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Beyond the Black Box — book review regarding airplane crashes

9 August 2012

Beyond the Black Box: the forensics of airplane crashes — book review regarding airplane crashes

Beyond the Black Box: the forensics of airplane crashes by George Bibel, jacket by Wilma Moritz Rosenberger

Beyond the Black Box: the forensics of airplane crashes by George Bibel, jacket by Wilma Moritz Rosenberger

For many, the study of aircraft crash events may be morbid. But, the number of crashes has allowed much knowledge to be gained so an analyst can gain understanding through statistics and the variety of professionals performing their specialty investigations. To be sure, the author (an expert in the field) discusses the myriad of things which are investigated: structure, fire, engines, seats, wiring, lightning and more. Famous and not so famous incidents and accidents are used to illustrate the points that are illuminated.

Picking a few items, I learned:

  • Knute Rockne’s death in a crash of a Fokker F-10A led to accident investigation as we know it today
  • The Luftwaffe, beginning in 1939, began ejection seat development and thoroughly studied each spinal vertebrae for G-force resistance (a table is provided). This data is used today in the design of passenger seats.
  • When a jet engine has a contained failure or an uncontained failure it is termed as an engine burst
  • How 7000 pounds (3500kg) of titanium ingot is used to make a 6200 pound (~2820kg) billet that is subsequently cut into 700 pound  (~320kg) forging blanks to make fan disks. Why fan disks are forged and not cast as well as why the hard alphas must be detected (a type of crystal defect which increases the likelihood of disk failure).
  • Titanium ignites at half its melting point, which is a curiosity, and why a jet engine often has a short intense fire when a fan blade or disk fails. The titanium contacts the surrounding metal and ignites, titanium scrub, burning intensely but usually quickly extinguishes.
  • Everything in an airplane’s construction has a paper trail, and some trails over a decade and a half old have been tracked in aircraft crashes
  • The physics of hit-and-stick accidents as opposed to hit-and-slide accidents

This is an excellent book, not only full of information (tables, math formulae and sketches) but replete with knowledge which is easily understood. Reading this book will give a comprehensive understanding of airplane design as well crash investigation procedures.

Beyond the Black Box: the forensics of airplane crashes, George Bibel, 2007, ISBN 10: 0-8018-8631-7, 393 pp.

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