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737 Max Second Deadly Crash / China Grounds Plane / Others Follow Suit / FAA Finally Grounds Jet



  • edited March 18
    @OJ - Thanks for commenting. I suspect it may work both ways. Under low power and certain configurations it might well be forward pitch. But the thrust of the engines (placed well ahead of the wings) at higher power would actually pull the front of the aircraft higher. Took my dense brain a while to understand that.:)
  • Here's a few short excerpts from that Washington Post article that @hank mentioned. I focused on these because of the similar issues facing Airbus.

    "Airbus equips many of its commercial jets with its own anti-stall software that relies on an automated process.

    During the Lufthansa flight in 2014, faulty information from the angle-of-attack sensors triggered the software, pushing the plane’s nose down, according to German aviation investigators. The program thought the plane was nearing a stall. The captain was eventually able to override the automated system, and the pilots, after talking with a maintenance crew, identified the likely problem and continued the flight to Munich.

    Investigators later found that two of the angle-of-attack sensors were blocked, probably by frozen water, and generated improper readings.

    European authorities and the FAA issued airworthiness directives over several years aimed at addressing sensor problems on Airbuses."


    "EVENTUALLY ???"

    As I stressed earlier in this thread,
    "there definitely needs to be an easy to see and quick- to use override that doesn't require fumbling through menus to locate. Trust me on this... if you're a pilot and the nose of your plane is pointing steeply down you don't have time to look for some obscure software command set. Especially, as in the last two incidents, if you are at a low altitude. A big plane can go downhill very fast."
    Fortunately for that Lufthansa flight the incident occurred at 31000 feet, giving the pilots sufficient time to respond:

    "As the Lufthansa plane fell from 31,000 feet, the captain pulled back on his stick as hard as he could. The nose finally responded. But he struggled to hold the plane level."

    The two Boeing aircraft, at 8000 feet, did not have that "luxury".

  • edited March 18
    @hank- Yes, of course. Your observation re different angle-of-attack reactions at different engine power outputs is quite accurate.
  • edited March 20
    An article today in "The Middle Seat" column of the Wall Street Journal has a couple of interesting aspects. First, it appears that Southwest Airlines has installed additional monitoring equipment for the suspected angle-of-attack sensors:

    "Southwest, which has the largest U.S. fleet of MAX jets, also completed installation earlier this year of warning lights in its MAX cockpits that alert pilots if the two angle-of-attack sensors disagree, a sign one is failing. A faulty angle-of-attack indicator is suspected of playing a role in the Lion Air crash."

    This suggests a number of questions:

    • Was this systems modification unique to Southwest, or have other airlines installed similar monitoring devices?

    • Was this systems modification recommended by or supplied by Boeing, or was this a one-off installation by Southwest to attempt to increase the safety margins on a Boeing-designed system?

    To put this in context, when was the last time that you purchased a brand-new vehicle, then felt it necessary to design and install an additional safety system at your own expense?

    Airlines don't spend money modifying cockpit systems without a pretty good reason.

    • What led Southwest to do this?
    • What did they know that justified the expense for additional monitoring equipment?
    • Was there internal input from their pilots that prompted this?

    Additionally, the article reports that:

    "If the MCAS system malfunctions, pilots say the prescribed fix is to use manual trim to stabilize the plane, and then disconnect the trim system. There’s a cutoff switch on the center pedestal of the 737, not far from throttles, marked “Stab Trim.” Pilots routinely train to disconnect the automatic trim in the case of runaway trim with autopilot use."

    What pilots say this? If it's as easy as simply flipping a prominently located switch, and pilot training routinely covers the use of this switch, what is the basis of all of the well-documented confusion and accusations of lack of information and training regarding the MCAS automated control system? Something definitely is not adding up here.
  • edited March 20
    Thanks @Old_Joe for the update. Southwest probably understands 737s like no other - as it’s been (in various versions) the only plane in their fleet almost from Day-One. Enviable safety record - though (oddly) the regulators have levied a substantial amount of fines against them for substandard maintenance over the years. Go figure. Bottom line is they’ve transported millions of people over several decades on 737s on flights that are often short-hop (higher risk) and over that time have experienced only 2 fatalities (one of whom was struck on the ground during an errant landing).

