Boeing vs WTC
John Herold - January 29, 2009
You'll have to pardon my giddiness at what happened yesterday.
In my work I drive to homes and businesses to solve computer problems. Every now and again I meet someone with knowledge or experience that directly relates to my understanding of 9/11. And when I detect that I'm in the presence of a real expert, I'll start a verbal dance where I quiz them about 9/11 without mentioning 9/11. For a brief window of time, I can get some honest answers without evoking the natural resistance people often have when they realize what they believe is incorrect. Once that happens, emotions often take over and the rational discussion usually stops. All this while fixing their computer.
This time my client was a kind, retired gentleman. After I got to work we started chatting about subjects other than his computer. He ruminated about airplanes and informed me that he's a retired Boeing engineer.
Sweet! I love quizzing people about planes, and here I am talking to someone who really should know!
He then went on: "The 787 is a mess. In for another delay. Composites are very tricky. The interface between metals and composites is difficult. Titanium+composite is OK. But when aluminum meets composite, they literally rot each other over time. This is why there's so much talk about these fasteners. Ultimately the 787 will be heavier, more expensive, less efficient, way delayed, and more technically tricky than promised. Unless these problems are solved, it'll probably be less safe than promised, too. They should just stick with what they know. All this hassle isn't worth it."
He then mentioned that the Hudson River water landing wouldn't have gone so well had it been in a Boeing 737 rather than an Airbus A-320.
He had my attention. "Why?" I asked.
He then explained that it's due to the fact that the cross-section of an Airbus fuselage is ROUND. Before the 777 he said, Boeing airliners are what I believe he called "double-lobed" -- meaning that if you view the fuselage end-on it would NOT be round. Instead, he equated it to a compressed "figure-8" shape. It's wider on the bottom, and then the bottom half is joined to a smaller-diameter upper piece and those two pieces have to be joined together and fastened carefully. That joint is naturally not as strong as if there were no joint at all. That's what an Airbus is. It's round without interruption. Like an egg, this continuous [uniform] curve [curvature] lends strength since no one point is any more vulnerable than another. It's all round. The superior strength of a seamless circle as he put it, is just common sense.
He suspected that a 737's fuselage would probably have come apart in the stress of said water landing.
So bottom line, fly Airbus, he told me. Their design makes better sense and he said there are more and more Boeing engineers who are willing to admit the same. Being retired gave him a certain advantage in the candor department, I suspect.
So naturally I began to think, if this retired Boeing engineer is ready to admit that Boeings are fragile in a water landing, then surely he'll have no problem rejecting plane-shaped holes in the WTC.
Of course this subject is kind of tricky to approach with my computer clients. In this case, the more questions I asked about the vulnerability of airliners, the more suspicious he became that I was planning to show up in the evening news.
"Trust me, I have no intent to hurt anyone or any planes," I assured him.
"You're not going to fly a plane into my house, are you?" he said half-jokingly.
Then we discussed my work on his computer...for a little while.
Ten minutes later I returned to the more important matter.
"So humor me: if I locked you in a hangar with a Boeing 767 and a 9 pound sledgehammer, do you think you could make it unflyable in 15 minutes?" This is one of my very favorite questions and it gets all sorts of responses.
Without pausing, he quickly replied, "I don't need 15 minutes, and I don't need a hammer. I'll just unplug a few wires and I'm all done."
"What about from the outside of the plane? Could you do it then?" I wanted to hear what a sledgehammer does to a plane. This guy was too smart for the my first version of the question.
Calmly he stated, "It would be so easy. I could do with my hands. But with a sledgehammer, sure, even easier."
I asked where the plane is the most fragile. He then told me that most of the strength in a Boeing is on the bottom of the plane. The top is where it's most fragile. Parts of the tail are pretty delicate, too.
"How thick is the skin?" I could barely contain my excitement at what he had to say.
â..It varies,â. he said. Some places it's more than 1/2 inch (I think he even said 3/4 inch in the strongest places like where the wing and fuselage meet). Multi-layered aluminum.
"What about the frame? What's it made from?"
With an expression as if he didn't even need to say so, "It's all aluminum, John."
Playing dumb, I asked, "So the frame isn't made from steel."
"No way. There's no steel anywhere except for stainless steel cargo doors on certain models, and a little in the back in case the plane scrapes its tail on the runway. But it's not much."
