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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tristesse en France/ Traurigkeit in der Frankenreich/ Sadness in France and Fear of Flying While Traveling

I'm sure everyone is now aware of the flight that went down along the French Alps on Tuesday morning (10:30 am, European time). If you're not, you can read the story here: Plane crash kills 150 people in French Alps; black box found. They ID'ed two Americans (Yvonne and Emily Selke - mother and daughter, which according to NPR... Emily graduated from Drexel University - a university in Philadelphia), sixteen German students and their two teachers, 3 opera singers, two Iranians, and an Israeli. In total there were 72 Germans, 35 Spaniards, two from Australia, Argentina, Iran, the U.S., and Venezuela; one from Britain, the Netherlands, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, Denmark, Belgium, and Israel. There were 150 on board.

Chancellor Angela Merkel commented that she didn't want people speculating what happened because the crash is still under investigation. She doesn't believe it was terrorism, but it can't be ruled out. Although Chancellor Merkel says she doesn't want people speculating until the facts come out, Yahoo and NPR have been abuzz with speculation.

On Yahoo last night, someone commented that Airbus planes have a system called fly by wire, which was responsible for other crashes that resulted in total losses of lives. I'm not a pilot, so I had to research what exactly fly by wire is. According to Wikipedia:

Fly-by-wire (FBW) is a system that replaces the conventional manual flight controls of an aircraft with an electronic interface. The movements of flight controls are converted to electronic signals transmitted by wires (hence the fly-by-wire term), and flight control computers determine how to move theactuators at each control surface to provide the ordered response. The fly-by-wire system also allows automatic signals sent by the aircraft's computers to perform functions without the pilot's input, as in systems that automatically help stabilize the aircraft, or prevent unsafe operation of the aircraft outside of its performance envelope.

Although Wikipedia claims that fly by wire is safe, I found some sources that say otherwise. For example: How Lousy Cockpit Design Killed 228 People. An excerpt:

At heart, the problem was one of feedback. In a world of flight dominated by computers, Airbus designs its planes with less tactile response (in the name of pilot comfort) and less potentially overwhelming information (in the name of clearer pilot decisions). In the case of Flight 447, some of the plane’s ducts froze up, removing the information of airspeed, and forcing the plane out of autopilot. In response, a pilot named Bonin pulled up on his stick, gaining a bit of altitude to, presumably, safely keep the plane in the sky.
This stick is of particular note. It’s fly-by-wire technology, meaning that there’s very limited tactile feedback. If a pilot sets the plane to a 10-degree pitch, they can move the stick 10 degrees once and remove their hand from the controls entirely. Furthermore, co-pilots don’t feel any sort of feedback in their controls, meaning that as Bonin was making this momentary adjustment, the only way his colleagues could know was by looking right at his hands.
I found it interesting, but if any pilots read this blog... feel free to comment to explain how this really works to me. I'd like to be educated.

I'm actually terrified of flying. Unless I really have to fly, I prefer to take a train or bus. It's not only flight anxiety for me, but I get headaches in the air. With a crown now and fillings, I can't chew gum. Gum or chewing in general never really helped me anyway. These headaches will usually happen on descent and last for two hours afterwards. I do like taking Amtrak, but I know there will be cases when flying is necessary.

I've been to Germany before and I've been to the Austrian Alps. I was 17 (3 months shy of 18) when I went to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland with the high school German club. Of course I was nervous about flying, but reading and sitting next to my German teacher on the flight helped. Also with foreign flights, people can get up and move. Since it was an eight hour flight, I did talk to some other friends on the flight. That helped.

I also remember the Alps. We took a bus into the Alps and I remember the altitude of the Alps and the weather. We went at the beginning of April and it was snowy. The altitude was like a typical mountain. It was gorgeous, but I felt stuffy with the altitude change. Also, the bus driver had to be careful driving up into the Alps because of the snow. I'm sure flying has similar precautions when encountering the Alps. It was a fun trip and great memories. However, despite getting on flights when the need arises, I am still terrified of flying.

I feel sorry for all the lives lost in this plane crash. I see all types of crashes as very sad, but I feel this one is sadder than usual. I really hope this wasn't an act of terrorism and if it was a case of Fly By Wire malfunctioning, I hope Airbus takes into account of fixing the Fly By Wire system. There were already accidents with it and it's time to change that system to save lives! If that's the case, Fly By Wire reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey:


  1. I haven't really followed the story, to be honest. :/ I do feel bad for both the people who lost their lives and for their familes. A relative of mine flew out to Japan shortly after the crash and everyone was worried about her.

    1. I just don't understand why some suicidal people cross over into murder. They should just kill themselves if they're that unhappy and leave others alone.