Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Alitalia B.767 gets new livery (and latest news about the B.777s and BA038)

On Feb. 10 I spent a few hours at Fiumicino airport. I was curious to see if it was true that the AZA 611 was no longer operated with the B.777 but with the B.764. The aircraft arrived a little earlier than scheduled and around 12.15LT I was surprised to see that the Alitalia aircraft from NYC was indeed a B.767 and above all it was the plane serialled “EI-CRF” wearing the brand new company livery.


While I was waiting for the Alitalia 611, I had the opportunity to spot the Emirates B.777-300, an aircraft that, being equipped with RR engines, made me think to the BA038. According to the news published by the British newspapers in the last days, investigators seems to believe that the crash landing at Heathrow was most probably caused by ice clogging the fuel supply. Neither software glitches, nor FADEC malfunctions, nor electric failure, fuel contaminations, mobile phone interferences. It seems that, exposed to low temperatures on long haul flights, the fuel can freeze. Even if it is not clear under which conditions this may happen, the discovery, if confirmed by the final report of the AAIB, could spur airlines and airports to review the current procedures in order to prevent fuel from freezing during intercontinental flights when aircraft flying at high altitudes can find temperatures below -70° C.




The Guided Missile Cruiser Moskva in the harbour of Civitavecchia

The Guided Missile Cruiser “Moskva”, the flagship of the Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet, made a port visit to Civitavecchia (some 30 miles to the NW of Rome) with the Italian Frigate Maestrale before departing for a joint naval exercise in the Mediterranean Sea.

As advertised by the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) website, the ship arrived on Feb.5 and could be visited on Feb.7 the day before sailing away to take parte to the exercise.

Giovanni Maduli went there and took the following pictures of the two ships. Noteworthy the Ka-27 helicopter (with a small rearing horse zap on the nose).

The “Moskva” Missile Cruiser

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Another grounding story

Looks like some fleets are suffering problems these days.
On Feb. 3, an Hawaii Air National Guard F-15D, departed from Hickam AFB for a training alert mission, crashed in the Pacific, some 60NM to the South of Oahu. The pilot ejected safely and was immediately rescued with minor injuries. The accident had a side effect though: the 13 of 20 aircraft of the state ANG, that had been cleared to fly on Jan. 9, were grounded for the fourth time from November until Feb 7 when the remaining 12 aircraft were cleared again to perform air defence sorties. The rest of the 199th FS fleet (7 more F-15s) is still waiting to resume flying activities. With the AMX fleet still grounded, another short stop was given to an aircraft of the ItAF fleet: the Tornado. Following the crash of a 6th Stormo Tornado serialled MM55011 on Jan. 28, the Italian IDS and ECR models were grounded pending further investigation (dealing with the tank that burnt during take off from Ghedi airbase causing the loss of the aircraft). The Tornado were cleared again to fly on Feb. 5.
There have been other crashes in the past, involving other aircraft, in some cases with bad consequences but it seems that the need to ground the aircraft is a recent fancy (at least in Italy).

BA038, engine problems and WiFi/mobile phone interferences: is the B777 safe?

Recently, a visitor left a comment to one of my posts dealing with the B777, actually it was a question. He was worried about the crash landing of the British Airways 038 and since he’s going to board a “triple seven” he asked me if this aircraft is safe. My answer was that I will be flying an Alitalia B777 too at the end of February and I feel quite comfortable with the idea of flying that kind of aircraft. In fact since before BA038 accident, there had never been an accident that destroyed a 777, an aircraft that is flying in 687 examples from 13 years and that has logged some 3.5 million flight hours. Furthermore, recent crash drew more attention on the aircraft systems and engines and most probably, there will be even more focus on safety, procedures, etc in the next months. If something surfaces from the investigation dealing with the engines and/or engine control systems, upgrades will be required to keep the fleet flying and, for example, in the meanwhile the model would be restricted from operating ETOPS 180 over the oceans.
That said, I must add that the number of engine failures experienced by the 777 fleet requires an in-depth investigation. In the last months, twice an Air France B777 flying from Paris Orly to La Reunion experienced engine troubles and had to divert to Rome Fiumcino (Dec 12th 2007) and Malpensa (Jan 25th 2008). There have been 7 IFSD (In Flight Shut Down) or engine problems with the B-772ER and 773ER operated by the AF, but also other fleets have suffered a certain number of IFSD and other engine failures (El Al, Singapore, Malaysian, to name but few). Failures occurred on both GE and RR equipped aircraft meaning that the problem is probably in the control systems (FADEC ?) and not in the engines.
Going back to the BA 038 crash landing, even if the report hasn’t been issued yet, an alleged leaked report appeared on many forums and blogs on the Internet. I found it at the following address: http://snipurl.com/1yr29. According to it the investigation is concentrating in the following possible causes (some of which were already analysed on this blog):

• Fuel flow limited by ice or contamination
• Engine hardware failures
• Software coding problem “British Airways installed a new engine EEC software revision in December 2007. The software was approved in May 2006. There were several changes to the software as part of the revision”.

Noteworthy, the report states that the APU was started before the crash landing even if, due to insufficient time, the APU fuel pump didn’t turn on and the APU engine didn’t start spooling up. Maybe the pilots thought to a power loss when the throttle didn’t react to request of thrust. Another interesting information deals with the RAT (Ram Air Turbine) that was found deployed leading to an electric power loss; however the RAM was probably deployed after impact.

