Letters to the Editor
I was cruising around your web site. I found it
very interesting and
informative. I followed your links and I was "floored" by the link, Unheeded
Warning. I have a relative that will be flying one of those
"turbo-props" with American Eagle. Will you please expand on this
I'm really scared.
On Oct. 31st, 1994, an ATR-72-210,
American Eagle flight 4184, crashed near
Roselawn, Indiana, killing all 68 on board. The plane was in a holding
in icing conditions, when it suddenly rolled over and dove into the
Ice, forming on the airframe and in particular
aft of the deicing boots---which are located on the leading edge of the
wings---was the cause of the sudden
rollover. The existing regulations, in respect to design certification
airliner, were not adequate when it came to the ability of the plane to
in light to moderate icing conditions.
Extensive airborne testing, following that
accident, revealed it is possible
for airliners to encounter water droplets exceeding 200 microns in
diameter, which is probably what happened to AMR 4184. The existing FAA
certification rules for Transport Category aircraft (Part 25, Appendix
that time, only required the plane to handle droplets with an average
of 20 to 50 microns.
The ATR was designed and manufactured in France
by Aerospatiale. Mr.
Fredrick's book, Unheeded Warning, reveals how
political considerations overruled the safety mandate that is supposed
the FAA�s design certification decisions on aircraft of foreign
Fredrick details strong evidence that some
experts in the FAA, knew the
plane would be dangerous in icing conditions, but they were overruled
officials because the French might have been offended if certification
denied by the FAA. He also demonstrates that numerous "close-call"
incidents and one accident (10-15-87, near Lake Como, Italy with no
which preceded the Roselawn crash, were known to be
the result of
in-flight icing, but Aerospatiale effectively covered-up and did not
that information, lest the reputation of its ATR aircraft be damaged.
also failed to follow up on the findings in the accident report of the
crash. If it had, the 68 that died at Roselawn might well be alive
On December 26, 1989, a United Express,
flight 2415, suddenly pitched nose
down, while on final approach to the Pasco, Washington Airport. The
that British Aerospace BA-3101 turboprop aircraft, were not able to
all died in the ensuing crash.
As in most accidents, there were multiple
factors that combined until they
culminated in a crash. At the previous enroute stop, the captain did
the plane deiced; instead crewmembers manually removed some of the
ice from the wings and tail. There was also evidence that the deice
valve, which controlled the amount of air available to the deicing
boots on the
leading edges of the airfoils, was partially defective and may not have
the boots to inflate to their full capability.
The NTSB concluded, in its final accident
report, that during the descent
into Pasco, the plane accumulated from 1/2 to 1 inch of mixed rime and
and that it most likely took the "mushroom" or "ram's horn"
shape that is very detrimental to airflow over both wing and empennage
airfoil surfaces. Since the plane did not carry any "black boxes,"
(cockpit voice or air data recorders), the NTSB could not be certain of
control actions the pilots took, while on that fatal approach. However,
Board was able to come to a conclusion, with aid of computer simulation
sudden pitch down (50 to 60 degrees nose down at impact), combined with
radar tape (which recorded ground speed, course and glide slope
the plane stalled because of ice accumulation.
They couldn't be certain if it was a wing stall
or a tail stall, but the most
likely scenario was a tail stall, since the computer simulation showed
stall as producing only a 35-degree nose down pitch, whereas the tail
would match the actual 50 to 60 degree down pitch. It matches the
tail-stall profile that has been seen in other accident investigations
years. It usually happens suddenly and without time for recovery
are too close to the ground on that stage of the final approach), when
are extended to their maximum range.
On March 4, 1993, a Continental Express
ATR-42 experienced a sudden roll, but
the pilot was able to recover and make a safe landing. There were other
incidents, prior to the Roselawn crash, but they were passed off as
encounters, even though icing conditions existed at the time. It wasn't
after the Roselawn accident that it became clear that those incidents
been near-disasters precipitated by the inability of that airfoil
handle more than light icing conditions.
On Jan. 9th, 1997,
an EMB-120 Brasilia turboprop,
(Comair 3272) crashed near Detroit, killing
all 29 on board.
The NTSB found the probable cause of
accident to be:
...the FAA's failure to establish adequate aircraft
certification standards for flight in icing conditions, the FAA's failure to ensure
that a Centro Tecnico Aeroespacial/FAA-approved procedure for the accident airplane's deice system
operation was implemented by U.S.-based air
carriers, and the FAA's failure to require the establishment of
adequate minimum airspeeds for icing
conditions, which led to the loss of control when the airplane
accumulated a thin, rough accretion of
ice on its lifting surfaces.
Contributing to the accident were the flightcrew's decision
to operate in icing conditions near the lower margin of the operating
airspeed envelope (with flaps retracted), and Comair's failure to establish and adequately
disseminate unambiguous minimum airspeed values for flap configurations and for
flight in icing conditions.
In March, 1998, a WestAir EMB-120
Brasilia, departed Sacramento and was immediately
placed into a holding pattern in icing conditions. It was only in its
turn, in that holding pattern, when it suddenly rolled and dove towards
ground. The pilots immediately extended the flaps and were able to
before they hit the ground. The pilots, in the Roselawn crash, also
extend the flaps, but the French computer, on that plane, would not
extension because the computer determined the speed exceeded the limit
degree of flap extension.
