Mefi discussion of Air France crash continues on Wired.com July 22, 2011 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Wired magazine contributing editor David Wolman recently unearthed this Metafilter thread [now closed] full of armchair opining about what may have led to the crash. When we forwarded it to an Airbus captain we know who is usually understated, he offered an uncharacteristically lengthy reply
posted by Mngo to MetaFilter-Related at 8:23 AM (40 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Oooh! We're PUNDITS now!
posted by Madamina at 8:34 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't participate in the thread, but it looks to me like this pilot's not doing anything different. And as warbaby said in the thread, It seems like this story may be changing a bit when we know what was said in the cockpit. For now, it's just instrument recordings.
posted by Mngo at 8:35 AM on July 22, 2011


Thanks for the link.

I’m amazed by how many comments there are about what the pilots should or shouldn’t have done, what they saw or didn’t see on their instruments or what they should or shouldn’t have learned in training, and whatever other suppositions people come up with.

Welcome to the Internet?

Though I do agree with him suggesting not throwing blame around before an investigation. Still, postulators gonna postulate.
posted by ODiV at 8:37 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wired magazine contributing editor David Wolman recently unearthed this Metafilter thread

"Unearthed"? Really? It's on the internet and barely a month old. Yeah, guy's a real Indiana Jones.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:46 AM on July 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


That thread belongs in a museum!
posted by BeerFilter at 8:51 AM on July 22, 2011 [38 favorites]


This reminds me of something. There was an article linked to on Metafilter about a plane crash (something makes me think it was in upstate NY or NE) of a commuter plane. This article gave a minute by minute description of all the checks and tests the crew had to do all while all these alarms and warnings were going off. It was mind-boggling all the stuff they had to deal with. It boggled my mind so much I can't find it.
posted by marxchivist at 8:55 AM on July 22, 2011


You guys have armchairs? I have an office chair, and it's not very comfortable.

And how is MetaFilter different from any other site that discusses or comments on news of the day, without knowing the full details? Because our discussions are more mature than other unmoderated forums?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:01 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can you be a backseat driver on an airplane?
posted by crunchland at 9:02 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know more about piloting leviathans than I do about flying Airbuses.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:04 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lengthy reply? Don't feed the troll, dude.
posted by griphus at 9:06 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Maybe you just wanna fly the plane yourself. Well good luck pressing 'take off,' then 'autopilot,' then 'land.'"
posted by Sys Rq at 9:10 AM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Still, postulators gonna postulate.

Ironically the Airbus captain's response is mostly postulation as well. His overall message is not to blame the pilots before experts conduct a full investigation, but he's apparently fine with blaming the software based on the same incomplete information everyone else has.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:27 AM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Meh. He didn't even mention the conveyor belt.
posted by found missing at 9:32 AM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of something. There was an article linked to on Metafilter about a plane crash (something makes me think it was in upstate NY or NE) of a commuter plane.

The thread is here, I believe.
posted by cashman at 9:36 AM on July 22, 2011


I remember the old awesome PC game Stunt Island, one of the challenges was to pull out of a hard stall and I could never complete it. (So I would play the challenge where you were a duck and you laid eggs on a police car.)
posted by fuq at 9:57 AM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can you be a backseat driver on an airplane?

Yep: backseatpilot (user #42334).
posted by ericb at 10:19 AM on July 22, 2011


cjorgensen -- call me back when you can pilot a sandworm..
posted by k5.user at 10:24 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do consumer flight simulators include failure modes like described? It would be pretty awesome if every thousand hours or so of flying a catastrophe inspired by a real failure occurred.
posted by Mitheral at 10:25 AM on July 22, 2011


Sys Rq: " "Unearthed"? Really? It's on the internet and barely a month old. Yeah, guy's a real Indiana Jones."

The real question is... does he wear a fedora?
posted by zarq at 10:36 AM on July 22, 2011



"Unearthed"? Really? It's on the internet and barely a month old. Yeah, guy's a real Indiana Jones.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:46 AM on July 22 [3 favorites +] [!]


