Associated Retired Aviation Professionals


                  SATURDAY  AUGUST 26  2000 
                 It was only frayed wiring? 

                  © 2000 

                  Not to worry, says the National Transportation
                  Safety Board, the cause of the TWA tragedy was
                  sloppy routing by Boeing of some low-voltage
                  wires to the central fuel tank. In future, the
                  Federal Aviation Administration is not going to
                  allow such sloppy routing. 

                  According to the NTSB, such sloppiness
                  allowed coupling between frayed high-voltage
                  and low-voltage wires. When a high-voltage
                  pulse somehow got coupled into the practically
                  empty -- except for some fumes -- fuel tank, it
                  was like a sparkplug igniting the fuel-air
                  mixture in the engine of your SUV. According to
                  the NTSB, the "explosion" of the ignited fumes
                  1) instantaneously chopped all electrical power
                  to the cockpit, 2) blew off the whole front-third
                  of the plane, 3) ruptured the wing fuel tanks and
                  4) set fire to the resulting fuel-air mixture, which
                  burned until the aft two-thirds of the plane hit
                  the water. 

                  Oh, yeah? 

                  When a sparkplug ignites the fuel-air mixture in
                  the confines of one of your SUV cylinders, does
                  it blow away everything forward of the firewall?
                  Of course not. And when hundreds of gallons of
                  a rich fuel-air mixture are ignited in the
                  semi-confined afterburner of a fighter jet, does it
                  instantaneously chop all electrical power to the
                  cockpit and blow off the whole front-third of the
                  fighter jet? Of course not. Why? Because those
                  fuel-air mixtures burn. They don't detonate, they

                  What's the difference? Well, here are a few
                  important definitions: 

                  Deflagration: A subsonic gaseous combustion
                  reaction, propagating through unreacted
                  material by conduction, convection and
                  radiation, with the flame front advancing and
                  the reaction products retreating behind the
                  flame front. 

                  Detonation: A supersonic combustion reaction
                  propagating into unreacted material with the
                  flame front or shock front advancing and the
                  reaction products being driven in the same

                  Fuel-air bomb: Consists of a container of fuel
                  and two separate explosive charges. The first,
                  low-explosive charge, merely disperses the fuel
                  from the container into the atmosphere. The
                  second, high-explosive charge, then detonates
                  the fuel-air mixture, creating a massive blast

                  The distinction between a subsonic deflagration
                  -- like in your engine or in a jet afterburner --
                  and a supersonic detonation -- like from a pellet
                  of the high explosive -- is important. 

                  Confined or not, the fuel-air mixture will
                  deflagrate unless the fuel air mixture effectively
                  becomes an extension of an already existing
                  detonation. That is, in the above definition of
                  "detonation," the fuel-air mixture becomes the
                  "unreacted" material the shock front is
                  advancing through. The fuel-air bomb mixture --
                  even though not compressed or confined --
                  detonates because the fuel-air mixture
                  effectively becomes an extension of the
                  high-explosive detonator. 

                  Now, back to the NTSB and the alleged frayed
                  wiring in the almost empty TWA 800 center fuel

                  In tests of an almost empty central fuel tank, the
                  NTSB apparently had some difficulty getting
                  such a low-pressure fuel-air mixture to
                  deflagrate. But the NTSB fuzzed up the issue by
                  calling the deflagration "an explosion." They
                  announced that they had been able to get a
                  simulated TWA 800 fuel tank to "explode."
                  Well, that's not a lie, but then it's not exactly the
                  truth, either. 

                  It's not as if the NTSB and the FBI didn't know
                  the difference. Here is the official FBI
                  reconstruction of the hauntingly similar Avianca
                  Airlines Flight 203 tragedy of Nov. 27, 1989: 

                     1.IED (improvised explosive device)
                       detonates in area under seat number 14F
                       and frame station 783 on passenger cabin

                     2.Passenger cabin floor penetrated. 

                     3.Passenger cabin fuselage skin and top of
                       center fuselage fuel tank middle bladder
                       section penetrated. 

