Q400 aerobatics

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.]



9 thoughts on “Q400 aerobatics

  1. There are also maintenance actions for airlines to make the airplane not work when it will be parked for a longer time.

  2. Another victory for Affirmative Action:

    Rich: Hey do you think if I land this successfully Alaska will give me a job as a pilot?

    Air traffic control: You know, I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off.

    Rich: Yeah right! Nah, I’m a white guy

  3. What about flying inverted? The oil scavenge system can’t possibly be set up for that in a commercial plane, yet he flew for a very long time with fully functioning engines.

  4. Floyd: How long did he fly inverted? Remember that in a typical roll maneuver it is positive Gs all the way around (so the airplane doesn’t feel that it is upside down).

  5. It’s been reported that he did both a barrel roll and a loop-the-loop. I assume that the flight recorders might still be found: this should record everything and cover the full time period that Richard Russell flew the plane.

  6. Superior stick and rudder skills of the sim addicts… do the helicopter instructors at the school see that as well or is there less transfer? Just curious.

  7. LinePilot: I don’t think that helicopter sim users come in as superstars, but I’m not sure how popular recreational helicopter sims are. RC helicopter flying IS popular and RC helicopter pilots seem to do quite well in the real helicopters.

  8. PhilG and LinePilot: On a similar note re simulators to real life. I did a full online simulation based glider training course with a CFIG (glidercfi.com) using Skype and Condor gliding simulator before flying real gliders. The stick and rudder and ADM skills with this particular simulator transferred to the real glider very well—the physics and weather are very realistic in Condor. For those interested in simulation based glider training and some write ups about others who took this route to a private pilot certificate, glider add on, or winning glider races see the “Condor Corner Articles” pdfs at http://www.cumulus-soaring.com/condor.htm#Links

    I am now PPG, SEL, IR, working on Commercial. The bigger SEL full motion simulators were great for other reasons but Condor has them beat for stick and rudder in my opinion.

  9. Both when renting a car and when buying a car, there is a location where keys are kept. Granted, on occasion there is a mix-up which delays locating the correct key, but normally it’s a pretty mundane part of the transaction. Would like to hear Hannah Russell speak. Gamer Russell worked under her in bakery she ran in OR (opened within a month of their marriage) until their move to Washington State.

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