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Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Cap'n Has Moved!

#blog #airline #aviation #avgeek



This will be the LAST post on this blog!

From now on, ALL new posts will be found only at


Subscribers to this site AND email subscribers MUST RE-SUBSCRIBE to the new site. 

(Apologies, we weren't able to transfer that data!)

That is all!

Thanks to @Jen_nifer on Twitter for this wonderful meme!


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MH370 & Occam's Razor— The Simplest Explanation

#blog #airline #avgeek #aviation
Note: Due to the ongoing Malaysia Airlines 370 crisis, my originally scheduled blog post has been delayed.

For twelve days now, the entire world has  followed the mysterious disappearance of MH 370. Nearly two weeks filled with false leads, red herrings, wild speculation and myriad theories being bandied about, ranging from the absurd to the preposterous. The 24-hour newsfeeds, armed with a scant dearth of facts—but no end of self-proclaimed “experts”—have nothing show for it. That is, besides microscopic dissections of transponders, black boxes, and—perhaps most absurd of all—the armchair, Dr. Phil-style psych profiling of the pilots themselves. As NYCA Editor Phil Derner Jr. says in his excellent article, Don’t you believe everything you hear!
While all possible angles must be investigated by authorities, as a 23-year captain for a major U.S. airline, I feel the media feeding frenzy is an insult not only to the Captain, First Officer and their loved-ones, but to the pilot profession as a whole. These men are heroes, not villains.

Perhaps its time we all step back, take a collective deep breath, come back down to earth and take a look at this mystery from the bottom up...

Since Sir William Hamilton coined the term, “Occam’s Razor” in 1852, this principle has become a pillar of scientific theory and logical thought. The principle refers to William of Ockham’s philosophical musings, in the 12th Century, on the establishment of any theory or hypothesis. 
Basically, Occam's Razor states:

 The simplest explanation tends to be the most likely.

Put another way, “that which is most most likely.”

Of course, based on the paucity of facts surrounding MH370, the challenge for us is to figure out, what is the “simplest?” And what is the “most likely?”

Let’s start by making some assumptions, based on the odds:
—Airline pilots are highly trained, highly disciplined, and unlikely to hijack their own ships.
—Modern airliners are ultra-safe—but are machines. And machines break.
—Post-9/11, hijacks are extremely rare.
—Post-9/11, cockpit breaches are possible, but not likely.
—Passengers onboard MH370 have all been scrutinized, even the two traveling on false passports. From this cast of characters, foul play does not appear to be likely.

So, purely playing the odds, I’m going to go with, not hijacking, not foul play, and certainly not pilot sabotage, but plain and simple mechanical failure.

Let’s see if any of the known facts about the flight itself support the “odds”:
—"All right, good night”: the last radio transmission from MH370, at 01:19 (local departure time; the flight had departed at 12:41am.) This sounds like an absolutely standard sign off. No duress, and no sinister undertone suggesting a diabolical plot from the crew.
—Transponder lost (switched off or fails) two minutes later, at 01:21.
—ACARS fails to “check-in” at 01:37. Two possibilities: failure, or sabotage.
—Recent findings suggest that the flight may have been reprogrammed for the “air turn back,” possibly 12 minutes before the last radio transmission. Some say this strongly suggests that “nefarious activities were afoot.”
—Altitude deviations. Some data suggest that, after lost com, MH370 may have climbed from its initial altitude of 30,000’ to 45,000’ (well above its service ceiling) and then dove to as low as 23,000’.
—primary radar and Satellite “pings” suggest the aircraft was airborne for up to 7 hours past its last transmission.

