Inside The Black Box

By Black Box Podcast

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 Nov 26, 2019


Inside The Black Box tells the story of the hours, minutes and seconds leading up to some of the worst aviation disasters in history. It looks at the investigations which followed and the lessons learned which keep us safe today.

Episode Date
Episode 11 - Air France 4590 (The Concorde Disaster)

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On the 25th of July 2000 at 4:40pm, Air France Flight 4590 sits on the taxiway of Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris France. The passengers and crew of Flight 4590 are third in line to take off from Runway 26 Right. In front of them are two other intercontinental airliners. Taking off at this moment is a Continental Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Next in the sequence is an Air France Boeing 747. The 100 passengers and 9 crewmembers of Air France 4590 are not aboard any ordinary airliner. Today they will be flying aboard the Aerospatiale/BAC Concorde. In 2000, even 30 years after its introduction, Concorde is still seen by many as a symbol of luxury and excess. Flying at more than twice the speed of sound, the aircraft will be on the ground at its destination of John F Kennedy Airport in New York in about three and a half hours. In comparison, the DC-10 taking off in front of Air France 4590 and heading for Newark Airport, also in New York, will be less than halfway across the Atlantic when the Concorde is arriving at its gate. While the journey is quick, that speed comes at an enormous price. A return trip from London or Paris to New York costs just under $8,000 making regularly scheduled flights difficult to fill. To keep the operation of Concorde profitable, as well as operating scheduled flights, Air France also offers Concorde on a charter service. Air France 4590 is just such a charter flight. Today, this Concorde has been chartered by Peter Deilmann Cruises, a prestigious cruise operator. The passengers aboard Concorde are embarking on the first stage of a luxurious journey, travelling to New York where they will board the MS Deutschland for a 14 night cruise of the Caribbean. Apart from one Austrian, two Danes and an American, the remaining 96 passengers are German. With the three flight crew and six flight attendants, the total complement is 109.

All of those aboard have less than five minutes to live.

Feb 09, 2020
Episode 10 - Delta Airlines 191

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In the early evening of the 2nd of August, 1985, a Lockheed L1011 Tristar is on final approach to land at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Delta Airlines flight 191 is a regularly scheduled flight between Fort Lauderdale in the state of Florida and Los Angeles California, with an intermediate stop at Dallas Forth Worth Airport in the state of Texas. Delta Airlines 191 departed from Fort Lauderdale, Florida at 2:10pm, first heading west over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The flight to Dallas Fort Worth has been largely uneventful until now. After passing over New Orleans in Louisiana, the aircraft has deviated north in order to avoid a developing weather front. The hot and humid weather of the southern United States in summer is fertile ground for thunderstorms which the flight crew are keen to avoid. The flight crew of Delta Airlines 191 consists of three people. Leading the experienced flight crew is Captain Edward Connors, aged 57. Connors has nearly 30,000 hours of flight experience, 6,000 of which are in command of the Lockheed L1011, spanning a career of over 30 years. In the right seat is First Officer Rudy Price, aged 42, who is flying the aircraft on this leg of the journey. He has 6,500 hours flight experience, 1,200 of which are at the controls of the L1011. Completing the flight crew is Second Officer Nick Nassick, who is acting as the aircraft’s flight engineer. Nassick has 6,500 hours flight experience, 4,500 of which have been in the Lockheed L1011.

Now, just after 6pm, the aircraft is descending steadily towards runway 17L. The runway is currently obscured by a cloud sitting almost at the end of the runway, from which a heavy and continuous downpour of rain is falling. First Officer Price looks at the clouds in front of them and comments “Lightning coming out of that one, right ahead of us”.

Oct 06, 2019
Episode 9 - American Airlines 965

At 6:30pm on the 20th of December 1995, a Boeing 757-200 sits on the taxiway of Miami International Airport in the United States. The 155 passengers and 8 crew members aboard American Airlines flight 965 are growing impatient, eager to begin their journey to Cali, in the South American country of Colombia. Many of the passengers aboard are flying to Cali to be with their families for the Christmas and New Year period. 

