French aviation authorities here admitted to a near-disaster which occured
about a month ago aboard an Airbus A320 jetliner. The controversial aircraft
with its 'fly-by-wire' flight controls has been the subject of intense
controversy since its introduction. The manufacturer, a consortium of
European interests, has steadfastly maintained the aircraft's inherent safety
over other aircraft, largely as a result of the computerized controls which
limit inputs from the pilots to ensure they are always compatible with
the current aerodynamic state of the plane. Pilots and other pundits have
argued that these same safeguards can severely limit the crew's options
in emergency conditions. Additionally, they argue that the increased
faith placed in the on-board computers leads to crew complacency and
The incident in question took place while the aircraft, a British Airways
plane, was at cruise between New York and Fairbanks. The co-pilot was
apparently entering new navigational data into the craft's INS (Inertial
Navigation System) when he misstyped a code. The INS came back with
'Invalid PIN number selected' and returned the craft's weight and balance
data to the astonished crew. "We tried several more times," exclaimed
Reginald Dwight, the Captain, "and every time it was the same thing. On
the third try it said "Access violation, contact your credit institution if
you believe there is an error." At that point all the plane's controls
froze and it refused to respond to our commands. We didn't know what to
do, so we got on the radio."
British Airway's mechanics were equally dumbfounded and decided to call
French mechanics. France's Aerospatial is the prime contractor for the
aircraft. 'The French were totally rude to us,' stated an unnamed
BA mechanic. 'They stated the problem was our fault and that "the pasty
little Englishman probably had too many meat pies and Guiness".' 'It wasn't
until we told them that Jerry Lewis was aboard the flight that they became
French mechanics traced the problem to the ATM-6000 INS computer, which was
a modified version of a computer used in the United States for bank
transactions. 'Essentially, the INS decided that the co-pilot was trying
to rip-off someone and locked the controls.' French authorities then assured
the English crew that the system would automatically remove the restrictions
at the start of the next banking day. 'We told them that we would be in the
sea by then!' exclaimed the frustrated copilot, Nigel Whitworth.
A French team, headed by Bertrand Swatboutie, determined that manual control
of the plane could be re-established if a crewmember went back to the
tailcone and operated the elevators manually. The rudder is linked by
backup cables to the cockpit and with the crewmember operating the
elevator they determined they would have enough control. 'There is nothing
wrong with ze plane,' exclaimed Swatboutie, 'that a little pinch in the
rear will not cure. Just like a woman. If these English souffres knew
anything about women, they would never have had to call us in the first
The plane was able to safely land at Denver's Stapelton airport, where the
craft was repaired and all crewmember's credit histories reviewed.
The Northrop Corporation has taken legal action to prevent a
Texas company from marketing a new product Northrop says
might be confused with its B-2 Stealth bomber.
The product: Stealth Condoms.
The slogan? They'll never see you coming.
Stealth condoms come in packages shaped like the bomber.
They are $5 for a package of three; one red, one white,
one blue. Also there's the matter of [the owner's]
voice mail message, "Howdy, this is John. Me and the
rest of the Stealth test pilots are out right now . . ."
[The owner] says he will fight to keep his company and name.
He feels he's got the better product: "We offer a heck of a lot
more protection than the Stealth bomber, at a lot less cost."
Sue and Bob, a pair of tightwads, lived in the midwest, and had
been married years. Bob had always wanted to go flying. The desire
deepened each time a barnstormer flew into town to offer rides. Bob
would ask, and Sue would say, "No way, ten dollars is ten dollars."
The years went by, and Bob figured he didn't have much longer, so
he got Sue out to the show, explaining, it's free to watch, let's at
least watch. And once he got there the feeling become real strong. Sue
and Bob started an argument. The Pilot, between flights, overheard,
listened to their problem, and said, "I'll tell you what, I'll take you
guys up flying, and if you don't say a word the ride is on me, but if one
of you makes one sound, you pay ten dollars."
So off they flew. The Pilot doing as many rolls and dives as he
could. Heading to the ground as fast as the plane could go, and pulling
out of the dive at just the very last second. Not a word. Finally he
admitted defeat and went back the field.
"I'm surprised, why didn't you say anything?"
"Well I almost said something when Sue fell out, but ten dollars
is ten dollars!"
I heard this from my brother, who is a Search and Rescue pilot at Canadian
Forces Base Bagotville, Quebec. It's an apocryphal story that allegedly
happened late one night during bad weather, as heard over the tower radio:
Helicopter Pilot: "Roger, I'm holding at 3000 over (such-and-such) beacon".
