What Brought Down the Air France Jet over the Atlantic?
Just my tuppence worth. The best current info on the subject is Wikipedia which has peer reviewed sifting and not a load of speculative ‘maybes’. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AF_447 Also, check http://www.weathergraphics.com/tim/af447/ for good weather, navigation and aircraft info.
Aside from a bomb, which has never been mentioned because the authorities must have had a bit more information than they are letting on to disregard that option, lightning has been bandied around a bit along with big hailstones and updrafts.
A lot is being made about turbulence and thunderstorms in the Intertropical Conversion Zone (ITCZ). As far as I can find, no wings have ever snapped on a modern airliner due to up or down drafts. They may cause the airplane to do something else, but the wings stay on!
So thunderstorms, especially in the tropics, happen all the time. But aircraft can take them routinely nowadays because they are designed to. So let’s eliminate this option. If the airplane had stalled, at normal altitude the crew would have had plenty of time to radio mayday. Even with electrics fused, the airplane has an automatic spinner that pops out to generate new electric for control and comms. Lightning, similarly, because it happens all the time, is planned for and designed against, so eliminate that as well.
However, I remember everything, (on this sort of thing!!), and way back in the 90s I saw a TV show about the recently discovered phenomenon of Blue jets and Red Sprites. There are a host of such upward moving electrical discharges from the top of thunderstorms, nearly always above the ocean. They were postulated by Wilson in the 1920s, physicist inventor of the Cloud Chamber, which, it can easily be argued, helped to bring about the Atomic Bomb. They were discovered in 1989. Wilson knew his stuff.
My emphasis shows that all the factors are in place for a viable method of bringing down a large modern aircraft in open airspace. (also, see Letter to Nature: Gigantic jets between a thundercloud and the ionosphere; Wikipedia: Upper Atmosheric Lightning or TLE). Because of global warming, thunderstorms will be more prevalent and more violent as the Earth seeks to equalise it’s overheated energy balance. So I suggest that in future, it’s probably safer (but more expensive in time and fuel) to fly right round thunderstorms, not over the top or steer through. It’s another example of Karmic Retribution or Lovelock’s Gaia effect of automatic feedback mechanisms.
Enough of that. I think Blue Jets are the most likely cause of the aircraft’s demise. Their origin is at normal flying height.
Now watch the videos. Imagine trying to fly an aircraft right over that lot. The jets are remarkably reminiscent of what could be called a particle beam weapon, or a Star Trek-like phaser or photon bomb-type weapon. The concentration of energy, in my mind, seems perfectly capable of knocking a airplane from the sky either by electrical overload, or physical damage to the structure by pressure force, or electrical corrosion due to plasma ablation. No-one haas been able to study the effects of such a thing because they are so rare.
Although totally natural, I doubt this knowledge will bring much immediate comfort to those affected. If the black box flight recorders are ever found (it’s gonna be tricky, two to four miles down a crack in the ocean floor), they may give some information. They may be completely burnt out by the discharge, of course. I know they have various structural and pressure design limits – I don’t know their electrical resistance to high intensity plasma discharges.?