Runway Excursion on Take-Off

23 Jul 21 19 Comments

This accident happened some time ago but it is new to me. A twin-engine business jet departing from Portland, Oregon, crashed shortly after take-off with four on board.

The Aerospatiale SN-601 Corvette was developed and manufactured in the 1970s as a response to a government need for a compact twin turbofan engine. Only 40 Corvettes (including the prototypes) were ever constructed before the project was abandoned after cost overruns and lack of sales: Aerospatiale hoped to sell six business jets a month but they only actually received 27 orders over the two and a half years that the Corvette was in production. A French government Court of Audit described the Corvette programme as “a major commercial and financial disaster”.

Eight of the produced Corvettes are listed on Aviation Safety Network as having crashed. But most of the other incidents are somewhat more straight-forward to understand than this one.

A Corvette (not the accident aircraft) in 1984, photo taken by Pedro Aragão in 1984.

On that day, the Corvette had 2,305 hours in service. Owned by RL Riemenschneider, the aircraft was based in Redmond, where it was operated on the company’s behalf by Redmond Flight Center. Redmond Flight Center was licensed for an on-demand air taxi service, although the Corvette wasn’t listed on their operating certificate.

The Corvette was at Portland International Airport and parked at Flightcraft Inc, a fixed base operator at Portland offering services to aircraft and crews not based there.

The Corvette requires a two-man crew and was configured for ten passenger seats.

The flight crew had filed an IFR (instrument flight rules) flightplan to Hermiston, Oregon. The weather that morning was clear with good visual conditions and the runway was dry. Portland clearance delivery cleared the aircraft to Hermiston and the Corvette was cleared to taxi from Flightcraft to runway 10L at 09:00.

The pilot-in-command, who was also the Pilot Flying, was the director of operations of the Redmond Flight Center. He held a commercial pilot certificate and a flight instrument certificate, rated for instrument flight for single- and multi-engine land aircraft. He had completed the practical test for the SN-601 type rating six months previously. He had 4,500 hours total, of which 4,400 were in command, 3,000 were multi-engine and 125 were on type. He had completed the practical test for the SN-601 type rating six months earlier.

Another pilot was in the seated in the right seat and two passengers were in the back.

After taxiing out from the parking ramp, the pilot called ATC to say that he wished to return to Flightcraft without giving a reason. ATC cleared him to do so and the aircraft turned around and returned to the Flightcraft ramp, where he shut down the aircraft.

Flightcraft hangar at Portland

Witnesses at Flightcraft saw the aircraft return to the ramp and shut down and open the main entry door. The pilot was in the cockpit, holding a conversation on his mobile phone. One of the aircraft occupants told the ground service personnel that the aircraft had an engine problem.

The pilot didn’t speak to anyone at Flightcraft but flight records confirmed that he phoned Redmond Flight Center at 09:10. He asked an employee to prepare N37HB for flight: a Piper PA-31T Cheyenne twin-engine turboprop owned and operated by the same company.

They remained at the Flightcraft parking area for about five minutes and then taxied back out after receiving clearance. The pilot cancelled his IFR flight plan to Hermiston and said that he was flying VFR to Redmond instead, where his company and the Corvette was based.

He didn’t give any reason for this and later simply said that something had changed. Portland ground control gave the pilot a VFR clearance to Redmond.

Witnesses at the Flightcraft ramp watched the Corvette as it entered the runway and started its take-off run.

The Corvette’s nose lifted off about halfway along the runyway and the aircraft briefly became airborne with its wings rocking. It reached about 5 or 10 feet over the ground.

One of the witnesses, who had seen the Corvette at Portland before, said that the aircraft was flying much more slowly than usual at rotation and seemed somehow quieter.

The Corvette then settled back onto the ground and began to slide, crashing into the A1 taxiway sign before coming to a halt. The loss of control of the aircraft took place at 09:18.

