2004-06-11 / Community

Aviation Pro: AA 587 In ‘Horizontal Tornado’

By Howard Schwach

Aviation Pro: AA 587 In ‘Horizontal Tornado’

By Howard Schwach

American Airlines Flight 587, the Airbus A300-600 that augured into the streets of Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001, experienced a "virtual horizontal tornado" when it hit the vortex from a Japan Airlines 747 that took off from JFK Airport just prior to its own takeoff, says a long-time pilot and aviation safety consultant.

"The twin jet transport design has evolved through the years to larger aircraft with more powerful engines," says William Sherriff, a retired American Airlines Captain who now works as a consultant to the industry. "This increase in engine power required a larger vertical stabilizer and rudder to counter the extreme yaw forces developed in an engine on a take-off maneuver."

The aircraft expert says, "when the rotating forces of the preceding 747 ‘heavy’ vortex struck the vertical stabilizer and rudder [of flight 587] broadside, they induced an instantaneous yaw and an abrupt ‘Dutch Roll’ into the ground. In effect, AA 587 joined up on the center of a virtual horizontal tornado"

Sherriff says that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in its final report due this summer, will blame First Officer Sten Molin, who was flying the plane on take-off, for the crash.

"The NTSB will attempt to blame the co-pilot’s apparent over use of the rudder as the ‘probable cause’ [of the crash]," he says. "However, no use of the rudder can develop the extreme inertia forces required to shear the engine from their support structures."

"The forces in the rotating vortices, striking the fin alternately, first on one side and then on the other, tore it from its support lugs," Sherriff concludes. The safety expert has a possible solution to the problem as well.

"Obvisously, the standard four miles in trail aircraft separation, in this case, was not adequate," he says.


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