—Radio and data loss: failure or sabotage? Again, playing the odds, mechanical failure is far more likely. The rapid-succession loss of transponder, ACARS and radio suggest these were secondary failures due to a larger, more catastrophic primary failure, say, an avionics bay fire or electrical buss short. It is even conceivable that an more catastrophic event caused the primary failure as well, such as a hull breach.
—As for the flight being programmed to turn back prior the last radio transmission, one possibility is that some airlines have their pilots routinely re-program and update a secondary flight plan with “escape routes,” in the event of an engine failure or other emergency. This hasn’t been discussed in mainstream media, but may offer up an explanation as opposed to a less likely “nefarious” one.
—Altitude deviation: Either false data, or—what? The only other plausible explanation I can come with is that, by this time, the pilots are unconscious or dead. The ship, off autopilot (again possibly part of the avionics failure) and trimmed for climb, may have gradually ascended until it reached “coffin corner,” where stall speed and max speed meet. The plane stalls, and plummets, perhaps as low as the mid-20’s where, due to the inherent positive stability (as all modern aircraft are designed), it recovers from the stall on its own. One suggestion thrown around is that the pilots climbed rapidly to “starve” a fire. Extremely unlikely. Fires spread fast, and diving for the nearest suitable airport is the only hope for survival.

“All right, good night,” the First Officer, as PNF (Pilot Not Flying) says, and switches off.
Unbeknownst to the crew, a fire has started in the forward cargo hold, near the avionics bay and practically under their feet. The source: a shipment of lithium batteries (now known to be onboard), which, if ignited, can reach incendiary temperatures and emit toxic fumes. 
The cargo fire finally sets off alarm bells in the cockpit. The Captain, as PF (Pilot Flying) immediately activates the secondary flight plan, which he had preprogrammed to turn back to the nearest suitable airport. The First Officer calls “Mayday” on 121.5, the universal emergency frequency—but his call is only met with static. The radio has failed, as well as the transponder; the cargo fire has penetrated the avionics bay, immediately below the cockpit. The ACARS fails.
The firestorm progresses, possibly burning a hole in the skin, creating an explosive decompression. The crew, having donned their oxygen masks, may be temporarily protected; but there’s no telling how far the fire could have raged. It may have severed the O2 lines, and/or created overwhelming toxic fumes—or melted through to the cockpit itself.
In any case, the crew is lost. The cabin, now depressurized and again possibly full of toxic fumes, may have initially had survivors when the oxygen masks automatically dropped—but only for 15’ until the chemically-generated oxygen ran out.
The 777 is now a ghost ship. No live pilots, no autopilot, no conscious passengers. Flying, more or less, on her last programmed course, she overflies the originally-intended emergency destination.
MH370 may have climbed, stalled, descended and climbed again, wandered back and forth across its original heading, oscillating vertically and horizontally ad nauseum. But the inherent positive stability in her design would have kept her flying...until she ran out of fuel some seven hours later.

The flight is lost at sea, some seven hours downfield and generally along its last known track.

—  —  —  —  —

Malaysia,airline,blog,MH,370,capn, aux,aviation,avgeek,accident,pilot,cockpit,hijack
For further analysis, my companion article just went live on

Together with A330 Captain Bill Palmer (Understanding Air France 447), we dissect what is FACT, and analyze it through the lenses of scientific process and our own airline experience:

Captain Palmer's Blog, and further speculation:
—  —  —  —  —


Congratulations to our own Blogging in Formation's pilot-author-blogger Karlene Petitt (, on her fantastic debate last night on 
tonight on CNN's Piers Morgan LIVE.

You really put it to those self-proclaimed "Experts!"

—  —  —  —  —

Check out the May issue of Airways Magazine

you'll see some familiar faces!

Not only is there an article from me, but also Blogging in Formation's own Karlene Petitt and Mark L. Berry!


—  —  —  —  —

Related Cap'n Aux, Blogging in Formation and NYCA Articles:
—Karlene Petitt: Pilot in the Jumpseat of MH370?
—Karlene Petitt: MH370 Did Not "Fall From the Sky"

—Mark Berry: High Alert Until MH370 is Found
—Rob Burgon: MH370, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

Other related articles:
—Maldives residents report “low flying jet”:
—Wikipedia: Occam's Razor's_razor

Monday, March 17, 2014

#MH370—Possible Scenarios?

