Monthly Archives: January 2009

First Italian COMAO in Afghanistan

On Jan 18, for the first time since the beginning of the Italian involvement in the Afghan theatre, the Joint Air Task Force (JATF) of the RC-W (Regional Command – West) planned and perfomed a complex COMAO (Combined Air Operation) to protect a convoy of the Esercito (Italian Army) that was in bound a remote post in the North of the country against an eventual hostile actions of the insurgents. COMAO were among the most important “themes” of the Spring Flag 2008, a Joint, Interdepartmental, International Exercise, that took place in Italy in April 2008 (for more info: http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2008/04/23/spring-flag-media-day-debrief-part-2/ and http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/spring-flag/).
The Afghan operation saw the involvement of A-129 Mangusta and CH-47 Chinook helicopters ot the Italian Army and of single Predator UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle) of the 28° Gruppo / 32° Stormo of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF), both departed from Herat. The CH-47 were tasked with the transportation of armoured vehicles and took off from Herat only after the Predator had completed a reconnaissance mission in the area where the vehicles were about to be ferried. While the area was patrolled by 2 Mangusta, the CH-47 were escorted during their flight by other two A-129s. Once the Chinook had reached the target area and unloaded the vehicles the returned to Herat with the escort provided by the 4 Mangusta. The Predator UAV after fulfilling its task within the COMAO has surveilled other two convoys of the Army that were South bound.
In the Southern area, other missions were conducted on Jan 18: the AB.212 of the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) ensured the transportation towards the Farah remote base of personnel and equipment and performing, at the same time, a low level Recce mission; a C-27J of the 98° Gruppo of the 46^ Brigata Aerea performed a tactical transport to the Mazar-e-Sharif airbase, the deployment base of the 2 Tornado IDS of the 154th Gruppo that, on the same day, performed a night reconnaissance mission which required an air-to-air refueling from a US KC-135. As explained by the JATF Cdr, Col. Francesco Vestito, all the Task Group of the JATF flew in one day 50 Flight Hours: 1% of the activity flown in 1 year. In 2008 the JATF logged 4.600 flight hours, 1.400 of which were flown by the Predators. It is organized in Task Groups (TG): Devil, (Tornado), Astore (Predator), Albatros (C-27J and now with a single C-130J), Pantera (Italian Navy AB-212), Fenice (Italian Army CH-47C and AW-129), and Tigre (ItAF AB-212ICO).
Dealing with the two C-27J Spartans, the aircraft returned home on Jan 27, after completing their first tour of duty which started on Sep. 12, 2008. 200 Flight Hours, 50 missions, 1.500 passengers and 30.000 pounds of cargo: these are the figures of the first operative mission of the C-27Js. The aircraft have been tasked with different kind of missions: cargo and personnel transportation but also MEDEVAC (MEDical Evacuation). The aircraft proved to be particularly important since they are able to operate from both the convetional airports and the tactical strips.

All the following pictures, courtesy of the Aeronautica Militare / Cellula PI Herat









When Internet-based social networks provide aviation related ideas, images and information

I’ve been recently invited to join a group named FLAPA. Actually FLAPA is an acronym standing for Flight Lunatic Almost Pilots Association and it is not a group by a sort of mailing list run by Stefano Perer.
FLAPA started in Hong Kong on Sept 21 2007 as a mail exchange between aviation enthusiast. Stefano in USA now delivers (more or less) weekly emails about topics dealing with the world of aviation as a sort of blog, sharing also contents proposed by the other FLAPA members. FLAPA was born by an “Almost Pilot” but it now counts a large majority of “Real Pilots”, some of which are really famous ones. As a result of accepting the invite, I began receiving interesting links, pictures and text, about Skydiving, aquaplaning, engine sounds etc as the group is made of around 90 “special ordinary people”. Here’s how Stefano introduced FLAPA to me:

“Flapa expertise range from the third hired Pilot of Cathay Pacific that ferried the first Airplane DC3 (Betsy) to Hong kong http://www.chingchic.com/chic/ and the last guy in the aviation world. Myself. We are multicolor aviation enthusiasts like Blair that insist to call me “sir”. He manage Evergreen Cargo Airlines in HK. Evergreen chairman Mr. Del Smith , started with his Helicopter and created the Evergreen Corporation. In memory of his son Captain Michael King Smith (killed not by a plane but by in a car accident) he created the Evergreen Museum where to preserve for us and the World the “spruce goose”. Here in FLAPA the Director of Education of the museum (http://www.sprucegoose.org/) Tyson is our guest as well.