The flight was originally scheduled to depart from Miami at 4:45pm but connecting passengers to the flight had been delayed by winter storms affecting the North Eastern United States pushing the departure time back by 30 minutes. Since pushing back from Gate D33, the flight has been stuck on the taxiway for another 45 minutes, waiting on a departure slot from air traffic control. In the cockpit this evening are two highly experienced pilots. Commanding American Airlines 965 is Captain Nicholas Tafuri, aged 57, supported by First Officer Don Williams, aged 39. Captain Tarfuri and First Officer Williams have 13,000 and 6,000 hours of flight experience respectively. First Officer Williams will be piloting the aircraft on this leg of the journey. The aircraft they are commanding, a Boeing 757-200, has the largest capacity of any single aisle airliner ever built, nicknamed the flying pencil for its elongated body.

Finally, one hour and 15 minutes after leaving the gate, the controllers at Miami International Airport give American Airlines 965 permission to line up on Runway 27R and begin its takeoff roll. At 6:35pm the aircraft thunders down the runway at Miami International Airport, nosing up into the clear and calm Florida evening, on its way to Cali at last.

You are listening to Inside The Black Box. This is the story of American Airlines flight 965.

Jul 05, 2019
Episode 8 - Alaska Airlines 261

On the 21st of January 2000 at 3:50pm, a  McDonnel Douglas MD83 flies above the Pacific Ocean, about 25 miles off the Californian coast of the United States. Alaska Airlines flight 261 departed from the international airport at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico about 2 and a half hours ago, bound for the United States. Its first planned stop is San Francisco, California, before its final destination of Seattle in the state of Washington. On board the flight are 83 passengers and 5 crew members. As well as the 5 crew members, an additional 25 passengers are connected with the airline in some way. It is common for Alaska Airlines to use underbooked flights to transport personnel. Today the McDonnell Douglas MD83 is being crewed by two highly experienced pilots. The Captain, Ted Thompson aged 53 is an air force veteran and has amassed nearly 18,000 hours of flight experience including more than 4,000 as pilot in command of the MD-80 series of aircraft. He is supported by First Officer Bill Tansky, aged 57 with more than 8,000 hours flight experience, almost all of which are at the controls of the MD-80 series of aircraft. Tansky is two years away from retirement from Alaska Airlines after a successful career. The MD-80 series of aircraft is derived from the venerable DC-9, with the fuselage being lengthened, more fuel efficient engines being fitted and advanced avionics being provided.

At this moment a crisis is unfolding in the aircraft which had its origins years earlier. What starts as a routine flight will turn into a battle between the pilots and the aircraft which will destroy them both.

May 02, 2019
Episode 7 - Air France 447

At just after half past 1 in the morning on the 1st of June 2009, An Airbus A330-203 cruises at 35,000 feet above the Southern Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft departed from Rio de Janeiro at 1030 pm and is about 3 hours into its 10 and a half flight to Paris Charles De Gaulle in France. On board are 216 passengers and 12 crew members. The Airbus has just passed a navigation waypoint known as INTOL which sits about 300 miles off the Brazilian coast. A navigation waypoint is a known reference point with a given set of coordinates and is useful for both the air traffic controllers and pilots to monitor the progress of an aircraft, especially when radar coverage is not available.  The captain of the aircraft makes contact with the Atlantico Area Control Centre, responsible for controlling air traffic in this particular region of the Southern Atlantic. The captain advises Atlantico that they have just passed the INTOL waypoint and their next waypoint will be SALPU in about 15 minutes, followed by ORARO 15 minutes after that. The Atlantico controller advises AF447 to contact Dakar, the next area control centre on the aircraft’s journey, after passing a further waypoint, TASIL. The pilots ask the Atlantico Area Control Centre to perform a test on a piece of their radio equipment. With the check successfully completed, the crew are advised to maintain their altitude of 35,000 feet. The captain acknowledges the instruction.

