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Rearward Facing Seats - A Great Story

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Rearward Facing Seats - A Great Story

Old 3rd Mar 2010, 18:23
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Rearward Facing Seats - A Great Story

A disertation on the benefits of rearward facing passenger seats has got started on the "Britannia" thread. Mention is made of the accident to Hastings TG574 at Benina and so I thought you all might like to hear a story of great skill and bravery. This is an extract from my history of 53 Sqn:

"It had been decided to shut down the Singapore slip-schedule for Christmas so Hastings TG574 was sent off to act as the "sweeper" (get the crews home for Christmas). It had already "swept-up" four complete slip-crews and three passengers on its way from Singapore through Negombo, Karachi and Habbaniya when F/L Graham Tunnadine and crew climbed on board at Fayid on 20 December(1950). They had hoped to make the next refuelling stop at Castel Benito (Tripoli) but had to make an unscheduled stop at El Adem (Tobruk). They finally left El Adem at 1958Z and set course for Castel Benito climbing up to 8,500 feet before setting cruise power. The co-pilot, F/L S L Bennett, went back to rest on the crew bunk since he was expected to fly the aircraft on to UK from Castel Benito. His place on the flight deck was taken by S/L W G James of 99 Sqn.

Some 42 minutes after take-off there was a loud bang and a great deal of violent shuddering. A blade had come off of the No.2 propeller and it had sliced through the fuselage, severing all of the tail control rods. It had then struck F/L Bennett, who was resting on the bunk and taken his right arm off. The three remaining blades on the No.2 propeller were now hopelessly out of balance so the entire engine was torn from its mountings and fell off, taking the port undercarriage and a large section of the wing leading edge with it.

Graham Tunnadine was desperately trying to keep the aircraft flying straight and level but had an almost impossible task on his hands. The flight engineer, Sgt P E Walker, had quickly established that there was no hope of repairing the severed tail control rods so the only primary flying controls left undamaged were the ailerons. First of all, the captain had to prevent the nose from getting too high otherwise the resulting stall would be impossible to recover from. He tried having the movable baggage and equipment in the cabin moved forward but there wasn't enough of it to have the desired effect. Next, he got the slip-crews to move fore and aft until the aircraft was flying level.

He was then able to keep the aircraft reasonably straight by using the ailerons and asymmetric thrust from the remaining three engines. Just how long the engines could put up with this sort of punishment was another question. The signaller, Sgt G J Bain, had sent out a Mayday call which was answered by Benina, the RAF airfield near Benghazi. Although they were not expecting any aircraft that night, they told Sgt Bain that they could quickly lay out a flare path and provide fire equipment and medical services, so it was decided to attempt a landing there.

S/L T C L Brown, a senior medical officer from Abingdon who was travelling as a passenger on TG574, had immediately gone forward to look after F/L Bennett. He tried to move him from the wrecked bunk area but found that he was trapped by the wreckage. He made the brave decision to stay with the seriously injured co-pilot, fully realising that he would be in great danger when the Hastings crash-landed.

F/L Tunnadine had eased the aircraft down to 6,000 feet by the time they arrived overhead Benina and his plan was to make a belly-landing by putting power on at the last moment, in the hope that this would be enough to raise the nose. He then descended to 1,000 feet by moving the slip-crews around again and positioned the aircraft on to final approach. Two slip-crew members stayed on their feet in order to make last minute trim changes before diving into the nearest seats just before impact.

They almost made it to the airfield but TG574 struck gently rising ground just a few hundred yards short of the runway. The aircraft bounced for another 100 yards, the starboard wing struck the ground and the Hastings ended up on its back at 2155Z. Thanks to the use of rearward facing passenger seats, everyone in the cabin survived with only minor injuries. It was a different story at the front of the aircraft. The nose was smashed in and F/L Tunnadine, S/L James and the navigator, F/S I A Johns, were dead. Sgt G J Bain was seriously injured and died on 24 December. Sgt Walker and the AQM, Sgt W A Slaughter, were injured.

