Friday, January 16, 2009

How do you dead-stick an Airbus?

Well, for starters, you have Cap' "Sully" Sullenberger at the controls. From what I can tell, yesterday's amazing A320 ditching in the Hudson was a case of having the right guy (Sully) in the right place (left hand seat of flight 1549) at the right time (shortly after the impact of a large number of Canadian Geese).

Oh, and regarding those geese, I knew I never liked those things...

Anyhow, as the relevant authorities do their investigative work and aviation-centric press writes its stories (with more insightful information that the one observer, quoted on CNN, who seemed to take pains to point out that it "was not a seaplane.") I thought I'd put a little guidance out there for anyone who wants to try to ditch an 'Bus of their own. You know, on Microsoft Flight Simulator, X-Plane, or the like. If you hold a current ATP certificate and are carrying people in the back, please do not attempt these procedures unless you have recently made the acquaintance of a large number of geese.

Actually, in all seriousness, these are the dual engine failure and ditching drills from a real A320 flight manual -- the drills that would have come in to play yesterday at about 3,000 feet over NY. If you look at Flight International's reconstruction of the aircraft's flight path, it looks like the following unfolded over the span of about four minutes time, beginning at an altitude of about 3,200 feet.

TO help set the scene, he's a snap of the relevant sectional chart, courtesy of the fantastic and

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Flight 1549 took off from LGA heading to the Northwest. It is easy to see why Captain Sullenberger chose to head to TEB -- it was more-or-less a straight shot with no need to turn. But given the alignment of the Teterboro runways, he'd have had to aim for a point quite a bit to the South or Northeast before turning to align with the runway (just making it to the relevant dot on the map doesn't count when you've got an aircraft to land). All that maneuvering takes energy, which is exactly what he didn't have.

Anyhow, the Hudson proved conveniently close and full of helpful (in, I'm sure, a gruffly New Yorkish sort of way) ferry boat captains.

And, as promised, the relevant procedures and hopefully a little (if coldly technical) snapshot of what was going on in the cockpit. Airbus' manuals are dry, technical, and descriptive. More Germanic than Gallic, I find, lacking the sort of wry humor that occasionally pervades the worst-case sections of flight manuals (the Space Shuttle manual is, oddly, a great example of such humor). I do, however, like the blunt statement of the obvious at the top of the dual engine failure list: LAND ASAP.

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Questions and comments, if you got 'em, to the blog or to strauss(dot)nick(at)gmail(dot)com. Damn spammers, gotta' be all cagy now-a-days.

Go get 'em, Captain Sully!

1 comment:

Tim P said...

Thanks for the ingo - I'm a private pilot and I follow accident reports keenly - there's a lot to learn from what happens to others. But I couldn't find the A320 POH anywhere until I found your blog. Thanks again.