The pilot contacted Portland tower on the ground control frequency and explained that he’d had an engine failure. He said that as the aircraft reached V1 he had just lifted off when the right engine failed and the aircraft yawed. He put the aircraft back down and tried to get control but the yaw caused him to run off the runway surface. He tried to keep the aircraft as straight as possible as he applied the brakes. He remembered seeing a generator light come on as he started to rotate and believed that the right engine failed at that time. Everything else was a blur.

Later he told the NTSB that everything seemed fine until he pulled back on the wheel at rotation speed. The next thing he remembered, they were sitting on the grass. He said he wasn’t actually sure what had happened.

Both pilots in the front of the aircraft submitted their logbooks to the NTSB. The two passengers in the cabin declined to be interviewed.

Runway 10L had a 10-20 foot long skid mark about halfway down which led to where the aircraft left the runway to the right. The A1 taxiway had a series of scuff marks and taxiway light debris leading up to the taxiway sign at the junction of the junction of taxiway A and taxiway A1. The sign was completely demolished. The Corvette was resting on its belly about half a mile from the initial skid mark. It was largely undamaged except for the scraped belly, fuel tanks and the leading edge of the right wing.

The landing gear and flaps were both in the UP position. The landing gear handle inside the cockpit was in the DOWN position but this was explained by Flightcraft personnel, who confirmed that they had placed the handle in the down position in an attempt to lower the gear as a part of recovering the aircraft after the accident.

The only damage to control surfaces were the right aileron and spoiler on the right wing.

Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15 engine as photographed by William Olave

The Corvette still had the original engines: two Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-4 turbo fan engines. Both engines looked undamaged and rotated freely. Fuel was found in the right engine fuel line (that is, the fuel was flowing fine) and the oil and fuel recovered were uncontaminated.

The oil temperature indicators in the cockpit did not match: the left engine oil temperature had captured at 72°C and the right engine oil temperature at less than 20°C. The oil temperature indicators are powered by 28 volts DC.

The initial inspection of the right engine found no significant problems. In fact, the only obvious visible difference between the engines was that that the right engine inlet had grass in the fan and grass seed in the bypass duct; none was found in the left engine.

Now, without looking up the incident, what do you think might have happened that morning? Let me know what you think in the comments.

(Note: If you know this case or decide to look it up, please refrain from adding information in the comments; next week I’ll share what the investigators discovered once they began their analysis back at the NTSB Office in Seattle.)

Update: The second part of this post is now posted Engine Failure Before Take-Off

Category: Accident Reports,


  • A1 taxiway is at the far end of 10L which is 9825 feet long. So the takeoff attempt was on one of the long runways (10R/28L is 11000 feet) not the 6000-foot crosswind 3/21. 5-10 feet suggests the aircraft didn’t break out of ground effect.

    The straight-line flight to Hermiston would have been 141 nm; to Redmond, just 101. (I haven’t checked airways.) For a plane like that it shouldn’t make much difference.

    I wonder. That right engine oil temperature smells. I wonder whether there might have been an engine failure, and the PIC thought they could manage an unofficial single-engine takeoff, to get the plane back from this FBO to headquarters with company mechanics. If the plane were running light it might have been doable…

    (Then the Cheyenne would have been used to take the passengers on to Hermiston, which is closer to Redmond than to Portland.)

    Given the initial questionable decision, PIC should perhaps have taken a longer takeoff roll.

  • Was just one engine running at the start of the take off (else both oil would have been hot, and the sound would have been normal volume)? So was it a deliberate attempt to take off with one engine, after returning with that fault, but deciding to press on anyway?

