Common Knowledge to have at an Aviation Workplace


Every profession has a common knowledge regime which may be a surprise for the outsiders to know. It is prevalent everywhere to take the terms at their face value but generally speaking they are not. Here I mention a few tits and bits of information about Aviation field which the people of other professions are unaware of or take at their face value. This post is build from Information present on a Quora post.

Black boxes aren’t black
It makes sense; you want to find this box amongst what will usually be charred wreckage.

Aircraft tend not to explode before crashing
Aviation accident investigators find that if there are eyewitnesses to an aircraft crash, they nearly always report having seen an explosion or fire immediately before the aircraft hit the ground. After comprehensive investigation, it’s nearly always found that there wasn’t any explosion or fire. (My personal theory is that it’s possibly due to the small time lapse between seeing and hearing the impact confusing our minds.)

High-speed or high-angle aircraft accidents don’t leave large debris
Many crashes occur at take-off and landing – the most dangerous phases of flight – and are thus low-speed, low-angle incidents. Even very severe incidents usually end up looking “recognisably plane-like”:

Incidents from altitude and/or at high speed and/or at an acute angle tend to look far more like this:

(Which is why conspiracy theorists re 9/11 Flight 93 debris don’t have a valid point with regard to “lack of debris”; you wouldn’t expect any significantly-sized debris, except perhaps the engines.)

Aircraft documentation is incredibly voluminous
The amount of documentation associated with every aircraft – descriptions of what the aircraft is, how to repair it, emergency procedures, etc – are phenomenally extensive. Each aircraft type would be delivered to purchasers accompanied by hundreds of thousands of pages of technical documentation.

Configuration management is phenomenally meticulous
For each individual aircraft, a “type record” is maintained, which describes in minute detail exactly what state every aircraft in the fleet is in. Every time a part is replaced, it’s recorded. But even in a fleet of “identical” aircraft, there will be tiny differences. For example, a particular wire – and every single wire is identified, described, and labelled, and its exact routing minutely described – might be of a different type in some of the fleet than in others, as older type wires are changed to newer ones as they cycle through maintenance. Every single difference is meticulously recorded.

As an example of the scale of the documentation, when Australia retired its relatively small fleet of less than 30 F-111 aircraft, here is the documentation that was archived:

Pilot error doesn’t mean “bad pilot”
Nearly all aircraft crashes are attributed at least in part to “pilot error”, usually amongst numerous other factors. Particularly if the pilot has been killed, families can find this very difficult to accept, and feel that their deceased family member is being “blamed” or disrespected. People in the aviation field know and accept thateverybody makes errors; systems are supposed to be designed to be robust enough to withstand human errors within the normal range, eg fatigue, inattention, forgetfulness, etc. Aircraft investigations are – rightly – uncompromising in identifying the causes, and “pilot error” will nearly always be one of the contributors, even if only a minor contributor. That doesn’t mean that the pilot was a bad pilot, or even that they had a bad day. It means that their particular oversight wasn’t one that they got away with on that particular occasion, usually because of a combination of other systemic issues. Identifying “pilot error” as a contributor is not intended to “blame” the pilot, but to allow for identification of design or procedural changes that will allow the system to tolerate this kind of error in future.


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