#blogformation #blog #avgeek #aviation

   The mysterious disappearance of MH370 has brought with it much speculation. As of this writing, the plane—and the cause—has yet to be found.

   My fellow "Blogging in Formation" pilot-writers and I have been discussing on What-if scenarios all week. They have come up with some excellent—and very chilling—possibilities. See their posts below.

   Early on, one possibility stood out as most likely: inflight breakup, either due to structural failure or bomb. asked me to write an article about just such a scenario.  For your convenience, that article is reposted here.

MH370,airline,aviation,avgeek,accident,air crash,capn,aux,captain,blog,emergency,inflight

You’re The Captain:

Explosive Decompression at 40,000 Feet!

   You’re the Captain of Fantastic Airlines Flight, 123. You’re an hour into your flight from Paris to Tokyo, cruising over the Baltic Sea at FL 400. You’ve assigned PF (Pilot Flying) duties to your trusty FO (First Officer) Mark, who is flying the plane on autopilot. As PNF (Pilot Not Flying) on this leg, you work the radios and run support. In the two cockpit jumpseats behind you sit your IRO’s (International Relief Officer,) who are just about to take over for the middle part of the 11-hour flight while you and Mark go to the back and rest up for landing. You reach for the Flight Attendant call button. But suddenly . . .
BOOM! Explosive decompression!
For the next ten seconds, the cockpit becomes a hurricane, with papers and small loose objects flying. The windows frost over. Suddenly, the temperature plummets to minus a jillion.

You, Mark and the two IRO’s all frantically snatch and don your full face Oxygen masks. No time for checklists; at 40,000’, time of useful consciousness is a mere 15-20 seconds.

With a hiss! the mask sucks snugly around your head. Fumbling in the blind (the oxygen mask is also fogged over,) you select 100%, Forced Flow. You peel away the thin plastic anti fog lining and suddenly you can see again.

“I have the aircraft!” you shout.
“You have the aircraft!” your FO, previously the Pilot Flying, acknowledges.
You reach to kick off the autopilot—and realize it’s already committed suicide. You grab the yoke. Simultaneously, you ease the nose over into a high dive. You chop the power. You need to get down ASAP, but you dare not increase speed: the aircraft has no doubt suffered structural damage. But she’s still alive and flying, and you want to keep her that way.
She’s sluggish, right wing shuddering and trying to drop, the tail yawing hard to the right. You kick in left rudder and hold left aileron just to keep her going straight.
The hurricane’s gone, but there’s still a cacophony of sound assaulting your ears. 
Ding! ding! ding! goes the Master Caution, flashing red and competing with about a dozen amber emergency procedures suddenly popping up on your ECAM, all clamoring for your attention.
The FO silences the Master Caution. “Mayday, mayday,”  he shouts in your ears, muffled by the microphone in his O2 mask. “Fantastic Flight 123, declaring an emergency. Explosive decompression, executing a rapid descent. Turning off course to heading 360.”
In back, screams, and someone making a PA. You can’t make out the words, but you know it’s a flight attendant bleating out instructions and imploring everyone to stay calm— herself shouting in a frantic, panicked voice. Then the screams and PA suddenly go silent. They’ve either donned their own masks, automatically deployed by the pressure loss—or they’ve all passed out.
And there’s one more noise: that of rushing air. Somewhere back there, you have a gaping hole in your machine. But you already knew that.
The altimeter blazes through 32,000’, spinning backwards like a madman’s time travel clock. Your vertical speed, normally 1-2,000 feet per minute up or down, is now passing through 8,000 fpm. You’re over water for the moment, so you’re aiming for an altitude of 10,000’.
“Call the back,” you order. “We need to know what’s going on.”
“Already did, Cap’n,” your trusty FO replies. “No response.”
Not surprising. They're probably all out cold.
Just in case, you toggle the PA switch. “This is the Captain,” you say, in the most calm, commanding voice you can muster. “Remain seated. The situation is under control.” That’s all you have time to say. Right now, you’re a tad busy working on that little bit about, “the situation is under control.”
“Explosive decompression Checklist,” you order. It’s a backup for what you’ve already done, but you need Mark to read it, just in case you’ve missed something. And in the “fog of war,” even the best-trained pilot can easily miss something.

