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P_7878

Back to the Queen and the good story of NW Flight 85

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Posted (edited)

[Note: If you're already aware of this incidence, I hope, you'll find a few new (interesting) tidbits in this account. If you are not, hope, you will find it interesting too, just as I did. To illustrate the account, here, I've taken the (original) PMDG Queen to the sky, something I've been meaning to do for a long time. If I recall correctly, I've not flown this SIM in more than 9 months...but it still flies nicely for me - except for a few nuances that I need to figure out. The "original" PMDG 747 will always remind us of one of the most significant milestones in our SIM, that, as far as I'm concerned, showed us, for the 1st time, that (complex) large airliner simulations (accessible to us on our PC) can be "reasonably" close to the real thing - and what a difference it was from the stock 747! PMDG has moved on, of course, with their 747, but the excitement that the very 1st release of the Queen had brought us is unforgettable. I hope these pictures, below, bring back a few memories for some of you. Now, about the actual aircraft of this incidence: it was the very first (prototype) 747-400, built by Boeing for flight testing (1st flight 29 April 1988), before subsequently being re-registered and delivered to Northwest Airlines (the launch customer for the 747-400) on December 8, 1989. The aircraft with the unique legacy of having worked for 3 companies: Boeing (Testing), Northwest, and Delta, survived un-scathed this incidence, did go on to wear the newer NW livery, was acquired by Delta (due to Delta-NW merger), and then changed color one more time to Delta livery. After a distinguished service of 27 years (except for this incidence, of course), on Sept 9 (2015), the old bird was "deservedly" moved just across the street from Hartsfield Jackson International Airport (Atlanta) to its final resting-place/home at the Delta Flight Museum. For this post, please note, however, I've flown the 747-400 in (my only PMDG available) "newer" Northwest livery (N675NW), but not that of the actual aircraft (N661US) which wore the older Northwest "Bowling Shoe" livery.]

Now on to the story:

When I was writing and learning about Joe Sutter (my previous post), a comment Joe had made during one of his many interviews, had struck me the most, "...Everything won’t be great all the time...You know things are going to happen, and sometimes it’s going to be severe. You still should be able to come home." He is trying to explain the meaning of what's now termed (and being extensively researched) in aeronautics as "Fault Tolerant Fight Control Systems". It's also referred to as, "IFCS = Intelligent Flight Control Systems". Its objective is to design the system to not only provide increased safety for the crew and passengers of aircraft, but, most importantly, also allow the pilot to control an aircraft (using other available control resources on the plane) under failure conditions that would normally cause it to crash. So, implicit here is also the objective that everyone is coming home safe, as Sutter puts it, whether the primary failure is corrected or not - while in flight! This account is one such story. The incidence of this flight was unprecedented, unexpected, and un-accounted for by the 747 (Emergency Procedures) Cockpit Operating Manuals of the time.

Joe Sutter also says, "...That’s why [the 747 has] four flight control systems, four hydraulic systems, four landing gears....". But, as we'll see, one of the redundancies that's not mentioned by him here, but has always existed in the 747-400 from day 1 (prototype phase), came to the rescue of Northwest Airlines Flight 85.

Northwest Airlines Flight 85, on October 9 (2002), with 386 Pax and 18 Crew, was a scheduled international flight from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in the United States to Narita International Airport in Japan. The incident occurred at 5:40 PM Alaska Time, around 7 hours into the flight, at 35000', while in proximity of Alaska. The aircraft abruptly (and unexplainedly) went into a 30-40 degrees left bank without any crew input. As it would be known later, the lower rudder control module's housing had broken leaving the left lower rudder stuck at the full left limit of 17 degrees. This was confirmed by the Crew on the lower computer screen in the flight-deck. The Senior Captain (John Hanson), was about to settle down for his rest in the bunk with a book in-hand, when he felt the abnormal maneuver, heard the distress chime, rushed to the cockpit, and took over control. The crew disengaged Autopilot, and started to fly the aircraft by hand (not an easy task on a 747 under these circumstances). With Tokyo still more than six hours ahead of them, but Anchorage, Alaska, just less than two hours behind, they prepared for a diversion to Anchorage Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, while trying to declare an Emergency. But, the plane, over the Bering Sea, was in a communications dead zone between the continents of North America and Asia. Even with a weak radio signal, they managed to contact another NW Flight, Flight 19, who, being closer to Alaska, actually conveyed their emergency to the ATC. Meanwhile, they kept control of the aircraft by use of full right upper rudder ("...you'd push as hard as you could with your leg, you could only do it for about ten minutes and then you'd have to switch with the co-pilot..."). They also had to apply asymmetric thrust to the 4 engines to steer the aircraft (e.g. increase thrust on engine #s (1,2), and decrease thrust on #s (3,4)). They contacted on-ground support and expertise, but couldn't get any substantial advice. So, they knew they were on their own with this emergency!

