Aircraft Accidents and Learning from the Past

American Airlines retired twenty MD-80 aircraft on August 23rd. It is the end of an era where the airliners of the pre-fly-by-wire class continue to disappear. Since the retirement of the 727, early 737 models, L-1011 and the DC-10s, attention to the ways of the past are going away with the acquired experience gleaned over years before the computer. But just because systems change, doesn’t mean they don’t remain the same … in some ways.
I watched with pride several videos of different FedEx 727s, newly retired, as they taxied into their permanent position at the school or airport emergency practice pad they were donated to. FedEx, my alma mater, donated each one of those aircraft; they will serve a new generation of aircraft technician students and airport emergency response personnel; those people will learn valuable lessons that will help save lives and help teach the mechanics of the future.
The reason this is important is that aircraft systems of old – even though they are replaced by wires – don’t really go away. Take the flight control systems of many modern airliners; they are fly-by-wire systems, cutting the weight down by removing tons of cables throughout the aircraft and replacing them with computer wire. However, each system has a redundant system in place that is cable driven, e.g. maybe one spoiler out of seven on each wing has a back-up cable drive, in case the fly-by-wire becomes inoperative. Teaching the students of today how to rig airliners of the past gives these technicians an edge in finding a fix that may not pop up for yea-ea-ears.
Instead of allowing those twenty aircraft to decompose in the desert, I hope that American donates its MD-80 fleet to schools and airports. In the long run – like FedEx – it will be an investment in their future.

2 thoughts on “Aircraft Accidents and Learning from the Past”

  1. Are you implying aircraft controlled exclusively by computers are less safe than… sorry. My computer locked up there a second. 🙂

    From the pilot perspective, the old aircraft can also teach the next generation a lot about flying too. The generation coming up learning how to fly on computer stabilized flight paths has a rude awakening when those computers need a reboot and the weather is crap.

    Love your articles.

  2. Are you suggesting that aircraft controlled by computers are less safe than… sorry, my computer locked up for a second. 🙂

    The old aircraft can teach the upcoming generation a lot too. Those who learn to depend on computer generated stable flight paths are in for a rude awakening when the computers need a reboot and the weather is crap.

    I love your posts.

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