Thursday, November 14, 2019

Boeing's History Shows Nothing It Says Can Be Trusted - So Don't Trust The MAX 737 Being "Ready" Next Month

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Artist's sketch from Wall Street Journal ('Why The 737 MAX Failed',  Aug. 17-18, p. A10)  shows the fundamental problem with MCAS, which was only installed because the MAX 737 was aerodynamically unstable.

As we learned Tuesday that Boeing is ready to commence redelivery of the grounded MAX 737, don't hold your breath.  One of the issues dogging the 60-year old company is a lack of trust or faith in its MAX 8, which is understandable. The primary manifestation is a reduction in new orders, i.e. Denver Post, 'Boeing Orders And Deliveries Continue To Sag',  Nov. 13, p. 16A).  As we learned from the article:

"Boeing said it took 10 new orders in October, down from 24 the same month last year... Boeing's European rival Airbus said Tuesday that it took 415 orders in October.  Airbus said it delivered 77 orders last month."

In other words, Airbus is now beating the pants off Boeing, and why not?   There are many quality tests that remain to be done before the MAX gets airborne again. A lot will also depend on the company  agreeing to training MAX pilots on actual flight simulators as opposed to Ipads.  It is also clear we can't trust anything this bunch asserts especially as they've been going downhill since taking over a failing plane company, McDonnell-Douglas, see e.g.

'New Republic' Expose Shows How Wall St. Cost- Cut...

As per a Sunday Denver Post Business piece two weeks earlier we learned:

"The company has earned a reputation in the aviation community for withholding information, favoring theories of pilot errors over product flaws and being slow to make engineering changes to planes that could  prevent future crashes."

A perfect case is the MAX 8 - source of two major crashes within 5 months.  which as I noted in my Oct. 30 post is aerodynamically flawed,

"The aerodynamics were negatively impacted because the LEAP engines were too large to just tuck into their original positions underneath the wings so Boeing's engineers decided to mount them slightly forward - just in front of the wings.  The problem was that this change caused the plane's center of gravity to also move forward given the engines' mass.

The alteration using a MAX replica the size of an eagle - with tests in a wind tunnel - disclosed even 4 years before certification that the plane was a mess.  The aerodynamic profile caused the tail to keep pitching down while the nose pitched up.  There was no normal way to alter the aerodynamics to get it to fly so the engineers devised the MCAS software fix  to do the job.   The problem was the software pushed the nose down in the event of rare set of circumstances in conjunction with the "speed trim system"

I concluded:

"The bottom line is that this plane is an aerodynamic disaster - and was from the instant the massive LEAP engines were mounted so far forward so that no natural re-design (that cost less than projected) was possible, or recertification without complications.  It is a menace to fly for any passengers, and Sen. John Tester was correct to express misgivings. ..

Nobody in his or her right mind ought to be cheering for this aerodynamic monstrosity to take to the skies again, if ever. Not unless and until the entire plane is redesigned without the need for an MCAS "fix"  to hide in the background ready to 'self hijack' 

In other words, there's a good chance that putting this thing in the sky again, rushing it into service without a full engineering redesign, could result in yet another major crash.  Boeing insists this can be prevented by having "two separate sensors" - and only when the two agree  there's a stall will the MCAS be activated.

But the problem is the plane is still aerodynamically unstable so that very MCAS activation could still bring the plane crashing down.  The only difference is that the single point of failure will now require two sensors to show a stall, but the unbalanced design in tandem with the activation still has the potential for a crash - if the pilots are unable to control it.

As the more recent Denver Post piece also reminds us (in terms of the Boeing history in which there have been a total of 240 fatal incidents):

"After another crash of a Boeing commercial jet in Thailand in 1991, the company was slow to admit that  a flaw in the plane's design had caused the crash, according to an essay in The Guardian written by Niki Lauda - the owner of the airline that operated the downed airline. "

What was the design flaw?  

An anomaly that caused the plane's thrust reverser to suddenly deploy in midfight.

The untimely activation of the braking mechanism resulted   in the  deaths of all 223 people on board.  Lauda, a former Formula One driver, wanted an acknowledgment but got nada, despite it being clear why the plane crashed. According to Lauda (ibid.)

"The legal department at Boeing said they could not issue a statement."

Why not? 

Well, because the unspoken intent was to "limit its legal liability and to maintain the confidence of customers, employees and investors in the integrity of its airplanes."   

The goal then, with the earlier crashes as well as the MAX 8, has been to carefully shape and manipulate public opinion.  To at least get the flying public to question the aptitude and training of the pilots first, before blaming Boeing for aerodynamically unsound planes.

Take the case of the poorly designed rudder system in Boeing's 757 which led to two fatal crashes and the loss of 152 lives, as reported in the Post piece. We also read (ibid.):

"Boeing declined to follow an NTSB recommendation to modify the rudder system after the first crash in 1991, and repeatedly argued that a pilot was to blame for a second crash in 1994 despite strong similarities between the two incidents."

While Boeing - wasting time-  tried to build a specious case that the USAir pilots in the second crash were at fault,  the NTSB determined that a defect "with the rudder's hydraulic valve was the most likely cause".

After dragging its behind for over a decade  - and finally obeying an FAA directive to upgrade the rudder system - Boeing  "completed the complex and costly task in 2008."

There is no sign at all, not one, that Boeing will do a proper redesign of its MAX 8 which would require extending the fuselage height, and thereby not getting a simple recertification.   

So the commercially flying public is left with the proverbial roll of the dice if these 737 MAX 8 jets ever do get back in the skies.  Take the chance all will be ok and the MCAS won't suddenly seize the controls?  Or walk, like Sen. John Tester vowed. Or, stick to taking the Airbus when you can - which is vastly more comfortable - and spacious - than the MAX 8 anyway.  The choice is yours, my friends. 

  Let us hope you make the right one.

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