You should have seen his face. The thought of a plane made of steel (frame, skin, whatever) was laughable. I might as well have asked if his house was made from soap bubbles.
So at this point I'm thinking, this guy's open-minded enough...let's see if he'll "go there," as it were.
I spilled the beans and told him about what I very gently described as a "debate" regarding whether planes actually crashed into the Twin Towers on 9/11.
Incredulous, he raised his voice and started talking faster: "My wife told me to turn on the TV and I saw it happen! The plane looked like it flew behind the tower, but it actually hit it. And the explosion and fire, you know fire weakens steel. Eventually the building started to collapse and it couldn't stop."
He just went on and on about how he saw it happen. It was really pretty funny to watch.
"Yes, but is that what a Boeing 767 would do when encountering the WTC?" I asked. "Some people don't think so."
"John you have to remember that the plane was fully fueled and was going quite fast, probably 170 or maybe even 200. And then all that fuel would just weaken the whole building and there you have it."
HOLD UP, I'm thinking. I didn't hear him specify whether he meant mph or knots, but who cares? This guy is under the impression that this plane was coming in for a mid-air refueling with the WTC, not balls-to-the-wall full throttle as government and media described it.
I informed him that NIST claims United 175 was going over 500 mph.
"What? No way. That's wrong. Commercial jets don't fly even close to that fast at that low an altitude. That's incorrect."
"Why not?" I asked rhetorically.
Confidently he replied, "Because of the air resistance! Sure, they can achieve high speeds like that at 42,000 feet, but it's very thin up there."
I wonder what was going through his mind at this point. Here he's discovered that his knowledge of airliners directly contradicts what he believes happened on 9/11, on multiple fronts.
So I paused for a while...returned to fixing his computer and let it go.
Then I asked him to humor me again.
"What would happen if, while flying a 757 at very low altitude and high speed (whatever that means), what would happen if you hit a light pole with the wing?
"You mean the cast metal kind or wood?"
"Take your pick." I said.
He paused for a second. "Well...I think the wing could cut the light pole down whether it was made of wood or aluminum. It would definitely damage the wing but I don't think it would take the wing off."
To review I asked, "So a light pole wouldn't stay standing, and leave a hole in the airplane's wing shaped like a light pole?"
He started laughing. "No."
"OK, how about this?" I asked. "What if you took a big beefy, load-bearing steel column from a skyscraper, buried some of it in the ground and then hit THAT with the wing?â.
Without hesitation, he responded, "Oh, now there you'd have a problem. The wing will not sheer a steel beam. Instead the beam will destroy the wing and there you have it. The pilot is not going to have a good day. That plane, what's left of it, is in big trouble."
"So the wing will not sheer the steel and keep going?"
"Of course not, John."
"But that's what you were told! That 'plane' into the World Trade Center left behind a plane-shaped hole, all the way out to the wings!" Now I was the one having trouble staying calm.
"What? No!" He seemed to think I got my "facts" wrong.
"YES! That's how the official story goes!"
Talking faster without even thinking about it, I asked, "Another question -- how hard would it be to maneuver a Boeing into the WTC and hit it, wingtip-to-wingtip at 500 mph or so?"
"John you can't go that fast at that altitude, but if you could -- it would be tough! You can't easily make adjustments and correct your errors like you can when you're getting ready to land. That IS what those hijackers were doing. They had just taken off, you know."
I had to correct him: "No, actually the maps they showed us depict a much more circuitous route and again, NIST claims United 175 was going 500 mph when it hit the WTC." It was really getting good watching his face.
He quipped, "Somebody's lying about that. They're not telling the truth."
At this point all I had to do was watch him go.
"But...but John, the strongest part of a building are those load-bearing core columns that hold the stairways and elevators! The concrete floors and exterior in a building, other than the corners, is really not that strong. If the plane had hit the core columns, or one of the corners, THAT would be like the steel beam you're imagining."
I then informed him that the WTC towers were unusual that way, with much of its load-bearing steel on the outside perimeter, and that really as buildings go, it's probably a poor candidate for a plane-shaped hole with a Boeing.
And that was it. I finished fixing his computer, his wife wrote me a check and I was on my way. I wonder what's going through his mind. I wonder if he hears a faint voice...Houston, we have a problem!
If he decides to hire me back, I'll see how he's progressed.
You can email John at firstname.lastname@example.org .