FedEx 1478


FedEx 1478 was a 727 that crashed in Tallahassee on an early morning in July 2002 ( NTSB Summary and Update ). Although the resulting fire pretty much comsumed the aircraft, all three of the crewmembers were fortunately able to escape the wreckage. In what little I've found on the web, there isn't much in terms of causes, other than the immediate facts: the weather was clear if not a little foggy on a visual approach, all engines appeared to be operating, there were hazardous materials on board, and none of the crew could immediately identify anything wrong with the flight.

The reason I'm bringing all this up is that I've heard a theory that the engines were "stuck" at idle ... that they spent excessive time at idle during the descent and their response became sluggish.

Retyping that speculation here, it sounds a little tough to believe, but my 0.0 of turbine time doesn't exactly give me the any insight. Have you had any experience with "excessive idle"? Any speculation on characteristics (bleeds, temperature change, etc.) that could make something like this factor in engine response?


(P.S. I used the FedEx incident only for context, please don't make a case if its not necessary.)
Not an answer to your question, but if anyone's interested, has an accident synopsis here, as well as some interesting photos of the wreckage.

But Beware the POP-UPS......
727's are equipped with older low-bypass turbofans (P&W JT8D if I remember correctly) that are known for a slow spool-up response in general. However, A 727 crew would be well aware of this and I assume would compensate accordingly or would not get behind the airplane in the first place.

The construction of aircraft gas turbine engines is such that they have relatively massive rotating components and relatively lighter stationary parts (casings, shrouds, etc.). The casings are more thermally responsive that the rotors.

When a sudden increase in power is demanded, increasing the fuel and air flow and temperatures, it is possible for the case to expand more rapidly than the rotor. This temporarily increases the radial gap between the compressor and turbine blade tips and the casing, lowering the effeciency and resulting in a "thrust droop". Most engines now have active and/or passive means for controlling this effect. A failure in this system might cause a sluggish response.

Also, most turbine engines also have some method for controlling flow through the compressor (to improve engine response and to avoid compressor surges and stalls), for example variable stator vanes and compressor bleed valves. A failure in these systems could also cause a sluggish response.
But Beware the POP-UPS......

[/ QUOTE ]Or get a pop-up blocker and/or a list of ad sites to stick in your "hosts" file. The pop-up triggers are coming from one of their advertisers, not themselves.

The wreckage is amazingly intact, looks like most of the damage was from a post-impact fire. Anyone know what happened to the crew job-wise? Glad they all got out safely, but all I gotta say to them is "PAPI".
Glad they all got out safely, but all I gotta say to them is "PAPI"

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Funny you should say that, Aloft. I heard the crew said they were on the PAPI and the next thing they knew they were in the trees. I don't know any more than that.
Glad they all got out safely, but all I gotta say to them is "PAPI"

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Funny you should say that, Aloft. I heard the crew said they were on the PAPI and the next thing they knew they were in the trees. I don't know any more than that.

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At MDW for 31C, the VASI was NOTAMed out of service for the longest time on ATIS. Now, it isn't anymore... but if you follow the ILS glideslope, you'll notice red over red (or at least pink over red). Which makes me believe if you were visual only, you'd be so high that touchdown and rollout would be interesting.
I'd love to see the CVR and FDR info. It will show if they really flew a stabilized approach or if they were rushing things by going to RWY 9. The story will come out some day....

The crew may have met legal rest requirements but some of the FEDEX schedules are killers and when you put in the night freight, back side of the clock, aspect of it....fatigue could have easily played some factor. In a way....I hope it did...

I've flown the JT8D 727 and can't lend any credence to the slow spool up thing causing a problem. I've never seen it happen (cause a problem). We spool the engines at 1000 agl, that means we add thrust at that point to maintain airspeed and glide path. It does take a few seconds to get them to spool but it's such a non-issue that I can't see it causing an accident. There is the classic 727 crash at Salt Lake years ago when the 727's were new. They got into a high sink rate situation and didn't have the power when they needed it, but the lesson learned from those early days is to spool the engines early and don't get slow with a swept wing jet.

I think they basically just screwed up cause they were all was bound to happen sooner or later.
From the Florida Herald Tribune:

Investigators say co-pilot in crash may have been colorblind

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A colorblind copilot's difficulty seeing red warning lights may have caused a FedEx plane to crash here last year, federal investigators say.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether William Frye failed to see red lights beside the Tallahassee runway that indicated the Boeing 727 was dangerously low, the St. Petersburg Times reported Friday.

The cargo plane crashed half a mile short of the runway and exploded in a fireball in July 2002. Frye and two other pilots were injured; all three remain on administrative leave, pending the inquiry's completion.

The crash caused headaches for Florida elections officials - the plane carried last-minute qualifying paperwork for at least eight legislative races.

The pilots say the lights never gave a red warning. But other evidence indicates the lights were working.