He probably just pulled the first result from Google. But then, I don't want to speculate on that too much until we can see some logs. Right now it's all pretty circumstantial.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:39 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wired magazine contributing editor David Wolman recently unearthed this Metafilter thread ...

I have it!

Step 1: Bury your laptop (preferably in soil; lacking that, a pile of unopened mail will also work)
Step 2: Take a vacation and forget the location of your laptop
Step 3: Return from vacation, dig around for said laptop.
Step 4: Find the laptop, dust it off, return to work
Step 5: State that you have "unearthed" anything you find on your laptop.

Note: if you simply placed your laptop under unopened mail or dirty clothes and you feel dishonest saying you have "unearthed" your new find, you can say you have "uncovered" the item of discussion.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:47 AM on July 22, 2011


Do consumer flight simulators include failure modes like described?

Some of them do, at a simple level. For example the Microsoft ones include things like the possibility of the pitot tube icing up if you don't turn on the pitot heater when flying through icing conditions. And when that happens in the game, the airspeed indicator behaves as described. You can also enable random failures of various components and decide how often they should occur.

What they mostly don't do well is simulate complex aircraft properly at a systems level, like having the Airbus go into alternate control laws when things go haywire. There are add-ons that do a somewhat better job of this, but not to the extent that they'd be useful in trying to understand this kind of real-world accident better, I don't think.

They're a little better for simulating failures in simple general aviation aircraft, where there just aren't a lot of complex systems responses to model.
posted by FishBike at 10:50 AM on July 22, 2011


Do consumer flight simulators include failure modes like described?

Yes. Just press the blue Metafilter button.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:27 AM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Coincidentally, I just saw a video of some of the Giant Bomb guys trying to take off in IL-2: Cliffs of Dover with full realism turned on (starts at around the 1:31:00 mark). It, uh, takes a bit of work.
posted by kmz at 11:32 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon: " Yes. Just press the blue Metafilter button."

"My God... it's full of snark!"
posted by zarq at 11:36 AM on July 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


From the thread in question:

The Airbus fly-by-wire philosophy may be seen by some to be a noble attempt to improve air safety by limiting the damage of pilot mistakes in crisis situations by intervention of automation and software management, but at least some of the time, fly-by-wire is the cause of control problems,

Right -- and one of the biggest issues is when a pilot is doing what he's been trained to do, and the FBW system is stopping him.

I'd forgotten that the Airbus side stick has basically no motion. Originally, the F-16 stick was like this, and pilots hated it so badly that they finally changed it to move. It still was a force-sensing stick, but the pilots could feel it move, and thus knew where it was.


Which is pretty much what the pilot Wired spoke with said. So, the thread had it right after hashing it out a bit.

Score: Mefi 1, Wired 1. Tie!

We are all winners! Yay!
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:26 PM on July 22, 2011


Let's leave that for the cyber-archeologists of the future to decide, Slap*Happy.
posted by ODiV at 12:34 PM on July 22, 2011


people still read Wired?
posted by jonmc at 1:23 PM on July 22, 2011


people still read MetaFilter? I only look at it for the img tags.
posted by yerfatma at 1:52 PM on July 22, 2011


I don't mean to sound snotty, but I didn't even know it was still being published in paper form. I figured they were all online.
posted by jonmc at 2:28 PM on July 22, 2011


People still listen to jonmc?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:31 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, my link is actually to Wired.com's "autopia" blog. I thought some might be interested in the status accorded to Mefi as "pundit" and others might be interested in the car nerds over there who are talking about some of the same tech issues as the thread on the blue.
posted by Mngo at 2:35 PM on July 22, 2011


Do consumer flight simulators include failure modes like described?

X-Plane has an instructor mode where someone else can hook up to your machine and monitor what you're doing and induce systems failures, but it's not random.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:37 PM on July 22, 2011


Do consumer flight simulators include failure modes like described?

