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Software may ensure safer landings.

Hydraulic failure: The words provoke anxiety in the bravest of jet pilots. In these rare accidents, pilots have almost no control of their aircraft and a disastrous crash landing becomes nearly unavoidable.

New computer programs may one day prevent such catastrophes in multi-engine jets, NASA engineers reported last month at a meeting of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Sacramento, Calif. Instead of manipulating the aircraft's rudder, ailerons, and elevators to land as they normally do, pilots with disabled hydraulic controls would rely on engines to land safely. Activated after hydraulic failure, computer software would translate the pilot's control-stick movements into engine throttle commands. Thrusting the engines at different speeds would allow a plane to turn, climb, descend and land, explain the system's developers at NASA's Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility in Edwards, Calif.

Several recent crashes involving hydraulic failure -- particularly a 1989 accident in Iowa -- motivated NASA to develop the software. Though pilots of the United Airlines plane managed to steer their mammoth DC-10 to the Sioux City runway by manually controlling its engines, they were unable to land safely. The resulting crash left 111 passengers dead.

The new software system has been tested on various flight simulators, including ones for the McDonnell Douglas F-15 and Boeing 720. These simulations showed that with only manual control of the engines, crews could maneuver their planes but would have great difficulty landing. With software-controlled engines, however, pilots repeatedly simulated safe landings -- even in turbulence and crosswinds.
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Title Annotation:new computer programs to prevent crash landings after hydraulic failure on airliners
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 27, 1991
Words:246
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