  • I may be the only reader here with substantial experience (I think over 1500 hours) on this type of aircraft. There is very little here to comment on, so I will go over the scenario from my own point of view and see if I can come to a plausible conclusion.
    I looked up a few facts about the Corvette. It was a commercial disaster. Designed to compete with the Citation, production was years behind schedule. The French-built engines that were intended for the Corvette were even further behind. Aerospatiale changed to the Canadian-built P&W JT15-4, a strike at P&W delayed the project even further.
    During testing, stall problems emerged leading to a few crashes. There were design changes and the type “SN-600” became the “SN-601 Corvette”.
    By that time, Cessna C500 Citation delivery had well and truly started.
    And there was worse: The original Corvette, with an MTOW of 6600 kg, was pitiful short on range. It was also a much heavier aircraft than the Citation and, moreover, not really designed to be flown by a private owner-operator. The systems and cockpit layout were far more complex.
    The aircraft was designed to be flown by two pilots and 14 passengers.
    As a feeder liner, the baggage capacity was not sufficiently accessible.
    A large hatch behind the last row of seats had to be lowered. No access from the outside was possible. This made it very difficult to stow the luggage of a last-minute arriving passenger.
    The range problem was solved by adding tip tanks and the MTOW was accordingly raised to 7000 kg. This actually put the aircraft in the category where commercial operations would require the PIC to have an ATPL, so it seems that the captain was not even properly qualified.
    But on the other hand, Sylvia mentions that the Corvette was not on the company’s operating licence, maybe it was operated privately.
    The good thing was: The Corvette was one of the sweetest handling aircraft that I have ever flown. But because of the limited number built, there never was a simulator for this type of aircraft. My training still took place at the factory: the ground school at Toulouse. I still remember the first slides of the presentations that started with: “Aeroformation presents – The Corvette”. After the ground school we went to St. Nazaire, where the aircraft had been built (and the last units still being finished for delivery). We were trained by Aerospatiale test pilots. My examiner was Capt. Robert Briot who had only one rating in his ATPL: “Toutes avions – Any aircraft”. Impressive and so was the quality of the training. We were even shown Mach buffet (demonstrated only).
    My suspicion is that the training on the last still flying Corvettes was more like a check-out by another line pilot. In my private, but considered, opinion it is unavoidable that this was not nearly as comprehensive as the factory training
    The cockpit layout was impressive too, like a mini-airliner with some systems controls on the overhead panel. A large bank of annunciator lights was situated under the combing from left to right. Here is the first possible clue to the cause of the incident: The PIC mentioned a “generator warning light” as a first indicator of an engine failure. Which is An engine failure would have caused a big red master warning to illuminate, as well as a series of lights on the annunciator panel. It virtually rules out a sudden engine failure.
    A take-off on one engine? I know that it has been done before. I heard of a Learjet pilot attempting it and ending inverted on the ground. I am sure that it may be possible, but the power on the working engine has to be fed in very, very carefully. The rudder only becomes effective above 60 kts and the nosewheel steering is not designed to cope with the increasing sideways loads as the speed increases. The V-speeds must be reached, but with increasing asymmetric power it also becomes more and more difficult to maintain a straight line. The pilot may have even inadvertently used a bit of asymmetric braking to correct the swerve. Which of course will increase the take-off roll. The runway length needed to pull off this stunt would probably be triple the normal distance. And to make matters worse: the rudder becomes effective at 60 kts, but NOT when one engine is running at or near full power and the other is idle. In such a situation it is simply expected that the good engine is brought to idle and the pilots slam on the brakes; the rudder was not designed to keep the aircraft under control at lower speeds during an attempted single-engine take-off.
    If the readers look at the photo of a Corvette as posted here, it will be obvious that the aircraft must have been completely out of control for an engine, running or not, to pick up grass.
    Yes, the only explanation is a failed attempt to take off on one engine.

    • Thank you Rudy, that was very interesting. I appreciate you taking the time to post such a detailed reply.

  • I have no proof of this theory, but I’ve seen the scenario played out by aircraft business owners time and again. The owner has a pet aircraft that he loves, and it’s stranded somewhere needing maintenance. Rather than trust it to “the local boys” he opts to make an unofficial ferry flight back to home base.