It is the last time anybody will hear from the crew of the Airbus A330.  What has begun as a routine flight across the Atlantic Ocean will become one of the most lengthy and complex air accident investigations in history.

You are listening to Inside The Black Box. This is the story of Air France Flight 447.

Feb 25, 2019
Episode 6 - CHC Helikopter Service 241

It is just after 11am on the 29th of April 2016. An Airbus Helicopters EC225 Super Puma touches down on a helipad in the North Sea. CHC Helikopter Services Flight 241 has just landed on the Gullfaks B Oil and Gas Platform in the Norwegian North Sea, about 80 miles off the Norwegian Coast.

The EC225 Super Puma has been chartered by the national oil company of Norway and operator of the platform, Statoil. Today, CHC Helikopter Service 241 is undertaking a shuttle service from the heliport at Bergen which lies about 180km to the south east of the platform. Helicopters play an essential part in the North Sea Oil industry, enabling offshore workers to quickly get from heliports onshore to offshore installations, as well as quickly transporting vital components and undertaking search and rescue missions. In a given year, helicopters in the North Sea facilitate approximately 2 million passenger journeys. The mode of transport is not without its risks. There have been numerous accidents, ditchings and even crashes involving helicopters in the North Sea sector leading to loss of life.

Jan 12, 2019
Episode 5 - USAF Czar 52 (Fairchild B52 Incident)

On the afternoon of the 24th of June, 1994, a crowd has gathered by the runway of the Fairchild Air Force Base in the State of Washington in the United States. The group, a mix of United States Air Force personnel and their families are here to watch a practice demonstration for the Fairchild Air Force Base Airshow, scheduled to take place the following day.   Fresh in the minds of those present is a recent disturbing incident that has taken place at the airbase. An ex airforce serviceman had entered the hospital on the base and shot and killed four people. Two of those people were doctors who had found the gunman unfit to continue military duty. The gunman was only stopped when he was shot and killed by security.

The Wing commander has taken the decision to continue with the airshow and the practice, believing it is important the public see the airbase functioning as normal. Although the demonstration was scheduled to take place in the morning The display has been delayed from the morning due to the secretary of state visiting the airbase as a consequence of the hospital shooting.

The demonstration flight involves a Boeing B52 Stratofortress and a KC135 aerial tanker performing a series of independent manoeuvres in front of the crowd, who watch parallel to the runway with cameras and camcorders at the ready.

You are listening to Inside The Black Box. This is the story of USAF Czar 52

Nov 25, 2018
Episode 4 - Turkish Airlines 981

On a cool winter morning a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 touches down at Orly International Airport, 7km South of Paris. It is 11am on the 3rd of March 1974. Turkish Airlines Flight 981, which left Istanbul at just before 8am has arrived at its intermediate stop before its final destination of London Heathrow. The aircraft is carrying 167 passengers, most of whom are Turkish.

At Orly airport, 50 passengers are scheduled to disembark. While the second stage of the route from Paris to London is normally under-booked, today is different. Hundreds of passengers are stranded at Orly airport due to a strike by Air France and British European Airways personnel, cancelling scheduled flights to London. Many have booked onto Turkish Airlines 981 in order to get to London. A total of 216 additional passengers have booked to board the aircraft, filling it to capacity, most of them British. Those who secure a seat consider themselves lucky, there are many stranded travelers who are not able to travel.

