Wednesday, May 01, 2013

It's Truly Terrifying

By now I’m sure you have all seen the horrifying video of the cargo Jet crash that happened in Afghanistan a couple days ago. If by some chance you’re one of the 3 people in the world who hasn’t seen it, you’ll find it in a ten-second YouTube search. Be warned – it’s seriously cringe-inducing. I’m certainly not going to link to it here.

Obviously, all 7 crew members on board were killed. I don’t know what was going through their minds as it happened, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of, “oh fuck, we’re all gonna fucking die!” or something like that.

The model of plane that crashed, a Boeing 747, is often used as a cargo jet. When Boeing first designed the 747, their original plan was that it would be eventually relegated to almost exclusively flying air freight, as its use as a passenger jet would become limited after the development of the supersonic airliner.

That, of course, never came about, and the 747 and its variants quickly became the workhorse of intercontinental air travel, and the staple long-range passenger jet for airlines around the world. And, of course, perhaps the most famous use of the plane is as Air Force One. That is changing, however, as the 747 is increasingly being supplanted as a passenger jet by smaller, more fuel-efficient airliners. While it will probably remain in use for decades to come as a cargo plane, its days as a passenger jet are numbered.

It’s still a terrifying thing to actually see one crash catastrophically. For sure, when one goes plummeting out of control into the ground it’s going to kill everyone in it, and likely anyone unlucky enough to be underneath it. And it may take a while to find the cause of the crash. The Taliban, of course, immediately claimed credit, but the most likely cause is probably cargo that shifted accidentally during takeoff. It’s a tricky thing to distribute cargo on a plane, so tricky that it takes a specially trained loadmaster to do it. And if that cargo moves in-flight, the result can easily be what happened in Afghanistan.

Of course, the whole idea of anything that large even being able to fly in the first place defies belief. A fully loaded 747-8 weighs nearly 500 tons, roughly the weight of 16 fully loaded tractor-trailers. Each of the plane’s four engines must generate over 66000 foot-pounds of thrust just to get the plane off the ground.

Part of that weight, of course, consists of over 64000 gallons of aviation fuel, meaning that any crash is going to result in a fireball hotter than the hottest fires of hell over an area of roughly 4 city blocks. In other words, your chances of surviving such a crash range somewhere between slim and none.

And yet, every day tens of thousands of people load themselves willingly onto these flying firebombs. I realize that the safety of commercial air travel has come a long way in the nearly a century now that people have been traveling by air. And your odds of dying in a plane crash are roughly equivalent to your odds of winning the lottery while simultaneously being struck by lightning.

But if you do happen to be in a plane crash, it’s probably going to kill you. There’s simply no getting around that. It’s simply something we have to live with.

There’s no denying, however, that it’s still horrifying when it happens.

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