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Pilot uses Nashua simulator to seek clues in San Francisco plane crash

Union Leader Correspondent

July 09. 2013 5:53PM

NASHUA — As federal investigators work to determine the cause of Asiana Flight 214's crash landing in San Francisco that killed two teenage girls, they will spend countless hours in flight simulators trying to re-create the tragedy.

Stephen Cunningham, a pilot for 25 years and owner of Nashua Flight Simulator, has been re-creating the end of the Asiana flight in his company's simulators using information released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

He has serious questions about the pilot's actions as the Boeing 777 approached the airport over San Francisco Bay .

"I'm perplexed as to why the airplane was so low and so slow on approach," Cunningham said. "They were down to around 107 knots, and that airplane's weight was probably 380,000 pounds, so they should have been up around 137 knots. Also, they were much lower than they should have been; I am not sure why yet."

Cunningham said being so close to the water on final approach could have caused a depth-perception illusion that threw the pilots off.

He said he is also confused why the pilots pushed the engines to full power close to two seconds before the tail of the plane hit the sea wall at the end of the runway.

"When you do that, the nose goes up and the tail goes down. It's simple aerodynamics," he said.

"I am hesitant to say anything without all the facts, but it is very puzzling that they would be that low, going that slow," he said. "I had to force myself to do that when I was trying to re-create it in my flight simulators."

Cunningham's company uses two Elite iGate 500 series simulators that cost about $100,000 each, but federal investigators are using much more sophisticated systems.

"They will use simulators that have full motion and are very expensive," he said. "They cost several million dollars."

Cunningham believes the media attention paid to the limited amount of flight time the Asiana captain had in the 777 is being overblown.

"Airline pilots spend a lot of time in simulators," he said, "and I don't buy the conversation about the pilot only having so many hours in the airplane. Enough time in the simulator will translate to the real world. And it appears there was a training captain in the cockpit evaluating and mentoring the captain who was flying."

Cunningham said his company specializes in giving continuing training to commercial pilots, primarily ones who specialize in corporate travel. The company employs 15 instructors, some of whom are retired commercial airline pilots.

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