Learjet Plane Crash Leads NTSB to Recommend Engine Design Changes

Federal regulators are recommending that Learjet change the design of some of their engines in response to a South Carolina Learjet crash last fall that killed four, including the flight crew.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) say the design of the Learjet 60 thrust reversers may have contributed to an inability of the flight crew to recover after they lost control of their plane, according to an Associated Press report. Making the thrust reverse system more intuitive could save lives and prevent future crashes, the NTSB said in recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The recommendations are part of a still ongoing investigation into the September 19, 2008 plane crash of the Learjet 60 at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The plane crashed while attempting to abort a takeoff just before midnight after a tire blew out. The crash grabbed media attention because Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and DJ AM were injured in the plane accident.

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Thrust reversers are attached to the rear of the jet’s engines. They direct the thrust of the engines forward in order to help slow the plane down or make it move backwards while on the ground. When the landing gear are stowed, the thrust reversers are disabled, since they are not used in the air.

NTSB investigators suspect that when the tire blew, the sensors telling the plane that the wheels had left the ground were damaged, and the plane incorrectly thought it was airborne and disabled the thrust reversers. As a result, when the pilots tried to use them to slow the plane down and avert takeoff, nothing happened.

The NTSB recommendations suggested that the pilots could have activated the thrusters by moving them into a stowed position, which would have been counterintuitive under the circumstances. The agency recommends that Learjet redesign the thrust reverser control system so that correcting the problem would be something more obvious and simple in an emergency situation.

The recommendations also included more training for Learjet 60 pilots on the use of thrust reversers, the inclusion of a clear warning signal or flashing lights to alert the pilots that the thrust reversers are improperly stowed. Six recommendations will be sent to the FAA in all, and there may be more when the NTSB completes its investigation.

Survivors of the crash, the company that operated the aircraft and some family members of those killed in the accident, have filed plane crash lawsuits against Learjet, Learjet manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace, the airport and other parties. The most recent lawsuit was filed on Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Suellen Lemmon, mother of co-pilot Sarah H. Lemmon, who died in the crash.


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