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Home > Air Crash > How Wake Turbulence brought down American Airlines Flight 587
How Wake Turbulence brought down American Airlines Flight 587
Aviation - Air Crash
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 12:02
Dear Capt Lim,

First I would like to congratulate you for this very useful FAQ section.

I am very uncomfortable flying but what used to calm me down was what a pilot once said: "turbulence doesn’t make a plane to crash, it is only uncomfortable".

However, after watching the video about the Airbus A300 crash in NY 2001, it made me feel that the rough turbulence DID make that plane to crash (plus the lack of experience of the co pilot since I imagine that as a pilot, he surely went through and passed all of the training he was supposed to have undergone)

So now, my fear is even bigger... yes, turbulence can take a plane down!

I would appreciate if you could explain to me more about that crash.

Was that turbulence really a tough one and could any pilot have made such a mistake (that led the plane to crash...)?

Thank you.

Leticia (Brazil)

Hi Leticia,

I think you may have misunderstood what the pilot had said to you about turbulence. I have covered this topic many times in my “Air Turbulence” category in this site.

Generally, when one talk about turbulence, it is associated with bumpiness arising from the rough air caused by the weather. Wake turbulence is a different kettle of fish. Wake turbulence is not caused by the natural weather phenomena. Instead, it is generated by another airplane and has been described as a so-called "mini-horizontal tornado". It is created by another aircraft's wings that stir up the tornadoes, known as vortices, as they slice through the air. (see Video below)


NASA Airliner Wing Vortice Tests


FAA recommends a four-mile separation between planes to avoid wake turbulence caused by such vortices. This unseen danger can lurk and drift in the air for some time. In tests, engineers have measured vortices stretching about 8 miles long. Whether it would be a danger to another preceding aircraft would depend on the prevailing wind. A strong crosswind would generally be less dangerous as the bulk of the wake turbulence would be blown away.


Animation on the wake turbulence encounter of Flight 587


Flights are more vulnerable at some moments than others especially when it flies at low-speed just after take-off and before landing.

Yes, Flight 587 (see here) was a victim of wake turbulence. See full video below (When loading is slow, select Play on ALL Parts (1-4) to load and volume (speaker) to low. When fully loaded (red line) after a while, select ‘Replay' with volume to view without interruption)


Flight AA587 (Plane Crash In Queens) Part 1



Flight AA587 (Plane Crash In Queens) Part 2



Flight AA587 (Plane Crash In Queens) Part 3



Flight AA587 (Plane Crash In Queens) Part 4

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Comments (7)

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...
So if some vortices can be eight miles long, shouldn't there be AT LEAST eight miles between planes?
Derek , 18 May, 2009
...
Also, can airplanes not fly without a rudder? Don't they have the lift they need? And I thought engines could not be ripped from planes, but apparently they can.
Derek , 18 May, 2009
Rudder shouldn't have done that
Rudders should be as tough as the aleirons and elevator. If Airbus knows there is a structural speed limit for the full deflection then they should put a speed limit notification on the Indicated Airspeed Gauge just as they do with flaps. Or make the rudder's full deflection less at high speed. And aleirons don't extend the same way at all speeds. 250 knots isn't a crazy speed to be using all of your rudder. Airbuses are known for the computer systems preventing pilot error, where was it here if airbus knew there plane was a weak piece of junk? I'm sorry, when I'm flying and I need rudder, if the tail plane snaps off I'm going to blame the manufacturer. Blaming this accident on the pilot is sad. He may have been wrong to use the rudder, but it certainly shouldn't have snapped off the tail. That;s pretty much unheard of, I can't think of any other accident related to that, and believe me pilots slam the rudder around when they have to. 250 knots, as I said, isn't a lot at all. The point of structural maneuvering limits is higher than 250 knots on an A300. At that altitude you should probably worry about that at around 300 - 330 knots.
Chris , 16 Jul, 2009
after watching seconds before disaster on this flight
Right so aggressive use of the rudder can bring a plane down. #1 isn't that unsafe and #2 how many pilots have aggressively used the rudder on the plane your flying before you? meaning structural damage is already bad, meaning even normal rudder use will crash the plane?
sam , 26 Jul, 2011
after watching seconds before disaster on this flight
Right so aggressive use of the rudder can bring a plane down. #1 isn't that unsafe and #2 how many pilots have aggressively used the rudder on the plane your flying before you? meaning structural damage is already bad, meaning even normal rudder use will crash the plane?
sam , 26 Jul, 2011
Ok respond!
Right so aggressive use of the rudder can bring a plane down. #1 isn't that unsafe and #2 how many pilots have aggressively used the rudder on the plane your flying before you? meaning structural damage is already bad, meaning even normal rudder use will crash the plane?
Jeffrey , 09 Jan, 2012
...
Right so aggressive use of the rudder can bring a plane down. #1 isn't that unsafe and #2 how many pilots have aggressively used the rudder on the plane your flying before you? meaning structural damage is already bad, meaning even normal rudder use will crash the plane?
Jeffrey , 09 Jan, 2012

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