To: The Editor The International Herald Tribune Paris, France
July 26, 1996
The article headlined "Planes Don't Blow Up" (IHT July 24) is totally absurd. The sub-title "only a very well-placed bomb could do it" is contradicted by the very last sentence of the article, "if the engine explodes, it would break the wing and release the fuel".
Industry professionals have known for very many years that airliners, particularly the wide bodies, have been operating on the ragged edge of tire technology. The criticality of exceeding tire temperature limits during heavily-laden, high speed take-off rolls, is not at all unusual. A pot-holed JFK airport runway would severely exacerbate the hot tire condition which could initiate a fire as the wheels retracted into close proximity to hydraulic lines, fuel lines and full fuel tanks. An exploding tire has tremendous force and quite conceivably could rupture the hydraulic lines, fuel lines and the fuel tank itself, thereby culminating in the fireball explosion seen by the eye witnesses. The ignition of 48,000 gallons of fuel needs no further explanation.
I suggest that the haste to pin the TWA crash on a terrorist bomb is a cop-out, and an attempted cover-up of the irresponsible practice of hanging engines and landing gear on fuel tank supporting structure in combination with excessively high take-off speeds on over-stressed tires. Advanced design technology which eliminates this deficiency has been available for decades but vested interests have prevented it from being made available to the traveling public.
My assessment as above is based upon my experience as a pilot since 1939, which includes parachuting safely on two separate occasions from burning flight-test aircraft.