20.5.12

THE LIMITS OF FLY-BY-WIRE.

Designers can build safeguards into planes, but the mechanical assistants can only be designed with experience in mind.  Sometimes that experience comes the hard way.
Airline pilot Denny Fitch was hitching a ride home on a DC-10 in 1989 when heard an explosion somewhere in the back of the jet. He soon made his way to the cockpit to see if the crew needed help.

Inside, he found three men desperately trying to keep the giant plane in the air after losing all hydraulic power needed to control direction and altitude. Fitch took a seat in the only space available – the floor – and helped operate some of the only equipment still working – the wing engines – to try to land the aircraft carrying nearly 300 people.
Mr Fitch survived that crash, and his recent obituary reminds readers that he bought himself and some of the passengers additional years of life.
When the crippled plane crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa, more than half of the passengers survived – one of the most admired life-saving efforts in aviation history.

After the accident, aviation experts conducted simulations in which test pilots and trainer pilots tried to land similarly stricken aircraft.

"I'm not aware of any that replicated the success these guys had," said Mike Hamilton, a United pilot who flew with Fitch. None of the simulator pilots were able to make a survivable landing.

"Most of the simulations never even made it close to the ground," Hamilton said.

And the teamwork of Fitch and the others on the flight deck is still a model for the industry.

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