Air France Flight 447

AF447 before the crash

Air France Flight 447 was scheduled to operate between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris. The Airbus A330, crashed on 1st June 2009, the airplane stalled in mid-air and couldn’t recover crashing into Atlantic Ocean by killing all its 228 passengers and crew. The Airbus A330 has the most significant automated piloting system, but some experts say that the pilots were not trained adequately to handle an emergency situation and few experts believe that the faulty alarm system, added to the confusion of pilots and led to the disaster.

The Brazilian Navy helped to remove the airplane’s major wreckage and several bodies, but the flight recorders or black box was not found until May 2011, two years later after the accident. After investigating the recorders, it was known that the two co-pilots were not properly trained and depended heavily on plane’s autopilot system. This Autopilot system failed at higher altitude when a speed sensor called as Pitot tube, froze, sending wrong readings to the plane’s computer system.

Brazilian Navy removing the plane’s wreckage in Atlantic Ocean.

The first autopilot was invented in the year 1912. It allowed the plane to fly straight and level without any assistance of pilot. In the 1950s the autopilot improved and could be programmed to follow an exact route. In the 1970s, complex electric and hydraulic systems were introduced. Advance airplane not only have autopilot, but they also have fly-by-wire system. Fly-by-wire is a computer based control system that can control and execute pilot’s commands smoothly and efficiently. Fly-by-wire system also helps to prevent the airplane from getting into aerodynamic stall mid-air. AF447 entered the tropical storm in Atlantic Ocean, they did not change the route to avoid worst of the storm. The Captain of the plane left for his break just before the crash. Due to thunderstorm, when the pressure probe called as Pitot tube was iced over, the automation could not indicate how fast the plane was going and also fly-by-wire disengaged and was no longer protecting against the stall. When the autopilot disengaged, the co-pilot, pulled the control stick down, which caused the nose of the plane to pitch in upward direction. This action caused the plane to travel into a stall. Even when the stall warning sounded in the cabin, the co-pilot couldn’t figure out the situation. The pilots, however, never realized they were in stall and never recovered from it. Five minutes after the stall the plane crashed into Atlantic, instantly killing all 228 people on board.

Illustration of stall. Top Image: A plane in normal Flight; Bottom: A plane in a stall with its nose upwards
Flight Path of AF447. White dot is where the plane had last contact.

It is clear that automation played a prominent role in this disaster. This accident would not occur if the automated systems were not designed in complex and confusing way. Also, the pilots are to be prepared and trained for any emergency situation. Now-a-days the Pitot sensor is occupied with defrosting technology, but it was not available during the accident. This accident would also be avoided if the pilots would have not neglected the weather report and instead took a detour away from the storm.