Our motto: a group of those who love anything that share the wind expect drones and pollution.

There are special ordinary people like the mother of a splendid family that Fly the Lama SA315 with cargos or water under her.

There are captains that still love to fly and air traffic controllers that still like them and allow to come back to Earth earlier perhaps to get their Discovery bay bus shuttle home.

My last addition to the list is a 90 year old woman, the first to fly military rotary wing and  the first woman in the NTSB accident investigation panel:  Susan Strand. She is working on a book about W.A.S.P.

I will never forget when Halley comet was visible in 1986, and the captain turned off all the “Christmas tree” enabling us to see its tale from the right back window corner of an A 330 We saw the “dash” and the memory will be with us forever. Was the same Captain that flew to England for freedom:
http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/sunday/cover_stories/article_1894.asp?s=1
and wrote his story in the book “Farewell Brave Babylon” when he was Saddam Hussein’s pilot. He also reads us in FLAPA”

Information shared through FLAPA can inspire an article or an aviation project, or just provide a nice read.
During the last months, many have contacted me to congratulate for my blog entries, explaining that it is nice to read what I think about a particular topic or event. Some told me that they would like to have an aviation blog too but don’t have time to spend to build it. In my opinion, FLAPA is the example that everyone can share his ideas, thoughts or expertise using a sort of mail blog, and keep in contact with other aviation enthusiasts and professionals located all around the world.

PS. Don’t ask me please to be added to FLAPA, since admittance is only based on invitations. But if you wish to share and receive mails send a message to Stefano to the following address: perer@me.com.

How to go Down Under with an Airbus 380 (saving some money)

The title of this post could be deceiving. I’m not suggesting how to get an Airbus 380 inverted for aerobatic purposes. I was just providing an advice for those who want to visit Australia possibly reaching the Red Continent on board the largest plane on commercial routes (like myself). Emirates has launched some promotional fares to fly towards 4 destinations in Australia: Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. With 950 Euro, it is now possible to fly from Italy to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in Economy Class with the possibility to perform a stopover in Dubai to visit the town. Starting from next Feb 2, 2009 each Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, all passengers to Sydney will have the oppportunity to travel on board the A380.

Flights to Perth are offered by Emirates at 850 Euro with a stopover in Dubai. Tickets should be purchased within Mar 31, 2009, from one of the tre Emirates airports in Italy: Rome, Milan and Venice. Dealing with Milan Malpensa airport, a second daily flight was added (departure at 21.15LT) to Dubai where connections are managed at the brand new Terminal 3 of Dubai International Airport, that is completely dedicated to the handling of Emirates flights.

Airport Network Failures…

Look at the following picture. It was taken by my friend Rage at the Terminal B of Barcelona airport on Jan 7, 2009. Can you notice something weird?

If you look closely, you can see a “NETWORK FAILURE” message among the departures. Failures can happen. I work in the IT area and everyday I have to deal with the concepts of Redundancy, Back Up, Storage, High Availability, Disaster Recovery, etc. What it is really strange in this case, is not the failure itself but the fact that the error message appears on the display. This is what I consider a dual mistake: a communication and a design error. Let me explain what I mean.
That message doesn’t contain any useful information for a passenger departing from the Spanish airport. It answer no question but creates confusion: since travellers are not aware of the type of failure, they don’t know if the message refers to something within the display (is the airport network down? are departures affected by some kind of routes network problem? etc.) or outside it (the source of the information displayed at the Terminal B). Under an Security point of view, providing that message is risky too: if the failure is the consequence of a hacker attack, giving him the confirmation that the hack was succesfull is not a clever idea. Next time he could achieve a DoS (Denial Of Service) basing on the first successful attack. So, programmers, LAN and IT managers at the airports should prevent some error messages to be broadcasted.

