"Safe Travels Nancy Bird." The QANTAS A380 VH-OQA is Set to Head Home. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, April 20, 2012

Safe Travels “Nancy Bird.”

By Owen Zupp

 

It’s curious how things work out sometimes.

 

In the same week that marked a hundred years since the sinking of the Titanic, a gargantuan of the twenty-first century is set to rise from the ashes. Like the Titanic, the Airbus A380 is a marvel of technology in its time, boasting dimensions that still leave us in amazement as it rumbles down the runway. And yet, when the QANTAS A380’s ‘iceberg’ loomed ahead, its crew were able to limp the crippled machine home amidst a maze of systems failures and warning flags. Unfortunately, the Titanic did not possess the same level of automation, redundancies and support as it floundered on the Atlantic that icy night and its fate is now cemented in history.

 

So often the sinking of the Titanic is referred to as a prime example of nature reminding man of his arrogance and faith in technology. To me that is all a little too cliché. Since we emerged from the caves, carved flint and invented the wheel, humankind has strived to venture beyond the horizon by the most impressive means available. Sure, the Industrial Revolution saw an extremely accelerated rate of development but the spirit that drove it was as old as time itself. Only the tooling and resources had really changed.

 

In all fields where man steps beyond the safety of his familiar borders there is risk and danger. In retrospect, the failure to provide adequate emergency equipment aboard the Titanic proved a tragic mistake and in the wake of the accident the rules were changed. Such is the history of all forms of transport where lessons are unfortunately often learned from unspeakable losses. Aviation is no different and the last century of flight is filled with accidents that have led to change. In the wake of QF32’s mid-air emergency over Singapore, there was fortunately no loss of life a good many lessons were still learned.

 

As aviators, QANTAS Flight 32 offers a number of reminders that regardless of the scale of the aircraft, the prime task at hand is to fly the aeroplane. When the engine exploded and systems dropped off-line, there was less and less of the remarkable technology available to the crew. In fact, some fairly core flight systems had ceased to operate as well. As such the crew called upon their experience to prioritise and assess the issues as they arose, but throughout I would suspect that controlling the aircraft, remaining clear of terrain and monitoring their fuel stocks would have been premium. This is pertinent whether you are at the helm of an Airbus, Boeing or a Beechcraft.

 

 

                       

 

 

Even when the aircraft found the relative safety of the earth once more, one engine could not be shut down and the safety implications for an evacuation were obvious. Consequently, both the flight and cabin crew were managing this emergency right up until the last passenger was safe and the aircraft was secure. As an old aviator told me very early on in my training, “The flight isn’t over until the aeroplane is tied down, or in the hangar.”

 

Inevitably the ‘coffee room quarterbacks’ emerged from the shadows and later dissected the crew’s actions from the comfort of their lounge chairs and espoused wonderful solutions with the heroism that is indicative of hindsight. Yet for anyone who has been under the very real pressure of a critical emergency will attest, when the pulse rate elevates even the best simulator replication cannot quite capture the same atmosphere and stress; let alone the coffee room. Amusingly, for all of the armchair critics, no-one is a harsher critic than a pilot undertaking self analysis and undoubtedly the QF32 crew wrestled with aspects of the emergency after the event. But the bottom line is that they returned the aircraft relatively intact with no loss of life and all importantly; THEY WERE THERE not the critics. Well done, I reckon.

 

As the crew readies themselves and VH-OQA awaits at Singapore, the drama of QF32 cannot be escaped. However, as always in fields of human endeavour we must positively learn from the past and not negatively dwell on it. Man will continue to push new frontiers, be they into space or along well worn routes in more modern craft; it is our nature. And before that first step forward there will be a glance behind to check that some tragic aspect of history is not about to be repeated, but once that has been addressed progress will continue. This QANTAS A380 proudly bears the name of Nancy Bird Walton, a pioneering aviatrix who forged her own unique path in aviation history. I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy on a number of occasions and I can’t help but think that she’ll be casting an approving eye down from the heavens as her namesake wends its way home.

 

We shall never forget the lessons from the Titanic and the tragedy suffered as it plunged to the depths, nor shall we mark time. Humanity will continue to challenge itself and pay due respect to the domains of land, sea and air that it seeks to navigate. However, we will never conquer these greater beings, but must be satisfied to merely achieve safe passage through their vast realms. This can only be achieved by bravely going forward while listening to the voices of those who have gone before.

Safe travels “Nancy Bird.”

(Check back here for updates on the A380's flight home.)

QANTAS A380 Airbus VH-OQA "Nancy Bird Walton" Returns to the Skies. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, April 20, 2012

QANTAS A380 Airbus VH-OQA "Nancy Bird Walton" Returns to the Skies.

 

By Owen Zupp

As this blog is being written, QANTAS A380 "Nancy Bird-Walton" is preparing to return home from Singapore for the first time since its mid-air engine failure in November 2010. That emergency involved multiple systems failing in addition to the uncontained turbine failure and attracted worldwide media attention. Check back here for more on the return of VH-OQA.

Airbus A380 Tailcam. A Different Perspective. An Aviation Blog Image.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, February 26, 2012

           

 

"Airbus A380 Tailcam. A Different Perspective."

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