sitemap Text of First Letter to NTSB from Donaldson

Text of First Letter to National Transportation Safety Board

"Neither the NTSB nor the American people need a partisan politician appearing
to cover up a probable terrorist act and further jeopardizing commercial flight safety."

CDR. William S. Donaldson
July 14, 1997

Mr. James E. Hall

Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board

490 L'Enfant Plaza East, SW

Washington, DC 20594

Mr. Hall:

I have been closely following the NTSB's public position, your statements, and congressional testimony concerning the TWA FL800 mishap with ever-increasing alarm. It is apparent to me and other professionals within the aircraft manufacturing, airline, and petroleum industries that vis a vis TWA FL800 your agency has been conducting a campaign in the media to misinform the public and willfully assign the least probable cause to this mishap.

Regardless of whatever your political motivation for this charade, it is time for you to step aside. The NTSB's participation in the June 4, 1997, ABC Primetime Live depiction of the air disaster was a perfect example of the fraud you are perpetrating on the American public. It is libelous to TWA, Boeing Aircraft, and the FAA. Here is why:

1) The Fuel: Your agency has been depicting the volatility of the fuel as if it were nitro benzene however, the chemical properties of the Jet A-1 turbine fuel TWA FL800 was using had a huge margin of safety. It could not have been made to explode in the centerline tank except as a secondary event to another explosion. In order to achieve even the lower flammability level (LFL) with Jet A-1, the fuel and container (tons of aluminum) must be heated to above 127 degrees F or it will not ignite! The only other way Jet A-1 could be made to explode is through physical misting of the fuel as accomplished by a fuel injector or through the kinetic shock provided by a high explosive "booster." In fact the research data on Jet A-1 shows a dynamically shaken tank could lower the LFL by as much as 59 degrees F.

The tremendous force of the explosion in the CWT evidenced by the driving of spanwise beam number 3 forward hard enough to fracture the forward spar proves Dr. Loebs theory of miraculous fuel tank heating to be false. In order to generate the explosive power evidenced in the forensic artifacts the CWT fuel air mixture had to be near optimum because of the lower oxygen availability at 13,700 ft (only 3/5 normal). To achieve an optimized explosion at that altitude using Dr. Loebs theory the ullage must be heated between 130-160 degree F. By introducing shock the ullage need only be 72 degrees F for the same result.

The safety margin of Jet A-1 becomes dramatically obvious when its compared to the older commercial Jet B, also known as military JP4. Jet B/JP4 can ignite at temperatures as low as minus 9.4 degrees F, or 136.8 degree F colder than Jet A-1. The only example of a B747 fuel tank explosion prior to TWA FL800's mishap was an Iranian Air Force Aircraft hit by lightening (left outerwing tank) while attempting to land in Spain 21 years ago!

For some reason when you cited the Iranian mishap in your Safety Recommendation of 13 December 1996 (basis of the 4 June 1997, ABC Primetime debacle) you neglected to mention it was not fueled with Jet A-1 and had it been would probably have landed safely because explosive vapors would not have been present to ignite.

2) Strawman Flight Testing: Despite the fact the B747 went through an extensive instrumented test certification 30 years ago that deemed a 10 degree F to 20 degree F rise in CWT temperature normal and safe with extended air-conditioning pack operation on the ground, NTSB decided to discard the extensive known data and retest a B747 in the desert on August 26, 1996. Placing a single fuel temperature probe in the 1/2 inch of fuel at the bottom of the huge tank, you ran all three a/c packs for two hours and claimed to get about a 40 degree F temperature rise at that one point in the fuel without any mention of ambient temperature changes or actual observed temperatures. As of yesterday, you are still making Boeing Aircraft keep these figures secret. In describing this procedure in your Safety Recommendation you then made the incredible statement "a 40 degree F temperature increase in the CWT of TWA FL800 would have raised the temperature of the ullage above the lower explosive level of its fuel air mixture." How so? How does any local temperature rise at a single point in 1/2 inch of fuel at the bottom of this huge 2400 cubic ft tank equate to the entire multi-ton tank achieving the same temperature? Because of poor thermal conductivity, heat transfers very slowly in jet fuels. Far worse than that assumption is the implied equivalence of TWA FL800 and the Strawman test aircraft cited in your safety recommendations.

You failed to mention:

a) TWA FL800 had just made a Transatlantic crossing prior to the two hour turnaround at New York, the tank and fuel were exposed to  minus 67 degrees F stratospheric temperatures throughout that time. The Strawman aircraft had not. It was sitting on a ramp in the desert.

b) New York ambient temperature was 77 degree F and falling at TWA FL800's takeoff time 17 July 1996 and 29 degrees F at the explosion altitude. Official Air Force records show the ambient temperature experienced by the Strawman aircraft in the desert rose 25.2 degree F from 6AM to 10am on 26 August 1996 (the day of the test), from 69.8 degree F to 95.0 degree F! Despite that you were unable to even get the test aircraft fuel temperature anywhere near 127 degrees much less the entire tank!

c) The mild 77 degree F temperature at New York would not have stressed TWA FL800's air-conditioning packs and the sun was going down. So where did this mysterious heat come from?

d) Why you decided to use a Strawman test in a grossly different environment when a simple screening procedure would have immediately checked the validity of your hot fuel theory. Draw a CWT fuel sample into a thermos from the next B747 similarly fueled to arrive at New York from Athens, check the temperature. Run the A/C packs for 2 hours while loading and servicing the aircraft, start and taxi to the take off point and take a second CWT thermal sample. Jet A-1 is a very poor conductor of heat, neither giving up or acquiring heat rapidly so this simple test should be accurate within a few degrees, enough to prove explosive vapors were not present in the tank at take off, invalidating the possibility of an internal spontaneous fuel tank explosion. This check should have been done the first day you knew the CWT exploded. The fact that it hasn't been done can only be explained by a willful intent to subvert the investigation. Once a cool tank at takeoff was established only a missile warhead or other explosive charge could have caused the CWT explosion.