Sadly, F/L Bennett had died of his injuries and S/L Brown, who had bravely sat on the floor holding him in his arms, was seriously injured. He was happily to recover and was awarded the George Medal. The crew of TG574 were each awarded the King's Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air. Many at the time (and subsequently) considered this to be miserly recognition for such a magnificent piece of flying".

I subsequently flew with one of the survivors when I was flying Belfasts with 53 Sqn. Dai told me that, not only was he able to get out uninjured, he was driving a spare ambulance 15 minutes afterwards!

So, this particular crash was a triumph for rearward facing seats.

P.S. Who said Sioux City was new?

Last edited by JW411; 3rd Mar 2010 at 18:34.
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Old 3rd Mar 2010, 19:22
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Awesome. I can't think of anything else to say.
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Old 3rd Mar 2010, 20:32
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So why dont we have rearward facing seats in all pax aircraft, both civilian and military? Its been a bone of contention of mine for years and I have used the above story as an example......but noone is listening
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Old 3rd Mar 2010, 21:58
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So why don't we have rearward facing seats...
Good question.

The usual reply is "passengers won't like it." Passengers don't like lots of things, like security, but when there's no option they'll accept it. The real problem is spineless regulators who won't force the industry to introduce it.

I tried once, in the '70s, when I was in a position to make a change with a small fleet of 40-seat turboprops mainly flying charter work for a small number of clients (oil companies). We identified a suitable seat, rear-facing, 9G back, no recline, etc. No sector was more than 30-40 minutes. The additional weight of each pair, with the stronger back, was such that 19X2 seats weighed the same as 20X2 forward facing seats. The floor mountings were fine for each type of seat, as you would expect.

The idea was dismissed as dangerously fanciful by our clients' accountants, who regarded the loss of payload as totally unacceptable. "But, think of the added safety in a survivable impact," we said. "Get lost," they said, "who cares about that. Just make sure we get the sector payloads we're paying for."
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Old 3rd Mar 2010, 22:53
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The Trident (HS121) had some rearward facing seats making a ‘club four’ arrangement. These were well sought after as they afforded a spacious area for a decent hot breakfast LHR – EDI, and a convenient layout for a ‘bridge four’ and G & T on the return journey – passenger appeal.

Last edited by safetypee; 4th Mar 2010 at 12:57. Reason: typo
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Old 4th Mar 2010, 00:02
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First of all, the captain had to prevent the nose from getting too high otherwise the resulting stall would be impossible to recover from.
FWIW you won't stall, you'll just fly a parabolic curve and then the nose will come down quite steeply.

Great story though, thanks.

And yes I agree that airliner seats should face backwards.
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Old 4th Mar 2010, 05:45
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I'm fairly certain Dan-Air's 727 -100 / 200 's had some rearward facing seats near the o'wing exits as a friend of mine at the time said how much she preferred them when travelling to Malaga on a regular basis. ...and madam was, as they say, somewhat particular at times. We have rearward facing seats in trains after all so what's the difference from a pax perspective..if any ?.

Never bothered me when being carted around in a VC10 c/o Aunty Betty I have to say.
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Old 4th Mar 2010, 05:53
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I seem to remember some of the early Britannia 737-200 had the first row facing backwards with a table between that row and the next forward facing one.
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Old 4th Mar 2010, 06:18
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The 'passengers dont like it' story is often trotted out. Many modern first and business classes now have mixed foward and rear facing seats as do many trains (where there can be a motion problem. People use them.
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Old 4th Mar 2010, 06:30
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First ever flight on an airliner back in 1979. Trident 2, still in BEA colours (I think...) reward facing seat, about half the cabin was I think.... The only strange thing is the sensation at take off and climb out of facing down slightly.
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Old 4th Mar 2010, 06:57
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I flew sitting on a rearward facing seat on a Southwest 737 (a 700 I think) a few years ago. It was fine, though it did feel slightly odd during acceleration and the fairly steep climb out.