                     4.Passenger cabin relatively slowly begins
                       to decompress and to pressurize center
                       fuselage fuel tank. 

                     5.A fuel / air explosion and fuel ignition is
                       initiated in top of center fuselage fuel tank
                       spreading rapidly thru (sic) vent holes to
                       right and left number 2 fuel tank wet wing
                       sections and back into passenger cabin as
                       pressure in fuel tank exceeds cabin

                     6.Structure integrity of center fuselage wing
                       box section and right and left wet wing
                       fuel tank sections of number 2 fuel tank
                       bulkheads are violated. 

                     7.Fuel in wet wing fuel tanks numbers 1 and
                       2 is ignited. 

                     8.The APU (auxiliary power unit) located at
                       rear of center fuselage wing box section is
                       blown to rear of aircraft by the force of the
                       fuel / air explosion within this center
                       section fuel tank. 

                  It is important to note that in the FBI Avianca
                  reconstruction there was first a detonation of a
                  high-explosive device which penetrated the
                  central fuel tank, which then resulted in a
                  fuel-air explosion, which was then followed by
                  the "ignition" of the fuel in the wing tanks. The
                  Avianca fuel-air "explosion" in the center fuel
                  tank didn't blow off the front third of the aircraft.
                  It blew an auxiliary power unit aft, but was not
                  the principal cause of the loss of the aircraft. 

                  But in the TWA 800 tragedy, we know that
                  something supersonic -- something that was over
                  before the sound of it could reach the cockpit
                  sound recorder -- instantaneously chopped all
                  electrical power to the TWA 800 cockpit. A
                  concurrent powerful blast wave separated all of
                  aircraft forward of the wing -- including the
                  cockpit -- from the rest of the plane. 

                  Then the fuel tanks in the wings of the plane
                  "deflagrated," burning brightly for many

                  All that is consistent with what hundreds of
                  people on the ground reported. First, they heard
                  a detonation, then they looked and saw a big
                  explosion, then heard a big explosion and then
                  saw a brightly burning fire which lasted for
                  many seconds. 

                  You think we ought to tell the NTSB what we
                  suspect, that some person or persons unknown,
                  did to TWA 800 what had already been done to
                  Avianca 203? Don't bother. Here is an excerpt
                  the report of the International Association of
                  Machinists and Aerospace Workers, an official
                  Party to the NTSB TWA 800 investigation: 

                       An explosion did occur within the
                       center fuel tank during TWA Flight
                       800. We have not been a party to any
                       evidence, wreckage or tests that
                       could conclude that the center tank
                       explosion was and is the primary
                       contributor to this accident. ... We
                       find that its explosion was as the
                       result of the aircraft breakup. The
                       initial event caused a structural
                       failure in the area of Flight stations
                       854 to 860, lower left side of the
                       aircraft. A high-pressure event
                       breached the fuselage and the
                       fuselage unzipped due to the event.
                       The explosion was a result of this

                  By "high-pressure event" they mean a
                  detonation, a supersonic shock. Like from a
                  bomb, detonated inside, or a missile warhead,
                  detonated outside, which penetrated the central
                  fuel tank. Like, what the FBI claims happened
                  on Nov. 27, 1989, to Avianca Airlines Flight 203. 

                  Now, of course, the Clinton-Gore administration
                  is chock full of people who claim to believe that
                  butterflies can cause tornadoes. Maybe they also
                  really believe that a frayed wire can blow a
                  Boeing 747 out of the sky. But early in the
                  morning after the TWA 800 tragedy, President
                  Clinton had an emergency cabinet meeting,
                  from whence his spokesman emerged to
                  announce that -- not to worry -- there was no
                  reason to suspect terrorist activity. So how
                  could you have the slightest doubt that he was
                  telling the truth? 

                  Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy
                  implementing official for national security-related
                  technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the
                  Energy Research and Development Administration,
                  the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary
                  of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr.
                  Prather also served as legislative assistant for national
                  security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla.
                  -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee
                  and member of the Senate Energy Committee and
                  Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier
                  worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence
                  Livermore National Laboratory in California and
                  Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico. 

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