    The evidence for this scenario is that the pilot rolled to the runway, then returned to the ramp. I suspect he found a problem with one engine, and decided he would “ferry” the jet back to home base where he can deal with it confidently (and more cheaply). Reinforcing this idea is the fact that he arranged an alternative flight in the light twin, presumably for his already-booked pax, then changed his own flight plan to his Redmond home base.

    He may have invited some guests along — there is no way to know if the pax in the accidents aircraft were the same ones as the original flight, given this wasn’t a Part 135 operation. Perhaps he has even done single-engine takeoffs before, which are technically possible under perfect conditions (no crosswind, dry runway), but never legal. He then rolled back to the runway in the jet, put balls to the walls, and attempted a single-engine takeoff, which owing to conditions not being perfect, failed.

    The evidence that the “failed”engine was never running is simple: the room-temperature oil temp of 20C. As an A&P, I can tell you that there is no way that engine had ever been running at any time during that flight without heating the oil considerably.The story relates that no engine problems were found, so I take that to rule out sensor problems as well.

    I haven’t looked up the story, but I suspect the owner would eventually have to confess. Lying in aviation is far more complex than piloting :)

  • I reckon the pilot knew he had a dodgy right engine but rather than have to pay for repairs at Portland he decided to make a single engine departure to Redmond. It is not the first time I have heard of such attempts turning bad.

  • You all got there a lot faster than I expected! Especially RogerBW.

    There are two other pieces of information which have been highlighted in the comments that could get you closer to the exact issue, but that might be too difficult to spot.

    • There’s no mention in the account of the other pilot objecting to the PIC’s reckless plan, and the PIC was also pilot flying. This suggests that the the other pilot was getting a check-out on the type in the way described by Rudy and didn’t know enough to refuse to go along with it.

      Perhaps the passengers pressured the pilot to meet the Cheyenne at Redmond rather than wait for it to be sent to Portland. That would explain why they didn’t want to be interviewed!

  • Rudy – thanks for your detailed evaluation. I’m really interested to see that 8 out of 40 have had hull loss incidents (including the 600 prototype), because that isn’t usually consistent with a “sweet-handling” aircraft.

    With 125 hours on type I can see the pilot knowing enough to be dangerous but, perhaps, not about the lack of rudder authority.

    I think the Cheyenne was at Redmond, not at Portland? So probably the same two pax, told that there’s a need to divert via Redmond and change planes there.

    The inconsistency in story suggests that the PIC knew that he’d done something wrong.

    Raised gear is interesting – I assume that as with most aircraft you’d normally get out of ground effect and established into the initial climb before raising. The PIC might have raised early in the hope of reducing drag.

    The only way I can visualise grass getting into the engine ducting, without the wings snapping off and the body rolling, is if the wing is ploughing up the ground and throwing débris all over the place.

    If the engine has “no significant problems”, maybe a starter failure? I don’t know the details of the JT15’s starter system.

  • The PIC‘s evasive language overall, dodgy.

    Room temperature oil on the right engine, dodgy.

    The pilot’s description of a take-out roll and the generator light as his first warning of trouble, ala Rudy, Dodgy. If this is sworn testimony to the NTSB, then this is perjury.

    The passengers “declining” to be interviewed, dodgy. Why didn’t NTSB compel their testimony with a subpoena?