Second voice: "NO! You can't be doing that! I'm holding at 3000 over
(brief pause, then first voice again): "You idiot, you're my co-pilot."
A tower controller at a nameless airport in the southeast had a
reputation for screwing up the most routine things...
Me: xxxxx ground, Tiger 45210, South ramp, taxi, VFR to Charlotte 5500'.
Gnd: Tiger 210 taxi.. wind... upon departure... standby for squawk.
[we taxi about 20 feet]
Gnd: 210, say altitude.
Me: 210 is at 1048', climbing to 5500'
Gnd: 210! [starting to sound annoyed] ...uh... [sounding less
I was inbound from a nearby airport in a Tomahawk, while at the
same time our other Tomahawk was inbound from the practice area.
We called up almost at the same time the same distance from the
Twr: 591, traffic off your left is another Tomahawk.
591 (me): 591 has the traffic in sight.
Twr: 436, traffic off your right is another Tomahawk.
436: 436 has the traffic.
[brief pause while the controller figures out that we're the same distance
From the airport, going the same speed, on nearly parallel courses.]
Twr: You guys just want to fight it out amongst yourselves?
591: You go ahead, Sam.
436: Nah, I got Rodney under the hood; we'll make a wide pattern.
591: Ok. Tower, 591 will be number 1.
A little story that was told to me by somebody, but I forget who.
(I hope I didn't get it from the net, but I am reasonably sure I didn't).
In the middle of the night, over the radio during a quiet period
A/C I'm fucking bored!
F/S Last A/C transmitting please identify yourself
A/C I said I was fucking bored, not fucking stupid!
Student Naval Aviator (SNA) flying in back on an instrument hop, very lost,
very flustered, inadvertently keys XMIT instead of ICS to tell Instructor
Pilot (IP) he is less-than-optimally situationally aware:
SNA: (broadcasts to world) "Sir, I'm all fucked up."
Whiting TWR: "Aircraft using obscenity, identify yourself."
IP: "My student said he was fucked up; he didn't say he was stupid."
*Many* commercial aircraft are stacked up waiting for approach to
O'Hare Int'l, ATC has inflicted numerous delays, and some planes
are already 1-2 hours late. The WX is good, it's just that there
is a traffic bottleneck somewhere. Pilots, passengers, crew are
all getting quite frustrated and angry.
ATC: "All aircraft holding, expect 20 minutes additional delay."
Unknown A/C: "Ahhh . . . bullshit!"
ATC: "Aircraft making last transmission, identify yourself."
ATC: "Aircraft making last transmission, identify yourself immediately!"
ATC: "Aircraft using 'bullshit' in last transmission, identify yourself.
American 411, was that you?"
American 411: "Approach, American 411: negative on the 'bullshit,' sir."
NW 202: "Approach, NW 202: negative on the 'bullshit.'"
Delta 55: "Approach, Delta 55: negative on the 'bullshit.'"
NW 33: "Approach, NW 33: we have a negative on that 'bullshit.'"
. . . and so on, right through the entire pattern.
I am afraid that I have to blame Alice Dunsmuir for this one. She
was the occasional secretary and booking agent for Fat Moose. One
passanger was very worried about getting on an airplane that had a
bomb on board. The arguement that this was less than a one in a million
chance really was not working. So Alice suggested that the passanger
carry a bomb on board, for the chance of getting on an airplane with
two bombs on board was so small as to be almost never.
A friend of a friend, who is an airline copilot, told the
following stories about a captain with whom he often flew.
This guy was an excellent pilot, but not real good at making
passengers feel at ease.
For example, one time the airplane in front of him blew a tire
on landing, scattering chunks of rubber all over the runway.
He was aked to hold while the trucks came out and cleaned up.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid there will be a
short delay before our arrival. They've closed the
airport while they clean up what's left of the last
airplane that landed there.
Then there was the time they were flying through turbulence.
Some of the passengers became alarmed at how much the wings
were bending in the rough air and one of the flight attendants
relayed that message to the captain. His announcement:
Ladies and gentlemen, I've been informed that some
of you have noticed our wings bending in the turbulence.
In fact, the flight attendant told me that the wing
tips are bending as much as ten feet in the bumps.
Well, that's perfectly normal; there's nothing to
worry about. Our wings are designed to bend as much
as thirteen feet at the tips and, as you can see,
we're nowhere near that yet.
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