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“Spiegel Online International
Champagne Before the CrashPilot Bravado May Be to Blame for Superjet Disaster
By Matthias Schepp and Gerald Traufetter
A foolhardy maneuver by the pilot may have led to the crash of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 in Indonesia last week. Hopes were high that the new passenger jet could revive Russia 's aviation industry and the pilot wanted to do all he could to ensure success.
The Superjet had just entered Indonesian airspace on its demonstration flight when a half-naked passenger wielding a shiny, silver trident made his way into the cockpit. Sergey Dolya, a 39-year-old Russian travel journalist and aviation blogger, had bared his chest, tied on a long white beard and donned a crown made of silver paper.
Dolya had slipped into the role of the god Neptune north of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. "I imitated an equator-crossing ceremony 10,000 meters above sea level," he says. "Usually only seamen do that."
Dolya wanted to celebrate the fact that a Sukhoi SSJ 100 ("Superjet") had penetrated the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. All the hopes of Russia 's aviation industry rest on this passenger jet, designed by a company with an 80-year history of manufacturing military aircraft.
The plane was on a demonstration tour aimed at breaking into the dynamic Asian market. President Nursultan Nazarbayev had already inspected the Superjet when it made an intermediate stop in Kazakhstan . Now the Russians were hoping to make an impression on potential buyers in Indonesia .
The mood on board was fantastic, and Dolya reports there was champagne. In the cockpit, the copilot snapped a photo of the faux Neptune with his cell phone. Indonesian flight attendants wearing high heels and short skirts posed for pictures.
A Level-Headed Pilot
A day later, the Russian crew of eight and all of the plane's 37 passengers were dead. It would appear that Alexander Yablontzev, the captain on the flight, had allowed himself to become infected by the general exuberance during the Wednesday afternoon demonstration flight.
Strictly speaking, hardly any other pilot was better qualified to man the controls on the test flight in Jakarta than the 57-year-old veteran. Friends describe him as a level-headed pilot. He had logged over 10,000 flying hours on more than 80 different types of aircraft. And when the Superjet made its maiden flight in May 2008, Yablontzev was the test pilot sitting in its cockpit.
Russian photographer Marina Lystseva likewise has nothing bad to say about Yablontzev. The young Moscow resident and friend of Dolya was very lucky: The only reason she wasn't on the afternoon flight was because she had already taken enough pictures on the morning flight. She has known Captain Yablontzev for a long time and says he loved the airplane and "wanted the jet to succeed with every fiber of his body."
There is much to suggest that this is precisely what led him and his passengers to their demise. Indeed, the pressure to make sure the Superjet mission succeeded was massive.
Only in February, when he was still Russia 's prime minister, President Vladimir Putin signed a €43 billion ($55 billion) program whose stated goal was to help Moscow 's aviation industry capture 10 percent of the global market for passenger aircraft by 2025. At present, its market share is less than 1 percent.
To date, most of Sukhoi's Superjet sales have been to Aeroflot , Russia 's state-run airline, at a cut-rate price of just €15 million apiece. But the Kremlin envisions the SSJ 100 as a future global competitor to aircraft that are twice as expensive, especially Canada 's Bombardier CRJ and Brazil 's Embraer 190.”
The Most Spectacular Air Show Possible
Many experts doubt the Superjet will be able to establish a foothold in the highly competitive global market, and the embarrassing disaster in Indonesia makes its prospects even grimmer. For now, the important thing will be to swiftly determine the cause of the crash. Did the aircraft malfunction, or is the crew to blame? "Pilot error would naturally be the best outcome for Sukhoi," says William Voss, president of the Virginia-based Flight Safety Foundation.
Even if technical problems are not ruled out, the evidence points in that direction. The flight path alone, which has been reconstructed using radar data, leads one to suspect that the Superjet's final flight was mainly about one thing: offering potential buyers of the competitively priced regional jet the most spectacular air show possible.
Immediately after taking off on Wednesday afternoon, Captain Yablontzev turned south, flew over the city of Bogor and made an initial circle around the volcano on whose steep sides the flight would soon meet its tragic end. The crew then requested permission to descend to 1,800 meters (5,900 feet), though its reasons for doing so remain a mystery.
"In this mountainous region," says Voss, the aviation expert, "there is no reason for a sensible pilot to descend to such an altitude."
Nevertheless, Yablontzev steered the airplane directly toward Mount Salak , the dormant volcano the Jakarta Post has dubbed "an airplane graveyard." Indeed, several aircraft have crashed into the mountain, including an Indonesian Air Force plane in a June 2008 accident that claimed 18 lives.
It was precisely here that Yablontzev wanted to show off the aircraft's abilities. To make matters worse, massive clouds were gathering around the mountain at the time. Locals consider the area the rainiest and stormiest in all of Indonesia .
A number of factors make approaching the volcano an incalculable risk, including steep mountain ridges, the steaming-hot rainforest and the chaotic air-circulation patterns. What's more, the airplane was most likely shooting above the rugged landscape at a speed of 130 meters per second (290 miles per hour).