Under a design point of view, a network failure is a symptom that something in the “chain” has failed: there was a Single Point of Failure (SPF), the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) did not succeed, the Back Up plan did not work, the configuration was not correctly implemented, the Hardware was obsolete or at full capacity, etc. There can be many reasons for a failure (or a network one). For sure, they must be avoided, especially if the network is used to trasmit mission critical information: in this case, a fault can be catastrophic. Risk Management should be performed, in order to assess those assets that must be hardened, to mitigate the risk of loss or deterioration of the assets, and to monitor the risk in accordance with a particular metric in order to keep it to an “acceptable level”. Even if the flying operations and the Air Traffic Control are those fields where Aviation Safety focus more often, the IT department of an airport must be seriously taken in consideration. Even if applying effective countermeasures and contingency plans can cost a lot, underestimate the damage that can be inflicted by a poorly maintained Local Area Network or Hardware Component could lead to a disaster. A few examples: On Apr. 20, 2002 a power supply problem makes the Rome Fiumicino Tower mute betweek 4.40 and 5.20 LT. On Mar 16, 2003, a network failure causes a radar black out at Rome ACC based in Ciampino around 22.00LT: all intercontinental flights to Fiumicino are diverted to Malpensa, Rome Radar switches to procedural control and take off are blocked until midnight. On Aug. 2007 a malfunctioning NIC (Network Interface Card), which allowed computer to interconnect to the LAN (Local Area Network), on a single desktop computer of the immigration control in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, experiences a failure. A total system failure affecting other computer of the same immigration system occurs at 14.00LT and lasts some 9 hours. All international flights are delayed by some hours. Thousands passengers have to wait for hours at the airport. A second outage on the Customs systems is caused by a power supply failure. Customs computers with a life of about 4 years were at their four-year phase and had to be replaced. In July 2008, a failure of the Dublin airport radar system causes fear and many grouned flights. Tracks vanish from the controllers’ radar screens. The first failure lasts 10 minutes, the second time the controllers have to close the airport to all inbound flights. As a consequence, 200 flights are delayed, diverted or cancelled. Ryanair, that is the main airport’s user, claims that more than 13.000 passengers are affected with a cost to the airline of about 1 million GBP. The shutdown was caused by a faulty network interface card (once again) but was actually a double fault, since the LAN recovery failed too. The following is an excerpt of an interesting article on the Dublin event published by the Irish Times (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0920/1221835128140.html):

……
When it subsequently emerged that there had been a series of faults in the radar system since June 2nd, Ryanair called on the Department of Transport “and Ireland’s useless aviation regulator” to explain why there was no contingency plan for the repeated IAA computer system failures at Dublin airport.

Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion suggested that a back-up system may be needed if the upheaval was not to repeat itself, but industry sources said a back-up system would cost as much to install as an initial system.

However, yesterday’s Report of the Irish Aviation Authority into the ATM System Malfunction at Dublin Airport maintained that while “worldwide, air navigation service providers cannot rule out the possibility of failures” the IAA was “confident that the measures recommended by the system supplier Thales ATM and now being implemented will minimise the effect of a recurrence of like or similar failures of its ATM system in the future”.

The report revealed that the root cause of the failures at Dublin airport was a faulty network interface card and that all of the Dublin failures had the same root cause.

It concluded that the failure was not “a single point of failure” but was caused by a double failure – a hardware failure of the network interface card and a failure of the local area network recovery mechanism.

The IAA said the system had been “stable” since July 9th and added: “IAA engineering, air traffic control, safety, support and management staff worked around the clock to resolve the issues as quickly as possible.”

Recommendations

Thales ATM, suppliers of the radar system at Dublin airport, recommended:

• That additional network monitoring be undertaken. Monitoring tools and a “passive analyser” should be installed for the early identification of any similar malfunctions. This work has been completed.

• That a software programme to protect the local area network recovery mechanism be developed. This programme is currently being tested.

• That changes in procedures in relation to hardware testing be made before insertion in the operational system. These changes have been implemented.

• Thales ATM is also studying other potential improvements in the network design to prevent a recurrence.

• A spokeswoman for the IAA said it and Thales ATM had jointly supplied engineers to work on the problem. While it did not expect to have its costs refunded by Thales ATM, neither did it expect a bill from the company for its time.

US Air 1549 update

During the last few days many new details surfaced about the last 6 minutes (more or less) of US Air 1549 flight that ended with a successful textbook ditching of an Airbus 320 in the cold water of the Hudson river, New York City.

