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Qantas targets April launch for new US routes from Brisbane

Qantas has confirmed that it plans to launch flights from Brisbane to Chicago and San Francisco by the end of April 2020, subject to its network joint venture with American Airlines being finalised.

Both routes will be operated with Boeing 787-9s, with Chicago to be served on a four-times weekly basis, while San Francisco will be flown thrice-weekly.

Qantas says that the new routes will add more than 170,000 seats per year across the Pacific, and increase access for US travellers to destinations in Queensland, such as Townsville and Hamilton Island.

“These new services will connect both Australian business travellers and holidaymakers with key centres of commerce, industry and culture in the United States,” says chief executive Alan Joyce.

The Chicago route fulfils a long-held ambition for the Australian carrier, which planned to operate a tag flight to the city from its Los Angeles hub in 2003 but cancelled it before a single flight operated.

Both routes are subject to finalising its joint venture with American Airlines, which was recently granted tentative approval by the US Department of Transportation.

Qantas will retain its daily Brisbane-Los Angeles-New York flights once the new routes launch, resulting in it operating twice-daily services to the USA from the Queensland capital.

Virgin Australia is the only other carrier flying from Brisbane to mainland USA, flying six-times weekly to Los Angeles.


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Raytheon to champion international credentials

Raytheon is showcasing its air dominance, air and missile defence, counter-unmanned air system (UAS) and cyber portfolios at the show, just days after announcing a planned merger with United Technologies’ (UTC) aerospace units.

“Paris is a key show for us,” says Chris Davis, president of Raytheon International. “It’s not just a European show – it’s an opportunity to interact with all our international customers.”

Today, Raytheon does business in almost 80 countries around the world, and has a physical presence in about 20. Of these, what it describes as “landed” companies – with full in-country management – are present in Australia, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the United Arab Emirates.

Davis says other significant markets include India, Japan, Kuwait, Poland and South Korea.

If the proposed merger with UTC secures approval, the companies will attend the next Paris air show as a unified entity named Raytheon Technologies, incorporating units including Pratt & Whitney (P&W).

Such a move would bring significant financial scale – an expected turnover of around $74 billion – with around 45% as international business. Davis notes that the combination would also generate additional benefits and market opportunities.

“We would have 60,000 engineers we can reach back to, and almost $8 billion for R&D,” he says, adding: “There are markets where UTC now has a significant international presence, for example through the P&W piece.”

Referring to its products on show at Le Bourget, Davis points to significant interest in its counter-UAS technologies, which range from detection through to engagement using air-defence equipment. “We have seen very broad demand signals across our international markets for a complete kill-chain,” he says, adding that interest has come from the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Middle East. “We have a scalable solution,” he adds.

While European industry turns its focus to a future generation of air combat systems, Davis says he sees Raytheon’s AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120D Amraam air-to-air missiles as remaining strong performers. With the need to equip current fourth- and fifth-generation fighters with such weapons in order to ensure their operational relevance, he says: “We do not see the demand going away.”

Read all the latest news and information from the 2019 Paris Air Show on our dedicated page


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Sikorsky defiant on SB-1 timeline

Sikorsky hopes that it can re-invigorate the test programme for the SB-1 Defiant high-speed helicopter it is developing in partnership with Boeing, after a delayed maiden sortie and sluggish start to flight evaluations.

The compound co-axial rotor design flew for the first time in March, and has since made just two additional sorties, putting it well behind the rival Bell V-280 tiltrotor, which took to the air in December 2017.

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Sikorsky

“We were hoping that we would be flying more,” says Dan Schultz, president of Sikorsky.

Initial delays were caused by a third party that is producing a gearbox component, and the airframer is now working to catch up on the schedule slip.

Controls, transmission and rotor design have been validated by the flights so far, says Schultz, with “minimal vibration” detected.

“We are a little bit behind, but the best is still to come,” says Schultz, promising an “intensive” period of flight testing kicking off later this summer.

“We were late to the game, but we are pretty excited now,” he says.

