USA Today Misses The Runway

Saturday, March 04, 2006 at 07:46 AM

Recent piece in USA Today claims "runways were too slick to land planes safely...."

This, of course, in reference to the crash some time back at Chicago's Midway airport, where a 737 slid off the runway and killed a little boy.

Nothing ticks me off more than someone landing a bad conclusion, especially when the data says otherwise, eh?

"The runway at Chicago's Midway International Airport was much slicker than pilots were led to believe on the snowy December night that a Southwest Airlines jet skidded through a fence and killed a 6-year-old boy, according to a USA TODAY analysis."

Whoa, time out! What about the other planes touching down before this one crashed? Gee, no mention of any other aircraft in trouble, correct? Yet, conditions appeared to be equally bad for the other planes.

The piece then meanders all over the place with this "study" about "runway physics" being the cause. Yada, yada, yada, and yet, buried close to the end, oh, here's a clue!!!

"For reasons that have not been explained, the Boeing 737-700's thrust reversers -- which help jets slow down -- did not begin operating for 18 seconds."

Help? On a rain or ice-slick runway, thrust reversers, or on some planes, reversing props slow a plane down pretty hard. Especially if the runway's a tad shorter than the recommended distance published by the manufacturer.

Of course, setting the "autobrake" feature to the "on" mode is SOP with jet approaches, yes. Smart pilots know, on slick runways, brakes are as useless as can be, depending more on cranking out maximum reverse thrust.

Thrusters, unlike brakes, use Newtonian physics to stop a plane. Brakes depend on gravity, mass, thermodynamics, ie, contact with the runway. Reversing engines? Ice, sleet, snow, it don't matter, the bird's gonna slow it down.

Providing, of course, they deploy. An 18-second gap at that speed? Hand me the Charmin, please. I can well imagine the pilots were terrified.

But, that's what kills me about this story: The headline should've read 18-SECOND DELAY IN REVERSE THRUST WAS REAL CAUSE OF CRASH.

As, obviously, the other planes managed to do without a hitch, or else, we'd have had one messy day at Midway, eh?

Oh, and USA Today? Don't publish stuff like this without first consulting aviators, okay? We might embarrass you.