    Couple updates:

    (1) The FBI has joined the 737 Max investigation and is looking into potential criminal wrongdoing in the plane’s certification process. There are also undocumented reports from some media outlets to the effect that former Boeing executives serving in high levels of government may have helped speed the process along. (I can’t verify that.)

    (2) Portions of the Lions Air cockpit voice recording have been made public and, as one might expect, the captain was fumbling through the plane’s operating manual desperately looking for a way to override MCAS during the final minutes of the flight. I thought this article quite well written from the aviation technical point of view and hope you find it of interest.
  • @hank- Thanks for the additional info. Also, I've updated my original post, above, with some additional thoughts and questions.
  • edited March 20
    From OJ’s earlier post:

    Additionally, the article reports that:

    “If the MCAS system malfunctions, pilots say the prescribed fix is to use manual trim to stabilize the plane, and then disconnect the trim system. There’s a cutoff switch on the center pedestal of the 737, not far from throttles, marked “Stab Trim.” Pilots routinely train to disconnect the automatic trim in the case of runaway trim with autopilot use."

    “What pilots say this? If it's as easy as simply flipping a prominently located switch, and pilot training routinely covers the use of this switch, what is the basis of all of the well-documented confusion and accusations of lack of information and training regarding the MCAS automated control system? Something definitely is not adding up here.


    @OJ- I’ll defer to your experience on this point. But there’s reference to the MCAS repeatedly resetting itself after pilots have disengaged it - so likely not as easy to override as they’d have us believe. And without adequate simulator training it would be a nightmare to deal with. To the core of the issue: Boeing sold this plane as an upgraded version of an existing model rather than a new aircraft. (Here we’re getting into the now suspect certification process.) That’s not an insignificant distinction. The new designation would have mandated retraining of crews - including in simulators. So the airlines apparently eagerly bought this thing with the idea of not having to invest millions of dollars in crew retraining.

    It will fly again - but likely with much better crew training and some tweaks to the MCAS. Fly-by-wire would almost by definition appear to transfer a fair amount of trim control to computers. I’m wondering how an individual would even fly the thing without a degree of computerized trim assist? Might be like driving without your power steering operating - or worse. Nothing new here. I was told reliably nearly 20 years ago that properly equipped 747s were routinely executing fully automated landings at some large international airports - particularly in foul weather.
  • @hank- What an excellent question! Can that "Stab Trim" switch be repeatedly "reset" by the MCAS?

    I don't know the answer, but if that is true, what a damned nightmare.
  • Howdy,

    Had to join the fun. Airplane idiot but in this case, it's more about how does a company respond to a problem and Boeing is now in a class by themselves as one of the worst cases of problem mismanagement I've ever seen.

    From the beginning their response has been 'those stupid pilots didn't RTFM'. Excuse me but that's OK with your printer but not with 100's of dead bodies. It's also been a pretty significantly racist response - 'those foreign pilots not following procedures'.

    Nopers, I wouldn't touch BA with your money. Sure, you may make a buck here or there, but under the current management team, I would avoid them like the plague . . . or flying on a 737 Max.

    and so it goes,


  • edited March 21
    Doomed Jets Lacked 2 Safety Features That Boeing Sold as Extras
  • I'd really like to thank @Old_Joe and @hank for their copious posts and editing with their own explanatory commentary.

    I'd heard about a report in an Asian paper on the history of the 737MAX (and how it was rushed into production) but hadn't gotten around to checking it out. This is a plane that shouldn't have been built. Finally found a story here:

    Leeham News and Analysis, Boeing didn’t want to re-engine the 737–but had design standing by, March 20, 2019.

    "Boeing didn’t really want to do the MAX. Officials in 2010-2011 engineered the MAX as a fallback airplane in case its hand was forced by Airbus as it first pondered and then launched the A320neo.

    "'while we haven’t made a firm decision, I don’t think we will re-engine the 737. It’s really hard to come up with a compelling business case to do that.'

    "Boeing being Boeing, it devoted considerable engineering resources to studying a 737RE, as the re-engine was informally known, as well as an entirely new design.

