On the first day of June in 2009, Air France Flight 447 took off from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil bound for Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. The routine flight was interrupted by a storm over the Atlantic Ocean at about 2:00AM. The Airbus A330-200 is all-weather certified, and the crew was used to the routine turbulence of high-altitude thunderstorms.
But this storm was resolute. It appeared directly in their pathway in the dark of night with attacks of lightning and freezing moisture. All three of the plane’s speed indicators were knocked out. Without that source of critical information, the computer shut off the autopilot and reverted the controls to manual, pilot operation.
Adding to the challenge was the youth of the right-seat pilot, Pierre Bonin, in his early thirties and suddenly in control of the aircraft. Thirty-seven-year-old co-pilot David Robert was positioned in the left seat while the unwitting captain was in the rear of the plane on his scheduled rest break.
The young pilot responded with personal deliberation and intuition, positioning the plane in a manner that he believed would most likely keep the Airbus aloft through the storm. CBS recently aired a report on Air France Flight 447 based on information recovered from the “black box” that was ultimately recovered from the depths of the Atlantic.
“He pulls back on his side stick and raises the nose of the plane. That causes the aircraft to fall and the “stall warning” sounds. Over the next four and a half minutes, the stall warning will sound 75 times. But strangely, neither pilot will mention it. And unbeknownst to Robert, Bonin will keep the nose of the plane up almost the entire time; exactly what he shouldn’t do, a decision that experts still can’t understand.”
“Because of Bonin’s actions, the plane is attempting to climb, but is actually losing altitude.” Robert appears to have no idea the nose is being lifted when he says, “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
CBS interviewed Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot turned aviation safety expert who successfully landed his plane in the Hudson River in January of 2009. Sully agreed that the Flight 447 situation was “challenging but manageable.”
But the most compelling aspect of Sully’s analysis was the Airbus cockpit design that allows a single crew member to affect a critical maneuver without anyone else even realizing it. In contrast to the Boeing yoke design, the Airbus is steered with an armrest joystick, known as a sidestick. When a right-seat Boeing pilot pulls back on the yoke, the left-seat yoke moves in unison. In the Airbus design, the left seat does not automatically know what the right seat is doing.
Moments after the Captain returned to the cockpit, Bonin informs his crew mates that he had been pulling back on the sidestick since taking the controls and could not understand why the plane continued to lose altitude. Without simple communication and the wisdom of nearby, willing professionals, Air France Flight 447 fell victim to a remorseless storm, claiming all 228 souls on board.
In 2010, television reporter Adam Schrager and former Colorado State Representative Rob Witwer wrote The Blueprint, a book documenting how Democrats created a political storm that brought down Republican control of the Rocky Mountain state. The notion of the title is that, if the plan worked, the Democrats intended to repeat their success in a dozen other states.
In 2004, both U.S. Senators from Colorado were Republicans. The Grand Old Party held the majority in both the State House of Representatives and in the State Senate. Even the Governor was a Republican. This past November, the Republican Party lost the last of these strongholds when the Democrats took control of the State House.
Republicans now watch in frustrated helplessness as the Democratic majority plunges every conservative principle toward an ominous depth. Local activists and liberty groups have been sounding a persistent alarm to those at the party cockpit for a couple of years now.
The situation is challenging but manageable. If the party will adopt a more proficient design and institute respectful communication with the wisdom of a distributed membership, it just might regain altitude.