Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

Critique of Flight 800 program on the Learning Channel

By Ray Lahr
February 23, 2001

  Did you watch the TV program titled, "TWA 800: The Investigation"? It appeared on The Learning Channel last Thursday evening during prime time. It was a repeat and it presented what the NTSB would like us to believe about the accident.  
    One part was factual.  The program presented some of the testimony of David McClaine, the captain of Eastwind Airlines Flight 800, a Boeing 737 which had just leveled off at 17,000 feet on a commuter flight from Boston to Trenton, N.J.  He was head-on to TWA 800 which was climbing through 13,800 feet.  Captain McClaine saw the light ahead and reached up to turn on his own landing light to alert the other traffic.  As he touched his switch, TWA 800 exploded into a ball of flames, and out of the bottom fell the flaming aircraft.  This testimony alone put a lie to the rest of the program.  The NTSB-FBI-CIA insist that TWA 800 climbed 3,000 feet after the explosion.  All of the eyewitnesses (among them were several other pilots) saw the aircraft fall downward after the explosion.  But the government agencies needed their cockamamie climb in order to discredit the many eyewitnesses who saw the missile(s) streaking upward from the surface towards TWA 800 prior to the explosion. Please, please, please - go to this website:   .  It is 43 pages of official eyewitness reports and press reports. The TV program would have you believe that it is a handful of wild-eyed, long haired conspiracy buffs who oppose the NTSB theory.  On the contrary, it is a large group of professional pilots and technical experts reaching all the way up to Admiral Thomas Moorer, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who oppose the NTSB theory.  Would you believe that not a single eyewitness ever appeared at the accident investigation hearings?  In fact, the FBI didn't even allow the NTSB to participate in most of the eyewitness interviews.  When some eyewitnesses appeared at the hearing and asked to be heard, they were shut out of the room.  Such treatment is unprecedented in the annals of accident investigation.
    The TV program completely ignored the National Guard helicopter which was the first assistance to arrive on the site after the accident. It was piloted by Major Fritz Meyer and Captain Chris Baur.  It didn't fit the program's objective because both pilots saw  a missile streaking across the sky prior to the explosion. They arrived at the accident site so fast that they had to back off because debris was still falling out of the sky.  Much of their testimony can be found at the above website, but a more complete report can be found at .  I was present when Major Meyer delivered this testimony.  If you had been there with me, I believe you would share my conviction that it was a missile or missiles which brought down TWA 800.
    Like most kids, the first things I learned about flying came from kites and model gliders. They both must be stable about three axes (pitch, turn and bank), and they must maintain a positive angle of attack within a certain range, or they will stall and fall out of the sky.  A balsa glider is balanced like a teeter-totter.  There is the center-of-lift generated by the wing which corresponds to the upward force at the pivot point of the teeter-totter. There is a metal weight in the nose of the glider which keeps the center-of-gravity slightly forward of the center-of-lift. It corresponds to a heavy rider who sits close to the center of the teeter-totter.  Then there is the horizontal stabilizer which has a negative angle of attack and exerts a downward force. It corresponds to the light rider who sits at the other end of the teeter-totter.  In normal flight, these forces are in balance.  If the glider slows down, the horizontal stabilizer loses effect, the weight pulls the nose down, and the glider picks up speed until things are back in balance.  If the glider speeds up, the horizontal stabilizer gains effect, the tail is pulled down, and the glider loses speed until things are back in balance.  Add small control surfaces like the elevator, rudder and ailerons, and add an engine and propeller, and we have an airplane.  Well, if you have ever launched a glider and have the nose weight fall off, you know what happens.  It is like someone jumping off one side of the teeter-totter and letting the other person crash.  Likewise, the glider will immediately pitch up past full stall and fall out of the sky.  
    The same thing happened to TWA 800.  When the nose came off, the center of gravity moved well aft of the center of lift; the aircraft immediately pitched up past full stall fell out of the sky.  I ran some calculations and found that the most TWA 800 could have climbed is about 300 feet.  However, Ed Zehr did a much more thorough analysis, and he was much more generous in his allowances for error. He Zehr came up with a maximum climb of 800 feet (still way short of 3,000 feet).  You can find Mr. Zehr's analysis at .  However, there is another consideration which dictates that TWA 800 never climbed.  In order to make an immediate climb, the forward velocity had to be converted into a vertical velocity (the engines are inconsequential in this short-time energy exchange).  But if this were to happen, it would show up on the radar plot as a radical slowing of the groundspeed of the aircraft.  The radar plot showed the aircraft continuing forward at free fall speed.  The tireless Commander William Donaldson did a radar analysis which you can find at (we are all praying for Bill - he is recovering from serious surgery) . 