    "At one point, “the wind was blowing toward a new airplane.” The 737, he said, was structurally old technology, “

    "Bair said that with few exceptions, as Boeing showed the 737RE to customers, they asked if 'there was something else we can do?'

    "Boeing was indecisive about which direction to choose.

    "The ambiguity was driven in no small part during this era by the continued 787 debacle, which at the time of this interview, had not entered service.

    "'What we have done is taken this [re-engine] option ... and we’ve put it on the shelf ... We can change our mind if something happens in the industry that makes it more compelling.'

    "The pending Airbus order from American Airlines was that “something.” The MAX was launched in July 2011 with the American order."

  • edited March 21
    Can’t top @msf’s article above for in depth coverage of the 737 Max project development. But came across another great article on how the plane was rushed into production and, importantly, why the new engine / engine placement made the aircraft more prone to stalls.

    “Because of its bigger size, Boeing had to change the mounting point of the engine. In short, they put them further forward and much higher on the wings. But the different mounting point made the Boeing 737 MAX prone to a stall. The engine positions on the wings forced the nose of the aircraft to go up.”

    Training (for the new 737 variant) consisted of 57 minutes on an Ipad. “A few pilots have come out and talked about the so-called cost-cutting training program for the Boeing 737 MAX. Evidently, the training session was a one-hour theoretical lecture with an iPad on how to fly the MAX. Pilots did not step into the simulator to try their hand at the controls.”

    Note re above:. Many airlines have replaced paper flight manuals in the cockpit with ipads or similar devices. That goes back at least a decade. As a manual they have proven reliable. They can be quickly updated, weigh less and take up less space. However, this idea of training to fly a new jet on one sounds a bit suspect.

    Re @Old_Joe‘s references to MCAS, “And what’s even grimmer is the fact that the theoretical lecture did not include any information about the MCAS. Flight manuals also lacked any information about the system, which investigators are claiming to be responsible for the deadly accidents.
  • A WSJ reader posted a comment yesterday regarding the "MCAS" system which is under intense scrutiny as the possible cause of the two crashes.

    That comment referenced a very interesting aviation news article, with an excellent and detailed explanation of the MCAS.

    Here is a link to that article.

  • edited March 21
    Additional commentary on the referenced article:

    This article has a number of pictures of the stabilizer controls:

    The caption under these pictures states:

    "Normal electric trim control on the yoke can stop the MCAS-driven stabilizer movement, however MCAS will activate again within five seconds after the switches are released if the angle of attack is still sensed too high. Pilots can deactivate MCAS and automated control of the stabilizer trim with the cutout switches and can hand-crank the trim wheels on each side of the throttle quadrant for manual trim."

    This seems to suggest that there are two discreet sets of switches involved- one on the control yoke, and a second set on the control console. If I'm understanding this correctly, the switches on the control yoke will be overridden by MCAS within 5 seconds, assuming that MCAS is still sensing an incorrect angle-of-attack (AoA), which would be the case if the AoA sensors were providing incorrect data to the MCAS.

    That paragraph continues, and further states that "Pilots can deactivate MCAS and automated control of the stabilizer trim with the cutout switches and can hand-crank the trim wheels on each side of the throttle quadrant for manual trim." If this information is accurate, it would seem possible that the pilots involved did not use this second method of MCAS disable, or if they did, it was too late to be effective.

    With only some 8000 feet of altitude, and using the yoke to fight the descent of the aircraft plunging earthward, the pilots may simply not have had the immediate presence of mind or possibly enough time to use the MCAS disable switches and manual trim controls.

    And here is an interesting further excerpt from the article:

    The existence of the MCAS system caught pilots and their labor unions off guard , intensifying the scrutiny on the aircraft in the wake of the October 29 crash in Indonesia that killed everyone aboard. The system isn't mentioned in the flight crew operations manual (FCOM) that governs the master description of the aircraft for pilots and is the basis for Southwest's airline documentation and training.

    The Southwest Q&A asks Why?

    Since it operates in situations where the aircraft is under relatively high g load and near stall, a pilot should never see the operation of MCAS. As such, Boeing did not include an MCAS description in its FCOM. The explainer continues: "In this case, MCAS will trim nose as designed to assist the pilot during recover, likely going unnoticed by the pilot."

