Aviation Safety and the Crash of Flight 800
Joseph E. Shepherd
Professor of Aeronautics, Engineering and Applied Science, Caltech
On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded and fell from 13,800 feet into the ocean south of Long Island, NY. Since that time, hundreds of explanations have been offered, ranging from the absurd to the sinister. The search for the actual cause has centered on the explosion of residual fuel vapors within the center wing tank. The Explosion Dynamics Laboratory at Caltech has worked with the National Transportation Safety Board to study a wide range of issues that contributed to the flammability and explosion of the jet fuel vapors within the tank. The results of our laboratory and field experiments on ignition and flame propagation in aviation kerosene (Jet A) will be described as well as recent developments in airplane regulation that were prompted by this incident.