Both the SB-1 and V-280 are being developed as technology demonstrators for the US Army’s Future Vertical Lift effort.

Read all the latest news and information from the 2019 Paris Air Show on our dedicated page


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Rafael adds SAR mode to surveillance pods

Rafael has unveiled new variants of its Litening and Reccelite pods featuring a synthetic aperture radar capability.

The company has teamed with Israel Aerospace Industries’ Elta Systems subsidiary to integrate the SAR sensor, which will complement each pod’s existing electro-optical suite. Rafael says additional sensors could also be integrated, including electronic warfare or communications equipment, and infrared search and track.

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Rafael

“The new and unique addition of SAR to the Litening and Reccelite is undoubtedly a quantum leap in the stand-off EO pod domain,” says Yuval Miller, head of Rafael’s C4ISR systems division.

The Litening pod is used by 27 air forces around the world, with 1,900 units already in service, while the Reccelite is deployed by more than 10 air forces on fighters such as the Boeing F/A-18, Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-16, as well as unmanned air vehicles. Reccelite also features a wide-band digital datalink and a ground exploitation system that can be ground- or aircraft-based.

For the Litening pod, the SAR payload works alongside medium-wave infrared and short-wave IR sensors, along with a high-definition daylight camera. On the Reccelite, the SAR complements the pod’s near-IR, SWIR and MWIR modes, and colour sensors.

The use of SAR gives significant stand-off surveillance range and allows crews to gather intelligence and identify targets in all weathers, by day or night. Rafael says scanning modes include strip, persistent wide area and gatekeeping.

Also at the show, Rafael has revealed a new automatic target recognition capability for its Spice 250 air-to-surface weapon. Using artificial intelligence and deep learning, this gives the stand-off weapon the ability to “learn” a specific target’s characteristics ahead of strike.

A Spice munition can be launched into a target area using an inertial navigation system, while in its latter phase it will home in on a predefined target, either autonomously or with a human-in-the-loop aided by ATR algorithms. This technology is seen as particularly effective in GPS-denied environments, which is now a key concern for militaries around the world.

Read all the latest news and information from the 2019 Paris Air Show on our dedicated page


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Embraer KC-390 delivery to Brazil delayed a few months

Embraer plans to deliver its first KC-390 transport to the Brazilian air force in the next few months, after a further slight delay from its original plan to hand over the aircraft at the end of 2018.

The twin-turbofan military transport the company plans to deliver to Brazil was at the show on 16 June, conducting a demo flight for journalists and standing on static display.

Embraer’s delivery delay is the result of an incident involving one of two KC-390 prototypes that overran its runway during a test in Gaviao Peixoto, Brazil in 2018. To complete its flight testing regime, the airframer decided to rob reassign its third production aircraft, which was intended to be the initial example delivered to the Brazilian air force. In July 2018, Embraer said it believed the incident would cause a six-month delay, although it is now likely to take a few months longer.

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Max Kingsley-Jones / FlightGlobal

The firm says aircraft number nine is now in production. The company expects to produce military transports at a pace of 12 per year, but says with a third shift and some changes to its supply chain a higher production rate is possible. The Brazilian air force has ordered 28 examples of the aircraft.

“We are in the end of the process regarding the formal steps of acceptance with the Brazilian air force,” said Jackson Schneider, chief executive of Embraer Defence & Security. “And, probably we will do it in the next couple of months.”

Embraer has letters of intent for 38 KC-390s from six other potential customers. The company continues to hint that it is close to converting a letter of intent from the Portuguese air force for five of the aircraft, though it declined to say when a formal deal would be signed.

Key to the Brazilian manufacturer’s ambitions for the KC-390 is a joint venture that it has formed with Boeing to sell and market the jet. Embraer is still in discussions with Boeing, but plans to begin marketing the aircraft through the joint venture at the beginning of 2020.

Schneider says that Embraer would consider opening final assembly facilities for the KC-390 not only in the USA, but in Asia, Europe or the Middle East should it make business sense. He says a civilian version of the KC-390 is also still of interest to the company, although it has no development schedule as yet.

