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An interesting story from James Lawther:

…During the second world war over 60 million people were killed.  That was roughly 3% of the world-wide population.  It was a hazardous time.

Among the hardest hit were the bomber crews.  The Eighth Air Force suffered half of all the U.S. Air Force’s casualties.  The British fared as badly.  The chances of surviving the war as a member of the RAF’s bomber command were only marginally better than even.

If flying bombing raids wasn’t dangerous enough, landing when you returned home was also fraught with danger.  Pilots of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress had a series of runway crashes, accidentally retracting the landing gear when they touched down.

…Accident investigators blamed these incidents on pilot (or human) error.  There was no obvious mechanical failure.

It wasn’t only Flying Fortresses that had the problem.  There were stories of pilots of P-17 Thunderbolts and B-25 Mitchells making the same mistake.

Nobody would deliberately retract the landing gear when they were still hurtling across the tarmac.  Why the pilots did so was anybody’s guess.  Perhaps the pilot’s attention wandered when they realized they were almost home.

…The authorities asked Alphonse Chapanis,  a military psychologist to explain the behavior.  He noticed that the accidents only happened to certain planes and not others.  There were thousands of C-47 transport planes buzzing about.  Their pilots never suffered from such fatal inattention.

After inspecting the cockpits of the different planes the cause became clear.  On B-17s the controls for the flaps and undercarriage were next to one another.  They also had the same style of handle.   Pilots who retracted the undercarriage when the wheels were on the ground were actually trying to retract the flaps. They just pulled the wrong lever.

In the C-47 the two controls were very different and positioned apart from each other.

The solution: Once he identified the cause Chapanis developed an equally simple solution.  Circular rubber disks were stuck to the levers for the undercarriage and triangles were stuck to the levers for the flaps.  When a pilot touched the rubber, he felt the difference and the crashes stopped…The pilots were well aware of which lever to pull.  It was “human error” that caused the mistake.  But laying the blame on the pilots wasn’t ever going to solve that.

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We all make mistakes.  It is in our nature.  Don’t fight it, fix it.

 

End

 

The original post – unfortunately no way to reblog – may be read here.

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