Happy New Year to all (both?) my readers, and to all my esteemed colleagues at VT. We may not agree on everything, sometimes not on anything, but that does not mean that we do not respect each other! In the clandestine world, what may sound strange often turns out to be true.
One of my biggest regrets of the outgoing year – apart from being fitted up by the Cabinet Office for something I didn’t do, of course – has been my failure to reach out to the aviation community. It’s not been for want of trying, I assure you. Sadly neither Spyhunter, nor my columns on VT, nor my article on the MH370 shootdown for British Mensa’s aviation newsletter Flypaper, broke through to the mainstream media, nor the specialist aviation press.
The result has been that pilots are still unaware of how MH370 was shot down. Although they are more alert to the high altitude missile threat after the murderous shooting down by the Chinese and the Ukrainians of Flight MH17 they are tending to blame the Russians. They have no idea of the threat axis. Had I broken through with Spyhunter, then 370 would not have been shot down, indeed I doubt the Chinese would even have tried.
What happened to QZ8501? Not every unexplained aircraft loss is a shootdown. Muppets in the mainstream media (think dear old Trigger in Only Fools and Horses) immediately drew comparisons between the disappearance from radar screens of Flights QZ8501 and MH370. No one referred to my analysis on 370, which officially is still a mystery (the shootdown, that is, not my analysis, except to non-VT readers!), even though every major government in the world knows where the wreckage is. It’s at the bottom of the South China Sea.
Even informed commentators, of which there are precious few when it comes to aviation, harked back to AF447, which as I explain in Spyhunter was shot down by an Iranian Kilo class SSK, using their version of the Phoenix. That missile, by the way, was displayed in Teheran in November 2013, more than 18 months after the first draft of my book began circulating in the intelligence community, i.e. I accurately predicted the existence of a covert Iranian missile program, the existence of which was denied by CIA and MI6.
My preliminary analysis at this time is that the A320-200 stalled in bad weather after the pilot in command lost control. We know that one of the two pilots asked for a change in course due to bad weather, and that bad weather was reported by other aircraft.
With a shootdown radio frequencies are usually jammed, as they were with MH370. The jamming typically begins some minutes away from the interception point, indeed it has to because a missile’s rocket motor exhaust can be seen from many miles away, even during the day. The final transmission strikes me as being too close in time to the aircraft going down for a shootdown.
The plane seems to have gone in pretty quickly, consistent with a stall, followed by lack of effective recovery action. A rate of descent of 10,000 ft a minute is not unknown in this situation. Cockpit workload can become intense, and the lack of a Mayday call is not too surprising. With a rate of descent that rapid there would be chaos in the airplane and significant distractions for the poor pilots – passengers screaming, luggage tumbling out of overhead bins, out of control drinks trolleys, Jeppesens manuals flying everywhere, horns blaring, that sort of thing. There’s always some idiot who hasn’t fastened his seat-belt, and who goes flying through the cabin as the kite goes tits-up (an old aviation saying), or noses down into her death dive.
I would not be surprised if the black boxes show an engine flaming-out due to water ingestion, putting the plane in an asymmetric condition. We may even find that she spun in, i.e. the stall was followed by a spin. Since I wrote that I have learnt that the wreckage is upside down, which tends to confirm my suspicions.
I called in Spyhunter for a review of cockpit alarm systems. In far too many cases they are as much a threat themselves, as a warning, as they distract the pilots. If you’re descending at say 10,000 feet per minute and you’re at FL380 (38,000 feet) you don’t have a lot of time in which to regain control of the airplane. Precious time was probably wasted in cancelling multiple alarms.
It is perfectly clear that all 162 souls aboard have been lost, sadly. The wreckage has now been located, in shallow water, barely 13 fathoms. That’s another strong argument against this being a shootdown – the Iranians or the Chinese, the two states which to date have blasted helpless civilian airliners out of the sky without warning with modified AIM-54s, would only shoot down over deep water. It’s too easy to recover the black boxes and the wreckage from shallow water.
Unlike Sir Richard Branson, who is being targeted because of his commendable support for space exploration, and one of whose 747s may have been sabotaged over the holidays (a main landing gear failed to retract), there is no reason to suppose that Tony Fernandes is being targeted by the Bad Guys, aka the Chinese, the Germans and assorted Islamic allies.
Can a weather system really bring down a modern airliner? Absolutely. Airmen and women have been underestimating the power of weather for a hundred years. There are several recorded instances of aircraft breaking up in bad weather – not this case – or losing control. The Boeing 707 is a pretty strong airplane and some are still in service 56 years after the first 707-121 entered revenue-earning service, for dear old PanAm. A BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation, aka ‘Better Off on A Camel’) 70’ still broke up over Mount Fuji, Japan, due to Clear Air Turbulence. A number of jetliners have gone down after the pilots lost control due to bad weather.
Of course with an A320 it won’t have been the pilot in command who lost control, but the French Flight Management System. Remember that A320 that went in at the air show, at a silly alpha angle? That was a computer-assisted crash, and this was probably another one.