Read all the latest news and information from the 2019 Paris Air Show on our dedicated page


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Alcock and Brown’s conquest of the Atlantic

To mark 100 years since the first transatlantic flight, we look back at the story of the historic crossing through the eyes of the Flight archive

“We have had a terrible journey.

“The wonder is we are here at all. We scarcely saw the sun or the moon or the stars. For hours we saw none of them. The fog was very dense and at times we had to descend to within 300ft of the sea.

“The flight has shown that the Atlantic flight is practicable, but I think it should be done not with an aeroplane or seaplane, but with a flying-boat. We had plenty of reserve fuel left, using only two-thirds of our supply.”

The words of pilot Captain John Alcock after the world’s first nonstop transatlantic flight, which he completed a century ago this month with navigator Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown.

That historic crossing by a twin-engined “Vickers Vimy-Rolls” was flown on 14-15 June 1919 between St. John’s, Newfoundland and Clifden in the west of Ireland, in response to a challenge laid down by the Daily Mail and others. The prize was £10,000 from the Daily Mail, as well as “2,000 guineas” from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips, for “the first British subject to fly the Atlantic”.

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Flight magazine archive

More than 1,200 airliners now make “the water jump” across the Atlantic each day, and a 100-years-ago Flight was in no doubt as to the importance of that accomplishment by Alcock and Brown, opening its 19 June 1919 issue as follows: “By their successful crossing of the wild Atlantic, Captain Alcock and Lieutenant Brown have achieved a performance which will remain a landmark in history throughout the ages, and have placed to the credit of Britain and her sons a record second to none in the story of achievement by land, sea and air.”

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Alcock (right) and Brown

Daily Mail/Shutterstock

COVERING THE EVENT

Flight provided indepth coverage of the adventure in that 19 June edition, describing the whole flight in full detail along with quotes from pilot Captain Alcock.

Flight wrote: “The news that the machine had definitely started on its voyage came in the form of the following message from Lieutenant Clements, RAF, the official starter at Newfoundland: ‘Captain Alcock and Lieutenant Brown left St. John’s, Newfoundland, in a Vickers-Vimy machine on a flight to England today, 14 June, at 4.13pm, Greenwich Mean Time.’

“Then followed a silence of a little over sixteen hours, ending by the following message from Capt. Alcock and Lieut. Brown to the Royal Aero Club, sent off from the wireless station at Clifden: ‘Landed Clifden, Ireland, at 8.40am (GMT), 15 June; Vickers-Vimy Atlantic machine, leaving Newfoundland Coast 4.28pm (GMT), June 14. Total time 16 hours 12 minutes. Instructions awaited’.”

Flight reported that for most of the flight of 1,950 miles, the Vimy averaged an altitude of 4,000ft. “But at one time – about 6am – in an endeavour to get above the clouds and fog, it went up to 11,000ft. Lieutenant Brown was only able to take three readings for position, one from the sun, one from the moon and one from the Pole Star and Vega.”

Speaking to the Daily Mail about their “terrible journey”, Captain Alcock described how the two voyagers battled ice and fog, which made the crossing treacherous when the airspeed indicator jammed.

“We looped the loop, I do believe, and did a very steep spiral. We did some very comic ‘stunts’, for I had no sense of horizon,” said Captain Alcock.

“At any rate it went into a steep spiral, which only ended with the machine practically on its back about 50ft from the water,” reported Flight. “The machine was covered with ice, and it continually became necessary to chip ice off the instruments, etc.”

Captain Alcock continued: “An hour and a half before we saw land, we had no certain idea where we were, but we believed we were at Galway or thereabouts. Our delight in seeing Eashal Island and Turbot Island (five miles west of Clifden) was great. People did not know who we were when we landed, and thought we were scouts on the look-out for the Vimy.”

BUMPY LANDING

His one regret was that the Vimy was damaged on landing: “From above, the bog looked like a lovely field, but the machine sank into it up to the axle and fell over on to her nose.”