3) The Ignition Source: Your own Safety Recommendations make the point clearly that there has never been a fuel tank explosion in an airborne commercial jet aircraft that was not ignited by an external source (hundreds of millions of flight hours in all types of jet carriers) so why the histrionics over constructing a spontaneous internal ignition source that doesn't exist. The 747 maintenance executives I've talked to were mad and perplexed at the buffoonery carried out by ABC Primetime and your representative equating an old military wiring problem on Navy jets exposed to salt water corrosion to an entirely different wiring in TWA B747's. Why the fraud? You not only don't have an explosive tank atmosphere without external agitation but a rational internal ignition source in the CWT doesn't exist.

4) The Bait and Switch, Nitrogen Inerting: Using ABC Primetime's Sam Donaldson as the willing dupe you were able to intentionally scare millions of air travelers into believing they are at serious risk from non-existent explosive fuel tanks on 747's. By recommending the commercial airline industry adopt multi-billion dollar nitrogen inerting systems to fix this non-problem in your December 1996 Safety Recommendations, then publicly defaming the FAA for not acting on this ridiculous recommendation on Primetime Live, you have diverted attention away from the real cause and subvert the NTSB's mission. As you should be well aware, the nitrogen inerting systems you refer to were developed by the Air Force over 25 years ago because their transport aircraft (then fueled with potentially explosive JP4) had been exposed to high risk due to small arms tracer fire in Vietnam. What's next, ejection seats for air travelers?

5) The Eye Witnesses: Why have you accepted eye witness statements attributing lightning as the ignition source of the Iranian Air Force 747 tank explosion 21 years ago cited in your 1996 Safety Recommendation but ignore 30 plus extremely credible TWA FL800 eyewitnesses, some of whom were combat veteran military pilots who actually saw the ignition source of TWA FL800?

Several eyewitnesses like Mr. Roland Penney and his group of eight not only saw a missile-like object rise up from the haze at sea leaving a thin gray smoke trail, but distinctly describe a bright white flash, "like a flashbulb" when it hit TWA FL800. All of these observations preceded aircraft breakup and subsequent explosions and fuel ignitions. His televised and published statement dating back to July 18, 1996, is clearly a perfect layman's description of a successful missile engagement with warhead detonation. A bright white flash can not be produced with a kerosene air explosion especially in the 3/5 atmospheric pressure found at 13,700 ft. My telephone debriefing with Mr. Penney also uncovered two very disturbing facts (1) not once has anyone from the NTSB interviewed him or any of his friends! And (2) after Mr. Penney rushed to the crash scene in his 40' boat to search for survivors sometime after 9:00PM he almost collided with an ocean going tug pulling a barge because it was leaving the area operating without any lights! Mr. Hall, explain why no one from the investigation, including the FBI asked Mr. Penney about suspicious boat activity that night until I did on 10 July 1997?

I was also able to interview Major Fred Meyers (the Air National Guard airborne helicopter pilot eyewitness) on 9 July 1997. Major Meyers is a highly decorated military pilot (including the Distinguished Flying Cross) who flew combat search and rescue missions (SAR) from the north SAR ships on Yankee Station during the Vietnam War. He has even towed targets for Navy surface ship live fire exercises. During his career Major Meyers has personally seen missiles in flight and the whole spectrum of anti-aircraft weapons detonations. He described seeing a light arcing across 10 degrees of horizon in about 3 seconds then a series of explosions when the object hit TWA FL800. Note: From the distance Meyers observed the object, it would have to be moving over 2600 feet per second (mach 2.5) to cross 10 degrees of arc in 3 seconds! Major Meyers, like Mr. Penney, described a bright white flash and shares Mr. Penneys's confusion as to why no one from the investigation seemed particularly interested in what he saw. Here is the bottom line quote from Major Meyers. "WHAT I SAW THAT EVENING WAS ORDNANCE!"  (Click for further eyewitness statements)

Mr. Hall, it time for you and any other member supporting this political hogwash to resign and allow the NTSB to try and repair its tarnished reputation by returning to meaningful public service. Neither the NTSB nor the American people need a partisan politician appearing to cover up a probable terrorist act and further jeopardizing commercial flight safety.


William S. Donaldson

cc: Mr. John Cahill, President & CEO, TRANS World Airlines, Inc.

Mr. Phillip Condit, President & CEO, The Boeing Company

Mr. David Westin, President, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

Mr. Michael Bromwich, Inspector General, Office of Inspector General

Mr. Louis Freeh, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigations

Mr. Barry Valentine, Acting administrator, FAA

Senator Slade Gorton, Chairman, Subcommittee on Aviation

Rep. John J. Duncan, Chairman, Subcommittee on Aviation

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