Australia’s air safety watchdog is investigating a serious mid-air incident during which 15 Qantas passengers were injured when the jet suffered a so-called “stick shaker” warning.
Pilots reported feeling “airframe buffeting”, a sign a plane is about to stall, en route from Melbourne to Hong Kong, while the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) reported that the crew also received a “stick shaker activation”.
As big aviation geeks as we are, we were a bit baffled by the term “stick shaker”. Is it some kind of mimed warning of imminent physical danger (akin to a person shaking a stick at a large dog poised to attack perhaps)? Or just another weird Aussie slang term?
Google couldn’t help so we consulted independent aviation commentator Irene King, a former chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority.
She explained that a stick shaker alert is a mechanical warning device which causes the aircraft’s control column to vibrate ahead of imminent stall.
“The warning device is fitted to all modern jets so it is a term all pilots are familiar with, but few have experienced it except in simulator [situations] where they practice such things,” she said.
As it’s a back-up safety warning, pilots would be “extremely alert” to what’s going on if it goes off, she said, adding that it’s normally a precursor to a serious incident.
“[T]hese events are very unusual and would trigger a full-blown investigation into what occurred, why and whether the situation was preventable or could have been mitigated.”
Input to the stick shaker comes from “angle of attack” and other flight sensors, helping to answer these questions, she noted.
The ATSB classified the Qantas Boeing 747’s incident as serious and said a report would be released “within several months” after it interviewed the flight crew.
The incident is understood to have lasted about two minutes and while the flight landed normally in Hong Kong, an ambulance met passengers as a precaution and one person was taken to hospital for assessment.
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