The important thing to note here: the existence of two rudder controls (upper and lower), on the 747, helped maintain control of the aircraft even if one was fully deflected and in-operative. Normally, these two rudders would operate together.

The crew began a sweeping left turn (the only direction the airplane would turn) back towards Anchorage - knowing very well that they will have to fly over the Alaskan Range and the busy airspace of Cook Inlet. In the Captain's words, "Six Right (Rwy) is the one we chose. The only disadvantage to it was if you get down close to the runway and decide it doesn't look good and you're going to go around, you're headed right at a mountain range...So, do it right the first time. Don't go around...It was obvious that the two things that were going to get this airplane on the ground were teamwork and good old-fashioned hand-flying, seat-of-the-pants flying...".

They cautiously descended to 14000', stabilized the aircraft to the extent possible, and, to allow space for any unforeseen behavior, configured the aircraft, well in advance, for landing. "And I put the airplane right on the touchdown spot, lowered the nose to the runway, but it tried to swerve...". "I let go of the wheel, I said, Mike (FO Mike Fagan), you got it, I grabbed the tiller, and then I used reverse and braking...". They finally got it to taxi speed, and safely parked the plane. A group of 20 passengers was getting off, and a woman saw Captain Hanson, in uniform, and asked, are you the pilot who landed this plane? He said, yes, ma'am. And she said, oh, I could just kiss you. And I said, "well, you can kiss me. And she threw her arms around me and gave me a great big kiss on the cheek..."

In January 2004, the Air Line Pilots Association awarded the “Superior Airmanship Award” to the Crew of Northwest 85. And, of course, most importantly, all the 404 souls on board Northwest Flight 85 were able to come home that day!

The NTSB investigations ruled that the probable cause was a "fatigue fracture of the lower rudder power control module". As a result, a non-destructive-inspection (NDI) process (a technique commonly used now-a-days) for the rudder-module was developed, which recommended that Boeing 747 operators conduct ultrasonic inspections of pertinent high-time lower and upper rudder power control modules (where fatigue is virtually impossible to detect by other means of inspection).

Now, please find below selected images from a flight with takeoff from Detroit (KDTW), followed by the segments starting west of Anchorage (PANC), the abrupt left-banking, and then back to PANC 6R (Note: In 2005, PANC changed the designation of Runways 6R/24L to 7R/25L, which FSX shows correctly). Thanks for reading this account, and, hopefully, you also enjoy the sights of the (old) Queen even though for most of you these may be just a "flashback" (to the good old days), and, please note, this Queen does not permit any (cosmetic) "PBR glow"...🙂...! [PMDG(747)/REX]

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Edited by P_7878
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***Long Live The Queen***

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Let's hope that today's pilots could handle a similarly dire situation with as much skill as Capt. Hanson and his crew...  Yes. long live the Queen!

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Long live the Queen! And please, P_7878, don't let yourself discourage to teach us more about lucky and also sad incidents in aviation history; one can only learn from this.

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Thanks all.

Patrick, Overspeed, Harald: Thanks for the additional comments. There is no doubt the "Queen" (aircraft and SIM) whether in its original or the most advanced (current) version, will always have a place with those of us who hold it in high esteem....
.

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, HaraldG said:

Long live the Queen! And please, P_7878, don't let yourself discourage to teach us more about lucky and also sad incidents in aviation history; one can only learn from this.

