Air France Jet Crash

You have probally all heard about the Air France jet crashing in the Alantic.

Reports so far have suggested that lighting was the cause of failure.

Now I believe Commericial Air Crafts are struck by lightning at least once a year. Lightning is suppose to pass around the exterior of the plane causing only small distrubance.

From what I have read though lightning strikes can cause structural damage and electro-magnetic interference.

So the question is how safe are commercial jets against lighting strikes ?

How accurate are our models for predicting damage on a plane from lighting strikes ?
 

russ_watters

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Re: Air Fran Jet Crash

You have probally all heard about the Air France jet crashing in the Alantic.
Welcome to PF!

I was wondering when someone would post about this incident and I'm glad you did it in engineering instead of general discussion!
Reports so far have suggested that lighting was the cause of failure.

Now I believe Commericial Air Crafts are struck by lightning at least once a year. Lightning is suppose to pass around the exterior of the plane causing only small distrubance.
Correct, and since the initial reports, most news sources I've seen have backed off that speculation, noting that airplanes are designed to withstand lightning.
From what I have read though lightning strikes can cause structural damage and electro-magnetic interference.

So the question is how safe are commercial jets against lighting strikes ?

How accurate are our models for predicting damage on a plane from lighting strikes ?
The easy answer is that they are very safe, but nothing can be completely safe. More specific, I can't be because I don't have a lot of specific knowledge of the testing and modeling of this. We have plenty of members with more specific knowledge of this subject than me, though, who I'm sure will weigh in...
 
Thanks for the response.

I just read that "The head of communication at Air France said the plane, an Airbus A330, had probably been struck by lightning" so i'm not too sure what the deal is.

If it had been struck by lightning I wonder how it damaged the plane?

If the report was false then I guess it could be almost anything. Have to wait until the black box is found.
 

FredGarvin

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A lot of work and certification testing goes into an aircraft and its engines. A proper ground path between major components is a mandatory design feature. We just finished lightning strike testing on one of our engines.

That being said, there is no way to ever predict the worst case scenario when it comes to mother nature.

Personally, I don't buy the lightning strike theory. It may have had a contributing factor, but I doubt it was the main factor. Unfortunately, it looks like we may never know.
 

Astronuc

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Here is some information on the research of lightning and aircraft interaction.

http://www.sae.org/aeromag/features/aircraftlightning/

http://oea.larc.nasa.gov/PAIS/Concept2Reality/lightning.html [Broken]
I've seen a video of some of these experiments, but I can't find it on the internet.


Lightning might have been a factor. There is some speculation that aircraft with composite material might be more vulnerable to lightning strikes - but as of now, that's speculation.


Commercial aircraft have lightning wicks (basically lightning rods) or protusions with which to facilitate the conduction current in a more controlled process.

Lightning Strikes Airplane [Boeing 747] During Takeoff


As Fred mentioned, it will be difficult to find in the mid Atlantic. The craft seems to have gone missing somewhere near the mid-Atlantic Ridge.
. . .
"The research area overhangs an underwater mountain range as big as the Andes," Prazuck said. "The underwater landscape is very steep."

. . . .
With nothing more to go on than the last point where Flight 447 made contact — about 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) northeast of the Brazilian coastal city of Natal — search teams faced an immense area of open ocean, with depths as much as 15,000 feet (4,570 meters).
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/brazil_plane [Broken]
 
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Borek

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So far they have not even approximately located the plane.

Anybody knows what is a range of underwater locator beacons?

Obviously the range will depend on the equipment used for detection so there can be no easy answer to that...
 

Astronuc

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Update: Some possible aircraft debris found along path of AF447.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090602/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/brazil_plane [Broken]
Air Force spokesman Jorge Amaral says the seats were spotted by search planes early Tuesday morning but that authorities cannot immediately confirm they were from the plane.

Also spotted were small white pieces of debris, material that may be metallic and signs of oil and kerosene, which is used as jet fuel.

The debris was found about 390 miles (650 kilometers) northeast of the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha.
 
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DaveC426913

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Thanks for the response.

I just read that "The head of communication at Air France said the plane, an Airbus A330, had probably been struck by lightning" so i'm not too sure what the deal is.

