Skip to comments.NASA research facility to study tail of Flight 587
Posted on 11/30/2001 8:16:42 AM PST by csvset
NASA research facility to study tail of Flight 587
By STEVE STONE, The Virginian-Pilot
© November 30, 2001
The hunt for answers in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in New York about three weeks ago will move to Hampton Roads Monday when the jetliner's tail arrives here for study.
The jet's tail, pulled from Jamaica Bay near the Rockaway section of Queens, is being sent to the Structures and Materials Center at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton. Scientists and technicians there hope to learn why it separated from the aircraft just moments after takeoff.
``We'll be putting a team of our experts together and obtaining any help we need from across the country and from other government labs,'' said Mark Shuart, director of the center.
He expects many of the people who will be needed already are at Langley.
``We have 250 people,'' Shuart said, ``and I feel confident that we will have a lot of the skills that we need.''
Flight 587, an Airbus A-300-600, crashed into a Belle Harbor, N.Y., neighborhood at 9:17 a.m. on Nov. 12, just 93 seconds after lifting off runway 31-L at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The plane was on a scheduled flight to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. All 260 people aboard and five people on the ground died.
Although Flight 587 encountered turbulence from another jet twice after takeoff, investigators have said they doubt it was enough to snap off the tail.
NASA Langley was chosen to study the severed tail section ``because of its recognized expertise with composite materials and structures involving civil and military aircraft and spacecraft,'' said Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
The tail section -- the vertical stabilizer and rudder -- are being taken to Hampton from New York by truck.
Since shortly after the crash, there has been speculation that composite materials used in the tail's structure may have played a role in the disaster.
Airbus has used composite materials to reduce the weight of its aircraft since the mid-1980s. But NASA Langley has been working with composites for about 30 years.
``We're very familiar with these materials,'' Shuart said.
Shuart said his team may put tail components like those on Flight 587 through various tests to find under what conditions and stresses they fail.
``It could come to that,'' Shuart said. ``We may have to do some confirmation testing. But we have the capability with well over a dozen laboratories.''
This investigation is one of the highest profile tasks ever assigned to the facility, Shuart said. But Langley researchers have helped the NTSB before. For instance, they assisted in the investigation of an April 28, 1989, incident in which an Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-200 experienced explosive decompression near Maui, Hawaii. One crew member was killed.
The crew was able to make an emergency landing even though a huge section of the upper fuselage was missing.
The cause of the accident was traced to metal fatigue in the upper cabin area.
In the Flight 587 investigation, NASA scientists will be working closely with representatives of the NTSB, the FAA and its French counterpart, the BEA, as well as the manufacturers of the aircraft.
Shuart does not expect any quick answers to the cause of the crash. ``It will be a least spring before we have a formal report,'' he said.
Reach Steve Stone at 446-2309 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an official NTSB photo that looks aft over the top side of the left rear fuselage. It prominently shows the left center and left aft vertical stabilizer attachment points.
What is interesting, however, is on the lower center portion of the picture. It shows a gaping hole thru the fuselage where the aircraft's torn skin is bent upwards and outwards. This area, as well as the area immediately downwind of the gaping hole, is colored by a darkish residue. Could this be indicative of an in-flight explosion from inside the fuselage, near the left side of the vertical stabilizer?
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