Flight wrote that the rough landing was unfortunate, as it was believed the intention had been for the flight to continue to London. As it was, the two adventurers had to travel by surface transport back home, but not before receiving a civic reception at Galway and an enthusiastic greeting on arriving at Dublin: “The students of Trinity College carried Captain Alcock into ‘commons’ where there was much cheering with some speeches. Eventually the provost rescued the pilot,” reported Flight.

Captain Alcock and Lieutenant Brown crossed to Holyhead the following morning, where they were met by “Mr Pierson, the designer of the Vickers-Vimy, and by Captain Vickers… At Crewe Mr Claude Johnson, managing director of Messrs Rolls-Royce Ltd, joined the train”.

Flight reported that on the platform at Euston the crowds were so great that “General Sir Capel Holden, the Vice-Chairman of the Royal Aero Club, was unable to get close enough to shake hands with Captain Alcock”.

The two then travelled in a procession to the Royal Aero Club for “a very hearty reception”, after which they stepped out onto the balcony to be greeted with loud cheers by the gathered crowd.

“I must say the flight has been quite straightforward,” said Captain Alcock. “Although we had a little difficulty in keeping our course, Lieutenant Brown did very well and steered a wonderful course. With regard to the flight itself all the credit is due to the machine, and particularly the [R-R Eagle] engine – that is everything.”

Shortly after completing their epic journey, the two men were honoured at a reception at Windsor Castle where they were knighted by King George V.

Sadly, Sir John Alcock died just six months later, aged only 27, in an accident in France while flying the Vickers Viking amphibian prototype to Paris for the “Salon”. His funeral took place at Manchester Cathedral with military honours on 27 December 1919.

In his sympathy message, the King told Alcock’s family: “Your distinguished son… will ever occupy an honoured place in the roll of British airmen who never spared themselves in order to uphold the honour of their country.”

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Soft ground spoiled the landing

Granger/Shutterstock

Read Flight‘s original report on on the epic journey from June 1919 in our archive here

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Read all the latest news and information from the 2019 Paris Air Show on our dedicated page


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How are the all-new Airbus and Boeing widebodies faring?

Amid ongoing speculation about Boeing’s plans for a clean-sheet design to address the much vaunted mid-market segment and the likely response from Airbus, how are the most recent all-new airliners from those stables performing?

Creating a new airliner from scratch these days invariably involves an investment in excess of $10 billion, so the decision to start with a clean slate, rather than via a derivative update, is not to be taken lightly. But it was just such a scenario that Boeing faced in the early 2000s as it evaluated what it did to follow the then established 777.

After toying with its transonic Sonic Cruiser concept in the early 2000s, Boeing launched the 787 in 2004 as an all-new design constructed largely from carbonfibre. The year before, at Le Bourget, its marketing team unveiled the Dreamliner name after a public competition.

Airbus, distracted at that time with bringing the A380 to market, had several false starts trying to create a competitor to the 787. Having sneered at what seemed like an outlandish plan from Boeing to create a Mach 0.98 airliner, suddenly the Dreamliner – a conventional design, if advanced in its systems and structural concept – looked like a threat.

Airbus made several abortive attempts to counter the 787 using the A350 moniker for what was in reality a re-engined A330, before following its rival’s lead and launching a clean-sheet design, the carbon A350 XWB.

By the time the XWB emerged in 2006, the two rivals had slightly different objectives. The 787, a successor to the 767, slotted in below the 777 with a mission to banish Airbus’s strong-selling original A330 family into obsolescence. Airbus’s indecision had cost it a lot of ground to its rival, and the new XWB family was sized in a bid to put the 777 out of business while also giving Toulouse a weapon to compete with the larger 787 variants. Meanwhile, tactical pricing could ensure the A330 disrupted Boeing’s 787 efforts.

So this analysis examines the comparative fortunes of the A350 and 787 with respect to their similarities in concept rather than them being direct competitors.