Harald: Thanks.

Your comment made me a think a bit, and read/learn a bit more.

I personally never get into discussions of un-resolved accidents. I leave that to better (and more knowledgeable) minds within and (outside) the Forum. With investigations usually taking months and years, frankly, IMHO, we learn more from confirmed results and reports than from speculations...real pilots around here would always (justifiably) caution us against speculations, if you've noticed...

But, in our internet age, information about past incidents is a treasure-trove of aviation learning. What makes it even more interesting, is that, we often can read excerpts of interviews from the "actual" Captain or/and the Crew - assuming, of course, (hopefully) fortunate outcomes as this one. A member in this forum had once commented, "Aviation is dangerous", which is exactly true by its very nature. We sometimes lose track of it while carrying out our simulations in the comfort of our arm-chair, no matter how authentic the simulation is.

And, Wiki is always good, but it pales in comparison to an article written here e.g. by the Senior Captain himself, in terms of accuracy, authenticity, and emotion it conveys. Let me give a few examples to illustrate the remarkable thinking of this gentleman, making everything look so much easier than it actually was. I guess, that's how these guys become Senior Captain...especially on a 747...And, lucky (or sad) the outcome, as you've said, there is no doubt these Captains (and Crew) always give their best, examples of learning, for the rest of us, whether we're pilots or not...

[1] Confidence and Responsibility

Frank Geib (Junior Captain) had done extremely well to manage the initial recovery, but John wishes to take over control w/o offending him. In this context, examine the following excerpt:

"I was thinking to myself, I'm the senior captain and I'm uncomfortable with the thought that when we get to Anchorage, if we're lucky enough to get to Anchorage, that it's very possible that we may have to bend this thing up, putting it back on the ground. Being the senior captain, bearing the responsibility, if anyone is going to scratch my airplane I want it to be me. And I told Frank that he did a fabulous job with the initial recovery, was doing a fine job flying it, but that I was going to exercise my right to get back in the seat. Frank's reaction was, I have no problems with that."

[2] Seeking opinions from other Crew
Examine this excerpt:
"The exchange of information among the four of us was really good. It's like the old phrase, "Love finds a way." And when you know you've got to communicate about something it's amazing how quickly those ideas flow back and forth, and I encouraged it. I said, if anyone has any ideas about anything, please speak up."

[3] Clear thinking under stress
As I've noted in the main text, John, as soon as he made the gears touch-down on the right-spot of the runway, handed over the control wheel to Mike, and went for the tiller. But, it was not reactionary, but completely pre-planned. The plane (with jammed left rudder) did exactly what he had thought it would do on landing (i.e. swerve), although there were surely some doubts in his mind because the situation was unprecedented. Now, examine this excerpt:

"We might be touching down not just with a cocked rudder, but a fully cocked nose wheel, and once we lowered the nose to the runway, the airplane would head for the weeds. We briefed that, and the point was well taken that the tiller mounted on the left cockpit wall, that steering wheel overrides those signals from the rudder to the nose wheel. So if I touched down on the touchdown spot and then lower the nose to the runway and the airplane tries to swerve, I was immediately going to let go of the control wheel and grab the tiller to steer the nose wheel, and Mike was going to grab the control lever."

 

Edited by P_7878
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Great shots and story sir!

Love pics 9 & 10- great atmosphere!

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I was actually on board N661US yesterday afternoon. You don't realize just how big a Boeing 747-400 actually is until you're standing right next to one from ground level.

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Another excellent learning piece P-7878!!!!  Two things I learned here, one about the incident itself and two about the existence of the Delta museum, which i will make it a point to visit.  Thnx!!!

Richard

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12 minutes ago, Slick9 said:

Another excellent learning piece P-7878!!!!  Two things I learned here, one about the incident itself and two about the existence of the Delta museum, which i will make it a point to visit.  Thnx!!!

Definitely worth a visit, but check the calendar to make sure they're actually open. They're not open on Wednesdays, and they can also close for private events. Other than Ship 6301, there's the Spirit of Delta (I think N102DA), a DC-9, a 757-200, and a 737-200 simulator.

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