If it had been struck by lightning I wonder how it damaged the plane?

If the report was false then I guess it could be almost anything. Have to wait until the black box is found.
Did I not hear in the report that the plane sent out a warning complaint of electrical problems shortly prior to radio silence? Presumably the lightning fried some critical navigation or flight component(s).
 
Here is some information on the research of lightning and aircraft interaction.

http://www.sae.org/aeromag/features/aircraftlightning/

http://oea.larc.nasa.gov/PAIS/Concept2Reality/lightning.html [Broken]
I've seen a video of some of these experiments, but I can't find it on the internet.


Lightning might have been a factor. There is some speculation that aircraft with composite material might be more vulnerable to lightning strikes - but as of now, that's speculation.


Commercial aircraft have lightning wicks (basically lightning rods) or protusions with which to facilitate the conduction current in a more controlled process.

Lightning Strikes Airplane [Boeing 747] During Takeoff


As Fred mentioned, it will be difficult to find in the mid Atlantic. The craft seems to have gone missing somewhere near the mid-Atlantic Ridge.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/brazil_plane [Broken]
Thanks for the information. A very good read.
 
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russ_watters

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Did I not hear in the report that the plane sent out a warning complaint of electrical problems shortly prior to radio silence? Presumably the lightning fried some critical navigation or flight component(s).
It also reported a cabin pressure loss, so I was thinking about it from the other direction: that wind shear had caused a structural failure, leading to both the cabin pressure loss and electrical failures. But I haven't seen it reported what order the failures were reported in.

My gut reaction to the early news reports was to think about the last time this many people died in a plane crash: in 2001, when wake turbulence and possible pilot or computer overcorrection tore the tail off an A300 over New York. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Airlines_Flight_587

We certainly can't rule out lightning completely, but it would be an exceedingly rare failure. Lightning hasn't taken down a commercial airliner in more thana 40 years and an average, every airliner is hit by lightning once a year, so there have been millions of lightning strikes since then.
 

DaveC426913

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We certainly can't rule out lightning completely, but it would be an exceedingly rare failure. Lightning hasn't taken down a commercial airliner in more thana 40 years and an average, every airliner is hit by lightning once a year, so there have been millions of lightning strikes since then.
IIRC, often air accidents are a conflagration of events. Lightning in conjunction with some other element(s), such as the age of the plane may be the cause. I heard early reports mentioning how old the plane was, though I think they said it was only 4 years or something.
 
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I don't suggest this as the most plausible, or even likely cause, but not beyond some consideration. It's not unheard of that ball lightning can enter an aircraft.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2562/does-ball-lightning-really-exist"

Physicist R.C. Jennison claimed that he had personally witnessed ball lightning during an airplane flight. What's more, he'd reported the incident in a letter to Nature two years earlier. Here's the nub:

I was seated near the front of the passenger cabin of an all-metal airliner (Eastern Airlines Flight EA 539) on a late night flight from New York to Washington. The aircraft encountered an electrical storm during which it was enveloped in a sudden bright and loud electrical discharge (0005 h EST, March 19, 1963). Some seconds after this a glowing sphere a little more than 20 cm in diameter emerged from the pilot's cabin and passed down the aisle of the aircraft approximately 50 cm from me, maintaining the same height and course for the whole distance over which it could be observed.
 
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Here is a weather analysis in the vicinity of AF447.

http://www.weathergraphics.com/tim/af447/" [Broken]

Wikipedia has the most comprehensive ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) transission sequence I've seen so far. ACARS is the autonomous data broadcaste system the A330 utilized to report fault conditions directly prior to it's demise. It's about four screens down under "Incident".
 
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Borek

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Wikipedia has the most comprehensive ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) transission sequence I've seen so far. ACARS is the autonomous data broadcaste system the A330 utilized to report fault conditions directly prior to it's demise. It's about four screens down under "Incident".
Can't find it - can you please give more detailed pointers?
 

Borg

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And, there is already a Wikipedia page for this flight as well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_447" [Broken]
 
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LURCH

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Could have been positive lightning (BIG maybe).
 