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Airbus

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Aviation Images/Shutterstock

A350-9 (top), 787-8

Highlighting the potentially complementary aspect of their designs, Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer shows that there are currently seven airlines operating both types with a further 12 due to do likewise, based on current order backlogs.

Both types have had complex evolutions for different reasons but between them now account for 1,100 in-service aircraft and more than 2,300 orders.

Although the XWB launch came some two years after the 787, commitments secured for the earlier “A350” were migrated, providing the new programme with a solid commercial start. Data from Fleets Analyzer shows the two programmes had similar sales success during their early years after launch. By the end of year three from year of launch, net orders for each type were in the 440-480 range – the A350 on 478 and the 787 on 448.

In years four to seven the Dreamliner powered away from its rival, reaching 847 net orders while the A350 struggled to get much beyond 580. The fortunes reversed as a sales flurry for Toulouse took the A350 to more than 800 net orders in year eight while the 787 entered a three-year flatline.

Deliveries of the two types occurred at similar points, the 787 in its eighth year from launch and the XWB in its ninth. Both were later than planned at go-ahead, but the 787 suffered the most severe delay when an already ambitious test timetable went into limbo due to multiple production and development issues. This delay was unprecedented in modern times, with more than four years passing between roll-out of the first 787 in July 2007 and the start of deliveries in September 2011.

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Since net orders for the A350 passed the 800 mark in year eight (2012), incremental growth has been a struggle. This is partly the result of the shelving in 2014 of the smallest family member, the A350-800, with some orders cancelled while others transferred to the larger variants. Airbus had in fact not sold any -800s since 2009, and the decision to launch the A330neo in 2014 provided a viable alternative in Toulouse’s product line-up.

A350 net orders have gradually risen to slightly below 900 as of April 2019, while sales of the 787 have powered on to 1,431 net orders. So overall, the 787 has 62% share of the combined order book.

From a delivery perspective, the 787 has achieved an impressive production trajectory since reaching its stride. Deliveries of the 787 began from Everett in 2011, while the first A350 was handed over by Airbus in 2014. Overall, the 787 accounts for three-quarters of the 1,100 combined deliveries to date.

Shipment of 787s passed the 100 mark during year three, by which time a second line had come on strength in North Charleston. The 500th 787 was delivered in year seven and now more than 830 have been built, with production across the two assembly plants just completing a rise from 12 to 14 a month.

By comparison, A350 deliveries were into their fourth year by the time the 100-aircraft mark was passed, and production is now stable at 10 a month, with a total of 269 having been delivered by April 2019.

GEOGRAPHICAL SPLIT

Unsurprisingly, the Asia-Pacific market is the most important for both widebodies. Airlines in the region are the biggest consumer of the A350 and 787, with total orders for the two types standing at 867 (37% of total) and deliveries at 498 (45% of total). The 787 has the larger chunk of this market, with a 60% share.

However, Fleets Analyzer shows that the A350 has the most reliance on Asia-Pacific. The region accounts for almost 40% of its orders and 58% of deliveries. For the 787, Asia-Pacific represents 36% of orders and just over two-fifths of deliveries.

Europe is the second largest market for the A350 and 787 with just over a fifth of orders and 18% of deliveries. For both types, Europe accounts for just over 20% of each type’s order book. In delivery terms, the region contributes 18% of the 787’s total and 12% of the A350’s.

There is a marked contrast between the two types in Boeing’s home market, North America. It is a key region for the 787, accounting for 15% of the type’s orders and 16% of deliveries. By comparison, North American customers represent less than 10% of A350 orders and 4% of deliveries.

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As outlined earlier, the overlap of the Airbus and Boeing widebody product lines involves a mix of all-new and derivative aircraft. With the A380 now removed from Airbus’s long-term planning, the A350 is now central to its battle with Boeing in the widebody segment.