    There is another explanation, according to a Tuesday report in The Wall Street Journal: "One high-ranking Boeing official said the company had decided against disclosing more details to cockpit crews due to concerns about inundating average pilots with too much information — and significantly more technical data— than they needed or could digest".

  • edited March 21
    Yesterday, in a post up above, I asked a number of questions about Southwest's retrofit of an additional Angle-of-Attack malfunction indicator. That modification adds a warning light if the two AoA sensors, which are the primary inputs for the MCAS, are not in agreement.

    This morning @Gary added a link which gives the entire background on that situation. It seems that the warning system was sold by Boeing as an "extra", and numerous airlines, including United, didn't think the extra bit of safety gear was worth purchasing. To their credit, American and Southwest did spend a few extra bucks for the warning systems.

    Thanks to Gary for that info.
  • "Fast, cheap, good" keeps running through my head.

    With rushed delivery, scaled back training programs, cutting prices by making safety an add-on feature, we know which two Boeing picked.
  • @msf- Yes, for sure. How very depressing. Thanks much for your interest and contributions to this thread.
  • edited March 21
    Good stuff guys. Some neat illustrations to look over later tonight thanks to OJ.

    ABC reports that the device showing whether or not both AOA sensors agree was made “optional” by Boeing and wasn’t on the 2 plane’s that crashed. It costs an additional $8,000 per-plane (on top of a cost of about $120 mil for the Max 8). As OJ reported yesterday, Southwest is using it. ABC reports that in the U.S. American also uses the device, but United has not purchased it. As I sometimes fly United thru ORD I’m pleased to hear Boeing will be upgrading all these troubled planes to have it. There’s a second optional device also related to AOA. Forgot exactly what it does. But I think the one noted above is the more urgent upgrade.

    A system is only as good as its weakest link. It shouldn’t take a Sully Sullenberger to fly each and every one of these things. As a somewhat frequent traveler I don’t expect that. So, why not build-in the optimum safety features available?
  • edited March 21
    @hank- The following, from Gary's link, explains the two "optional" safety monitors:

    "One of the optional upgrades, the angle of attack indicator, displays the readings of the two sensors. The other, called a disagree light, is activated if those sensors are at odds with one another."

    I would think that the quick and dirty "disagree light" would be the more important of the two, as the pilots really need to immediately know in a stall-warning situation if the AoA sensors are not functioning properly.

    That's most likely why Southwest added the "Disagree" warning system after their initial purchase.
  • edited March 21
    @Old_Joe - Thanks. Yep - Makes sense. I was confused because both “add-ons” monitor the same parameters. Difference is one displays the actual readings (from each sensor) and the other just lights up or sounds an alarm if the readings disagree. Being a bit compulsive, I’d want both of those in front of me anyway. And, yes, I do recall that you referenced Southwest as having the disagree light.

    Anybody buying BA? Might be a great buy. But I smell a bunch of lawsuits coming. In addition, they’re going to shell out $$ retrofitting all those planes that should have been equipped with these safety devices in the first place. And, to maintain market share in the face of all this negative publicity they’ll likely have to sell these planes to airlines at lower prices. It won’t show up in the “sticker price” of course. But these guys negotiate package deals with the airlines and often offer big discounts to seal a deal. Business just got a lot tougher.

    Passenger reaction is hard to predict. A fickle lot. I doubt that 6 months from now it will make much difference to the flying public.
  • edited March 22
    Indonesia’s Garuda Airlines cancels order for 49 Boeing 737 MAX jets following 2nd deadly crash

    From The Washington Post:

    By Washington Post Staff
    March 22 at 1:26 AM

    "Garuda Airlines, Indonesia’s national carrier, said that consumers have “low confidence” in the models after two crashes in six months, one of which was in Indonesia. The cancellation is believed to be the first since the planes were grounded by a long list of nations following a deadly crash in Ethiopia on March 10."

    "This is a developing story. It will be updated."

    @hank- So it begins...
  • There's a lot of blame to go around from the airlines bean counters -to- Boeings highly competitive nature.

    A lot of finger pointing going on.