David Learmount of Flight International and I have only spoken or e-mailed a couple of times over the years, and we rarely agree with each other, but I do respectfully endorse his opinion piece in the London Daily Telegraph for New Year’s Eve. Pilots these days have got out of the habit of flying the plane. Moreover they tend to obsess with restoring the FMS if it goes for a burton and forget that they’re pilots, not IT specialists. The first thing you do in an emergency is aviate. You’ve got to fly the plane. Only then do you navigate and communicate, in that order.
Sadly, as some of AirAsia’s passengers have found out to their cost, ‘no-frills’ does not necessarily mean no thrills. I predicted in Spyhunter that there would be a major disaster involving a low-cost carrier. I am not getting at Tony Fernandes, the owner of AirAsia. He is, I gather, a genuinely nice man (and if the message from a mutual acquaintance reaches him, it IS from me!). He is plainly deeply affected by the distress of the next of kin. He will be even more distressed when the bills come in. As the old adage has it, if you think safety is expensive, try having an accident!
There are several problems with the low-cost business model, three of which may have contributed to this disaster. Firstly the planes are over-used. Turn-round times are too short and there’s too much pressure on pilots to fly the shortest route. Secondly, there’s too much pressure to cut down fuel usage and thirdly pilots tend to have been trained elsewhere, not by the airline. I gather Airasia’s pilots are mostly ex-military. That’s fine, but transport aircraft aren’t agile, like combat aircraft. You can get away with stalling a military kite, but you should NEVER stall a commercial transport aircraft in revenue service.
You will find they are not as easy to recover. Subsonic kites like the A320 are designed for fuel efficiency. Outside the envelope they tend to be difficult to fly. My old Bulldog, in the University of Wales Air Squadron, was a delight to fly, although you had to treat it with caution and students were not permitted to spin them, for good reason. They also stalled left-wing low, from memory, but you always got plenty of warning of the approaching stall, and stall recovery was easy, if you remembered to level the wings! Stalling a heavily-laden A320 is not so simple.
I exclude Southwest Airlines from this criticism. It has been going long enough to build up a corporate safety-oriented culture and it was founded by people who knew aviation. It has an excellent safety record and the company appears to trust its pilots. It has also passed critical mass, with good safety, compliance and engineering back-up, and flies Boeings, not the slightly dodgier Airbuses.
Air Traffic Control Failings — Indonesian ATC is not coming out of this too well. Why was the plane not given an alternate heading, as requested? If the pilot of a commercial airliner wants to get out of the way of weather, let him or her. Over the ocean and well away from a terminal area frankly there shouldn’t be much conflicting traffic. Such requests should be treated as urgent and over-riding. If you ignore them you can’t be heard to complain if the fight then disappears from your radar screen and you have to organise an air search. Aviation in Indonesia has clearly expanded too rapidly.
I completely disassociate myself from the widespread sexist criticism of Fox News anchorwoman Anna Kooiman, who happens to be blonde (and a rather good-looking blonde too, if I may say so!). She suggested on air that metric/Imperial measurement confusion might have been a possible cause of the disaster. That is not as silly as it sounds. The A320 is designed entirely in metric, but its instruments are calibrated in Imperial, and designed by people who don’t understand the system.
There is no evidence that confusion between the two systems of measurement played a part in this disaster, but Anna was speaking on the day the plane went down and nobody knew that at the time. Her ill-informed critics should acquaint themselves with the near-tragedy of the Gimli Glider, a brand-new Air Canada 767 that crashed at Gimli, near Winnipeg, having run out of fuel. Air Canada, under pressure from French-Canadian bureaucrats in Ottawa, had insisted that the new plane be ordered in metric, for political reasons. Nobody knew how to do the conversions and the plane ended up taking off with the right amount of fuel, but in pounds not kilos, i.e. the pilots thought they had 2.2 times more fuel than they actually had. Nobody died because the captain was a sailplane pilot and knew how to sideslip, thereby making the field. Wide-bodied airliners are not normally flown sideways, and he didn’t get that out of the manual. Most pilots would have put the plane down on a suburb of Winnipeg.
On a jet, fuel, sensibly, is measured in pounds. On my old Lycoming piston-engined Bulldog the fuel gauges read in gallons, from memory. It’s a while ago now, but I think we had two wing tanks – I do remember the fuel cock being on the floor of the cockpit, between your legs (good place for a cock, I hear you saying!). You had to bend down, lift it, then move it between tanks, or to take fuel from both, or shut off fuel altogether, from memory. It was on the student pilot’s side and it was always an anxious moment for the instructors if you had to move it in flight!
More than 100 lives have been lost in mid-air collisions involving Soviet-era airplanes with altimeters calibrated in metric flying at the wrong attitude. So, way to go Anna! If she wants to invite me back onto Fox to talk about the Gimli Glider, I’d be happy to oblige!