Again, Mark’s already anticipated your next command, and has the QRH (Quick Reference Handbook) out and ready to read. You’ve got your hands full flying the plane, so he reads and does it aloud.
“‘O2 Masks—Deploy’ he quotes. “Deployed. ‘Cabin masks—Deploy’ Deployed . . . Turn off the airway and Descend to MEA (Minimum Enroute Altitude) as soon as possible. Do not exceed speed at time of failure. Assess damage and adjust flight path and controls accordingly. Land at nearest suitable airport.’ Explosive Decompression Checklist complete!”
“Roger that,” you reply. “MEA’s below 10,000, so that’s where we’re headed for now.”
The speed begins to increase. You gingerly pitch up to bleed it off. A glance at the altimeter: 25,000’. You’re low enough now to ease in some speed brakes. Instantly, the plane begins to shudder violently. No good. You ease the brakes back off.
It’s then you notice: the right engine’s out—and on fire.
“ECAM actions,” you bark.
Mark reads the top checklist that’s popped up on your screen. “Engine Number Two, failure and fire, Skipper.”
Mark begins reading and doing the on-screen emergency checklists. “‘Engine Two thrust lever—Idle’ Idle. Engine Two Master switch—Off’ Confirm?” he asks. Again, in the fog of war, the last thing you want to do is shut down the wrong engine.

MH370,airline,aviation,avgeek,accident,air crash,capn,aux,captain,blog,emergency,inflight
You hazard a glance at his hand, poised to pull the Number Two kill switch.
“Confirm,” you reply.
“Off! ‘Engine Two Fire Bottle—Discharge’ . . . The fire’s out, Captain,” Mark announces, with obvious relief.
“Roger that, continue with ECAM actions.”
You glance behind at the IRO’s. Strapped in and masks on, they look back at you.
You have an idea. While Mark has his hands full securing the plane with oodles of checklists, you’ve got two fully qualified pilots at your disposal sitting right there.
“Kathy,” you call to the first relief pilot, “I need you to get back there and see what’s going on. Don the PBE (Portable Breathing Equipment) and take the crash axe. If they’re all out, put masks on our gals up front and try to revive them. And if you see any structural damage, get back here and report it ASAP!”
“Aye aye, Cap’n!”
“Charlie,” you call out to the second pilot, “get up here and find us the nearest suitable pavement.”
“Yes, sir!” Charlie springs out of the jumpseat, kneels by the pedestal, and punches data into your flight computer.
“Captain,” the FO chimes in.
“Yeah, Mark?”
“ATC advises Stockholm’s 170 miles ahead, about 10° right of course. Denmark’s behind us 250 miles.”
Damn. You missed that radio call. The fog of war again. You contemplate the situation. Denmark’s behind you, and nearly twice as far and twice as much maneuvering. And you still don’t know what’s going on with the plane.
“Stockholm sound good to you, Mark?”
“Affirm, Captain.”
“Agreed, sir.”
“OK, looks like we’ll be partying with the Swedish Bikini Team tonight,” you say, hoping the joke will relieve a little of the tension. “Tell ATC we want vectors for Stockholm Arlanda.”
As Pilot in Command of an Emergency Aircraft, the world is at your beck and call. You don't ask, you tell.
You read the altimeter. Blasting through 16,000’. You ease back on the stick, coaxing the plane out of its earthly plummet, aiming for 10,000’ level off. You pull the mask off.
“Captain,” Kathy chimes in, back from the cabin. “Everyone’s knocked out back there. No injuries that I can see. Flight attendants are groggy but coming to.”
“Damage report?” you ask.
MH370,airline,aviation,avgeek,accident,air crash,capn,aux,captain,blog,emergency,inflight
Aloha 24—the Real Deal
Kathy takes a big breath. “The second, aircraft-right, Overwing exit is gone. It looks like it ripped into the upper right wing and took out a few spoilers in the process. Thank God the overwing slides didn’t deploy. Yet.”
“Roger that,” you reply. “Fire?”
“No flames from Number Two Engine, just smoke now. It’s just out there windmilling, so it looks like you gents got ‘er shut down properly.”
“OK good. You two to get back there and help the flight attendants check all passengers out. They should be coming to soon. Double check for any injuries and all seat belts locked tight. If anyone’s freaking out over the missing door nearby, try to reseat them.”
“Yes, sir,” they echo. 
The next half hour goes by in a blur. The checklists have all been run, the cabin secure for an emergency landing. On touchdown, you’ll have only one reverse thrust, but mercifully the landing gear has deployed, with all brake systems reporting green.
You have selected to land on Stockholm Arlanda's Runway 01L. At nearly 11,000’, it’s the airport’s longest. You’ve elected not to deploy flaps due to the structural damage, so you’ll be coming in mighty hot.

