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March 25, 2002
Former TWA 747 Captain Shares Thoughts of Flight 587
by Bernard Rawlings
Although I have expressed an opinion that it is possible for pilot rudder-pedal-input to damage the rudder and vertical stabilizer of an airplane like the Air Bus, I don't think it is PROBABLE that is what happened to Flight 587. I can easily speculate on rudder displacement in excess of design. For example - if a pilot held full right rudder (for example, 11 degrees ) it would displace the vertical stabilizer to the left - let's say 10 degrees. Now the pilot rapidly applies full left rudder and the fin only swings back 5 degrees right before the rudder reaches 11 degrees left. Bingo! The rudder is at 16 degrees relative to air-flow. Over design limits. Over-limit force on both rudder and fin. Rudder separates from fin and fin separates from fuselage. NTSB writes report. Case solved. Pilot error. Rudder never exceeded 11 degrees relative to fin. Everything okey-dokey. Don't worry your pretty little head about the design of this fine airplane.

But I see no logical reason for those pilots to treat the rudder that way. I have spent many years flying into and out of the heaviest-traffic airports in the world. I have been in a lot of prop-wash and jet-wash and never, ever have I encountered wash (or wake turbulence) scary enough to justify anything near full rudder. So I believe that other factors brought 587 down, and I applaud your efforts to investigate them.

I am a strong believer in the ability of the Feds to get it all wrong. I believe TWA 800 was brought down by a missile and I have published a book expressing that belief (http://www.booklocker.com) and I think the NTSB will get it wrong if they dismiss Flight 587 as simple pilot error.

Barney Rawlings
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