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Jumpseat: The Fantasy of Flight, the Movie
One of my favorite snippets was when Denzel gave the yoke to his copilot. After displaying his recklessness by almost losing control of the airplane, it was suddenly OK for the first officer to fly?
I’ll give the aviation consultant an A for effort on one detail regarding Denzel’s inflight nap. Using an approach plate as an eye visor is innovative. Some of us utilize an en route chart strategically positioned on the windscreen to blot out the sun at high altitudes, but that’s only for glare and UV protection.
OK, now onto the big event. The horizontal stabilizer jams. Is it possible? Absolutely. As a matter of fact, the movie was rumored to be loosely based on the circumstances behind the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 on Jan. 31, 2000. The jackscrew of the Alaska Airlines airplane froze. Although the crew might have been able to divert earlier, they elected to troubleshoot the problem with the radio assistance of Alaska Airlines maintenance. They crashed into the Pacific Ocean 2.7 miles north of Anacapa Island off the coast of California. There were no survivors. In the movie, do you think it’s possible the jammed stabilizer might have been caused by severe turbulence penetration at an airspeed far beyond max maneuvering speed? Just sayin’ ...
As Capt. Whitaker struggles to control the Super 80, the extreme dive elicits an aural warning (“Whoop whoop! Pull up!”) from the GPWS (ground proximity warning system). The warning begins sometime while screaming out of FL 310. Is it realistic? Not quite. The system is predicated on ... well, as the name suggests, proximity to the terrain. Unless the state of Georgia had a recent volcanic eruption that created an Everest-size mountain, you wouldn’t hear a peep from the GPWS until much closer to the ground.
I realize the descent rate of the airplane was extreme, but calling for the brace position through 28,000 feet? Let’s just chalk that up to poetic license. Instructing passengers to put their heads between their legs isn’t exactly going to save them from the effect of meeting the ground at a 30-degree nose-down angle anyway.
Denzel commands his copilot to dump fuel, which is a great idea before a crash. Only one problem: No such system exists on a Super 80. Along the lines of no such system, how about that Wile E. Coyote TNT red plunger handle? I can’t even fathom the purpose of that mythical thing. If its purpose was to free the hydraulic fluid jamming the stabilizer, we have another fallacy. The horizontal stabilizer is controlled mechanically by cables and a jackscrew. With both pilots unable to reach the plunger because of the unusual attitude, the script made great drama of the No. 1 flight attendant’s participation in its operation. Only a good flight attendant could fight negative G’s. Thumbs up for crew resource management, however.
As most people know from having watched Flight’s trailer, the solution to a lack of positive pitch control was to roll the Super 80 inverted. Only an ace of the base, crack-addict captain could perform such an aerobatic maneuver. Is it aerodynamically possible? I defer to my fellow contributing editor and technical expert Peter Garrison, who answered the question in Flying’s January 2013 issue. The short answer is yes, but not for very long, certainly not as long as the movie suggests.
With the Super 80 lacking an inverted system, the loss of oil lubrication while flying upside down (and maybe a compressor stall or two) leads the audience to believe that a dual-engine fire is the ultimate result. I’m no expert, but honestly, I don’t think a jet engine really cares about its attitude relative to the horizon.
Once the airplane converts to a glider, the slow-motion, life-flashing-before-your-eyes scene begins as Capt. Whitaker guides the Super 80 in for a literal off-field landing. The winglet guillotining a church steeple provides a nice dramatic effect. Too bad Super 80s don’t have winglets. I did enjoy the special effects of the crash.
Finally, in regard to NTSB protocol, what’s the probability of interviewing an injured crew member sedated with narcotics within hours of an accident? I’ll let you ponder that idea. In addition, the big scene where Capt. Whitaker finds his integrity and confesses his addiction to the world at the NTSB public hearing is not likely. You may find this hard to believe, but the public hearing is scripted. The confession would never have occurred in such a forum, nor would the captain have been grilled as if he was in a courtroom.
Fantasy of Flight? It is. Sorry to have ruined the movie.