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.
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 deflagrate.
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 direction.
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 wave.
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 tank.
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:
- IED (improvised explosive device) detonates in area under seat
number 14F and frame station 783 on passenger cabin floor.
- Passenger cabin floor penetrated.
- Passenger cabin fuselage skin and top of center fuselage fuel
tank middle bladder section penetrated.
- Passenger cabin relatively slowly begins to decompress and to
pressurize center fuselage fuel tank.
- 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 pressure.
- Structure integrity of center fuselage wing box section and right
and left wet wing fuel tank sections of number 2 fuel tank bulkheads are
- Fuel in wet wing fuel tanks numbers 1 and 2 is ignited.
- 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 seconds.
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 event!
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
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?