Speaking in January after revealing the airframer’s 2018 order and delivery numbers, Airbus president Guillaume Faury conceded that “the Boeing team has done a good job on the long-range” sector in order terms over recent years but was resolute about Toulouse’s intent to change the dynamic: “We are looking forward to the years to come with our product range – the A350, which is gaining a lot of support from the customer community and a lot of credibility, and the A330neo. I think the future is ours.”

If Airbus is to deliver on this intent, a key first step must be to drive the A350 beyond the landmark of 1,000 firm orders. Watch this space.

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Read all the latest news and information from the 2019 Paris Air Show on our dedicated page


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CFM56 hits billion hours as last commercial 7B is shipped

CFM International is celebrating passing a key milestone at the Paris air show, with the fleet of CFM56 engines having just passed the 1 billion flight-hours mark.

It has also just completed delivery of commercial CFM56-7B engines as it transitions to the Leap family.

“I know it sounds crazy, but we just passed 1 billion engine flight hours on the CFM56 fleet,” says CFM president and chief executive Gael Meheust. “To figure out what that means I converted it into years – it’s like one engine has been running for 115,000 years.”

The CFM56 entered service on 24 April 1982 on the re-engined McDonnell Douglas DC-8 Super 70 series. The engine has gone on to power new-build and re-engined aircraft including the Boeing 737 Classic and NG, along with the Airbus A320 family and A340s.

It also powers Boeing 707-based E-3/E-6 and KC/RC-135 series military platforms. Around 28,000 CFM56 engines are currently in service with global and military operators.

Meheust says that CFM took 28 years to reach the first half-billion flight hours. “And the second half-billion took only eight years,” he adds.

CFM executive vice-president Allen Paxson says the final CFM56-7B engines were delivered to Boeing for the commercial 737NG programme in May. The last CFM56-5B for the Airbus A320 family is due for delivery in May 2020.

Although the final commercial 737NGs are due for delivery soon, production will continue of the type in low volume for military markets. So CFM expects to continue building the -7B until the mid-2020s, while production of engine spares will remain until at least 2045.

CFM has reached two key CFM56 delivery milestones this year. In early 2019 it delivered the 10,000th CFM56-5 to Airbus, while the 15,000th -7B was shipped to Boeing in April.


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Superjet accident probe studies heavy-handed pilot inputs

Russian investigators probing the fatal Sukhoi Superjet 100 landing accident at Moscow Sheremetyevo are to analyse the reasons behind heavy-handed manual inputs by the captain, after the aircraft was hit by lightning and dropped into direct flight law.

Some 5s after the lightning strike the captain took manual control of the aircraft, which had been conducting a climbing right turn at the time.

The captain’s initial inputs deflected the side-stick 11.7° to the left, more than half its travel range, and pushed it forward by 6.8°, equivalent to half the pitch-down travel range.

Further side-stick inputs – in both the roll and pitch axes – were “of an abrupt and intermittent character”, says the Interstate Aviation Committee in a preliminary analysis of the 5 May accident.

It says the pilot turned the aircraft to the right using “multiple impulse deflections” of the side-stick, ranging from 30% to 65%, performing more than 10 roll-deflection movements over the course of just 18s in order to set a 20° bank.

The inquiry also says the ‘priority’ button on the left side-stick was also momentarily pressed six times.

Investigators compared the captain’s side-stick inputs on the aircraft with those of a number of previous flights when the landing was conducted manually in normal flight law.

The inquiry says the comparison shows pitch movements for the ill-fated flight were characterised by “significantly wider amplitude” and “oscillatory” movements, which resulted in “significant changes of longitudinal motion parameters”.

Similar “sweeping” movements, it states, were observed during direct-law landings performed by other Aeroflot crews.

The inquiry says the reasons for these particular piloting actions will be assessed during the preparation of the final report.

As a result of the lightning strike the crew chose to return to Sheremetyevo, turning south towards the airport.

During the initial attempt to position the aircraft for approach, the crew informed air traffic control that they were not ready and requested an orbit.

But the right-hand orbit, performed at 600m above the ground, proved difficult for the captain who “could not maintain the altitude precisely”, says the inquiry. The aircraft rolled up to 40° during the right turns and the aircraft deviated from its height by up to 60m, triggering multiple aural alerts.