    As a former ALPA accident investigator, I have been challenging my associates regarding this ridiculous climb scenario.  ALPA refuses to look into the matter. The NTSB never allowed ALPA or any of the other parties to participate in this phase of the investigation.  They assigned their own in-house technician to develop the climb simulation, and the NTSB won't even release the data used in their analysis on the basis that the data is proprietary to the manufacturer. Did you ever hear of anything so bizarre? Here we have accident investigators being told they must accept a conclusion without even being allowed access to the evidence. ALPA seems content to have been excluded from the eyewitness interviews and the formulation of the climb simulation. The climb simulation first surfaced in November, 1997.  The FBI suspended their investigation by sponsoring a nationally televised show hosted by its chief investigator, James Kallstrom.  As part of that show, Kallstrom presented the CIA cartoon showing the 3,200 foot climb from 13,800 to 17,000 feet.  That is what eyewitnesses supposedly saw when they thought they were seeing a missile.  Never mind that these witnesses saw the missile rising from the surface and proceeding at speeds several times the normal speed of an airplane. And why bring the CIA into this phase of the investigation? The government aeronautical experts were in the FAA and NTSB.  Maybe it was because accident investigators would be reluctant to challenge the CIA.
    A similar animation was produced by the NTSB and was shown at the Baltimore Hearing in December, 1998.  Supposedly, these were separate animations independently produced.  I wrote to Jim Hall, Chairman of the NTSB and asked for the computer programs and data used by the CIA and the NTSB.  Let me quote his reply of January 9, 2001:
Dear Captain Lahr:
    Thank you for your letter of September 20, 2000, regarding the flight path of TWA flight 800.  You are correct that when the forward fuselage departed, the airplane pitched up into an aerodynamic stall.  However, there are several considerations to bear in mind when envisioning the resulting flight path.
    In a low speed stall, the wing is already near its maximum aerodynamic lift, and the typical drop in lift and increase in drag coefficients after stall results in a rapid descent.  However, unlike many other aircraft, the high sweep angle of the Boeing 747 wing results in a lift coefficient that continues to increase for a significant period after stall.  Further, the forward fuselage departed the accident aircraft at high speed and low wing angle-of-attack.  Therefore, the large amount of kinetic energy was converted to altitude before the descent could begin.
    The Safety Board does not possess the computer program the Central Intelligence Agency used to produce the motion seen in its animation.  The computer program that the Safety Board used to simulate the accident flight contains a manufacturer's proprietary data, which is an integral part of the program.  We consulted with the manufacturer about the release of the information, and we were denied the authority to release any data other than what is included in the public docket.
    The Safety Board seeks commercially sensitive or proprietary information from manufacturers during its investigations.  The manufacturers often do not release the information given to the Safety Board to the public.  The Safety Board agrees to review the information and release publicly only what is necessary for the protection of the public's health and safety.  See 49 USC Section 1114(b)(1)(D).  In this case, the Safety Board included all of the necessary information in the public docket.
    As we discussed before, Mr. Crider is available to speak with you about the Main Wreckage Flight Path Study, and the Errata and Addendum II to the Main Wreckage Flight Path Study.  He cannot, however, disclose any of the proprietary information used in the creation of the NTSB's computer simulation of the accident flight path.  If you are still interested, please call Jim Ritter, Division Chief for the Vehicle Performance Division at (202) 314 6561 to arrange a convenient time for this telephone conversation.
    I appreciate your interest in aviation safety and taking the time to share your thoughts on this issue.  
                                                                                    Jim Hall
                                                                                    Acting Chairman
    I had tried several times (with Jim Hall's permission) to contact Dennis Crider, the author of the NTSB animation.  Dennis Hall would never discuss the matter with me. However, the significant point in the above letter is that it distances the NTSB from the CIA animation.  Consequently, I submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for the information to both the CIA and the NTSB.  This is the response I received from the Central Intelligence Agency dated January 26, 2001
Reference: F-2000-02350
Dear Mr. Lahr:
    This acknowledges receipt of your 10 November 2000 letter requesting records under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Specifically, your request is for records pertaining to the computer program and data used to produce the computer simulation of TWA Flight 800, 17 July 1996, losing its nose section, then climbing about 3,000 feet.  For identification purposes we have assigned your request the number referenced above.  Please refer to this number in future correspondence.
    We understand your request to indicate your interest is focused on the separation of the aircraft's nose section from the fuselage, and the related data and resulting conclusions.  We have researched this matter, and have learned that the pertinent data, and resulting conclusions, were provided by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  CIA simply incorporated the NTSB conclusions into our videotape.  Therefore, we are unable to provide the information you seek inasmuch as the agency that originated the information has the responsibility for making decisions about the release of its information.  Accordingly, you may wish to submit your request to the NTSB at the following address:

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