On March 19, 2001, a Comair
EMB-120 Brasilia, experienced an upset event after encountering icing
conditions. The aircraft, flying from Nassau, Bahamas, to Orlando,
Florida, made an emergency diversion to West Palm Beach, Florida. A
ground examination revealed substantial damage to the elevators and the
horizontal stabilizer. Fortunately, the captain was able to
recover from the dive and there were no injuries to the 28
onboard. Comments from the NTSB summary:
The crew reported that the airplane's
systems, including its ice detection and anti ice systems, functioned
normally before the upset.
They indicated that the airplane was being
controlled by the autopilot at about 18,000 feet when they encountered
instrument meteorological conditions that rapidly led to the windscreen
being covered by a layer of ice.
The crew turned ice protection systems on
and the ice on the windshield was cleared. The first officer observed
ice on the right wing's boots and the right prop's spinner that
extended farther back than he had previously experienced. The first
officer switched the ice protection systems to their highest settings.
The first officer notified the captain of
a decrease in airspeed from about 175 to 160 knots.
The captain disconnected the autopilot,
applied power, and initiated nose down pitch inputs to arrest the
airspeed loss. They indicated that these actions were unsuccessful and
the speed further deteriorated to about 130 knots at which point the
airplane experienced oscillations about its pitch, yaw, and roll axes
and subsequently rolled sharply to the right and entered a steep
During the descent, the electronic
attitude display indicators in the airplane were observed to
intermittently present no useful information. The captain stated that,
"when we needed it [the electronic attitude display indicators]
the most we didn't have it."
The airplane descended between cloud
layers into visual conditions where recovery occurred about 10,000 feet.
After the recovery, no anomalies with the
airplane, its handling characteristics, or its systems were noted.
The flight data recorder and the cockpit
voice recorder have been examined at the Safety Board's laboratory. The
cockpit voice recorder continued to run after the landing and did not
provide any useful information regarding the upset. The accident
airplane's solid state 25-hour FDR captured the event and functioned
until power was removed on the ground. Preliminary review of the FDR
data indicate the following sequence of events:
The airplane was at about 17,000 feet,
with the airspeed stabilized around 200 knots indicated airspeed
(kias). The autopilot was engaged.
The airspeed slowed from about 200 kias to
180, and the airplane began trimming nose-up. The airspeed continued to
decrease to about 140 kias while trimming to a nearly full nose-up
The autopilot disconnected and the
airplane rolled about 90 degrees to the left, and then back to near
level. In the next 24 seconds, the airplane again rolled about 110
degrees to the left, back to level, then about 120 degrees to the
right, back to level, and then rolled 360 degrees to the right, back to
near wings level. Since the crew reported trouble with the flight
attitude instruments, the roll angles recorded on the FDR are being
The maximum nose down pitch attitude was
60 degrees, the maximum recorded airspeed was about 240 kias, and
maximum vertical acceleration during recovery was about +3.6 g.
In April, 1996, following the Roselawn
crash, the FAA issued 18 new
airworthiness directives (ADs) affecting 29 models of turboprop
aircraft all have the same common features in their designs:
---- Unpowered flight controls.
---- Pneumatic deicing boots.
---- NACA five-digit sharp-stall airfoils
(which were made obsolete by the more
modern soft-stall designs).
The ADs require extensive instruction, to
pilots flying the affected
aircraft, on how to fly in freezing rain and drizzle (including the
of the use of the autopilot in icing conditions), how to recognize
of severe icing, and then require an immediate exit from icing areas.
addition, both ATR-42 and ATR-72 aircraft had their deicing boots
extend the boot area to reach back to 12.5 % of the chord. Previously,
extended only to 5 % and 7 %, respectively. In theory, that should
problem of the tendency of ice ridge formation at the 9% chord position
obsolete sharp-stall airfoils.
However, it still doesn't deal with the results
of the Bascombe-Downs tests,
conducted by the British, which demonstrated ice could form as far back
wing as 23% of the chord, and on the tail at 30% of chord. Both
remain well beyond the limits of the deicing boots. Those tests limited
of the droplets to 40 microns, near the maximum limit of the archaic
certification rules for Transport Category aircraft (Part 25, Appendix
in effect at that time of the Roselawn crash.
That is why I still believe that some, if not
all, turboprop airliners still
have a serious problem in regards to tail icing. To the best of my
nothing has been done to make tail deicing more effective.
STEPHEN A. FREDRICK, the author of Unheeded
Warning, came very close to "buying the farm," when he was
flying the ATR in icing conditions. After the Roselawn crash, his
compelled him to work surreptitiously to expose the deficiencies of the
aircraft, in icing conditions, and the history of how those
known and covered up by the French manufacturer, the FAA and airline
Fredrick is a rare person of genuine conscience. He was willing to give
job as an airline pilot (actually -- his entire career, since he cannot
ever be hired again by any airline), to expose the facts about the ATR.
My recommendation to the flying public is the
same as that of the courageous
American Eagle pilots who wrote and distributed an anonymous pamphlet
Chicago's O'Hare airport, after the Roselawn crash (Fredrick was one of
"...If the weather is clear this winter,
sit back and relax
because this is a good aircraft. If the weather is cloudy, snowy, or
rainy, think about alternate transportation methods..."
August, 1998, revised June, 2000 and
Robert J. Boser
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