Excellent post JW411.
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Old 4th Mar 2010, 08:14
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I regularly choose a rear-facing window seat in the BA Club cabin and once airborne you really don't notice any difference and I've never heard anyone complain.
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Old 5th Mar 2010, 00:33
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A lot of Chinese internal ( Domestic ) aircraft have club style seating in the Fwd section for "business" class passengers complete with table to sit around and cards for Fan Tan enroute.
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Old 5th Mar 2010, 05:45
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Which brings me back to the mystery. It is known as an absolute fact that rear facing seats are safer so why are they not required, particularly in new aircraft??????
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Old 5th Mar 2010, 14:02
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I rather think that the answer may be along the lines of, "but it's always been like that".
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Old 5th Mar 2010, 15:04
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4 Greens, Capot's post #4 above has the main reason in its last paragraph: it's simply that rearward-facing seats are heavier. This is because the c.g. of the decelerating occupant is further from the floor, the moment arm of the decelerating force applied by the occupant to the seat is greater, and so the seat mountings have to be stronger and are therefore heavier... The accountants see rearward facing seats as lost payload and therefore lost revenue, and will not countenance them. In the absence of determined regulators, or a travelling public up in arms for them, they are just not going to happen.

Incidentally, going on leave as an indulgence passenger on a scheduled RAF VC-10 service many years ago, I was refused travel insurance by any company, even for a loaded premium, because I was not 'travelling with a recognised airline'. When I explained that No 10 Sqn's seats were safer than any airline's because they faced backwards, and moreover that the aircraft would be flown to and from Washington by the same crews who had flown the Queen the previous week, the answer was still no. We went to the USA without travel insurance. I concluded that the insurance industry's ignorance is matched only by its inflexibility.
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Old 5th Mar 2010, 16:32
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Surely it's only lost revenue because passengers aren't prepared to pay the extra to reflect the lower payload. Which considering the chances of an accident at all, never mind one where rear facing seats would help, is understandable.

If passengers don't think the extra safety is worth the cost, why should regulators interfere?
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Old 5th Mar 2010, 18:38
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D120A has summed it up neatly. My personal take on this is that it is just not worth it in terms of seat/miles/accidents especially when you look at the number of accidents where the extra protection afforded by these seats would have saved lives or significantly reduced serious injury.

High energy 'stops' such as high speed over-runs and undershoots account for a small percentage of fatal crashes, and the number where the decel was such that a rear facing pax would have survived even less.

We need to face the fact that human life is quantifiable in accountancy terms and that such things as rail and aviation safety changes will only be triggered when the cost is less than the accountants' assessment of loss of life. There is a figure which I saw quoted a while back for the 'acceptable' ratio of fatals in rail travel in terms of deaths per x thousand pax miles, and it is rare for that figure to be exceeded. Likewise in air travel, and there you have the bone-heads in insurance as described by D120A to cope with as well.
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Old 5th Mar 2010, 20:15
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Article in Flight 20th August 1964 which argues for rear facing seats. it also states:

.....(for example, the disaster at Munich, when nationally acclaimed footballers in forward-facing seats were killed, and those in aft-facing seats were saved)...
This statement re Manchester United footballers seat positions and the Munich disaster is new to me, but it didn't seem to steer the public to clamour for rearward facing seats, which is a pity.

Full article here:
aft-facing seats | flight international | rearward-facing seats | 1964 | 2260 | Flight Archive

Another more recent (October 2009) article here:
Are aft-facing airplane seats safer? | Need to Know | Air & Space Magazine
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Old 6th Mar 2010, 05:13
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Thanks for the interesting comments. One of these days, if there is an airline with rear facing seats, some bright PR guy might sell them all on the basis of increased safety.
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