First of all, many videos have been released, some of which clearly show the aircraft touching softly the surface of water and stopping a few meters later. I would have expected it to “sail” a few more, but it seems that it came immediately to a stop.

For sure, it seems like the A320 has some unexpected amphibious capabilities, especially if you think the pilots had not pushed the Ditching button that closes all the “holes” of the airframe to enhance floating  ability of the aircraft at sea (because it was later on the ckecklist they were following and had not time to read it). This is one of the most interesting things that was explained in the last NTSB press conferences on the mishap. The other details deals with the following points:

  • The aircraft touched down in the Hudson, where the water depth is around 50 feet. The weight of the plane, filled with water after sinking was about 1 million pounds and for this reason the aircraft had to be lifted by a crane very slowly in order to let the water drain.
  • While the right engine is still in its original place, the left one was found some 50 feet below the surface.
  • The crew members were the last to evacuate the aircraft and as it was recalled by the survivors, Capt. Sullenberger twice checked the cabin for missing passengers before escaping from the front door that was around 2 or 3 feet above the water level. Among the passengers there was also one lap child and a small one. The crew members were flying the forth leg of a 4 day shift (KPIT-KCLT-KLGA-KCLT).
  • Capt. has 3.800 hours on the A320 while the First Officer, that was the initial Pilot Flying just 35. According to what they have recalled, the FO saw birds and shortly later the windscreen was filled by big dark (brown) birds. After experiencing the loss of thrust, the Capt. took the command saying “My aircraft!” then he lowered the nose in order to gain speed (that had reduced for the loss of both engines) while the FO began the Dual Engine flame out check list (and attempting to relight the engines). Turning back to La Guardia was discarded since the Airbus was too low and too slow; Teterboro was too far so the pilot called for Flap 2 and headed for the river trying to land as near to a boat as possible.

Noteworthy, Teterboro was considered too far. I initially thought that the Capt. had not opted for that airport because the runway was too short: actually, the airport has a runway (01/19) that is 2.134 mt long, equipped with ILS and PAPI that could be used by an Airbus 320. But, the runway orientation would have required the US1549 to perform at least a couple of turns to aligh, meaning that the distance for Teterboro could not be covered by the N106US flying without both engines. An Airbus 320 should have a gliding ratio of 17:1. This means that, with no thrust but in the correct configuration, starting from an altitude of 1.000 meters, it could fly for 17 chilometers before reaching the ground. Let’s say that that value is just theoretical and that, in that conditions, the N106US had a gliding ratio of 13:1. Since it was around 1.000 meters it should have been able to cover a distance of 13 chilometers (in straight line, without considering buildings in the overflown area). Using Google Earth I calculated that the distance from the birdstrike position to the airport (without considering any turn) exceeds 15 chilometers. So, Teterboro was indeed too far.

Furthermore, some journalists discovered that the same aircraft, whose registration is N106US, flew the same route as flight US1549 (AWE1549) on Jan 12 and that on Jan 13 it suffered a compressor stall. As it was reported by the CNN, about 20 minutes after departure from La Guardia, the plane “had a series of compressor stalls on the right engine. There were several very loud bangs and fire coming out of the engine. The pilot at first told us that we were going to make an emergency landing, but after about five minutes, continued the flight to Charlotte.” Since I have already reported the highlights of the press conference, the fact that the aircraft had a compressor stall on the same route 2 days prior to the dual engine failure is just pure coincidence (even if it is better to wait for the NTSB final report…).
Roland Posnett sent me the link to the full article about US1549 flight of Jan 13, 2009:

Passengers report scare on earlier US Airways Flight 1549

* Story Highlights
* Three say US Airways Flight 1549 nearly made emergency landing earlier last week
* Two days before last week’s crash-landing, passengers report loud bang on flight
* One passenger says he sent a text message to his wife: “I love you”

By Abbie Boudreau and Scott Zamost
CNN Special Investigations Unit

(CNN) — Two days before US Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River, passengers on the same route and same aircraft say they heard a series of loud bangs and the flight crew told them they could have to make an emergency landing, CNN has learned.

Steve Jeffrey of Charlotte, North Carolina, told CNN he was flying in first class Tuesday when, about 20 minutes into the flight, “it sounded like the wing was just snapping off.”