She’s getting awfully hard to control. Despite dialing in max rudder and aileron trim to relieve the pressure—as well as trading flying duties with Mark—your left leg is throbbing from fighting the rudder. Through gentle yoke movements and a lot of hard rudder, you’re finally lined up on final. The runway looms ever closer in the windshield.

MH370,airline,aviation,avgeek,accident,air crash,capn,aux,captain,blog,emergency,inflight

At 500 AGL, you toggle the PA. “This is the Captain. Brace for impact.”
“Over the fence, on target, sink 800,” Mark announces.
You flare. The plane slams home, but you knew it would; no time for finesse. At least she’s on the ground in one piece—well, two pieces. You left a door somewhere back there in the Baltic Sea.
You press the toe brakes and throw Number One into full reverse, fighting the sudden left yaw. The plane shudders and screams . . . and stops.
You set the parking brake and toggle the PA one last time.
“This is the Captain. Remain seated. The situation is under control.”
The cabin erupts in cheers.
You take a deep breath, your heart pounding. 

MH370,airline,aviation,avgeek,accident,air crash,capn,aux,captain,blog,emergency,inflight
Suddenly you notice about 200 TV trucks and cameras behind the airport fence, filming you on live feed to the world.

Book deals, endless talk shows and somewhat unwanted fame is in your near future.

But for now, you’re just thankful to be alive.

Everyone wants to hail you as a hero, even your own flight crew, now patting you on the back.

You shrug, and say something you’ll be repeating on TV talk shows for years to come:
“I was only doing what I was trained to do.”

For your education and enjoyment, here's a recent video of mine that explores the effects of Hypoxia (oxygen starvation):

Link to the original NYCA post:

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My scenario turns out "happy." But in reality, for MH370, there seems to be no "happy ending" in store . . .


   The first two articles have been picked up by news feeds worldwide; the 3rd was published 12 hours before this post:

   Karlene Petitt's scenario:

Mark Berry on a very chilling "What if":

Rob Burgon of Tally One on MH370:
A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

—  —  —  —  —

Yet another intriguing scenario being batted around the internet right now: Did MH370 "Shadow" another aircraft, and escape into another country? 
(Author not associated with our Blogging in Formation team)

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    —  —  —  —  —
    Due to our Blogging in Formation Team's coverage of the ongoing MH370 incident, we have postponed April's posts. The schedule below is subject to change as well.
    —  —  —  —  —
    Departing March 20
    Dealing with Passengers, Part II
    Medical Emergency!
    — — — — — —
    Departing March 27
    Dealing with Passengers, Part III
    "Welcome Aboard! Make my Day."
    — — — — — —
    Departing April 1
    Blogging in Formation Week—Postponed

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