Federal rules require that pilots see colors well enough to distinguish between red and green, which are used in instrument panels and warning lights.

Colorblindness affects about 8 percent of men and less than 1 percent of women. It is a condition in which the eye has difficulty distinguishing colors.

Frye passed vision tests as a Navy pilot from 1981 through the mid 1990s, but failed a color test when he got his airline license in 1995 because of "a mild red-green defect." The Federal Aviation Administration gave him a waiver because of his "demonstrated ability" as a pilot.

After the Tallahassee crash, the NTSB had Frye's vision tested at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas. Doctors found he had a "severe" problem that could make it difficult to interpret red and white warning lights like the ones at the Tallahassee airport.

But William Walsh, captain of the FedEx flight, told the St. Petersburg Times this week the lights indicated they were making a safe descent. "Everything visual that we saw told us we were on glide path," he said.

Don Maciejewski, a Jacksonville aviation attorney representing the pilots, said Frye's vision problems do not affect his ability to see red and the crash was probably caused by malfunctioning warning lights.

Maciejewski said Frye has "has a blue-green color problem" that would not affect his ability to see red.

"Sometimes pilots do mess up," he said. "This ain't one of them."

A FedEx spokesman declined to comment because the crash is under investigation. It will be a month or two before the NTSB determines the probable cause of the crash.

About four miles from the airport, the plane descended too low, according to NTSB calculations. The pilots should have seen four red lights at that point.

At first, it appeared Frye saw the warning. He added a little power to the engines and told the other pilots, "I'm gonna have to stay just a little bit higher or I'm gonna lose the end of the runway."

But he did not pull up, according to the plane's data recorder. The plane kept descending.

The pilots should have seen four red lights practically shouting at them for nearly 40 seconds, according to the NTSB calculations. But they say they never saw those lights.

Shortly after the crash, the NTSB explored the possibility the lights had malfunctioned. But tests indicated they had been working.

Maciejewski said the NTSB tests were inadequate because they did not replicate the nighttime conditions of the flight. The lights might have malfunctioned because of "contamination" on the lenses or because they had been banged by an airport lawn mower, he said.

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Hmm, methinks they're falling for the supposed 'smoking gun' causal factor.
As if they would rely on VASI to 27! If I was the attorney I would look up NOTAMs to see if the Glide Slope was operational and if so was it tuned in.

I would also find out if the VASIs were "fixed" the next day, too. Take a depo from the mower's as well.

I've flown that approach, well more than a few hundred times. When you pass the marker you look left for a 500' tower. Then you start looking for the water treatment plant. Have to be careful because some of the berms between the tanks are long and straight and look strangely like runways in the fog sometimes. It's foggy almost every morning up there, too. The runway does slope a little so that could have affected glide path as well. I will not be surprised if the NTSB comes up with human factors on this one, like back side of clock, fatigue, impaired vision, spatial disorientation, etc. Especially since this was a freight crew and possibly operating on a vampire schedule.

Hey you web searchers - can someone find a link to that NASA study on fatigue and back side of clock factors? Post it please? Thanks.
John Tenney-

They were attempting to land on 9, not 27. Methinks they just plain screwed up and got too low- fatigue being a likely factor. I was out there 2 hours after it happened. 9 has no visual references other than the PAPI, and no ILS to back up your visual cues. It is basically pitch black off the end of the runway at night.

Ironically.. this last week I was out at the airport shortly after another FedEx crash..this time in MEM.

What brought you into tallahassee? I instructed there from Sept 2001 until this october when i got hired with Pinnacle..
You're right! I read it wrong. I got 27 from the Tampa Tribune article I think.

I might be confusing it with an earlier incident, back in 2000.

I did the PBI-TLH run for Air Midwest 4 days a week from Aug 2000 until May 2001.

Instructed where? At that new school with the Seminoles?

There was no flight school visible when I was doing the 1900 run.
Haha.. it's all good. I checked out your website..very cool what all you have going.

I saw you guys come in alot.. i instructed at Flightline....we had 3 archers, a 172 and an arrow around the time you were flying into tallie.

I started instructing in Sept 2001... in the months before i left (this past summer), we got a turbo seminole. Neat little airplane. Now they have 3 brand new Warrior III's (always amusing teaching new privates the garmin 430's haha.. lets keep it simple), the 172 and the PA-44T... turning out to be a good school. Buuuut.. i'll take the CRJ anyday, haha.
I experienced a "stuck in idle" condition once with a JT8D-219.

It was found to be a m/x error. A mechanic had incorrectly routed a piece of safety wire through the EPR sense line water trap drain. The drain apparently froze up and the engine stuck at flight idle during a long descent from altitude. It was interesting. Luckily the other engine had not been worked on by the same mechanic.

So, it could happen, but not likely for all three engines at the same time.