    I don't think the government has any grounds to get involved but they will find a way.

    I don't like air bags in cars which is a government mandate that I have to live with and adds extra to the cost.

    When the government gets done with these planes they will have added all types of safety features.

    Just my 2 centavos!
  • edited March 22
    "I don't think the government has any grounds to get involved but they will find a way... When the government gets done with these planes they will have added all types of safety features."

    Much more efficient to let airlines and aircraft manufacturers self-regulate. If the passengers don't like it they can always use some other airline, and besides, they are anyhow likely negligent for not buying crash insurance. Get the damned government off our backs!

    What business does the government have telling airplanes where and when they can takeoff, land, and fly anyway? Get rid of air-traffic control, and watch how fast this industry expands!

  • @MFO Members: OJ MFO's resident aircraft expert showing his stuff! I'm impressed, not
  • @Ted: Thanks for yet another positive contribution to a serious discussion. Your efforts to dominate MFO are really appreciated by MFO members, as evidenced by the fact that no one even bothers to comment on your "Closing Bell" posts and you have to cheat to even get them into the "Comments+" section.
  • edited March 26
    In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press is reporting that a preliminary report on the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people will be released later this week.

    A few excerpts from that article:

    "The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, France's BEA and an Ethiopian Transport Ministry department have been conducting the investigation, per International Civil Aviation Organization rules and regulations."

    "The New York Times reported Monday that pilots from five airlines tested current and updated software on a Boeing flight simulator. During a test that recreated conditions on the Lion Air flight, the pilots had less than 40 seconds to override the software before the plane uncontrollably plunged toward Earth, the newspaper said, citing two unidentified people involved in the testing.

    Pilots can flip one switch to reverse a move by the software to point the nose down, and they can disable the software by flipping two switches at their knees."

    "Pilots involved in the simulator testing followed those steps and kept the plane under control using the current anti-stall software, the newspaper reported. The Lion Air pilots, on the other hand, had received little training on the system and it was only after the plane crashed that Boeing first notified pilots of the system's existence.

    Jason Goldberg, a pilot who has flown the Max 8 and is spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, the union representing American Airlines pilots, said the anti-stall system "has significant control over the aircraft — it can pitch the nose down very significantly."

    He said it was "inexcusable for Boeing to omit this information from the pilot manuals for training. It's a serious breach of trust."

    (These excerpts were lightly edited for brevity.)
  • @MFO Members: "Report will be released later this week." Why would any thinking person speculate as to what happen before the report. Second guessing is a waste of our time.
  • edited March 26
    @Ted: I'm sorry to see that evidently you are no longer able to discern speculation from factual reporting.

    Suggestion: Try reading the above post a few more times, and hopefully you will be able to partially overcome your increasingly evident mental deterioration.
  • Here are a few excerpts from a current article in The Wall Street Journal which is reporting that:

    "The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration will tell a Senate panel Wednesday that the agency’s approach to regulating safety must “evolve” in the wake of two recent crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX—a new airliner cleared to fly by the FAA less than two years ago."

    "The FAA will introduce in July “a significant change in its oversight approach,” according to draft testimony from Calvin Scovell III, the inspector general of the Transportation Department"

    "The new oversight approach comes in response to previous calls for modernization at the FAA and not in reaction to the crashes of the two 737 MAX planes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, Mr. Scovell said."

    Comment: A classic example of locking the barn door...
  • edited March 26
    Thanks @Old_Joe for your recent updates. Please feel welcome to post anything new you come across.

    A few new developments:

    - International carriers seem to be avoiding the plane. @Old_Joe cited Indonesia recently. Yesterday China placed a big order for Airbus’s competing A320 - a similar sized plane to the 737.

    - China has just suspended their previously issued air worthiness certificate for the Boeing’s 737 Max.

    - Congress begins hearings this week. Publicity can’t be good news for BA shareholders.

    - Today a Southwest 737 Max 8 being flown to a temporary storage facility for grounding had to return to Orlando and make an emergency landing (apparently engine trouble).

    The above noted incident could (and does) happen somewhat routinely to all types of aircraft. Unfortunately, Boeing didn’t need the additional publicity at this time.
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