Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Obama Speech Postponed Due To Routine Plane Precautionary Landing

Accidental Slide Deployment Inside Tail Cone
Being Investigated By NTSB

A routine precautionary landing was made Monday, July 7, 2008, when the crew of Senator Barack Obama's chartered campaign jet had difficulty controlling the pitch of the plane. Pitch is the up and down motion of the plane, controlled by the elevator which is attached to the tail.

The precautionary landing was made in St. Louis -- without any need for the passengers to brace themselves -- but with firetrucks called out as they are routinely for any precautionary landing.

When a mechanic (already flying with along with the crew) examined the tail, it was discovered that the emergency tail slide had accidentally deployed within the plane's tail cone. The plane was never in any danger, and the pilot's ability to control the aircraft was never threatened.


About an hour into the flight from Chicago to Charlotte, North Carolina, the first officer said that upon takeoff the pilot had difficulty controlling the pitch of the plane, requiring a diversion of the flight.

Obama, 46, an Illinois senator, made light of the incident this morning.

``I just thought we'd spice things up a little bit today,” he joked to reporters at the back of the plane as they waited on the tarmac.

Obama said he wasn't frightened, yet ``any time a pilot says that something's not working the way it's supposed to, then you know, you make sure you tighten your seat belt.”

``Everything seemed under control; the pilots knew what they were doing,” Obama said.

The first officer announced at 9:40 a.m. local time that during the ascent from Chicago an hour earlier the pilot noticed an issue involving the ability to control the plane's pitch.

``While there was never an issue as to the safety of the flight, as a precautionary measure, we decided to divert the plane to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, where it landed just before 10 a.m.” local time, the airline said in a statement.

Obama told reporters after landing it was the first time he had had to land because of mechanical problems.

Obama delivered his speech by telephone from St. Louis to about 200 people in Charlotte. He later continued onto Atlanta, Georgia, for a fundraiser in a smaller airplane.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, it announced Monday afternoon.
The crowd in Charlotte was happy to hear the Senator by phone.

And on goes the campaign.

What Makes An In-Flight Emergency?

What I want to emphasize for those of you whom are not air crew, is how totally routine this is.

I don't know what their checklists say, however unless their checklists required it -- and they might have -- it's unlikely the aircrew “declared an emergency.”

“Declaring an emergency” is a technical act which cause all kinds of serious shit to happen, in the cockpit and at every station between you and your destination (including every airplane along the way.)

You do it when:
  • the checklist tells you to,
  • the mechanic on the ground recommends you to (although the Pilot In Command always has the final call; he's IN COMMAND) and in this case, they had a mechanic right there in the cockpit with them, which shows how seriously the Secret Service takes Senator Obama's security,
  • when bad shit is happening and it's clear to any reasonable pilot there is an emergency, or
  • and this is the tough one, when to the PIC something simply feels bad.
The key to surviving a no-shit in-flight [emergency] is dealing with what is technically known as a cascade failure. It's NEVER just one thing which brings down an airfoil. It's A + B + C + D. When you listen to the orange box recordings, sometimes I just SCREAM at them, because they are always five minutes too late and at least thirty seconds too fucking slow all the goddamn flight... and it always ends the same.

They miss A because their attention is elsewhere. By the time they've finally caught up to A it's too goddamn late, because now B has gone wrong and is blinking, signaling for their attention but they're fixated on A. By the time they catch up and notice B it's too late again because now C is falling apart all the way over there, and by the time they catch up and notice C the plane has moved on to D and that's the mother-fucking thing that kills everyone.

The plane starts to spin, breaking apart, falling. They struggle to gain control. Their voices never, not once lose concentration, fighting, working the problem, all the way to the ground. Calling their position to ATC. And then. Just before they hit. One of them says in the same, totally flat professional voice they've used all night... "Oh shit" ...and you can hear how utterly disgusted he is with himself.

He didn't solve the problem.

The key to surviving an in-flight is not getting caught inside the time-loop of a cascade failure. A cascade failure is moving faster than you can react to it. At the same time, you don't want to be the person who goes around “declaring an emergency” which puts every asset of the air traffic control system at your instant disposal and -- literally -- causes hundreds to thousands of airplanes to divert or delay, all in order to make certain you and your passengers are safe in your moment of peril... if in fact, you don't have a damn good case for declaring an emergency.


