Boeing's March of Folly

Boeing's design process was a shady mess for sure, but safety goes all the way down and up the stack. Every failure mode should have some level of redundancy and double checking. So, yeah, a manufacturer tried to game the certification process to save a few bucks (and months) on a new aircraft design. That's a failure. But it's not an unforseen one. post

The safety value for manufacturer shenannigans is supposed to have been the certification process itself. And I gotta say the worst failings here are with the FAA. At any point someone could have looked at the process and seen:

1. They changed the engine

2. They had to move it because it was too close to the ground, but they couldn't stretch the landing gear and keep the type certification.

3. So they moved the engines forward and up

4. But now the aircraft was less stable, and they couldn't change the tail design and keep the type certification.

5. So they did software-managed stability augmentation instead

6. But (that's right) they couldn't change the autopilot and keep the type certification.

7. So they did it with the trim, which had never operated under autonomous control before.

I'm sure I have a few of those details wrong, but the point is that any bureaucrat familiar with the aircraft could have seen that this was a ridiculous house of cards they were playing with the type certificate. I mean, one change with one workaround, sure. But a cascade like this is just obviously a perversion of the process.

Yet no one said something. Or if they did they were overruled.

The way the built-in incentives work, it's not feasible to rely on 100% forthright and honorable manufacturers. So we have a regulatory body to catch those failures for us, and it failed.


On March 10, 2019, at 05:38 UTC, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, Boeing 737-8(MAX), ET-AVJ, took off from Addis Ababa Bole Int. Airport bound to Nairobi, Kenya Jomo Kenyatta Int. Airport. Shortly after takeoff, the Angle of Attack sensor recorded value became erroneous and the left stick shaker activated and remained active until near the end of the flight. In addition, the airspeed and altitude values from the left air data system began deviating from the corresponding right side values. Due to flight control problems, the Captain was unable to maintain the flight path and requested to return back to the departure airport. The crew lost control of the aircraft which crashed at 5: 44 UTC 28 NM South East of Addis Ababa. pdf


From applied control theory I intuitively knew that a cascade of issues resulting in a system instability had overwhelmed the pilots. I now see this arrogance of data science based software engineering being inserted into business, industry and social systems. As an abstract example Facebook's attempt to stabilize the politics on it platform through algorithms. More concretely in the hydro dam control systems in the Pacific Northwest. Specifically in this damned Boeing 737 Max control system.