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Disastrous Dinners: Kegworth

Last night we held our final disastrous dinner of the year. This month's topic was the Kegworth air disaster when a passenger aircraft crashed into the M1 motorway just outside East Midlands airport.

Not long after takeoff, one of the engine fan blades failed, causing lots of vibrations. The pilots thought that the right engine had failed and reduced it's power. This reduced the vibrations, confirming that the problem was with the right engine. Unfortunately it was the left engine that had failed.

There was a piece of technology called the autothrottle which was used to balance the engines. Because the left engine was damaged, it was underperforming. The autothrottle tried to compensate by increasing the fuel to the damaged engine. When the right engine was throttled back and then shutdown, the fuel to the left engine decreased, reducing the vibrations.

This piece of automation was supposed to help, but in this case, it ended up disguising the real problem. And that was the main take away from the evening for myself. The talk also covered the amount of training that the pilots received and engine certification procedures, though I found these less applicable to myself.

Humans are pretty good at taking various bits of conflicting information, and working out what to believe, what is really going on. But we need to be sure that we don't automate in a way that hides what is actually happening.

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