  • Well Sylvia, it was not really that difficult to work out. The different oil temperature between the two engines was indeed a “dead give-away”.
    If I may, I will go over the scenario again the way I see it.
    The Corvette, once the INITIAL problems were sorted out, was an extremely well-built aircraft. It had more room and outperformed the Citation. But the design philosophy was to build an aircraft to be flown by a professional crew. The Citation on the other hand was a far simpler aircraft, designed to handle like a Cessna 150 with two jet engines and, of course, a far better performance. And even though the Corvette was, as I mentioned before, one of the best handling aircraft I have ever flown (and I have logged more than 4500 hours on Citations), its complexity also made it far more demanding.
    There still were two passengers on board. Why? In what capacity? This is immaterial to this incident.
    The pilot cancelled his IFR flight and instead refiled VFR at 1000 feet, so he already knew that he was not going to have the performance required for a normal flight.
    Next: a witness saw the aircraft get airborne halfway down the runway at, what he deemed to be slower than usual, and the engines seemed less noisy. It reached about 10-15 feet and fell back on the ground.
    Most readers will be familiar with the fact that multi-engine aircraft have not only a stall speed, but also a minimum control speed. Meaning that at failure of the critical engine (which relates more to propeller driven aircraft), there must be sufficient aerodynamic effectiveness to keep control of the aircraft. But there also is a minimum control speed on the ground: When an engine fails with the live one(s) running at full power, the pilot must have sufficient aerodynamic authority to keep control, meaning using the rudder to keep a straight line.
    During take-off, the initial part of the roll the pilot (in the Corvette in the left seat) keeps control using a small handwheel on the left side of the cockpit. It is operated hydraulically and must be released at 60 kts.
    The pilot must learn to coordinate rudder- and nosewheel steering because they are not connected. At 60 kts the rudder has enough power to control the aircraft – ASSUMING THAT BOTH ENGINES ARE DELIVERING NORMAL POWER. I forgot what the minimum control speed (ground) was, but at a guess somewhere in the region of 85 kts.
    Which would be below rotation speed.
    So if a pilot decides to “give it a try” and take off on one engine, first of all (s)he is in uncharted territory. As long as the aircraft has not reached this VMC ground, it will not be possible to control the aircraft using rudder, with the live engine at full take-off power.
    So from the start, power has to be fed in very, very carefully and can only be gradually increased as the speed builds. Too much power, and of course the aircraft will veer towards the edge of the runway, too little and there may well be insufficient runway to reach take-off speed. A touch of asymmetric braking will correct the tendency to move to the runway edge, but of course will also prolong the take-off distance.
    How much runway would be needed? I have made a comment about the fact that Sylvia mentioned that the captain held a commercial pilot’s licence. The Corvette, in its final configuration, had a maximum gross weight of 7000 kg, increased from the original 6600 kg. That puts it firmly in the category requiring an ATPL to be PIC on commercial operations. Maybe it was operated in the private category, but what I think may be relevant: A holder of an ATPL (in the USA: ATR) is not necessarily a better pilot than a CPL, but (s)he has a far better theoretical knowledge of relevant facts, such as aerodynamics, air law, avionics and most important in this story: performance.
    How much more runway would have been required for a “safe” take-off? How long is a rope? There are absolutely no data for this. But remember: the pilot would have needed to feed in power very, very gradually until at least 80 – 85 kts before he would have been able to control the aircraft with the live engine running at full power. From there on, he was not even yet at V1 – but he should not have attempted this take-off, so stopping at V1 was never a consideration.
    He would have needed to accelerate to Vr. That is a speed that he should have been able to compute. Then, only then would it have been possible to lift off under full control.
    And don’t forget: even if an engine fails at or just after V1, the performance would be compromised. But there are tables and computations to take all that into account – calculated so that the pilot CAN SAFELY RETURN THE AIRCRAFT AND LAND. It was never intended to be a procedure to start a cross-country ferry flight.
    How much runway would have been required for this pilot to have had a chance to get away with it?
    RogerBW mentions that the runway was 11000 feet long. That equals about 3300 metres. This might just have been enough. Remember: the initial acceleration would have been very slow and would have required a good bit of distance. Sylvia writes that the crew at the ramp saw the nose rise about halfway down the runway.
    To me, this sounds as if the pilot had not even bothered to do his calculations, but was relying on his “seat of the pants”. In my (considered?) opinion he would have needed at least another 500-800 metres before reaching his proper rotation speed.
    He would have had another 1500, perhaps 1200 metres before the end, but his statements suggest that he panicked and no longer acted rationally.
    My guess is that he was losing control and, rather than admitting that it was not going to work and abandon the folly, applied full power and started to rotate – prematurely – in a desperate attempt to get airborne.
    I am not sure what importance to attach to the damaged right spoiler. These are extended from the top of the wings to assist the ailerons at low speed. If the pilot exerts more than a certain amount of force on the ailerons, they disengage. This seems to indicate very violent aileron inputs and confirms again that the aircraft was airborne in a stalled condition and unable to break out of ground effect.
    The rest is history, a damaged aircraft but fortunately no casualties.
    Well, may I cite once again the Tiger Club?
    They used to have a plaque on the instrument panel of all their aircraft. It read:

  • Some points I noticed:

    “as the aircraft reached V1 he had just lifted off” — V1 is usually lower than Vr, but if you have an overlong runway, you can make the decision to abort later than you normally would
    grass in the right engine: it looks to me like the right-side engine hit the ground and the left-side engine did not, as would happen if that engine had less power and the aircraft turned right. The fan might have been windmilling, but lacking the pressure to blow the grass all the way through.
    the question is, why was the engine not working? if there was an electrical failure (maybe the electrical system/battery had failed?), then maybe the pilot was hoping to generate enough electricity by windmilling the engine so that that circuit would be powered? (would that even work?)
    the last time we had an incident like this (aircraft not lifting out of ground effect), the wings were iced over. Sylvia withheld any mention of a date, month, time of year, or weather, but the fact that the engine ingested grass and grass seeds points to it not being winter.

    Rudy, the pilot had taxied from the ramp and then returned. Would the right-side engine have been started prior to that taxi movement? i.e. did it fail during the taxi out, or could have been not working, and the pilot only noticed on the taxiway?

  • There are still many open questions here.
    As a rule, both engines are started prior to taxy out, but some operators leave the ramp on one engine. Jet engines use a disproportionate amount of fuel when at low altitude and on the ground. The nosewheel steering of the Corvette can easily cope with it, but of course if anything is wrong and the second engine will not start, then the only safe option is to return to the ramp.
    NO, the engine can NOT be started on the runway by high speed “windmilling”. For that, if I remember correctly, a minimum IAS of 200 kts is required.
    The Corvette has starter-generators, the same unit starts the engine and reverts to generating electrical power once the engine is running.
    Initially we had problems with the drive shaft, they broke on occasion. We, the crews under training, were shown in the factory how to change the drive shaft and we used to carry a spare. Later, a modification took care of this problem.
    The generator of one engine can comfortably generate the electrical power needed to operate all systems normally.
    So we are now getting to one question that has not been solved (Hercule Poirot, eat your heart out!): Was it standard practice to save fuel by taxying out on one engine, or did the crew start both engines on the ramp, as would have been the recommended practice? In other words: did the right hand engine fail during taxy, or did it fail to start at the holding point? The scenario as it unfolded could apply to both.
    Chip is correct, V1 is lower than Vr. It would have been irrelevant if the pilots had decided to attempt a take-off on one engine, but Vr IS relevant. Very much so because that is the speed at which the aircraft can rotate to get airborne.
    Just to recap: An engine failure triggers a big red master warning as well as a few warnings on the alert panel. Very difficult to miss
    Sylvia mentions “skid- and scuff marks”.
    I stick to my assessment: Whether the rh engine failed during taxy or did not start is immaterial. It is obvious that the crew were aware that something was amiss, they did the right thing: they returned to the ramp. But then they suddenly decided to attempt a single-engine take-off. Which would, from the start, have required a much increased take-off roll. At a minimum, but by how much is a total unknown: It probably would have at least doubled, if not tripled, the required runway length.
    I have explained that the running engine would have caused a strong yawing moment and, in the early stages, would have required a very cautious increase in power. And at 60 kts there would have been a transfer from nosewheel steering to the rudder. Which, at that speed with one engine running at (increasingly) high power, and the other idling, would have been insufficient to keep the aircraft at or near the runway centreline: It would have veered to the right.
    At that moment the pilot would still have been able to save the situation, apply brakes and return to the ramp – again.
    But it seems that he was fixated on getting airborne, lost control, tried to take off prematurely, and crashed.
    It is more than likely that he raised the gear, which explains scuff marks and grass in the right engine, the one that had not been running.
    About my praise for the “sweet handling” characteristics of the Corvette:
    Yes, it was a lovely aircraft to fly, beautiful to handle. And yes, there have been many hull losses but don’t forget: Was I a much better pilot than others who flew this type? No, but I was one of those pilots lucky enough to be trained when the last Corvettes were still being finished for delivery. We were trained by test pilots who had been involved in the entire test program and knew the Corvette inside and out. They had engineering degrees and flew Corvette, Concorde, ATR, Airbus, helicopters, fighter aircraft before computers could predict exactly how these aircraft would behave. They were the superb masters, but they passed their first-hand knowledge on to us.
    Maintenance, initially, took place at the factory. The engineers were the same people who had actually built the aircraft, and were still proud of it. Aerospatiale later transferred the line maintenance to their facility at Le Bourget, but the principle remains: we flew it when it still was in its prime. Inevitably, in more recent years training was done byh pilots who had been trained by pilots who… And as he surviving aircraft of this type became in the hands of second-level operators, and spares been may also have become rare, it would have been inevitable that the first-line skills and standards that we were trained up to would have been watered-down. I am convinced that the same applies to the engineers. We were dealing with the people who not just maintained the Corvette, they had actually built it. They had been consulted to solve problems, design modifications, apply them and test them.
    Although the Corvette would have benefited from more powerful engines, it was an exceptionally well-built aircraft. Far more complex than its rival the Citation, it was in many respects a superior aircraft. One that handled beautifully.
    An aircraft I still have very fond memories of.