Our not very bright media continue not to grasp the point. Ebola is a German WMD campaign, masterminded by the DVD. Journalists, who tend not to be the sharpest knives in the box, have queried why Nurse Pauline Cafferkey, the courageous British Ebola volunteer, was permitted to board a flight to Glasgow from Heathrow despite displaying symptoms which suggested that the poor lass had come down with a touch of Ebola. Because it’s a German WMD campaign that is what we would expect, given that the Cabinet Office is under effective German control and our state bureaucracy is controlled from the Cabinet Office.
The idea of our Ebola ‘precautions’ at the frontier is not to prevent the disease being spread, but to encourage it. That’s why returning health workers are being encouraged to go home on the Tube – it’s an ideal incubator. Whilst the Germans and the Cabinet Office will naturally have been disappointed with the lack of Ebola deaths in the UK so far, it was poor intelligence practice with respect to have been so obvious. Not so obvious that the mainstream media could spot it – you would have to have Cabinet Office officials with swastika armbands waving around hypodermics loaded with Ebola virus before the media worked it out – but so obvious that some of the smarter MPs must be starting to think. MPs aren’t that bright either, but they tend to be smarter than journalists, at least in my party. There are no bright Liberal Democrats, by definition (they’re liberals).
The Glasgow Queen St murders
It’s now perfectly clear that the victims of the Glasgow Corporation trash truck incident were murdered by GO2. Software tampering, possibly combined with remote control, is the favoured explanation. There has been no police investigation, other than a superficial one, and the Fatal Accidents Inquiry will be as farcical as the Piper Alpha inquiry, no offense to Lord Cullen intended (His Lordship was one of the judges who supported the with respect facile Lockerbie murder verdict against the Libyan intelligence officer and patsy, al-Megrahi).
The Scottish Executive has to decide what value it wishes to attribute to Scottish life. The message coming out of Edinburgh at the moment, loud and clear, is that the Germans can murder innocent Scots at will. It’s unlikely that Edinburgh will change its murder at will policy in 2015. They’ll stick to ordering in extra body bags, meaningless expressions of sympathy and grief counselling. These things are all laudable but I’d rather stop the grief being caused in the first place. No-one should have to see their daughter and parents murdered before their eyes whilst out Christmas shopping.
The Cabinet Office’s fake E-3 grounding
Not the least absurd claim in the bogus prosecution of me for a bomb hoax (no offense) is that the RAF grounded their E-3D Sentries during Operation Vulcan because Boeing or Northrop Grumman, sub-contractor on the pylon struts, screwed up their stress calculations and the bolts were so understrength they were liable to fail in flight. In vain did I point out that the USAF, NATO, the Royal Saudi Air Force and the French Armee de l’Air had not grounded their aircraft.
The CPS, despite being asked, were unable to come up with a single piece of paperwork to support their with respect preposterous argument. They led inadmissible hearsay evidence from Squadron Leader Robin Evans RAF, who was clearly acting in good faith and had no idea that his evidence was inadmissible, or even controversial. Only under cross-examination from me did he admit, quite readily, that he had not checked the bolts himself, and was relying entirely on statements from other people and a document he was ordered not to disclose, and which the defense and the jury never saw.
However there was no chance of my getting official support from anyone on the E-3s. If you’re a member of the E-3 community, or live near an E-3 base, or have evidence of E-3s operating from April 11 to 23 2012 my legal team would I am sure be most grateful to hear from you.
Classic Bond Movie of the Week – Octopussy (1983), dir. John Glen
Another underrated Bond movie, this is one of my favorites. The plot hangs together, the Indian backdrop is impressive, and the character of Octopussy, played by Maud Adams, is alluring. Louis Jordan is a good (i.e. bad) baddie and for aviation enthusiasts, there those fun scenes of the fight on the top of the Beech 18. I’ve always been fond of the 18, a few of which are still flying. Steven Berkoff, as General Orlov, is very good, and this is one of the few Bond movies (From Russia With Love is another) with a steam train!
My favorite scene however is the auction. This is very well done. Douglas Wilmer, as Fanning, the Secret Service’s art adviser, is quite superb. He is one of a series of outstanding character actors who have contributed so much down the years to this much-loved genre. Think of Richard Vernon in Goldfinger, or Edward Underdown in Thunderball.
Robert Brown, who first appeared as Roger Moore’s sidekick in the classic television series Ivanhoe, named for Sir Walter Scott’s fictional knight, with its stirring theme tune and subversive theme that Good will always triumph over Evil, is a very good M; Ivanhoe has such a strong moral theme, by the way, that no British TV station dare repeat it, and even DVDs are hard to come by. The definitive M will always be Bernard Lee, but I doubt that the producers could have come up with a better actor for the role than Brown, the quintessentially British and Eton-educated Edward Underdown, by then being aged 75.
Sir Roger Moore is on fine form in Octopussy. He had really grown into the part by this time. There is a fine mixture of humor, drama and pathos in Octopussy. I am quite sure that Ian Fleming would have enjoyed this movie, distantly related to his writing as it is.
~ New Year’s Day 2015