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Lessons From Flight 447

A perfectly good airplane the pilots flew into the water.

Flight 447
Lessons From Flight 447

In June 2009, Air France flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after plummeting 37,000 feet from a pilot-induced stall, killing all 228 souls aboard. A host of factors conspired to bring the airplane down, but it was the total confusion on the flight deck that ultimately led to it being flown under a full-power stall to its doom.

Flight 447 is a shining example of the danger of ignoring the basics because we're distracted by something else, but it's not the first. In December 1972, an Eastern Airlines L-1011 crashed into the Florida Everglades after the pilots became distracted by a malfunctioning gear position indicator light and failed to see the autopilot disconnect.

In both of the above accidents, teams of pilots flew perfectly good airplanes into the ground because their attention was not properly focused or they weren't prioritizing the signals they were receiving. But how does the crash of a sophisticated, computerized airliner pertain to aerobatics?

For pilots who've spent the majority of their time flying upright, where stalls are the outside edge of their flying experience, an inadvertent spin would easily qualify as a distracting event. That first aileron roll might seem like an easy maneuver - until you bring the stick back to neutral upon reaching the inverted position because the windscreen has filled wheat fields.

All airplanes - even computerized ones - give us cues as to how they're flying. Learning to recognize those cues and then take decisive action can often be the difference between life and death.

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