  • One can only hope that the PIC was never allowed within 500′ of any aircraft of any type for the remainder of his days.

    I have seen crazy things done to get a bird out of harm’s way in the jungle where it was a life or death choice but absolutely no excuse for such actions in peacetime at a civilian airport.

    Between this and the Lake Seaplane incident you posted a few weeks ago, it is clear that our Pilot Certificates need a “Common Sense” endorsement in addition to our Type Ratings.

  • Igeaux,
    You hit the nail squarely on the head.
    But there is one more aspect: Sometimes a pilot wants to try something out that is not “in the book”, that has not been tried before.
    Pilots like Briot, Janneau (if I spell his name correctly) and a few other pilots who trained us on the Corvette did these things as part of their profession. They were test pilots. Briot told us a rather hilarious story when he was testing Concorde. It had to be proven that in case of incapacitation of cockpit crew, the aircraft could be returned to a safe landing by one single pilot. There were engineers, observers, CAA officials and extra crew members in the back when Briot was left in the cockpit on his own – IN THE AIR !
    He described how he had to do everything, including working the flight engineer’s panel. The fuel system of Concorde was complex and proper operation critical. The pilots’ seats were rather far forward in the slim nose section. To get access, it was mounted on rails and powered to slide forward and aft. Briot had to put the aircraft on autopilot, slide the seat all the way back, adjust the FE’s panel and race forward on his seat to resume control. This to the great amusement of the observers in the cabin.
    He showed us a video of a test he did in a Mystere fighter jet. Taken from a chase aircraft, it was put in a situation from which recovery was nearly impossible. The movements were so violent that it was thought that some pilots hit their head off the side of the cockpit and were knocked unconscious, so they did not eject. Briot had to attempt to get it back under control and stay with the aircraft until the last moment. He did manage without using the ejector seat. Watching it, seeing the fighter tumble nearly 20.000 feet down, I was very glad that I was not in it !
    These tests were dangerous, and were preceded by days of planning, every possible angle studied and considered before committing to the test. The test pilots were superb professionals, but they did not just hop in and try something without first considering all aspects, all possibilities and possible escapes.
    So the Corvette crash was not just a silly attempt to take off on one engine (assuming that we guessed right), but the crew more than likely had not even briefed one another, they had not considered what the potential consequences would be, nor were they prepared to abandon the effort once it became clear that it was not going to work until it was too late.

