Thursday, May 12, 2005

If I Didn't Know Better, I'd Say The Airplanes Are Snuggling

by Tom Bozzo

From the Star Tribune, a close one: a ground collision between a Northwest DC-9 and a parked A319 at MSP.

There were a few minor injuries in the mishap, but that was a somewhat lucky break owing to lack of an ignition source. The picture shows a refueling stand just off the nose of the DC-9, and indeed spilled jet fuel entered the DC-9's cockpit.

Befitting the reeling industry, descriptions of the incident in the story are a model of understatement:
Northwest management declined to comment on the fuel in the cockpit and the potential hazard it may have posed to the passengers and crews on both planes.


"When you have fuel on board, there is always a potential for a safety event to happen," said Ernie Kiss, national safety and standards director for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).
The picture also shows an oddity of the new Northwest livery. Note the tail and forward fuselage of the A319. The triangle had made the "W" in a stylized "NW" in the 1989 design (a clear comparison of the designs can be seen here), as well as pointing northwest on a stylized compass. The new livery deletes the "N," leaving the compass icon which, on the left side of the plane, still points northwest, as shown on this 747. But on the right side, as you can see in the accident photo above, NWA is directionally Northeast Airlines. (Amusing side-note: Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan probably really meant to fly to Ireland and not California.)

I have to say that the triangle, without the "N" part, reminds me of something else, too. Good for the graphic designer who slipped that one past NWA management!
As with auto fuel, jet fuel is not that much of a hazard when not being pressurized. (The end of Die Hard 2 is slightly more realistic than all of those car-catches-fire-and-then-explodes scenes, but that's not saying much.)

So there probably wasn't that much of an inceremental hazard in the leakage of b/r/e/a/s/t/ m/i/l/k/ jet fuel.

(As an aside, one of the most common problems car-wreck victims face is well-meaning passersby who pull them out of their car "before it explodes"--doing much more damage, especially when the person is partially pinned.)
Ken, you're right that a liquid fuel spill is a lot less dangerous than a crash releasing a mist of fuel, or the probable TWA 800 situation.

Re Die Hard 2, I'd always meant to look up the speed w/ which flame would propagate through liquid kerosene.
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