The crew prepared for an ILS approach to runway 24L but performed neither a before-landing briefing nor the approach checklist, and did not set the go-around altitude.

Investigators also note that there was “no discussion” by the crew of an 11s windshear warning as the aircraft descended through 1,100ft above ground, even though it would normally require the execution of a go-around unless the crew was certain of no windshear hazard.

As the aircraft reached the decision height at 270ft there was a notable rapid increase in its downward deviation from the glideslope, and the captain increased engine thrust – resulting in the aircraft’s accelerating to 170kt by the time it was 16ft above the runway.

The captain then brought the thrust levers back to idle, in response to an automated ‘retard’ call, and initiated the flare by pulling back on the side-stick by 65% of its travel range.

But the captain’s side-stick pitch inputs featured “ever-increase amplitude” – up to the maximum forward and aft positions, with long holds in both – resulted in oscillations in pitch as the aircraft touched down. It bounced several times, suffering substantial damage during the third impact and caught fire, eventually veering off the runway.


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Lightning-struck Superjet did not request storm avoidance

Pilots of the Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet 100 involved in the fatal landing accident at Moscow Sheremetyevo did not request active measures to avoid a thunderstorm zone before the aircraft was struck by lightning.

Bound for Murmansk as SU1492 on 5 May, the twinjet had taken off to the south-west from Sheremetyevo’s runway 24C and was tracking the KN 24E standard departure. This departure involves initially following a heading of 268° before a long right turn to head north-east.

Cockpit-voice recorder information shows the pilots had discussed “flashes” around the airport during pre-flight checks, and again – enough to provoke an expletive from the crew – as the aircraft lined up for take-off.

Moscow Vnukovo weather radar indicates that, as the aircraft lifted off, it was heading towards a thunderstorm region which was moving from the south-west to the north-east at around 40-45km/h.

Aeroflot’s operations manual states that, in the event of towering cumulonimbus clouds around the departure airport, crews must use the weather radar to determine ways to avoid them, and co-ordinate avoidance with air traffic control if approaching a storm.

At least three aircraft preceding the Superjet, as well as 10 behind it, had requested active storm avoidance clearance. Most of these services were operated by Aeroflot.

While Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee says the Superjet crew “did not” request such measures, it points out that, shortly after the aircraft was cleared to 7,000ft, its selected heading was set to 327°.

This selection caused the aircraft to initiate the right turn – taking it away from the storm – earlier than prescribed by the KN 24E departure pattern.

The crew contacted approach control and was instructed to climb to 9,000ft, at which point they appeared to refer to the proximity of the storm.

“We’re going to get shaken,” the captain stated, but then reassured the first officer by adding, “Nothing to worry about.”

But some 30s later, just after the approach controller cleared the flight to 11,000ft, the cockpit-voice recorder captured a sound effect lasting 1.5s, before the autopilot disengaged and an audio alert warned that the aircraft had dropped into direct law. There was also a temporary loss of radio communication.

“Wow!” exclaimed one of the pilots.

Investigators state that “most probably” an “atmospheric electricity impact” affected the aircraft. The Superjet had been airborne for about 5min at the time, and was banking 20° to the right and climbing through 8,900ft.

The inquiry says subsequent examination revealed evidence of lightning strike damage to various parts of the aircraft including the right-hand angle-of-attack sensor, right-hand ice detector, temperature probe, and upper sections of the fuselage.

Investigators list 16 prior instances of lightning strikes to Superjet 100s, not all of them to different aircraft. Most did not result in significant damage, although there were two instances requiring replacement of VHF antennas and one which led to a nose-cone change.

As result of the strike to flight SU1492, and its effect on the aircraft’s systems, the crew opted to turn back to Sheremetyevo. The captain had stressed to the purser that there was “no emergency – we are simply going back”. The aircraft, however, touched down heavily upon landing and caught fire, resulting in 41 fatalities.


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