This “leaked” report doesn’t mention any possible interference of the signals caused by mobile phones, laptop, WiFi etc. I already said that this theory in my opinion should be discarded because the engine control wires are very well shielded in order to prevent signal’s corruption but many websites pointed to the radio frequency interferences as the root cause of the Heathrow accident. For instance, Qantas has been testing since 2007, a system that allows passengers to send text messages and emails from their mobile phones during normal commercial flight, using the plane’s airframe as a mobile phone tower. The technology trial involved a B767 travelling on Australian domestic routes; for the moment the trial doesn’t allow any voice service, not for the risk of interference but for the need to prevent passengers from being disturbed by other passengers talking on the phone. In August, the first Qantas A380 on commercial route will be a high-tech plane providing WiFi connectivity throughout the fuselage and Internet access via satellite. There will be ethernet and USB ports, power sockets and many more useful thing that will enable passengers to surf from the seat. Even if the 767 trial is still in progress and final report will be released later this year, the test programme and the A380 in the “flying network” configuration show that wireless interference should not be a risk factor for a modern aircraft but what about hacking the internal entertainment system (and more) with a laptop plugged in one of the internal sockets?

Voli spaziali low cost

Alzi la mano chi non ha almeno una volta alzato gli occhi al cielo per contemplare un il firmamento, per osservare un’eclissi o cercare una stella cadente. Alcuni (ed io sono tra quelli) avranno certamente sognato di viaggiare tra le stelle per vedere la terra dallo Spazio o per provare l’assenza di peso come gli astronauti delle missioni Apollo (per citare solo quelle più famose).
Ebbene, quello di vedere la Luna da vicino e navigare nello spazio come un astronauta potrebbe non essere un sogno irrealizzabile. Con la presentazione alla stampa della Space Ship Two, avvenuta il 23 gennaio all’American Museum of Natural History di New York, è infatti iniziata l’era dei voli di linea spaziali. Almeno all’inizio non si tratterà di viaggi alla portata di tutte le tasche, men che meno di voli low cost visto che il prezzo dei primi biglietti venduti si aggira intorno ai 140.000 Euro (l’uno). Tuttavia, stando a quanto afferma Richard Branson, proprietario della neo-costituita Virgin Galactic, nel giro di qualche anno (sembrerebbe ne bastino 5), la preziosa carta d’imbarco potrebbe costare molto meno e già la seconda tranche di passeggeri della navicella dovrebbe potersi avvelere di biglietti che costeranno la metà del prezzo attuale.
La Space Ship Two inizierà i collaudi quest’anno ed è previsto per il 2010 il primo volo passeggeri. Sebbene il prezzo non sia di favore, sono già più di 200 le persone che hanno messo mano al portafogli per aggiudicarsi i biglietti che danno accesso alla navicella progettata da Burt Rutan, lo stesso che nel 2004, per 2 volte è riuscito a portare il suo primo aereo-astronave, denominato Space Ship One, a quota orbitale e a tornare a terra tutto d’un pezzo.


Anche se a quanto pare l’unico prerequisito che è necessario soddisfare per fare un volo suborbitale è quello di avere un conto in banca “rassicurante”, la gita spaziale non si preannuncia come una vera e propria passeggiata: la navicella, in grado di trasportare 2 membri dell’equipaggio e 6 passeggeri (questi ultimi in una cabina lunga 3,7 metri e larga poco più di 2), raggiungerà la quota di 15.200 metri grazie ad un aereo-vettore, il “White Knight Two”. Sganciata dalla “nave-madre”, la navicella inizierà una salita a Mach 3,5 fino all’apogeo della traiettoria orbitale situato a 110 chilometri di altezza, punto in cui i passeggeri potranno per alcuni minuti slacciare le cinture e sperimentare l’assenza di peso osservando la terra e le stelle attraverso gli oblò larghi 43 centimetri. Dopodiché, il rientro e l’atterraggio, per un totale di circa 2 ore e mezza, il tempo di un volo di sola andata sulla rotta Roma – Londra. Tutto facile quindi? Non proprio, visto che mentre il Roma – Londra lo si vive comodamente seduti nel proprio posto, meglio se di prima classe (e visto il prezzo del biglietto galattico dovrebbe essere questo il settore in cui i futuri viaggiatori spaziali sono abituati a volare sugli aerei di linea), sorseggiando una bibita o sonnecchiando, il rientro dal volo orbitale prevede che durante la fase di rientro i passeggeri incassino qualcosa come 6 G! Certo, non si tratta di un rientro a 25.000 chilometri orari tipo Space Shuttle e oltretutto i sedili sono reclinabili per attutire gli effetti dell’accelerazione (avete presente l’F-16?) ma il ritorno a casa non è neanche il comodissimo Continuous Descent Approach dei widebodies civili.
Per quanto riguarda gli “aeroporti” di partenza, terminata la sperimentazione nel deserto del Mojave, la base di armamento della Virgin Galactic sarà Spaceport America, nel New Mexico, anche se si parla già di una base alternata situata al Polo.

A chi volesse acquistare un biglietto o avere più informazioni, segnalo il sito della Virgin Galactic: http://www.virgingalactic.com/

Photo courtesy of Virgin Galactic