AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 20

PROFICIENT PILOT

Point of no return

BY BARRY SCHIFF

No practical meaning in civil aviation?
AS MOST OF US ARE AWARE, United Flight 328 departed
Denver for Honolulu on February 20, 2021, and experienced a catastrophic failure of the number two (right)
engine several minutes after takeoff and while climbing
through 12,500 feet. The failure of the Pratt & Whitney
PW4000 turbofan engine on this Boeing 777-the fifth
one built-appears to have been caused by the fatigue
fracture and separation of a compressor blade.
The crippled flight returned to Denver and landed
safely. The passengers were then transferred to another
triple seven. Coincidentally, this was the fourth one
built. But here is the bizarre part. The replacement ship
had experienced a similar event on a flight from San
Francisco to Honolulu on February 13, 2018. Operating
as United Flight 1175, the number two engine failed

The navigator announced dramatically, " I have news
for you guys. We just passed the point of no return. "

BARRY SCHIFF

has been writing
for AOPA Pilot
for 58 years. This
month marks the
anniversary.

20 | AOPA PILOT May 2021

catastrophically as the flight began its descent toward
Honolulu. There was a loud bang and a violent shaking
of the airframe, the result of a compressor blade failure
and separation. Like its sister ship in Denver, the flight
landed safely.
There were so many similarities between these
two events that the NTSB could almost cut and paste
the accident report from Flight 1175 onto its report for
Flight 328.
The successful outcomes of these similar events
can be attributed-at least in part-to the good fortune
that each catastrophic engine failure occurred in proximity to an airport. But what if one of these failures
had instead occurred halfway between California and
Hawaii? What if the violent shaking of the failed engine
would cause it to shift position in its mount, resulting
in a dramatic increase in drag? What if this added drag
made it difficult-if not impossible-for the lone remaining engine to maintain altitude?
In other words, this scenario could have occurred
anywhere along the oceanic portion of the route, which
confirms anew that fate really is the hunter. The suggestion of an engine shifting in its mount is reasonable to
those who saw the Flight 328 video on the nightly news
of a shaking right engine recorded by a passenger from
a cabin window aboard the Denver event.

Such a mid-Pacific emergency would be reminiscent
of the situation dramatized in the 1954 grandaddy of all
airline disaster movies, The High and the Mighty.
The first dramatic moment of the film occurred
when a brief, inexplicable airframe shudder caught
the crew's attention. Not long after that, the navigator
announced dramatically, " I have news for you guys. We
just passed the point of no return. " The problem with
that proclamation is that passing the PNR had no meaning. The PNR is that point beyond which a flight cannot
return to its departure point. But so what? When an airline flight is at the PNR, it is typically closer-usually
much closer-to its destination than its departure point,
so why would its pilot want to reverse course (unless the
weather ahead made continuing unwise)?
More important and practical than the point of no
return is the equal time point or ETP. This is the point
along a lengthy oceanic leg at which it would take just as
long to continue to the destination airport as it would to
return to the departure airport. In other words, when at
the ETP, it would take the same amount of time to continue the flight as it would to return.
There are different kinds of ETPs that can be calculated prior to the departure of an oceanic flight in
a jetliner (or bizjet). One is useful in case of an engine
failure. In other words, if an engine were to fail en
route from San Francisco to Honolulu prior to reaching the ETP, the flight would return to California; if
the engine were to fail after passing the ETP, the flight
would continue to Hawaii. The ETP calculation takes
into consideration the need for a twin-engine jetliner to
drift down to and cruise at some lower altitude-such as
25,000 feet, for example-because it will be incapable
of maintaining high-altitude cruise on one engine. The
ETP is predicated, of course, on the new single-engine
cruise airspeed and the winds aloft at the lower altitude.
Another ETP might be calculated for use following
loss of cabin pressure. At such a time, the crew of a jetliner would execute a rapid descent to a typical altitude of
10,000 feet where those aboard can breathe without supplemental oxygen. This ETP, of course, is predicated on
the adjusted cruise airspeed and winds aloft at 10,000 feet.
The point of no return has no practical meaning
in civil aviation-unless the pilot does something
dangerously foolish and from which there will be
no return.
AOPA
barryschiff.com


http://www.barryschiff.com

AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - 5
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - May 2021 - Cover4
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