Howard Hughes; Jimmy Doolittle; Jacky Cochran; Chuck Yeager; Neil Armstrong; Burt Rutan: these are some of the heros of aviation enshrined at the National Aviation Hall of Fame. One of my own aviation heros, though, is not there, and you've probably never heard of him unless you're in the aviation field.
Al Haynes didn't design any groundbreaking airplanes or set any records. Until a fateful day in 1989, he was just another airline pilot enduring the daily grind. On July 19, 1989, however, he demonstrated great airmanship and professionalism in handling a crippling emergency, and in the process saved 184 lives.
United Flight 232, a DC-10, was at FL370 when the #2 engine suffered a catastrophic failure. At the time, the DC-10 routed lines for all three hydraulic systems through the tail, which is where debris from the #2 engine severed them, leading to a loss of all three systems. In the DC-10, all the flight controls are hydraulic with no manual reversion - ailerons, elevators, rudders, flaps, slats - everything. After they lost the hydraulics, Haynes and his crew were left with only one way to keep the airplane marginally under control: differential thrust from the two remaining wing-mounted engines. By operating the thrust levers (throttles) independantly, they could keep the airplane from banking too steeply either way and approximately control their direction. They never had any real pitch control; the stabilizer stayed where it was last trimmed, and the airplane slowly oscillated up and down, trying to maintain it's trimmed airspeed.
UAL232 was over Iowa when the emergency occured. Minneapolis Center vectored them to Sioux City, where as luck would have it, the National Guard was conducting a drill at the airport. Haynes experimented with ways to control the airplane, eventually concluding that they had absolutely no control other than by differential power. Upon learning that a DC-10 check airman was deadheading in the cabin, Haynes brought him up to the cockpit to sit in the jumpseat & assist in operating the thrust levers. They manually lowered the landing gear and got the airplane alligned with a closed runway .
At about 100 feet above the runway, their luck ran out. The pitch, which had never been controllable, started on one of its downward oscillations at the same time a wing dropped quicker than differential thrust could bring it back up. The wingtip contacted the runway and the airplane cartwheeled. In the ensuing crash, 112 people died, but an amazing 184 escaped with their lives, including Al Haynes. Later attempts at landing a DC-10 by thrust control alone, in a simulator, were less successful.
Al Haynes isn't a hero to me because his actions that day were that heroic; any professional pilot would've taken the same actions, pulling out all the stops to save the airplane. To be sure, his skill certainly played a role in the outcome, but he is quick to point out that luck, or a higher power, played a much bigger part in it. However, his actions that day do epitomize what it means to me to be a professional pilot: top-notch airmanship, intelligence, planning, teamwork, and a calm demeanor whether faced with a Cat III approach in deteriorating weather, or landing a seemingly unflyable airplane. In Al Haynes we see what is good in this profession, and an example to strive towards. His experience is instructive of why computers will never completely replace humans in the cockpit.
Incidently, Captain Haynes indirectly played a role in me meeting my wife. In October 2000, I drove from Grand Forks down to St. Cloud to visit a friend and listen to Haynes give a speech to the local Aero Club. That night I met Dawn for the first time. She lived across the hall from my friend.