It is almost impossible to safely maneuver passenger planes like the Superjet under such circumstances -- particularly because, unlike with military jets, the engines of these planes only react to thrust commands with a slight delay. For this reason, passenger airlines are supposed to maintain a 1,000-meter safety buffer from mountains -- a rule that Captain Yablontzev apparently violated. "The crash casts a spotlight on the mind-set of Russian aviation," says Heinrich Grossbongardt, an aviation expert based in the northern German city-state of Hamburg . With any Western airline, he adds, such behavior would be viewed as reckless bravado.
Images from the crash site show that the airplane was banking to the right when it slammed into the mountainside. This could indicate that Yablontzev was making a final attempt to pull the airplane up and over the mountain range. "The pilot had absolutely no experience with the area's unique topographical traits," notes Jan Richter, a Hamburg-based flight-safety expert.
What's more, one photo taken by the blogger Dolya right before the flight suggests that the automatic terrain warning system was turned off. The photo shows part of the instrument panel in the plane's cockpit, and the button corresponding to the warning system clearly shows a "fault" message and that it is deactivated.” [Sabotage]”
“Vancouver Sun … Manthorpe: Crash sours Russian hopes of a civilian aviation revival …. BY JONATHAN MANTHORPE, VANCOUVER SUN MAY 14, 2012
Russia’s efforts to regain the position as a world-class industrial nation that it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago suffered a serious setback last week when its much-vaunted Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliner crashed into an Indonesian mountain while on a demonstration flight.
All 45 people on the plane — crew, journalists, airline representatives and Russian diplomats — were killed when it crashed into Mount Salak about 50 kilometres south of the Indonesian capital Jakarta .
The Superjet 100 is the first commercial airliner developed and built by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and is intended to compete with Canada ’s Bombardier and Brazil ’s Embraer in the market for regional carriers of up to 100 passengers.
It is intended by the Russian government to be the first step along the road to the revival of the country’s once-significant civil aviation industry and to spur the reindustrialization of Russia , whose economy for the past 20 years has become increasingly dependent on the sale of natural resources.
So far, there is no judgment on whether the cause of the crash was a technical malfunction or pilot error.
If the investigation shows the cause was human error, it will not be as serious a blow to the rebirth of Russia ’s aerospace industry as it would be if a design or construction fault is blamed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2006 flagged the Superjet 100 as a priority project and pushed the formation of a giant state aircraft holding company, United Aviation Corporation (UAC), to oversee the revival of the commercial aerospace industry.
Russia has maintained a military aviation industry with modernized versions of old Soviet-era warplanes such as the Sukhoi SU-30 and the MiG-35. These have been sold both to the Russian air force and to China , India , Malaysia and Venezuela .
There has been only limited development of new warplanes of which the most innovative is the Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter-bomber being produced jointly with India .
But the civilian aviation industry was allowed to become almost entirely moribund.
But now, Moscow plans to invest about $55 billion in aviation development by 2025. By that time, Moscow wants to be producing airliners to compete with the world’s two major manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus [most of whose aircraft have been illegally modified with FADEC by Marcy’s erstwhile colleagues in the U.S. Small Business Administration program], and to capture about 10 per cent of the global market.
However, to achieve that, Russia is having to relearn and develop skills lost since the death of the industry that once produced Illyushin, Tupolev and Antonov aircraft.
The Superjet 100 is a partnership project, primarily with French and Italian aviation companies, though even Boeing has acted as a consultant.
About 70 per cent of the plane, which is assembled at Komsomolsk-on-Amur north of Vladivostok in Russia ’s Far East , is made from components manufactured abroad.
The Superjet 100’s maiden flight was in May 2008, and it first went into commercial service in April last year. So far, four prototypes have been built, as well as eight versions of the plane, which are in commercial service in Russia and Armenia .
Last week’s crash came on the fourth leg of a six-stage Asian tour aimed at selling the plane to regional carriers.
The plane, its crew and sales team had already visited Burma , Pakistan and Kazakhstan and were going on from Indonesia to Vietnam and Laos .
UAC hopes to sell about 1,000 of the Superjet 100s, 70 per cent of them in the international market, though only about 200 have been ordered so far.
The sales pitch for the Superjet 100 emphasizes its lower costs than its Embraer and Bombardier competitors.
The Russian planes cost about $24 million each, and UAC claims they are up to eight per cent cheaper to operate than their Canadian and Brazilian rivals.
Captain Field McConnell yesterday offered to help Sukhoi and Russia gain robust sales of the Superjet as he is willing to become a 'demonstration' pilot for Sukhoi and/or Russia. His letter to Sukhoi and the Russian Embassy yesterday may be viewed: www.abeldanger.net
Having 230% the flying experience of the Russian Captain, who may have experienced a wrongful death, having 3750 of his 23,000 hours in similar Airbus A320 family jets and having demonstrated the worlds lowest jet to jet air refueling in aviation history, Field believes he could not only lead Russia to more exports but lead Russian aviation investigators to the true cause of the event that ended the life of those aboard.
Before responding, please explore Civil Case 3:07-cv-24 and Civil Case 1:08-1600 (RMC) (Pro Se) MCCONNELL v. ALPA in both cases.