Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was operated by this Boeing 777-200ER, reg 9M-MRO
I know as soon as I post this the wreckage will be found and I’ll look like a mug, but I had a theory bubble to the top of my brain which might explain where Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is, and why it disappeared.
So we know the following:
- The aircraft took off at 00:41 Malaysian Standard Time (MST) on 8th March, which is 16:41 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)
- The Subang Air Traffic Control Centre lost contact with the aircraft around 01:22 local time.
- The aircraft hasn’t been heard from or seen since.
- No mayday call went out.
- Both ADS-B and secondary radar returns stopped at the same time.
- Primary radar returns from a nearby military radar station reportedly shows the aircraft turning back for land before vanishing.
Theories in the bin
The Boeing 777 is a aircraft with a remarkable safety record. A technical failure is highly unlikely to have happened because the 777 has multiple, redundant systems. A fuel-tank explosion like that of TWA800 is now impossible due to a process of “inerting” where nitrogen is pumped into the empty space left behind when fuel is used up – meaning you can’t get enough of an “air-fuel vapour” to reach flashpoint.
A missile strike would have caused a primary radar return, and also a flash in the sky. The US National Reconnaissance Office admitted it has full-globe capabilities for watching for flashes – typically used to identify the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles. They say they didn’t record any flash.
The aircraft didn’t fly into a thunderstorm, in fact the weather in the area was relatively calm. Read more
Boeing 777 Crash Lands at SFO
On Saturday morning Asiana Airlines flight 214, flying from Seoul-Incheon in South Korea, crash landed killing two passengers. This marks the first fatal Boeing 777 crash in its 20 years in service.
Eyewitnesses say the aircraft was low on approach and had a very nose-high attitude right before the tail struck the sea wall at the end of runway 28-Left (28L). The tail section sheared off along with at least one strut from the main landing gear, which is visible in the pictures from the beach.
Similarities to British Airways flight 38
Immediately this resembles the British Airways flight 38 crash landing where a similar Boeing 777 crashed at the end of the runway at Heathrow, however there are several factors that suggest the causes here are different.
The BA038 incident occurred after the aircraft had flown through some unusually cold air causing water in the fuel to turn to ice. As the aircraft approached Heathrow, the relatively warmer temperatures closer to sea level caused some of the ice to be released into the fuel pipes. This ice hit a system known as the fuel-oil-heat-exchanger (FOHE for short) and solidified. This caused a dramatic reduction in fuel flow to the engines and a lack of thrust. The rest is history – the aircraft hit the ground with so little forward momentum that it stopped almost immediately but hard enough to drive the landing gear through the wings. That’s how they are designed – you want your landing gear to fail before the wing fails! BA038 bellied onto the end of the runway and everyone escaped unharmed (except for some minor injuries picked up by sliding down the escape slides).
But this appears to be a totally different problem for one critical reason: the engines on the Asiana Airlines, and associated fuel systems, are different. The FOHE issues that hit the BA flight are specific to the Rolls Royce Trent 800 while the Asiana is equipped with Pratt and Whitney PW4090 powerplants.
Initial Speculation and Conjecture
Personally, I think it’s fairly obvious what has happened here. But I may be wrong.
The key factors to bear in mind are:
- The reports that the aircraft was very low on approach
- Eyewitnesses saying the aircraft had a very nose-high attitude before the accident
- Understanding the override-able nature of the flight-envelope protection on the Boeing 777 (compared to Airbus’s envelope protection philosphy)
- The reports of a tailstrike
- The visible damage to the underside of the aircraft, and the collapsed/missing landing gear
These items indicate, to me, a “low energy state” at the latter stages of the approach. What pilots call “low and slow”. Low energy states in aircraft can result in aerodynamic stalls, especially when performing manoeuvres such as turns. Read more