I remember early on in the computer revolution when laptops first moved to the forefront of mobile computing.
But those machines did have their limitations.
They didn’t take shock very well – dropping turned them to instant trash. They also didn’t like mixing with liquids as many a traveler found out when they spilled a cup of java on a keyboard. But seldom was anyone’s life threatened by a damp Dell.
Airplanes are – thankfully – designed much differently with multiple redundancies … or at least I thought they were until I saw the report about a major electrical failure aboard a Qantas 747 on arrival at Bangkok.
If you’re an instrument-rated pilot you’ll probably cringe when you read this. If you’re simply a frequent flyer though … well, you’ll probably cringe too.
The Australian said a generator control unit aboard the Qantas Boeing 747 failed about 15 minutes outside Bangkok killing all the cabin lights and depriving the aircraft of electrical power from all the working generators. Luckily the aircraft was on approach and landed with no incident. But that’s not the scary part.
What really made this episode hair raising, even though no one was hurt, was the cause.
It turns out that water leaked through a cracked galley drain tray and found its way down through the floor and onto some of the aircraft’s electronics killing most electrical power. Essentially, that means that the 747 with 344 passengers on board was running on batteries. Depending upon the condition of those batteries, they might have provided as much as 45 minutes worth of electricity and then … well then everything goes completely dark … no lights, no flight instruments in the cockpit for the pilots, no radios … nothing.
While 45 minutes might seem like a long time, that’s only because the aircraft was preparing to land. If this had occurred over open water – say 1,000 miles from the nearest land when the aircraft went dark – this story might have evolved much differently.
Airline officials are going over the information stored on the 747s flight data recorder to look for additional clues. The Boeing was repaired and returned to the Qantas base in Sydney before being sent back into service.
In case you’re wondering, no … this isn’t supposed to be able to happen. But it did.
Boeing is expected to issue an alert to all of its customers to prevent a similar occurrence on other aircraft.