Define "consumer". As a private pilot, if you're doing instrument training, the simulator is your best friend and can induce any number of failure modes (in fact, most use some variation of Flight Simulator). So called "professional" simulators, the full six-axis motions ones, do in fact simulate everything, down to the noise you would hear in the cockpit. Speaking to one of the engineers that designed the thing, he told me that they actually went out and recorded the sounds of the air-to-air refueling boom striking the top of the fuselage so that they could get a realistic environment in their simulator.

If you buy Flight Sim X, you can induce these failures, but I'm not sure that it will do it on its own (i.e., if you're flying in the clouds I don't know that FSX will create a pitot ice condition if the temperature is below freezing). The tools are still useful, though, since it gets the pilot used to not seeing his/her surroundings and relying on their instruments.

The other issue is that, if you're at home using FSX on your computer, you can pause the machine and select any number of failures. While in a simulator, your instructor is doing this to you real-time. So you really don't know what's coming at you when you're in a simulator compared to pausing your own computer, selecting your own failures, and then running your own program again.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:32 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't want to be a pundit.

But now I want to jump it with some Fun Dip to the sunlit rum ship.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:07 PM on July 22, 2011


Failure modes:
Having been the "pilot" in one of those full motion simulators for a certain then new plane they certainly do provide the operators with a plethora of ways the plane can fail. My one, and only time, I have operated a flight sim I got to take off from San Francisco in heavy weather at night and, while the graphics where not super impressive - the fact that the whole machine bounced around it really did sound and feel like we were taking off. In the RAIN. Plus you were sitting in front of this massively complicated instrument board which was lifted from a real machine, and your friend (who is mostly laughing) is co-pilot trying to explain how to operate the basic controls. I didn't spend much time looking "outside" at the screens.

For fun they had my plane sustained numerous lightening strikes and electrical issues (just a quiet beep and a flashing light), then lost half my engines which prompted a much more exciting set of alarms plus a talking voice. The voice was not telling me anything usefull but was very very calm. The operator gave me back full power, only for me to promptly stall. The voice was still unhelpfully talking to me here- just a repetitive STALL STALL STALL or something. It was terrifying. I knew I was crashing. The stall came about because of my uncontrolled yo-yo ing up and down. Which I was doing because piloting a giant modern plane is surprisingly hard to do well and not wallow around a bunch.

The amazing thing is that although I've never piloted even a sim before, I was still able to fly that thing and not actually crash and fake kill everyone on board. If I would have been on my own it would have been over before we got off the ground - but with a bit of help/mirth from actual pilots it wasn't a complete disaster. Before my short time slot was up I was finally able to turn the thing around, zoom past a pixalated Golden Gate bridge and land/crash the plane back on the runway. I got a massive list of all the bits I broke, along with how hard I landed - which I already knew as the sim had just slammed us into the floor.

The list of things that could be made to fail was pretty extensive - and the pilots would get tested in situations in which combinations of failures would built up to assess skill/responses, so they had to know instinctively how to respond.
posted by zenon at 10:20 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


backseatpilot writes "Define 'consumer'. "

I was thinking Microsoft Flight simulator or whatever is in vogue for PC play currently. The real key thin for me would be the rare randomness. It wouldn't be quite the same effect if you were expecting it.
posted by Mitheral at 10:51 PM on July 22, 2011


People still listen to jonmc?!

Only the smart ones.
posted by fuq at 12:06 AM on July 23, 2011


That thread belongs in a museum!

To be fair, the thread is closed for new comments and probably gets as much traffic as any other thread that is closed for new comments, regardless of age.

The pilot's letter was very entertaining, but I would have liked it if he debunked some of the pundits (commenters? pundinters?) he disagreed with. Despite the obvious armchair analysis, there were a few comments that seemed to me at least, to come from people who had similar technical backgrounds as the Wired pilot.
posted by geoff. at 9:22 AM on July 23, 2011


it's very weird and sad to read about all of this here. My cousin was on that flight. I hadn't seen him for a really long time... I can't imagine what he must have gone though.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:54 PM on July 24, 2011


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