The National Transportation Safety Board, at its hearing in Dallas this week on the Delta Airlines crash that killed 137 people there on Aug. 2, will devote considerable time to the question of airplane and pilot performance in a vicious weather system.
While it has been obvious since the accident occurred that weather played a role, it was the first major airline wind shear accident involving a jumbo jet. Jumbos are equipped with digital flight data recorders, which tell investigators just about everything they might want to know about an airplane's performance, including the settings for all the flight controls and how the engines functioned.
Thus the investigators have an unusually complete technical understanding of what happened to Delta Flight 191 when it flew into the wind shear -- a sudden shift of wind speed and direction.
They would like to have the same quality of information about the Midwest Express DC9 that crashed in Milwaukee and killed 31 people on Sept. 6, but recorders available on smaller jetliners give only four facts, including altitude and airspeed. They tell nothing about control settings.
A great mystery in the Milwaukee accident is why the airplane could not fly when one engine came apart as the plane was leaving the ground. Standard pilot practice in such a case would be to lower the nose, increase power to the remaining engine, and adjust the rudder to compensate for the fact that engine thrust was coming from only one side of the airplane.
The time available to do those things is at a premium, but pilots rehearse regularly and there are many incidents on record of DC9s that were able to fly out of similar situations.
The safety board has been urging the Federal Aviation Administration for years to require digital recorders on all jetliners, not just the jumbos. But the airline industry has resisted, in part because digital recorders cost more than the simpler ones.
WORKING ON THE RAILROADS. . . Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole's safety review task force continues to work through the department. After completing its study of the Federal Aviation Administration, it has now released a report on the Federal Railroad Administration.
The report recommends, among other things, that the agency work harder at making sure its inspectors allocate their time based on accident rates and projections of future risk. Like all federal safety agencies, the FRA has a limited number of people to do a big job.
The report also suggests that the FRA take a more active role on design and construction of tank cars, which are often used to carry hazardous materials.
PEOPLE . . . President Reagan has nominatied Jennifer (Jenna) Dorn to be associate deputy secretary of DOT. Dorn, a long-time confidante of Dole's, has been director of the department's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, the place where people can get their papers processed if they want to use old-fashioned disposable rockets instead of the shuttle to hurl things into space.