Failed generator prompted emergency landing of United 787

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by GLENN FARLEY / KING 5 News Aviation Specialist

Bio | Email | Follow: @GlennFarley

KING5.com

Posted on December 5, 2012 at 6:55 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 5 at 6:56 PM

SEATTLE -- The pilots in the cockpit of United flight 1146 on Tuesday were worried about the possibility of an electrical meltdown aboard their brand new 787 Dreamliner ... worried enough that they declared an emergency and diverted to the New Orleans airport, where the plane still sits.

In conversations recorded by the website LiveATC.net, the pilots asked emergency responders to look at the section of the lower part of the jet right behind the wing as soon as they landed.  That section contains the rear electrical bay, which is the electrical load center for the aircraft.

"It's behind the wing where all the high load electrical stuff is....we don't anticipate anything, that's just where he needs to be," one of the pilots said to air traffic controllers in the tower.

The landing was made “out of an abundance of caution,” one source told KING 5, and the recording shows the pilots were very calm and professional. But one has to take a step back when listening to these words to firefighters on the ground: "We just need a visual inspection, to make sure there's no discoloration or dripping plastic," one pilot says.

The incident harkens back to 2010 when an onboard fire broke out on a 787 test flight. The fire occurred after stray metal fell into some electrical contacts, causing them to short out.  A computer kept forcing power into the short, causing everything to overheat.  Once diagnosed, Boeing changed the design -- a key reminder of why extensive flight testing is carried out.

On Wednesday afternoon, Boeing said it found the cause of the problem -- a failed generator. No fire or no electrical arcing occurred. A spokesman for United said the plane should be returned to service soon.

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