Monthly Archives: September 2007

Oceanic Airlines 815 crash site & Lost island location

As I wrote on a previous post, on June 1st 2007 I flew from Brisbane to Los Angeles on board QF175. After about 5 hours flying over the Pacific Ocean the B-747-400 I was flying on overflew a big island that came almost unexpected to me. I was seated on the left side of the aircraft and the island passing below at 596MPH appeared quite big even from 33.000 feet.


 

The view of an apparently unpopulated island in the midst of the Pacific and the moderate turbolence that the B-747 was sustaining let me think to the island of Lost, one of the most famous American serial television series (and my very favourite one). Lost follows the fate of the survivors of the Oceanic Airlines 815 on a mysterious tropical island located somewhere in the Pacific. Even if the serial is filmed mainly in the Hawaii, QF175 flight brought me on a track similar to the one flown by the fictionary Oceanic Airlines 815 on the date of crash Sept. 22th 2004 (see also http://oceanic-air.com/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oceanic_Airlines). Departed from Sydney at 14:55, from gate 23, and flying to Los Angeles, where it was expected to arrive at 10:42L, the B-777 of Oceanic 815 experienced a radio failure 6 hours after take-off. The pilot decided to land to  Nadi airport in the Fiji island (even if the nearest landing field was the Faleolo International Airport in Samoa), but 2 hours later, the plane, flying off-course by approximately 1000 miles, encountered severe CAT (Clear Air Turbolence) and broke-up.
The following compilation from Youtube user battletops provides a view of the plane crash from the passengers’ perspective.

According to the interesting study published on Lostpedia (http://www.lostpedia.com/wiki/Flight_path_of_Oceanic_815) basing on the characters’ statements (failure after 6 hours, turnaround, 2 hours before mid-air break up), the crash location should be somewhere North of Fiji. Actually, Lostpedia based its calculation on a straight route connecting SYD (Kingsford Smith International) to LAX (Los Angeles International) while actual route is most probably sensibly different and perhaps is almost identical to the one followed by my flight from BNE (Brisbane International) to LAX.
I used FlightAware (http://flightaware.com/) to find out the flight plan of the QF 175. Since the FPL filled on June 1st (date of my flight) was not available, I had to try other dates’ planned routes. I plotted them using FSNavigator and finally I was able to identify a route that was quite similar, if not the same, of that flown on June 1st.
These are the details of QF175 on June 9th, from FlightAware:

QFA175
Qantas Airways Limited “Qantas” (Australia)
Aircraft Boeing 747-400 (quad-jet) (H/B744/Q)
Origin Brisbane Int’l (YBBN)
Destination Los Angeles Intl (KLAX)
  Other flights between these airports
Route COODA BREAM 2600S 16000E 2525S 16300E
 2500S 16500E 2300S 17000E 2100S 17500E
 1900S 18000E 1644S 17611W 1600S 17500W
 1200S 17000W 0700S 16500W 0500S 16300W
 0200S 16000W 0200N 15500W 0700N 15000W
 1100N 14500W 1500N 14000W 1800N 13500W
 2200N 13000W 2700N 12500W FICKY C1177
 SXC
Date Saturday, Jun 09, 2007
Duration n/a
Status Arrived 116 days ago (track log)
  Proposed/Assigned Actual/Estimated
Departure 01:05AM GMT 01:15AM GMT
Arrival 06:01AM PDT 06:12AM PDT
Speed Mach .85
Altitude 31000 feet
This  the flight path drawn with FSNavigator on June 9th:


 

Flight QF175 flew above two islands to the North East of Nadi, East of the International Date Line. The one I could see from my seat was Western Samoa.