“The red lights started going on. A little pandemonium was going on,” Jeffrey recalled.

He said the incident occurred over Newark, New Jersey, soon after the plane — also flying as Flight 1549 — had taken off from LaGuardia Airport in New York.

“It seemed so loud, like luggage was hitting the side but times a thousand. It startled everyone on the plane,” Jeffrey said. “We started looking at each other. The stewardesses started running around. They made an announcement that ‘everyone heard the noise, we’re going to turn around and head back to LaGuardia and check out what happened.’

“I fly about 50 to 60 times per year, and I’ve never heard a noise so loud,” he said. “It wasn’t turbulence, it wasn’t luggage bouncing around. It was just completely like the engine was thrown against the side of the plane. It just — it didn’t shake the plane but it shook you out of the seat when you’re drifting off, it really woke you up. And when it happened again, everyone just started looking at each other and there was a quiet murmuring around the plane, and you could feel the tension rising just in looking.

“I remember turning to my [business] partner and saying, ‘I hope you got everything in order back home, life insurance and everything, because that didn’t sound good.’ ”

Jeffrey said he sent a text message to his wife about a “scary, scary noise on the plane. Doesn’t sound right. They’re flying back to LaGuardia to check it out. I’ll call you when we land. I love you.”

He added, “About 10 minutes later when we never made the turn, we kept going, that’s when the pilot came on and explained — I wish I could remember the words — I remember him using air, compression and lock — I’m not sure the right order, but he made it sound like the air didn’t get to the engine and it stalled the engine out, which he said doesn’t happen all the time but it’s not abnormal.”

Expert Aviation Consulting, an Indianapolis, Indiana, private consulting firm that includes commercial airline pilots on its staff, said the plane that landed in the Hudson was the same one as Flight 1549 from LaGuardia two days earlier. PhotoSee images from the rescue in last week’s crash »

“EAC confirms that US Airways ship number N106US flew on January 13, 2009, and January 15, 2009, with the same flight number of AWE 1549 from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas [International] Airport in North Carolina,” Expert Aviation said in a statement to CNN.

The company said it checked with contacts in the aviation industry to confirm that it was the same plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board released the tail number of the downed Airbus A-320, which is N106US.

NTSB spokesman Peter Knudsen said as part of its investigation into the Hudson River crash, it will be looking at all maintenance activities, but has no indications of any anomalies or any malfunctions in the aircraft, so far in the investigation.

The Federal Aviation Administration referred CNN to US Airways.

US Airways would not confirm that the Flight 1549 that took off January 13 was the same plane that splashed into the Hudson two days later.

Valerie Wunder, a US Airways spokeswoman, said: “US Air is working with the National Transportation Safety Board in this investigation.” She would not comment on any other details, including Tuesday’s flight, though she did confirm US Airways is looking into it.

Jeffrey told CNN that US Airways earlier Monday confirmed to him that the Tuesday incident occurred aboard the plane that crashed.

John Hodock, another passenger on the Tuesday flight, said in an e-mail to CNN: “About 20 minutes after take-off, the plane had a series of compressor stalls on the right engine. There were several very loud bangs and fire coming out of the engine. The pilot at first told us that we were going to make an emergency landing, but after about five minutes, continued the flight to Charlotte.”

In an interview, Hodock said the pilot “got on the intercom and said they were going to have to make an emergency landing at the nearest airport. But then, only five to 10 minutes later, the pilot came back on and said it was a stalled compressor and they were going to continue to Charlotte.”

A third passenger, who did not want her named used, also said she heard a “loud banging sound” on the right side of the plane. She said she heard the pilot say the “compressor for the engine was stalled” and they needed “to turn around and go back.” However, she said, the problem was fixed and the flight continued without incident.

Pilots and aviation officials said that a compressor stall results from insufficient air getting into the engine and that multiple stalls could result in engine damage. However, the officials said, a momentary compressor stall may be less serious and could be corrected in flight by simply restarting the engine.

A bird strike could lead to a compressor stall, the officials said.

All AboutUS Airways Group Inc. • Air Travel

Find this article at:
http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/01/19/hudson.plane.folo/index.html?eref=rss_topstories

Top image credit: Associated Press