Monday, April 18, 2011

JetBlue Flight 292 Landing Gear Failure

JetBlue Airways Flight 292 was a scheduled flight from Bob Hope Airport (BUR) in Burbank, California to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York City. On September 21, 2005, flight 292 executed an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) after the nose wheels jammed in an abnormal position. No one was injured.

 

If you want spectacular news footage or wild speculation about flight 292, check your local TV station. This entry is about how pilots react to news such as today's emergency landing of an Airbus A320, with an abnormally positioned nose gear.
First, we tell each other. Someone in the crewroom received a text message. He read it aloud, "turn on CNN now." There was a quiet moment where many of us thought about another time we'd all watched airplanes on CNN, but we a quick check of cnn.com revealed that the Airbus was circling near LAX with a gear problem. We started my mocking reporter-speak: the "front landing gear" was stuck sideways, so the pilots were going to try landing on the the "back landing gear." I suppose those terms make a lot more sense to the public than "nose gear" and "main gear." But perhaps they could mention that pilots usually aim to land on the mains. It's bad form (as in serious aircraft damage) not to.
There was a TV available so we proceded to watch live coverage of the aircraft circling, dumping fuel, and no doubt allowing the pilots to conference with company maintenance and Airbus technical staff. They kept cutting back to earlier footage where you could see that the nose gear ("the front wheels") were turned completely sideways: ninety degrees to the direction of travel. We drowned out the repetitive, information-free media commentary ("no doubt a very stressful situation for the pilots and passengers, Bob") with our own voiceovers: mock PAs, mock cellphone conversations by the passengers, mock French-accented technical recommendations from Airbus techs, and armchair quarterbacking ("they should go to Edwards Airforce base" and "they should have more flaps down by now").
On final approach, it came down to: would the gear shear off or just catch fire? Either way it would be a shower of sparks, followed by a closed runway, and a flurry of passengers complaining about their luggage and calling lawyers.
If you didn't see it, it was a beautiful landing, with the airplane perfectly centred on the runway, the mains touching down at about the thousand foot marks and the gear skidding, smoking, flaming, blazing right down the centreline to a full stop. It didn't collapse, and neither did Airbus Industries. I hope I would do as well with an equivalent emergency in what I fly. And no doubt tomorrow it will be heralded in the papers as a miracle, rather than design and skill.

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