Trouble on takeoff an hour ago. Yeah.

Pitch trouble now. Fine.

But when it comes out of autopilot --

...the plane flies on autopilot almost the entire trip; it's more fuel efficient that way and frees the pilots to do more important tasks such as, well in this case, figure out if there is actually an emergency. More typically, eat dinner, talk to ATC, the company on the telephone or radio, watch the beautiful sunset...

-- when the plane comes off autopilot the pitch problem is fine. Or at least, controllable.

The mechanic doesn't see an issue, even when she (let's say it's a she) goes back to the tail and looks . And there's no light to tell her the emergency tail shoot has deployed. (Bad design.)

The PIC has to make a decision. Is this a cascade failure which he is behind? In which case he'd better declare an emergency right now and head for the nearest appropriate airport (not necessarily the closest) which can handle his configuration, problem, and souls on board. (Yes, souls on board means they want to know a count of bodies. Including off-manifest bodies. In case. Declaring an emergency triggers automatic procedures everywhere. No kidding. Chaplains are notified. No. Kidding.)

Or... is all this simply some flaky problem in the instruments? (Lights for example, may go on and off with disturbing regularity. For example, sometimes the fire light will go on in an engine when there's no fire. Or a light saying the right rear wheels are down and locked will burn out. Bit of a problem.)

Last concern: The pilot is flying the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party for the United States of America, much of his Senior Staff, and the traveling press corps. Also possibly the daily briefer and a briefing memo and papers of some security classification. The nominee is guarded by the Secret Service. No pressure, however if you frack this up it's likely you'll be flying mercs in oil wars in Africa to prove your loyalty before they let you have your ATC license back and let you near American airspace again.

All things considered, if it's not a checklist requirement to declare an emergency, I probably would not. (And I wasn't a pilot, just a flight medic, so what the HELL do I know? *laughs*)
Obama waves after precautionary landing in St. Louis on July 7, 2008. photo AP in CNN.
Instead, I'd simply ask them if we could divert to St. Louis. They might ask me if I wanted to declare. I'd say no, not right now. That would be MORE than enough. Plus, you bet your sweet ass they know who we are. Secret Service has someone there. In fact, I'll bet, now that I think about it... Just as AF1 has its own call sign, I'll bet there's a special call sign for this aircraft. Not to be vain, but to keep ATC in the loop for special handling.
Obama waves after precautionary landing in
St. Louis on July 7, 2008. photo AP in CNN.

k. Enough.

Here's the point of all this. Most of the reporters handled the story well. Some of them -- *cough FOX NEWS cough* truly utterly fucking BLEW. They put up headlines and breaking news bars, and did shit like "OBAMA PLANE DRAMA. Turbulence. Airline and everyone on it might DIE Die die... (I'm making up some of this, but why not... this is the kind of happy horseshit they did.)

Why did they do it? Because they're Fox News and not real journalists. Which means they don't know an ass from a hole in the ground. Like how Bill O'Reilly doesn't know how to treat a woman.

Anyway, when you see the idiots who reported this as an emergency, just notice how calm and cool and collected Senator Obama was. That's because there wasn't anything there, there. Also, because even though this was the Senator's first in-flight... he knows how to keep his cool. He isn't one to panic in an emergency and say, lose his plane.

Or five of them. (I'm just saying.)

I can't remember ever hearing of a glitch on Air Force One. Not saying there's never been one (there almost certaintly has.) I just haven't ever heard of one.

Not including the 2000 and 2004 elections.

So... what have we learned?

No matter what the emergency, don't declare unless you need to, but if you need to, do so without hesitating.

What kills in emergencies is cascade failures. The key to survive a cascade failure is to get inside the turning cycle, how fast the cascade is failing, falling, turning around, tumbling down, turning on you. No, faster. Faster. It is going FASTER. Quick... declare an emergency.

Now step back, breathe.... Let yourself BE. And see the whole picture.

You'll do fine.