A broken part from what appears to be a Boeing 777 was discovered on Wednesday on Reunion Island, a French island in the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar. Though it has yet to be confirmed, the debris may be linked to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared in March of last year en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Experts have indicated that the piece is a right wing flaperon, which is being sent to France on Friday for further inspection. So, exactly what is a flaperon?
A flaperon is a piece of an airplane wing, located along the edge of the wing facing towards the back of the plane — known as the trailing edge — about 1/4 of the way before the body of the aircraft. The trailing edge is made up of four different components: a hinged piece located near the tip of the wing known as the aileron, two extendable flaps, and a flaperon in between the flaps. The aileron moves slightly upwards and helps control axis movement and balance while the flaps allow for control of ascent and descent, their position relatively fixed but the part itself extendable. The flaperon combines the hinged movement of the aileron with the retractable aspects of the flap. Flaperons are used for balance as well as control when moving the plane along its axis, aiding in descent and takeoff as well as minor in-flight adjustments.
The condition of the flaperon discovered on Reunion Island may indicate two possible scenarios as to why it broke off, according to a report released by American Mobile Satellite Corp. co-founder Mike Exner. The report states that either the flaperon sustained damage when the wing hit the ocean or the piece broke off during a high speed descent. Exner assesses the damage in his report, concluding that the condition of the piece points to the flaperon most likely breaking off during descent:
The lack of leading edge damage points to the second scenario only... This is much more consistent with the Flaperon being “torn” from the wing while in high speed flight (forced rearward by the airflow). In addition, the ragged tear along the trailing edge is indicative of flutter induced stress and ultimate fatigue failure, not a break off due to high bending moments at impact.
The part has yet to be officially confirmed as a flaperon from a Boeing 777, specifically MH370. According to a statement released by Malaysian Airlines, the company believes that "at the moment, it would be too premature to speculate on the origin of the flaperon." There is a high likelihood that the part indeed belongs to the missing plane, as all other planes from four other 777 crashes involving hull loss, or irreparably destroyed aircrafts, have been accounted for.
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