    • Your Briot sounds like a pilot I would love to fly with.

      Back in the day, when I worked for the Japanese, we flew the Concord 6 or more times a year. Times being different back then and me being a cocky young, ex military jock. I sent my Certificate to the cockpit via a flight attendant with a written wager. “A pint of Ale to the man with the most hours over Mach1”.

      As hoped, that got me an invite to the cockpit. Damn was that place busy. Just keeping up where where the fuel was, was a full time job. The PIC had me by many hours. The price of the Pint was well worth getting to chat with the Crew.

      Over the years I managed to keep that job, my only ever Civilian job, we got to know the BA Concord flight crews. After the SST and most of the Crews retired, one of the Flight Engineers that we keep up with was volunteering at the Yeovilton air museum where one of the Prototypes of the Concord is housed. After all those years, he still got excited every time he spoke of the plane.

  • Ray: subpoena power in the US is mostly confined to the legal system (judges and congressional committees — although IIRC the latter has no power of arrest for people who ignore subpoenas, making the term debatable.) Wikipedia notes that “The NTSB has no legal authority to implement or impose its recommendations.”; that’s not a 100% reliable source, but I’d be surprised if the NTSB had subpoena power.

    • Investigating authorities usually don’t have power to enforce their recommendations – that’s handed over to the relevant transport regulator – so that statement’s not surprising.

      In the UK, the Inspectors of the various Investigation Branches can seize evidence, require access to documents and require people to answer questions. It would seem an omission if the NTSB didn’t have similar powers

  • Igeaux,
    Yes Briot was not only an unbelievably good pilot, but also a superb instructor as well as a very nice and modest man.
    I am sure that he has long been retired now.
    My first copilot on the Corvette, Paul Reid, got a job with British Caledonian Airways as F/O on the BAC 1-11. When BCal was absorbed into British Airways the crews were slotted in between the BA pilots.
    Captains lost a lot of their seniority, some even became F/Os but BCal first officers actually gained.
    By a series of lucky circumstances, Paul got an early command on the ATP, then a new type replacing the HS748 on the internal Scottish Islands routes. His wife was Scottish, he was Irish and had no ties to London where he had been based. Some of the older pilots had school-going children, the property market also worked in Paul’s favour.
    Eventually he ended up as an F/O on Concorde. Sadly he developed health problems and had to retire early. His condition worsened and he died, now many years ago.
    I have had what could be termed a near-miss with Concorde. Shannon Airport was often used for base training. I was flying a Beech King Air, as number two on finals following an Air France Concorde on finals for a touch-and-go.
    We were approaching the outer marker when we saw Concorde making a very steep climbing turn after its touch; the pilots declared a low fuel emergency. It headed nearly straight in our direction. I was instructed to break off my approach and join a visual holding near the Shannon River. After a very tight circuit Concorde landed. We were cleared to make a visual approach and land.
    On the apron we were nearly immediately surrounded by a number of very senior Air France pilots who apologised profusely.
    What had happened?
    On final, the instructor had asked the flight engineer for the fuel status. He got a figure scribbled on a piece of paper. The amount seemed OK for another circuit, but when the pilots committed to take-off, the F/E started screaming at them.
    Concord had a certain minimum amount of fuel that was strictly reserved for balancing purposes and was not to be used.
    The amount of fuel on the note was the TOTAL fuel on board, the instructor mistook it for USEABLE fuel, in other words the quantity over and above the balancing fuel.
    At low altitudes, like doing circuits, the fuel consumption of four Bristol Olympus jet engines was so high that it was impossible to even read the fuel flow, the numbers were spinning too rapidly. We were told that Concorde had less than a minute of fuel on board when it landed.
    We were invited to join for the next training session but no, we had to get ready for out next departure. We missed the chance.

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