
Was that from a stinger? That's amazing, the pilot must have big gazungas, LOL.
BTW, I qualified that statement by saying it depends on where the aircraft is hit.
OIC. So what is currently being used to make the oxygen inert? Or is anything being used?
This'll tick off the conspiracy nuts. Now they'll have to explain away hundreds of millions of dollars of government and private investment in solving a problem that, despite having occurred several times even before TWA 800, doesn't exist in their minds.
What's going to kill us all is the cutting off of our circulation from the ever-shrinking seats in coach.
The system probably consists of a small permeable membrane unit that produces nearly pure nitrogen right out of the air.
These units are used in industry for inert gas "padding" of hot surfaces of flammable liquids.
Helium would work fine, but it would have to be carried up in the airplane in heavy bottles because it could not be made "on the fly," so to speak, like nitrogen.
Gotta keep the coverup covered.
I have read numerous accounts pertaining to Flt 800 and this is the first time that I have seen this transmission. Does this mean that we are receiving only selected audios from Flt 800? Sure looks suspicious to me.
OIC, well that makes sense. And since it's nitrogen, it would probably make me laugh too, LOL.
Probably Soviet bloc MANPADs.
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