Metal Fatigue, and You

So by now most of you I’m sure have heard about the latest airliner incident. This time it was Southwest Airlines and luckily everyone is ok. Well, coming from someone who flies SWA quite often , this story got my attention right away. I’m on these planes quite often and it’s always in the back of my mind on whether this will be the flight that some of the skin comes off the plane. It’s not such a big deal that I don’t fly, but it’s something I consider when buckling into my seat.

Over the years we’ve all seen or heard about airplanes crashing etc. There are a varying number of reasons for each crash. Mechanical failure, a series of small mistakes that add up to one big one, and parts falling off airplanes in flight to name a few. It’s the parts falling off airplanes in flight reason that I want to talk about today.

It amazes me to no end that things like this current accident don’t happen more often in airliners. Consider the stresses put on the pressurized sections of airplanes. Before take-off they close the door and pressurize the cabin to roughly what it would feel like if you were standing outside at around 18,000 feet. This pressure is maintained until landing and the pressure is reduced to current air pressure and the doors are opened. This practice, while extremely necessary to the comfort and survival of all aboard, puts constant stresses on the skin of the plane.

Imagine if you will, constantly stretching and contracting a piece of metal. Depending on the initial tensile strength of the metal when starting, will determine how long before the metal will fail. The same thing happens when the plane is pressurized and de-pressurized. Multiply that over the dozens of flights each plane takes over the course of a month and you start to see how amazing our technology is these days.

That being said, it might be time for airlines to consider upgrading their fleets to more modern aircraft. From what I’ve gathered, this incident happened on an older model 737. I think it was a 400 or 600 series. These are the 737’s without the wing canards and are typically the oldest models in inventory. Furthermore, the only type of plane I’ve ever heard of having this problem has been….737s This particular type of failure has happened before on these planes. Recall if you will the incident with Hawaiian Airlines about a decade or so ago.

I’ll still fly when required by work, or when I’m off on a vacation, but it’s time we upgrade our air fleet in this country. Just think of all the jobs that would generate??

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Metal Fatigue, and You

  1. Gremlin

    The Southwest incident happen on a 15 year old 737-300 or what Boeing calls the 737 classic.

    I will agree with you 100% metal can take only a limited stress before a failure will occur. The recent Southwest Airlines incident over Arizona happened like Boeing wants a metal failure to occur. All pressurized aircraft are built with rip stop construction feature. If cracks in the aircraft occur only a small section of the aircraft with occur before it runs into a bracing point.

    In a nut shell this type of failure is designed to happen. Cracks from stress form and spread, they hit the bracing point and stop. Only a football size piece of metal has failed. Yes, decompression happens. Airline crews know how to handle this situation. Put on the Oxygen masks and descend to 8,000 ft and land at the nearest airport. This is what happen over Arizona. Nobody was injured on this 737. The airplane itself will put back into service after the failed pieces are replaced similar to panels being replaced on a car after an accident.

    • That may be the design characteristics of the planes when they’re built. But after thousands of cycles, it stands to reason that even those safety features might be showing their age as it were. Add to that the recently learned fact that many of these air carriers, SWA among them, sub out their repair and maintenance work to a company in…Honduras.

      A company where the people doing the repairs and maintenance on these planes don’t speak English ( the company admitted this fact ) yet all the manuals are in English. A company where the FAA can’t just show up for a surprise inspection, like they can for repair facilities here in the States.

      It begins to make me wonder, just how reliable these older planes truly are.

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