RE: STC Transformation -- info

Subject: RE: STC Transformation -- info
From: Lippincott Richard J Contr ESC/NI <Richard -dot- Lippincott -at- hanscom -dot- af -dot- mil>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 2004 11:10:07 -0400

>Bonnie Granat said:
>> I am trying to figure out why I feel very uncomfortable whenever people
>> talk about the need to "demonstrate our value." I don't mean to
>> criticize any particular individual or organization, but this idea is
>> talked about a lot. I just don't get it.

My own theory (and it's just an opinion) is that we're in one of those professions where we're invisible when we've done the job correctly. As most of us do our jobs correctly, most of us tend to become invisible.

But when a tech writer fouls up somewhere, the results can be -very- visible.

I've cited this previously on this list, but the crash of American Airlines flight 587 (November 12, 2001) in New York City has been linked in part to a deficiency in the pilot's manual.

A good summary of the events can be found at:

The article states that when Flight 587 encountered wake turbulence from another aircraft, First Officer Sten Molin used the rudder pedals in an attempt to stabilize the airplane. The article notes that this is "unusual" as most pilots just use the ailerons under these circumstances.

What isn't mentioned specifically in the article is information that came out as part of the investigation: Molin's method actually is fairly common in aviation, and usually it works.

Most relevant to us: there was nothing in the Airbus-supplied tech manuals that would suggest that using the rudder pedals would be a bad thing. Not a peep. As the action wasn't prohibited, and as the action works on most airplanes, that's what Molin did. (The cockpit voice recorder even caught a brief segment of conversation where the pilot said something to the effect of "Are you sure that will work?" and Molin replied that it was OK per the manual.

Unfortunately, as the Airbus A300-600 has a composite vertical stabilizer, extreme rudder action during turbulence turns out to be a very bad thing as it overstresses the attach points. And more unfortunately, Airbus knew this. In fact it turned out that this was clearly stated in the engineering source data used by the Airbus tech writers.

But those tech writers didn't include the warning in the manuals supplied to American Airlines.

Notice towards the end of the BBC article the Airbus defense was "We teach pilots to use the aileron recovery method." True, but on the other hand Airbus never bothered to explain -why- it was teaching only that method.

We can only speculate, but perhaps had the warning been present Molin would not have used the rudder pedals, he and the pilot would have recovered using ailerons, and Flight 587 wouldn't have crashed. That would make the tech writers invisible in the process, and their value wouldn't be perceived as "having saved 265 people."

It's tough for us in a way, because for the most part we don't invent new functionality, or come up with the feature that increases sales, or improves productivity. We just tell it the way it is, which is the expectation from everyone, and thus we may not be seen as adding value.

It can be tough to fight that perception, and I can understand why a lot of people in our field have concerns about it.

--Rick Lippincott
Bedford, MA


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