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Oct 18, 2018
Episode 3 - American Airlines 191

At just before 3pm on May 25th, 1979. American Airlines Flight 191 begins to push back from gate K5 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The airport is busy, It is the Friday before the Memorial Day long weekend and many are travelling to be with their families or going on holiday. The aircraft chosen to fly the route. a McDonnel Douglas DC-10 is at capacity, carrying 258 passengers and 13 crew members. American 191’s destination is Los Angeles, California. In command of the aircraft is Captain Walter Lux, aged 53. A veteran pilot, with more than 22,000 hours flying experience. Supporting him is First Officer James Dillard, aged 49 who has more than 9,000 hours flight time. He will be piloting the aircraft this afternoon Finally, completing the crew is Flight Engineer Alfred Udovich, aged 56. Before the introduction of advanced electronics, a flight engineer was the third member of an airliner’s flight crew, tasked with monitoring, operating and fixing an aircraft’s systems while in flight. The DC-10 is a complex aircraft, with three engines. Two are mounted on the wings, while one is mounted on the tail of the aircraft. This configuration of aircraft, known as tri-jet was very popular with US airlines during the 1970s and 1980s, offering a compromise in size and range between larger four engine aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and smaller twin-engine aircraft such as the Airbus A300

After pushing back from Gate K5, the pilots begin their taxi to Runway 32 Right. As the crew travel across the busy airport the crew complete their final pre-flight checks on the move so they can take-off as soon as they arrive at the runway. This is known as a rolling takeoff. It is Flight Engineer Udovich who reads through the aircraft’s checklist while Captain Lux and First Officer Dillard perform the necessary checks.. At 2 minutes past 3 the aircraft is approaching the runway and Chiacgo’s Air Traffic Control gives American 191 clearance for takeoff. Captain Lux acknowledges the tower’s instruction. It is the last time anybody will hear from American Airlines 191.

This is the story of American Airlines 191 and you are listening to Inside The Black Box.


Drawing of bulkhead structure:

Drawing of engine assembly

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Sep 06, 2018
Episode 2 - Valujet 592

It is just after 2pm on the Saturday the 11th of May 1996. A McDonnell Douglas DC9 lines up on Runway 9L at Miami International Airport. The DC-9 is being operated by Valujet, a low-cost carrier in operation since only 1992. Valujet Flight 592’s destination is Atlanta, Georgia. The DC-9 carries 105 passengers and 5 crew members. In command is Captain Candalyn Kubeck (aged 35) and First Officer Richard Hazen (aged 52). Their departure from Miami has been delayed by just over an hour due to mechanical problems. The aircraft’s autopilot is not functioning and the cabin to cockpit intercom is also not operational. Nevertheless, these faults are not severe enough to ground the aircraft and the flight can continue.

First Officer Hazen smoothly applies takeoff power while Kubeck controls the aircraft during the takeoff roll. Hazen calls out the aircraft’s progress as it gathers speed down the runway.
- V1 – The speed at which Captain Kubeck must decide whether to continue or abort the takeoff.
- VR – The speed at which Kubeck begins to climb the aircraft
- V2 – The speed at which the aircraft can still takeoff should an engine fail.

The takeoff is entirely uneventful and the DC-9 begins climbing into a blue Florida sky. Nobody onboard are aware that a chain reaction of events has already begun which will leave the passengers and crew dead within 10 minutes.

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Jul 16, 2018
Episode 1 - Aeroflot 593

It’s just before 1am on the 23rd of March, 1994, An Airbus A310 cruises on autopilot at 33,000 feet above a frozen Siberian landscape. Aeroflot 593 is a regular Moscow to Hong Kong passenger service operating under the Russian International Airlines subsidiary of the national carrier, Aeroflot. The pride of Aeroflot’s fleet, the aircraft is named Glinka, after the father of classical music in Russia, Mihail Glinka. Aeroflot 593 carries 63 passengers and 12 crew members.

On the flight deck are five people:

  • Relief Captain Yaroslav Kudrinsky
  • Acting First Officer Igor Piskaryov
  • Vladimir Makarov – An experience Aeroflot pilot who is travelling as a passenger
  • Yana Kudrinsky – 13, Relief Captain Kudrinsky’s daughter.
  • Eldar Kudrinsky – 15 Kudrinsky’s son.

What will begin as a father’s wish to fulfil their child’s dream will rapidly descend into chaos. In 5 minutes, those in the cockpit and everybody aboard will be dead.

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Jul 02, 2018

Welcome to Inside The Black Box

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Jul 01, 2018