The massive Boeing 747-400 has just flown over Alaska and now it’s almost half way through a thirteen and half hour journey from Detroit to Japan Narita airport.
On long journeys it’s common to have two flight crews.
“We have two captains and two co-pilots”.
They fly in shifts to prevent fatigue.
Flight 85 is more then 6 hours from landing at Narita.
The aircraft took a dramatic roll to the left and went from 35 to 40 degrees of bank.
For no apparent reason the pilots have lost control of the airplane.
Captain Geib has only moments to react.
“Do we lose an engine?! Do we still have engines??”
The lives of 386 passengers hang in the balance.
In a matter of seconds captain Geib has disconnected the autopilot puled back on control column and leveled the wings.
but something is still seriously wrong.
“… if it’s not the engines, then we have a problem with the rudder”.
The pilots have leveled the plane, but they are still having difficulty controlling it.
The warning system confirms Geib’s suspicion.
“Yaw damper lower.”
A malfunction of the rudder system.
The rudder controls the plane’s yaw, its movements from left to right as it flies.
It directs airflow to keep it flying straight.
This plane is in danger of suffering the same fate.
Because of its size the 747 has both the upper and lower rudder.
They normally move in unison.
For some unknown reason the lower rudder has deflected 17 degrees to the left and it stuck here.
The captain tries to keep the plane flying level and straight.
He uses foot pedals to control the upper rudder and the control column to move the ailerons.
But he knows it’s a stopgap measure they may not work for long.
“I’ve got the airplane and the radios. You get the COM and see if there is a procedure for this”.
The COM or cockpit operation manual provides a list of procedures for emergency situations.
“Not so far”.
Hydraulics control several vital components, including the failed rudder.
More failures could spell disaster.
How far to Narita? About 6 hours”
Flying that far without full control of the plane is a huge risk.
1) What was the destination of the flight? Was it a short-haul or a long-haul flight?
The destination of the flight was Japan’s Narita Airport. It was a long-haul flight.
2) Why did the crew include two Captains and two First Officers?
The crew included two Captains and two First Officers to prevent a fatigue of crew members during a long journey.
3) What sudden problem did the crew encounter in the middle of the flight?
The crew encountered with sudden rolling of the aircraft to the left with 35 or 40 degrees of bank.
4) How did the Captain respond to the problem? What would you do in a similar situation?
The Captain disconnected the autopilot, pulled back on the control column and levelled the wings. I would use a “fly-navigate-communicate” technology in case of similar problem.
5) Were they able to confirm that it was an engine problem? What part of the aircraft malfunctioned?
They were unable to confirm that it was an engine problem. The rudder malfunctioned.
6) Why was the rudder failure so dangerous? How was the rudder of that aircraft type designed?
The rudder failure was so dangerous due to affecting on attitude of the aircraft. Because of its size the 747 has both an upper and lower rudder.
7) How did the pilots manage to regain control of the aircraft’s movements?
The captain tried to keep the plane flying level and straight. He used foot pedals to control the upper rudder and the control column to move the ailerons.
8) What is a COM? What information does it provide?
The COM means cockpit-operating manual. It provides a list of procedures for emergency situations.
9) For what reason was continuing the flight so risky?
Hydraulic system controls several vital components including rudder, ailerons, elevator, flaps, slats and gears. More failures in hydraulic system of the Boeing 747 could spell disaster.
10) What is the hydraulic system responsible for? Why is a hydraulic failure dangerous?
The hydraulic system controls several vital components including rudder, ailerons, elevator, flaps, slats and gears. A hydraulic failure is so dangerous because the hydraulic system is connected with aircraft control surfaces. So a hydraulic failure can make aircraft out of control.
11) What kinds of technical malfunctions can occur during flight? In your opinion, which of them are the most dangerous? Why?
During flight can occur hydraulic failures, electrical failures, engine failures, instrument failures, fuel system failures. These failures are most dangerous because all of them can make aircraft out of control and lead to crash.