Monday, March 03, 2008

Almost Funny

China is becoming the world's shipyard. The land that has recently given us lead toys, tainted animal food and other assorted unhealthy goods, is now poised to become the leader in seagoing transportation. One certainly hopes they have better quality assurance programs than they do for their airplanes.
For anybody who is not familiar with a jet engine, a jet fan blade should be perfectly smooth.
A pilot for a Chinese carrier requested permission and landed at FRA (Frankfurt,Germany) for an unscheduled refueling stop. The reason became soon apparent to the ground crew: The Number 3 engine had been shutdown previously because of excessive vibration, and because it didn't look too good. It had apparently been no problem for the tough guys back in China: as they took some sturdy straps and wrapped them around two of the fan blades and the structures behind, thus stopping any unwanted wind-milling (engine spinning by itself due to airflow passing thru the blades during flight) and associated uncomfortable vibration caused by the suboptimal fan.

Note that the straps are resourceful! After making the "repairs", off they went into the wild blue yonder with another revenue-making flight on only three engines! With the increased fuel consumption, they got a bit low on fuel, and just set it down at the closest airport (FRA) for a quick refill.
That's when the problems started: The Germans, who are kind of picky about this stuff, inspected the malfunctioning engine and immediately grounded the aircraft. (Besides the seat-belts, notice the appalling condition of the fan blades.) The airline operator had to send a chunk of money to get the first engine replaced (took about 10 days). The repair contractor decided to do some impromptu inspection work on the other engines, none of which looked all that great either. The result: a total of 3 engines were eventually changed on this plane before it was permitted to fly again.

I checked with Snopes and the status is still undetermined but it does make you think. And no, I don't think the seat belts were there during flight, it's probably to hold them together during the inspection.

Still, it makes for a different conspiracy theory than 9/11 or whether or not martial law will be declared before the presidential elections.


  1. Ironically, the fan blades on modern jet aircraft are designed to take a certain amount of punishment--have to be able to absorb the impact of the odd bird...but...every blade on the engine with that kind of damage?!

    The mind boggles.

  2. Definitely gives one cause to worry...but then I don't fly anymore.

  3. Hello, Deb.
    Unfortunately, this problem is not limited to China or to aircraft.

    There has been, for some twenty years now, a lot of cheap steel coming into the States from India. They cut up old ships and make pipe from the steel.
    The problem is that the pipe just doesn't hold up as well. In fact, a lot of it comes in egg-shaped on delivery.

    I look at that picture and think that, were they to take samples from those turbines, I'm sure they would find something out of spec there.
    In fact, there are probably visible signs that an experienced inspector would immediately notice without having to do any lab work on a sample. Excessive stress has a way of showing itself.

    It's time we recognized the laws of physics as international law.
    (of course, the US would never ratify such a thing...)