On June 26, 1988, Air France Flight 296 was a chartered flight of a newly-delivered fly-by-wire Airbus A320. It was scheduled to fly over Habsheim Airport as part of an air show at low speed, gear down,at an altitude of 100 feet. However, it slowly descended to 30 feet before crashing into the tops of trees beyond the runway. Three passengers died. Although the cause is not factually determined, the pilot, Capt. Asseline, pointed out many irregularities which were later revealed by the accident investigation. This was the first ever crash involving an Airbus A320. Written by
This is about the crash of a new Airbus -- only the third to roll off the production line. A lot depends on the success of the airplane because it is about Boeing's only competitor. So the pilot is supposed to do a dramatic flyover at a crowded airport.
Everything seems to go well until the last minute. The pilot notices a forty-foot high forest at the end of the runway, pulls back on the stick, and gives the engines full throttle. It's no dice. The brand new airplane was designed to impress the spectators, and it does so by dropping into the trees, killing three passengers.
It's more than a mere accident. It's a scandal. If the airplane is faulty, then Airbus is in serious trouble.
This was the first passenger airliner to use fly by wire controls. That means that control of the airplane is in the hands of the onboard computer. The computer will notify the pilot at once if anything goes wrong. More than that, it will prevent him from doing anything that endangers the airplane.
In this case, the pilot had intended to fly over the runway at "alpha max" -- that is, in a nose-up configuration -- which makes an impressive picture. But the computer interpreted the low altitude as an attempt to land the airplane, so it positioned the controls to lose altitude, which happened apace and wrecked the airplane. It was as if the computer had given the human beings the finger.
It was economically imperative that the cause of the crash be pilot error, leaving the airplane flawless. The captain was accused of involuntary homicide by the French justice department and convicted. On his part, the captain claims the black boxes were tampered with, and has provided evidence collected by a private investigator.
It was a spectacular event in more ways than one and is still being argued about.
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