The Washington Times - August 24, 2008, 05:04AM

 

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By P. Jeffrey Black

And here is yet another story for the Bonehead files.

Imagine for a moment, coming out of your home and finding a police officer standing on the hood of your car.  And when you asked him what the hell he is doing, he tells you, “I’m just following routine department procedures by trying to break into your car –– to make sure your vehicle is properly secured of course.” 

And that’s when you realize he broke off your radio antenna while climbing up on the hood, and one of your tail-lights was also broken off when he used it as a step.  Then the officer gives you a costly citation for leaving one of your doors unlocked.

Farfetched you say?

Well not if your an airline and you have numerous milion dollar airplanes parked at an airport –– and you are routinely policed by the omniscient “security experts” in the Transportation Security Administration.

As reported by ABC News this week, nine American Eagle aircraft were sent to the maintenance hanger for inspections, after a ninja-like TSA inspector, in the middle of the night, used all nine aircraft as his own personal Jungle-Gym.

In doing so, the TSA inspector brazenly used fragile external sensors attached to the outside of the fuselage, as handholds and ladder steps to climb up onto the aircraft.  The next morning, maintenance crews and pilots fortunately noticed damage to numerous sensors, prior to disembarking on flights.

TSA spokesman Elio Montenegro stated that TSA routinely conducts these type of inspections at commercial airports, in an effort to determine if anyone could break into an aircraft sitting near the terminals.  “Our inspector was following routine procedures for securing the aircraft that were on the tarmac,” said Montenegro.

Say what?

If there is a TSA directive or policy that mandates inspectors trying to break into privately owned aircraft under the guise of “securing the aircraft,” I’d sure like to see it. Since when can the government so blatantly damage private property while conducting “routine” inspections?

Aero News Net publisher Jim Campbell summed it up best when he recently wrote about the incident:

Mind you, this is the same agency that now wants to step up supervision and surveillance of the General Aviation world. Would you trust these kind of folks around your airplane? I sure do not, and will not, and the first time that I see a TSA person attempt any interaction with any aircraft under my control, I will call the cops and do my utmost to see that person charged with a crime. TSA can not be trusted around Air Transport airplanes. Hell, TSA can not be trusted around General Aviation, and TSA has shown us little or no reason why they should be trusted, in any way, with the security of the traveling public. We’re fed up with the incompetence of this organization, and while it was simply “annoying” when they were sniffing our shoes or trying to rip off our laptops, it gets downright threatening when they start tampering with our airplanes. Yes, it’s time to scrap the TSA, and failing that, it is way past time that they be severely curtailed in their ability to harm others. Simply put, it’s time to reign in the TSA before they kill someone –– if they haven’t already.

So how serious can it really be to damage one of these external data sensors?  Could lives be in danger?  Could a damaged sensor cause an aircraft to crash? The simple answer is … absolutely.

                    

The sensor this TSA inspector decided to use as a ladder step is called the Total Air Temperature probe, or the TAT Probe, and its function is to measure the air temperature, which then gets inputted into the aircraft’s air data computer in order to compute the aircraft’s true airspeed, in addition to warning the pilots of any pending icing conditions.

Damaging such a sensor could be catastrophic in flight — or even immediately after takeoff.  The modern day electronic “glass cockpits” rely on important data transmitted from these external sensors.  If one of these sensors is damaged, the information transmitted to the aircraft’s computer systems, and ultimately relayed to the pilots, will be inaccurate.

                 

In one such example, the U.S. Air Force lost one of its prized B-2 bombers in Guam last February while it was taking off, when a sensor called the Pitot Tube was damaged and obstructed with excessive moisture.  This particular sensor measures an aircraft’s airspeed.  

In this particular case, the distorted and inaccurate information being transmitted from the pitot tube, caused the aircraft’s air data computer to incorrectly perceive the aircraft was nose down heading for the ground.  To compensate, the computer incorrectly reacted by forcing the aircraft’s nose up, thereby causing the aircraft to stall.

Below is the video of the B-2 bomber crashing.  The first bomber you will see rolling down the runway, will perform a proper take-off.  The second bomber taking off will show how the nose of the aircraft was ubruptly forced upward by the aircraft’s computer system, stalling the aircraft from lack of airflow over the wings. 

Without enough airspeed, the flow of air over the wing decreases, reducing the “lift” required to get the aircraft up in the air.  The end result is the aircraft cannot gain altitude and eventually falls back to the ground, which is exactly what happened to the B-2 bomber.

Both pilots successfully eject just seconds before the left wing hits the ground and the aircraft is destroyed in a fireball –– that’s 1.5 billion dollars up in smoke right before your eyes –– all because of a malfunctioning external sensor.

This just goes to show how delicate, yet vital these sensors are to the survivability of an aircraft — and that’s irrespective of some bonehead TSA inspector damaging similar sensors on passenger aircraft, by carelessly using them as handholds and ladder steps.