Quite a few friends have been asking me about the Horizon Air Q400 that was appropriated by a suicidal ground crew member. Here are some things that I’ve told them…
Piston-powered airplanes have engines that would be familiar to the mechanic of a Model A Ford and, not coincidentally, an ignition key that would be familiar to the owner of said 1927 automobile. The key for the Cessna, Cirrus, or Piper can ground magnetos or activate the starter. Turbine-powered aircraft… have no key. If you can get in and press the start button you’re good to spin. In theory the door can be locked, but it is usually not practical in charter or airline operations to keep track of a door key. So the door is unlocked and the start button is there and the security is all about keeping the unauthorized out of the airport.
The big challenge in flying turbine-powered aircraft is starting. The Q400, however, is equipped with a FADEC. Starts should therefore be computer-controlled and as simple as starting up a Toyota Camry.
What about the aerobatics? Airliners are certified for only 2.5Gs, but if you aren’t worried about some cracks in various spars the airplane won’t come apart until considerably more force is applied. Can a Q400 match the capabilites of a GB1 GameBird? No, but remember that an empty airliner has a tremendous amount of extra power. It needs to be able to climb on one engine when fully loaded. If two engines are spinning and nobody is in the back it will deliver an exciting ride.
What about an aerodynamic stall in the event of a botched maneuver? The Q400 is equipped with a stick pusher that should make it very tough to stall, especially with a lot of power in. (Unfortunately, the captain of Colgan 3407 overpowered the pusher and did manage to stall a Q400; see Public TV figures out how to fly regional airliners and Time for a robot assistant up in the dome light of the cockpit?)
What about the transfer of skills from Windows-based simulators to a real airplane? Instructors at our flight school have commented on the superior stick-and-rudder skills of sim addicts that come in to fly real aircraft.
Not a great weekend for aviation, but I thought that readers might be interested in the above.
[Very sad about the loss of life, of course, but I don’t have a more informed perspective on that than anyone else might.]