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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Understanding AF447

Captain Bill Palmer ...

And the story behind the story...

This is not Bill's first book, but the first book with his name on it. He's been the primary author/editor on three aircraft systems manuals... each about 1200 pages... for his previous employer.

There had been so much garbage and wrong data about this accident and there are thousands who feel the pain and trying to live with their loss. They needed to know the truth. I knew the one person who knew this plane better than anyone else... Bill Palmer. He had to tell the story!

Thus, I have to be semi-blamed for this outstanding novel due to my insistence that he write this book. And while we all have those about us who encourage, or discourage, our behavior...the best pilots take in all the data and do what is the best course of action. Bill had his reasons too.

Why Bill wrote Understanding AF447...

Bill Palmer:

I’ve been an Airbus pilot since about 1990, and an instructor and check pilot on it for most of that time. I currently fly the A330, the same type of aircraft that the accident happened on. So, this accident hit close to home. From an operator’s standpoint, I was interested in what pilots needed to understand about what happened, in terms of how the airplane behaved when the airspeed indications were lost, and the fly by wire flight control laws degraded, as they are designed to do. 

As information became available, I found myself explaining what the various terms meant in the Airbus context. There were a number of articles written by non-airbus experts that took the voice transcript and tried to explain what was happening, but they didn’t get it quite right.

People were claiming the tail fell off in flight, that the composite structure components were weak, even that there were some kind of “fundamental design flaws” in the fly by wire system – of course never specifying what those were. The public, and most of the writers just didn’t know what fly-by-wire, Alternate law, automatic trim, TOGA, all these kinds of thing meant. 

So, I found myself trying to educate folks on these subject areas.

One of the first I became involved in was on your Jetwhine blog in June of 2011.

One of the most active was the comment section of the Popular Mechanics article “What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447” starting in December of 2011. The author did a pretty good job given his pilot experience, but there were a few technical errors.

I did a little internal work at my own airline as well, on the educational side.

My objective was education. 

Debunking myths and bringing understanding. While it’s interesting for the aviation oriented public, I think there are especially important issues for pilots. Stall behavior and requirements for recovery at high altitude, how the flight controls behave in these unusual situations, are examples. 

Automation Today...

I think the most pressing thing is the potential over-dependence on automation, and that new pilots are potentially getting very little time without it. Don’t get me wrong the automation is great and it allows a lot of great things.

It’s important that a pilot know how to operate all the systems not the least of which is the automation – and that takes a lot of effort and time to learn. I think we’ve been assuming that the raw pilot skills were always there. When the new generation of glass cockpit airplanes first showed up in the mid 80’s that was a good assumption.

But it’s also been shown that pilots’ instrument flying skills erode with time and non-use, just like playing the piano. If you were never very practiced to being with, it’s hard to be good. 

Now you can get a flight director and an autopilot in a Cessna 172. So the ability to revert to raw data instrument flight when some of those instruments aren’t working isn’t quite so assured. Most of a pilot’s career could easily be with the autopilot on.

So, we have to practice hand flying on raw data, as we may be pressed into what I call our surprise solo performance at the least opportune moment. I think there are aspects of the Asiana 214 crash that overlap here as well.

I think it’s been a wake up call of sorts, but the good news is that it’s being heard. All the major aircraft manufacturers have revised their stall recovery guidance and the FAA has emphasized the importance of hand flying practice.

At the end of the day, when the fancy stuff stops working, we’re still strapped to the front of it, and we have to have the skills to fly the thing."

Follow Bill on Twitter @WfPalmer
and check out his blog Trend Vector 
Find his book on Amazon 
And Barnes and Noble  

If you have a question about this accident... or anything Airbus, Bill is the guy to ask! But seriously... you should read the book.

Enjoy the Journey!
XOX Karlene


  1. Now, that's just unfair, Karlene! The last photo in the post shows a REAL BOOK, being held in a REAL HAND. Got me all excited; I went over to Amazon and -- no joy! Only bits 'n' bytes available. (I guess that's an ARC in the pic?)

    Well, I can hope that something good is in the pipeline.

    Returning to Standby Mode...


    P.S.: Please tell Bill he'll need to arrange a channel to provide signed copies, too.

    1. Teaser alert! Yes.... before this book came into print I said, "I was paper!" But ... now that the book is selling well he has decided to go for it. And he just received his proof Monday! Which means... coming soon.

      And yes, autographed copies are going to happen too. So... hang tight. But I get mine first. :) I will keep you posted!

  2. As Karlene mentioned, that photo is of my proof copy from the printer. The only one in existence at the time.

    Books have been ordered from the printer, but I don't want to accept orders until I can actually fulfill them.

    Watch the companion website: for availability of the paperback version or join the email mailing list at to receive an email when you can order a copy.

    Due to the way the publishing system works, I may be a couple of weeks before the paperback version is available at and other retailers. The book's companion website will offer the first available opportunity to acquire the paperback version.

    Thanks for everyone's support!


  3. Bill/Karlene, I just ordered a signed copy thru the web site. I'm EXCITED, and looking forward to reading the book. So pleased that a REAL BOOK is available!



  4. Just got a copy from Amazon. This book is so badly needed! And well written with clear explanations. Great blog.

    1. Thank you Stan!!! Yes, it was. And thank you for the nice comment too!


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