What impact does the use of flight simulators have on commercial aviation?


Flight simulators are now so good that a new captain can make his very first landing in a particular type of jetliner, with revenue passengers on board, i.e., all his previous landings in that type of airliner were in the simulator. Before  flight simulators were that good, pilots had to do dangerous emergency procedures in the actual airplane. The improved technology of flight simulators now allows airlines to avoid the inherent risks of dangerous training maneuvers. The following training crashes demonstrate that danger:

1955, April 4:  A United Air Lines, DC-6 (four eng. piston powered), at MacArthur Field, Islip, NY, crashed during a simulated engine failure on takeoff, after the #4 engine was inadvertently placed into reverse thrust. Plane destroyed, all three crew killed.

1962, April 26:  FAA Lockheed Constellation (four eng. piston powered), at Canton Island, Phoenix Group, Pacific Ocean, crashed during a simulated 3 engine approach and go-around, as the result of an undetected reversal of the #4 propeller. All four FAA crew were killed. One passenger, not an FAA employee, was also killed. The other passenger, an FAA physician, was seriously injured.

1967, March 30:  Delta Airlines at New Orleans, DC-8, practicing two engines inop (on one side) approach (4-engine airplane). Five crew, an FAA observer and 13 people on the ground were killed. Part of a motel complex, several homes and the aircraft were destroyed.

1967, July 11: Honeywell, Inc. Grumman G-159 (turboprop), near Le Center, Minn. Both engines exceeded design limit temperatures in the hot section during low speed stall training. That led to a wing tank explosion, killing both of the crew and destroying the airplane.

1969, June 24: Japan Air Lines, Convair 880, at Moses Lake Washington. Practicing one engine failure (4-engine plane) during takeoff. Plane destroyed and 3 died, 2 survived with serious injuries.

1969, July 26: TWA, 707-331C, at Atlantic City, NJ, crashed during a simulated 3 engine missed approach. Plane destroyed and all 5 on board died.

1969, October 16: Seaboard World Airlines, DC-8-63f at Stockton, CA, overran the departure end of the runway, during a touch-and-go landing (recurrent training and annual proficiency checks flight). Aircraft was destroyed by fire, but all five crew escaped w/o injury.

1971, March 31: Western Air Lines, 720-047B, at Ontario, CA, crashed during a simulated eng-out missed approach procedure. Plane destroyed and all five crew killed.

1972, May 30: Delta Air Lines, DC-9-14, training flight at Fort Worth, TX, crashed during an attempted go-around after encountering the vortex turbulence of an American Air Lines DC-10, another training flight that was doing touch-and-goes. All onboard (3 Delta pilots and one FAA inspector) were killed and the plane was destroyed.

1993, April 27: Business Express, Inc., Beechcraft 1900C (twin turboprop), crashed into Rhode Island Sound after control was lost during the practice of emergency maneuvers. All three pilots died. In that accident report:

"...the NTSB recommends the FAA... Encourage commuter airline managers to use approved flight simulators for pilot training, qualification, and competency and instrument check purposes to the maximum extent feasible." and " Consider an amendment to 14 CFR Part 135 to require that commuter air carriers perform certain hazardous training, testing, and checking maneuvers, such as engine-out operations and recovery from unusual flight attitudes, in approved flight simulators to the maximum extent feasible."

None of the above accidents would have happened if adequate simulators had been available and used to duplicate the required maneuvers.

Simulators also tend to prevent accidents by their ability to train pilots to a higher level of competence than is possible in actual airplane training. That is because many maneuvers can be performed in simulators that are just too dangerous in airplanes and they can be repeated multiple times until the pilot is honed to a very sharp edge. Since 60% to 80% of airline accidents are attributable to pilot error, it follows that better training of pilots is a potent tool in the prevention of accidents.

1994, January 7: Atlantic Coast Airlines/United Express crashed, while on approach to the  Columbus, Ohio airport.  The NTSB listed 6 factors as either causal or contributory, in its analysis of the that accident. Three of those point to lack of simulator training:

"An aerodynamic stall that occurred when the flightcrew allowed the airspeed to decay to stall speed following a very poorly planned and executed approach characterized by an absence of procedural discipline;

Improper pilot response to the stall warning, including failure to advance the power levers to maximum, and inappropriately raising the flaps;

The unavailability of suitable training simulators that precluded fully effective flightcrew training." 

[At the time of the accident, there was no J-4101 simulator available for training anywhere in the world.]

Over the years, there have been many light twin (piston power) stall/spin accidents during training for engine failure procedures. None of those would have happened if adequate simulators had been available for that type of dangerous training.

February, 1998

Robert J. Boser

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