 

In order to understand if QF175 and OC815 had flown the same route I chose the FPL of a real flight connecting SYD to LAX: QFA 11. I picked the most recent flight plan from FlightAware, dated Sept 27th:

QFA11
Qantas Airways Limited “Qantas” (Australia)
Aircraft Boeing 747-400 (quad-jet) (H/B744/Q)
Origin Sydney Int’l (YSSY)
Destination Los Angeles Intl (KLAX)
  Other flights between these airports
Route DIPSO G595 ALLOC KEBAB 3300S 15600E
 3200S 15800E 3100S 16000E 2938S 16300E
 2600S 17000E 2524S 17103E TERUX 2300S
 17500E 1900S 18000E 1355S 17456W 0800S
 17000W 0500S 16700W 0300S 16500W 0300N
 16000W 0900N 15500W 1500N 15000W 2000N
 14500W 2400N 14000W 2700N 13500W 3000N
 12500W WEDES B581 FICKY C1177 SXC
Date Thursday, Sep 27, 2007
Duration 12 hours 14 minutes
Status Arrived over 4 hours ago (track log)
  Proposed/Assigned Actual/Estimated
Departure 03:25AM GMT 03:35AM GMT
Arrival 08:53AM PDT 08:49AM PDT
Speed Mach .84
Altitude 29000 feet

I plotted the QF11 and as you can see from the map below, the Qantas flight from Sydney to Los Angeles (that could have flown the same route as Oceanic 815) followed a route much similar to that of QF175.


The above map (drawn, as the others using the FS addon FSNavigator) also represents one of the possible flight paths for Oceanic 815.
I used a cruising speed of 340KIAS (that I chose to have a total flight time to destination of 12 hours and 14 minutes, the same of QF 11 that on Sep. 28th landed in LAX after 12 hours and 8 minutes), a turnaround point 6 hours after departure, a standard 180° turn, and 2 hours of flight NORDO (No Radio) direct to Nadi International airport and obtained a new crash location 350 Kilometers to the W of Samoa and 600 Kilometers to the North of Fiji; a point that is incredibly coicident with a very small island in the Pacific Ocean whose name is Wallis Island (Uvea). According to my study, that is the exact location of Lost island.


 

This is the satellite view of Wallis.

Flight Simulator(s)

An interesting easter egg was discovered in the last weeks by a student that found that by depressing CNTRL+ALT+A on the keyboard when using Google Earth, he was given access to an embedded flight simulator (once you have used the flight simulator for the first time, your client will disclose the relative tab and you won’t need to use the above sequence to access). I obviously tried it and gave the simulator a try. I found it funny, especially thinking to the future (possible) development of the product.

 

 

Currently, the simulator is at least basic: you can choose a fighter or a prop, you have just the HUD view, and you can wander everywhere in the globe by choosing if departing from either one of the proposed airports or directly “in flight” from a preferred location. Since now most of the terrain in GE is 3D (unfortunately not all), flying low level between the mountains is quite realistic. I picked the F-16 and flew low level in Central Italy. As said, the simulator is basic, funny but still ages away from Falcon 4.0 or Microsoft Flight Simulator. I used the latter to train in IFR, to perform instrumental navigation and approach procedures using real charts and in my honest opinion nothing is currently comparable to the Microsoft product. The only (!) problem is that FS requires a constant update of the HW and SW configuration of your desktop if you want to fly the latest aicraft in the most realistic sceneries and you want it to run smoothly on you machine. Many virtual companies and squadrons were created within the virtual World of FS.
Perhaps, one of the most interesting is the Virtual 102nd Gruppo CBOS (http://www.mariomotta.it/102V/). Led by Mario Motta, former F-104 pilot with 1500 flight hours on the Starfighter and Commander of the real 102nd Gruppo in 1981, the group was created with the aim to simulate the activities of the 102nd Gruppo in the period from the beginning of the ’70s to the end of the ’80s when the squadron operated from Rimini airbase with F-104G and S. Thanks to Mario Motta, who served in the 5th Stormo from 1972 to 1986, pilots trains flying realistic sorties flown by the Starfighters in that period using FS2004, the F-104G aircraft produced by Cloud9 (http://www.fscloud9.com/) and a few effects and add-ons (like Rimini Full scenario, made by Mario Motta himself). The squadron performs a wide variety of training activities, like those tasked to the real 102nd Gruppo, and attends also large scale exercises like the (virtual) Display Determination. Live firing sorties in the Maniago range, formation flying, supersonic runs and, above all, BBQ (ultra low level) missions.
As Mario explains:

