Monday, 24 August 2015

Getting old ?

The air crash at Shoreham caused the first civilian deaths at an airshow in 60 years. 
And while the crash was certainly a major one, and some relatives of the dead asked for air shows to be stopped, the track record at these events is unbelievably good. Its far far more likely a person would be injured traveling too an airshow than at an airshow.

The government decided against the usual panic, media led calls for intimidate knee-jerk action. in the debates its always suggested an outright ban as the first response. When the London and Glasgow helicopter crashes occurred there were similar calls to ban all helicopters in cities. 
Instead the government decided to stop flights by the vintage planes and have a review. They are going down the health and safety, risk assessment route. And quite right too.

As we read the other week on this blog, when discussing the Tornado, military aircraft in particular have a short shelf life. They aren't supposed to be flying 50 years after they were designed. Who would they fight? Who would dare fly them in combat ?

The United States had an unusual role for some of its veteran aircraft. They were turned into airbourne firefighting planes. Dropping gallons of water-slurry onto fires. Vintage aircraft were a common sight, indeed the only sight for many years as these planes, a mix of transport and military designs, some 50 years old, were used regularly by the US Forest Service.
In 2002 a c-130 transport plane, which was built in 1957, suffered structural failure while firefighting and broke up in midair.
In another incident that year a variant of a US Liberator bomber,converted for firefighting, also broke up during operations. This plane was from 1945.
Naturally both had had airworthiness certificates. And been approved to carry out their role.
Nevertheless in 2003 several planes were told to be withdrawn from service and in 2004 the entire tanker fleet was grounded.

For the USA this was a major blow. Wildfires are commonplace. Grounding an entire fleet of 40+ aircraft left just helicopters and light tankers and some more modern, converted, military transports.
But the authorities had decided that the accident rate, general maintenance, stresses of their role, left them no choice but to ground all the old planes. And the Forest service would have to just do what it could until new aircraft became available.

Initial reports from eyewitnesses at Shoreham seem to suggest it was not mechanical failure that caused the crash. So grounding every plane over 20 years old would be foolish. instead the regulator has instructed that..

Vintage jets will not be allowed to perform "high-energy aerobatics" over land at air shows. And all Hawker Hunters,the plane that crashed, have been temporarily grounded.

This does seems  a very sensible precaution.

A B-26 invader from the Steven Spielberg movie ALWAYS. A film about dare devil aerial firefighters. 
The film was released in 1989 {and a bit of a flop - even though its a great romantic film}.
The B-26 was a WW2 bomber. An early one too. Coming into service in 1941.


hovis said...

Ok as a know nothing know all - I understood the speculation was that it was unlikely tio be due to age but perhaps old fashiopned pilot error (I didn't think that would mean he is a bad pilot, but simply unlucky at that point..)

Steven_L said...

Are you talking about the age of the plane or the late pilot?

Sebastian Weetabix said...

It looks like he had a flame out and couldn't relight it in time, which can happen for any number of reasons, from pilot error to foreign object damage via poor maintenance or a failed part, or any cascade or combination thereof - it's almost in the 'shit happens' category. When you think of the maintenance effort required to keep a military jet in the air... civilian owners doing it part time 50 odd years after the jet was built does make you shudder somewhat. No wings fell off so we can most likely discount metal fatigue, so it isn't age in that sense, the airframe integrity was good. But best leave it to the AAIB rather than journalists, bloggers and old codgers in blazers like me who knew about it 35 years ago.

I was interested to hear the CAA guy today describe a barrel roll as a high energy manoeuvre. I mean, it can be, but it isn't always. You can do it in a Boeing 707. It would be a very sad day if they don't let display pilots do it again.

CityUnslicker said...

What is wrong with flypasts at slow speed anyway?

WHERE IS MY FLYING CAR BLUE PETER PROMISED ME YEARS AGO....boring watching others do it anyway.

Ryan said...

Seems odd he was doing a dive right at a busy dual carriageway. At RIAT they have rules about that sort of thing.

Bill Quango MP said...

I was at an air show ladt year. And was dismayed at how old some of the planes looked.
What I mean by this is as a small boy making a Phantom airfix kit, that aircraft was still in service. But when I saw it in 2014 on the Tarmac, it looked ancient.
Not only does that make me much , much older than that model making 1970s makes the aircraft that much older.

Crashes are still rare. Around the world I'm sure I read that if there is an incident it's as likely to be a new, as an old aircraft.
but tightening up the regulations and thresholds would be no bad thing.
Like all of us...These planes aren't going to get any younger

ivan said...

I am rather surprised that the US would use old military aircraft for fire-fighting (but then again they do have rather a lot of them) when just north of them some of the best fire-fighting aircraft are made, the amphibious Bombardier CL-415.

Those aircraft can, and do over here, get water loads from small lakes and are very effective in killing fires (it is very impressive to see them dump the water but much more impressive to see them take it on).

Bill Quango MP said...

Ivan - Those planes are used by the USA in very small numbers. About 5 I think.
Since 2002 other dedicated firefihting planes are in use. With a larger payload.

Though the Bombadier has an excellent reputation and is the cost-effective-best..I guess it would be Which firefighting Plane of choice.

The USA prefers 747s adapted and big Military transports and the old Orion P-3 long range maritime reconnaissance

A list here.

Its a fascinating topic. Something we don't have any need for in the UK.

dearieme said...

"Something we don't have any need for in the UK." That's because our broad-leaved woodland won't burn, and nobody much would care if conifer plantations burnt anyway.

Electro-Kevin said...

Fair comment.

I am happy to see vintage planes doing simple fly-bys at air shows. I don't know why they have to chuck them around at all. Leave that to the young guys in more modern aircraft.

Electro-Kevin said...

Ivan - I saw a water landing in Croatia, it passed right our boat. Very impressive.

James Higham said...

They could be converted to WIG craft and use water cannon.

Raedwald said...

As I approach 60 myself, I'm acting voluntarily to restrict my own high energy manoevers in the interests of public safety. End-of-stripe 'spin turns' with the motor mower are now banned, as is piloting a loaded trolley one handed in a crowded supermarket. Acrobatic balancing on the bed rail to change a ceiling lamp will now be abandoned and a domestic step ladder used, and as for pre-coital and coital activities (on those thankfully less frequent occassions..) you can forget anything that involves strain on the hydraulic system.

With care, I can be the A10 of men; irredeemably ugly and noisy but with a sound if crude airframe and body and a reliable engine, and still in service after 60 years ;)