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it was shown on the news that half an hour after last contact, weather satellites recorded extreme weather near where the plane was. could bad weather have crippled the plane.

also just as a guess. could the plane have suffered engine failure while in the storm. after all, there were electrical problems and i think the engines provide some power and also the engines i believe maintained presurisation and it is thought that there was a cabin loss of pressure
 

Borek

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Pure speculation if you ask me.
 

Mech_Engineer

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Whatever happened to the plane, it had to have been so chatastrophic that all communications and flight controls failed such that the pilots could not control the plane AND could not radio out a mayday. Possibly massive wind shear causing the airframe to break apart, but it seems to me that lightning is unlikely due to the number of double and triple redundant systems governing critical systems such as flight controls.
 

mgb_phys

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also just as a guess. could the plane have suffered engine failure while in the storm. after all, there were electrical problems and i think the engines provide some power and also the engines i believe maintained presurisation and it is thought that there was a cabin loss of pressure
The engines normally provide all the electrical power, there is an emergency wind powered generator that deploys automatically if they fail. Losing both engines in cruise isn't a disaster - a 747 glided for 15minutes after losing all 4 engines when flying through a dust storm. Another A330 that ran out of fuel flew for 20 minutes before landing in the Azores.
The engines are used to pressurize the cabin and provide the heating and AC but the air doesn't suddenly rush out if they stop.

The sequence of events and debris look like it broke up at altitude but it's going to take the recovery of more evidence to work out why.
 

Borg

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The engines normally provide all the electrical power, there is an emergency wind powered generator that deploys automatically if they fail. Losing both engines in cruise isn't a disaster - a 747 glided for 15minutes after losing all 4 engines when flying through a dust storm. Another A330 that ran out of fuel flew for 20 minutes before landing in the Azores.
The engines are used to pressurize the cabin and provide the heating and AC but the air doesn't suddenly rush out if they stop.

The sequence of events and debris look like it broke up at altitude but it's going to take the recovery of more evidence to work out why.

I agree. The plane that crashed into the Hudson in January lost both engines but that didn't stop them from performing a controlled crash landing and communicating with the control tower.

I've read reports that the automated messages from 447 were sent over a 4 minute time span. But, I've only read that the plane depressurized and had electrical failure - nothing about the order or timing. Has anyone heard anything more about the sequence, timing and content of the messages?
 

Borek

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According to Polish media (they claim to quote some Brazilian media) pilot reported that they are going through thunderstorm. 10 minutes later plane systems reported that autopilot has been switched off, reserve power system has been engaged and systems required for plane stabilization have been damaged. Other reports followed. Three minutes later came report about pressure loss and electrical failures.

Note that this was first translated from Spanish to Polish, then from Polish to English, and neither translation was done by someone aware of proper terminology.
 
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Borg

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Note that this was first translated from Spanish to Polish, then from Polish to English, and neither translation was done by someone aware of proper terminology.
My wife is Russian. I definitely know how things get lost in translation... :rolleyes:
 

mgb_phys

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I've read reports that the automated messages from 447 were sent over a 4 minute time span. But, I've only read that the plane depressurized and had electrical failure - nothing about the order or timing
from http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20090601-0
starting at 02:10 UTC, a series of ACARS messages were sent -automatically- from the plane. The first message indicated the disconnection of the autopilot followed and the airplane went into 'alternate law' flight control mode. This happens when multiple failures of redundant systems occur.
From 02:11 to 02:13, multiple faults regarding ADIRU (Air Data and Inertial Reference Unit) and ISIS (Integrated Standby Intsruments System) were reported. Then on 02:13 the system reported failures of PRIM 1, the primary flight control computers that receive inputs from the ADIRU and SEC 1 (secondary flight control computers). The last message at 02:14 was a 'Cabin vertical speed' advisory.
The ACARS is a SMS message like system that reports flight information and all sorts of diagnostic and system status messages. It lets the airline know of any technical problems that might need looking at when the plane lands. It's completely automatic and each short message only takes a fraction of a second to transmit so it could have managed to send messages as long as the systems had backup power and the antennae was connected - even if the plane was in pieces.
 

Borg

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