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Ah, I was not aware they already could. My next question is why not make themselves de-ice better?

This maybe seems trollish or silly, but in all seriousness, if your sensors aren't good enough, first rule out improving the sensors before you try to compensate with the system.

According to the article's timeline, dual pitot failure occurred at about 02:10:06. Recovery of one pitot occurred at 02:10:36, and the other at around 02:11:03. That's about 30 seconds to recover one pitot, and 57 seconds to the recovery of the second. When you consider that this all boils down to melting off ice, that's not so bad, really. And if they hadn't royally screwed up their manual handling, it wouldn't have downed the plane - there is, in fact, a procedure for maintaining safe lift when airspeed indications are lost; somehow the copilots in command managed to screw it up, and continued to screw up even after the pitots recovered. The BBC tried replicating a pitot failure in a simulator, and when the sim pilots went by the proper procedure, there was no problem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v...

So basically, this is human error, but exacerbated by a lack of training in cruise problems and poor feedback from the controls when the copilots gave conflicting commands.

The simulated test is always in a more relaxed environment. But anyway, if your instincts are good they you are OK. The problem is when your instincts tell you to do the opposite of what needs to be done. Probably the pilots need more training to break their instincts?

There is other debris that can clog pitot tubes. Birgenair Flight 301 crashed because some wasps built a nest in a pitot tube during an extended layover:


189 people died.

(Also note the failure to react properly to the stall warnings. This comes up again and again.)

I wonder if in a couple of decades we'll look back at pitot tubes and wonder what the hell we were thinking using such a fragile solution.

(Of course, in a couple of decades we'll probably have a much more accurate external method of finding out speed/airspeed.)

Maybe, but keep in mind that they are in operation on thousands of planes operating night and day, and they very seldom fail. So it's not what you would call a fragile solution. After all, the pitots involved in this flight were already due to be replaced because of icing problems.

It's hard to measure how fast you're going through the air without being able to sample the air. Pitot tubes are just the tubes that bring the air to the inside of the plane to be sampled; nothing more.

I mean, I know the physics behind pitot tubes, but I wonder if we'll come up with a better way of measuring this. Something like measuring deflections of a thousand tiny rods on the plane skin. Still vulnerable to icing and other mechanical damage, I suppose.

Maybe we'll just have really accurate GPS and beam external local instantaneous wind-speed measurements to the plane.

But, what would be taking those hyperlocal windspeed measurements--at the same altitude and within a mile or two? I can't think of any way at all to accomplish this short of a satellite with an incredible new method to measure many slices of moving air.

The real WTF is that planes are kept aloft by aerodynamics. One day we'll look upon that the way nowadays we think of zeppelins.

Being restricted to rich people with "fuck the planet" attitude, hopefully the jet airliner market will be small enough to stall technologically.

The fact that the heating element was not effective enough was a known fact. Since similar incident of lost of air speed had already happened. Pitot were being replaced with beefier heating elements. It was just not considered a high priority.

I agree. I know little about aviation, but wouldn't it be better if the sensors would automatically de-ice themselves rather than only being de-iced at the pilots' command?

I believe they're continually heated.

At least every one I've seen is labeled "heated probe" or the like which probably wouldn't be necessary if they had to be manually de-iced.


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