the 102nd Gruppo had a certain number of pre-planned strike routes which were identified by the prefix “EQ”, “D” or R: the “EQ” followed by a progressive number were “Equivalent” missions, meaning that they were missions on the Italian territory equivalent to the real attack missions against targets of the former Warsaw Pact; the “D” missions were strike equivalent missions flown at night (there were two of them: the D3, above the Pianura Padana, Central Italy and Adriatic; and the D4 running along the Adriatic coast until Vasto, first southbound, then northbound); the “R” were high level night IFR missions (two available, lasting some 90 minutes and very boring for the pilots that flew all the time IMC) that were flown when weather conditions didn’t allow the execution of BBQ missions. Today, the Virtual 102nd Gruppo doesn’t fly the EQ as the real squadron did, for various reasons: first of all, the original routes and relative planning is lost and I can’t remember all of them; second, we can freely plan on all the foreign territory, since we have the 1:500.000 maps of the Europe from Portugal to the borders of Irak, from Libya to the North Pole.

To have an idea of the activities of the 102nd Virtual, take a look at the following video, made by Davide Pizzo, “Luce 7”, one of the pilots of the squadron. You can find many more on both the squadron’s homepage and Youtube.

Another interesting product is YSFlight (http://www.ysflight.com/), a flight simulator created by Soji Yamakawa. It is neither as complex as FS nor as simple as the GE-embedded simulator. What is really interesting is that it is very small in size (less than 10 MB) and provides some really nice add-ons and options: you can fly dogfights engaging a wide variety of oppositors, you can fly intercept or close air support missions, or you can fly diamond or delta formations with leading a flight of 4 or 6 of your favourite aircraft. Furthermore it is completely free and continuosly updated: aircraft, maps, etc. can be edited, meaning that much new stuff is issued by both the author and the community of pilots/players on a regular basis. Taskforce 58’s YSFlight Hangar (http://www.ysflight.ca/) is a site where you can download many interesting add-ons, comprising some detailed F-104s in many different configurations and colour schemes. I have downloaded the aircraft and maps pack, tried it and found it very interesting. Italian F-104S in the old camouflage livery are nice, with a flight model enough accurate for this kind of product. YSFlight is an enjoyable game: you can play without worrying about CPU, RAM and concurrent applications and you can replay your missions and have plenty of view options available. Just have a look at the following screenshots….

   

   

   

 

Close encounters (snapshots from the Cold War)

As written in a previous post (Typhoon Block 5 and Cold War alert) on Aug. 17, 2007, Russia has begun 20 hours long strategic flights around the globe, like those carried out during the Cold War.

So far, no Russian Tu-95 has been reported in the Mediterranean Sea and no Scramble has taken place from the Italian interceptor’s airbases even if yesterday, FRANCE-PRESSE, reported that Norwegian and British interceptors scrambled on Sept. 6 to intercept 8 Tu-95 Russian bombers detected in international airspace over the Barents Sea.

Sky News said the Russian aircraft did a U-turn when approached by the fighters. According to Putin’s statements, this kind of activities (that on Aug. 17th involved 14 aircraft departing from 7 airbases) is carried out by the Russian Air Force in strict coordination with Russian Navy and, consequently, it is not possible to put aside the idea that some bomber or reconnaissance aircraft will fly along the Italian airspace’s border in the near future. As recalled by Col. Agrusti in the Memories of a fighter pilot article, those flights frequent until the first ’90s.

As a proof, there are many pictures depicting Italian F-104 flying along side Soviet or Libyan aircraft in the Adriatic, Ionian or Tyrrhenian Sea. I was given by the Italian Air Force some of those pictures during the preparation of my article, photos that were published with my text on both Aeronautica & Difesa and Air Forces Monthly. Here you can find some of them. Quality is obviously poor, since the majority of these pictures were taken with hand-held cameras, whose films were first developed then copied many times to be released to the press.

Nonetheless, since they are the official proof of the interceptions and close encounters taking place in the international airspace in the ’80s, I have uploaded the same pictures used for my articles that I was given by the Italian Air Force (that owns copyright for them) in the page “Zombies”.


Another interesting picture is available also on the webpage of the 12th Gruppo, that will receive the Eurofighter on next Oct. 1st 2007 at Gioia del Colle, at the following address: http://www.glistrali.net/zoom.asp?image=/public/gallery/25.jpg.