Diversity Deaths

A reader directs me to an interesting article on the Boeing 737 Max problems, which I’ve written about before. Basically, Boeing wanted to fit larger and better engines onto an old airframe, and they could only do so in a way which changed the aerodynamic characteristics of the aircraft. This isn’t unusual, but with the 737 Max they changed beyond what is normally expected or allowed for a passenger jet:

An airplane approaching an aerodynamic stall cannot, under any circumstances, have a tendency to go further into the stall. This is called “dynamic instability,” and the only airplanes that exhibit that characteristic—fighter jets—are also fitted with ejection seats.

And:

It violated that most ancient of aviation canons and probably violated the certification criteria of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. But instead of going back to the drawing board and getting the airframe hardware right (more on that below), Boeing relied on something called the “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System,” or MCAS.

In other words, they kludged it. They chose to use a software fix rather than a hardware redesign for obvious reasons: cost. And we start to get an inkling of what’s gone wrong from there:

The flight management computer is a computer. What that means is that it’s not full of aluminum bits, cables, fuel lines, or all the other accoutrements of aviation. It’s full of lines of code. And that’s where things get dangerous.

Those lines of code were no doubt created by people at the direction of managers. Neither such coders nor their managers are as in touch with the particular culture and mores of the aviation world as much as the people who are down on the factory floor, riveting wings on, designing control yokes, and fitting landing gears. Those people have decades of institutional memory about what has worked in the past and what has not worked. Software people do not.

Hmmmm.

In the old days, the FAA had armies of aviation engineers in its employ. Those FAA employees worked side by side with the airplane manufacturers to determine that an airplane was safe and could be certified as airworthy.

As airplanes became more complex and the gulf between what the FAA could pay and what an aircraft manufacturer could pay grew larger, more and more of those engineers migrated from the public to the private sector. Soon the FAA had no in-house ability to determine if a particular airplane’s design and manufacture were safe. So the FAA said to the airplane manufacturers, “Why don’t you just have your people tell us if your designs are safe?”

Ah.

Thus was born the concept of the “Designated Engineering Representative,” or DER. DERs are people in the employ of the airplane manufacturers, the engine manufacturers, and the software developers who certify to the FAA that it’s all good.

So we’ve gone from the FAA employing people who know what they’re doing and make sure an aircraft is safe to one where…well, we know the pattern by now:

Former President Barack Obama’s administration implemented a plan to “transform” the FAA into “a more diverse and inclusive workplace,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced in May 2013. The decision was backed by administration officials and labor unions.

True, this concerns air traffic controllers but as numerous examples featured on this blog have shown, the primary purpose of many modern organisations, especially those in the public sector, is to provide employment for middle class voting blocs. So the FAA turned itself useless and basically asked Boeing to mark its own homework.

Now this is not quite as sinister a conflict of interest as it sounds. It is in nobody’s interest that airplanes crash. The industry absolutely relies on the public trust, and every crash is an existential threat to the industry. No manufacturer is going to employ DERs that just pencil-whip the paperwork. On the other hand, though, after a long day and after the assurance of some software folks, they might just take their word that things will be okay.

That’s human nature kicking in, and an awful lot of effective management is getting people to work in structures which sometimes run contrary to human nature. Your normal, societal instincts would tell you to take someone you know and trust at their word that something is all right. A proper management system would insist a check is done and verified, ignoring the human relationship between the parties.

So Boeing produced a dynamically unstable airframe, the 737 Max. That is big strike No. 1. Boeing then tried to mask the 737’s dynamic instability with a software system. Big strike No. 2. Finally, the software relied on systems known for their propensity to fail (angle-of-attack indicators) and did not appear to include even rudimentary provisions to cross-check the outputs of the angle-of-attack sensor against other sensors, or even the other angle-of-attack sensor. Big strike No. 3.

None of the above should have passed muster. None of the above should have passed the “OK” pencil of the most junior engineering staff, much less a DER.

That’s not a big strike. That’s a political, social, economic, and technical sin.

I suspect what we’re seeing here is the result of decades of business school managerialism whereby the middle and upper management forget what the company exists to do – return value to shareholders by making planes which don’t crash – and instead believe their raison d’etre is something quite different. As I mentioned in my previous post, Boeing boasts on its corporate webpage that it has more than 40 diversity councils. How many councils does it have checking vital software is properly coded?

I had an interesting discussion with one of my professors yesterday, kicked off by this post on the hippy entrepreneurs who were selling environmentalism. Marketing started off selling products, and then sometime in the 1960s or ’70s switched to selling lifestyles. Now it’s changed again and it’s selling ideology, more often than not political ideology. It’s difficult to see which way the causation runs here, but this change has coincided with major corporations moving from returning value to shareholders by selling goods and services to trying to change mankind. Organisations obsessed with diversity, preaching morality, and endlessly droning on about some utopian future is not a business, it is a semi-religious movement. It’s one thing to say that this is just smart marketing, but are we certain those driving it are, behind the scenes, focusing on delivering a sound product and not wholly caught up in believing their own propaganda campaigns? The people running companies are drawn from the same sections of society and the same schools and universities as the political classes who genuinely believe the ignorant plebs need to be led by the nose to a bright utopian future of diversity, multiculturalism, and earth-worship. At this stage I think it’s rather charitable to think modern corporations are run by hardnosed business people who make a few progressive noises for PR purposes, and not by lunatics steeped in the dogma pumped out by the social science departments of American academia. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think anyone can dispute the direction of travel.

So our capabilities are dropping away. There was a time when Boeing would have known what systems and processes to put in place to ensure a plane is airworthy, and they’d have employed people with the knowledge, skills, and character to implement them. In parallel, the FAA would have employed competent, experienced people who could be trusted to sign off on an aircraft only if it was safe. But Boeing’s priorities changed along with those of the FAA, reordered to place social justice, inclusion, and diversity at the top as they proceed with their mission to remake the world according to their ideology. And now we have planes dropping out of the sky and killing hundreds of people in accidents due to colossal organisational failings from outfits that are preaching to us about morality.

I’m going to start calling these diversity deaths.

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51 thoughts on “Diversity Deaths

  1. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it, because the evidence keeps piling up, we are living in an Atlas Shrugged world. It used to be that getting to be an aircraft design or maintenance engineer, was something that only the best candidates made it to, and there was a general culture of excellence and competence. The same used to go for people who design and build large structures, and look after people’s health, indeed any job where if you f*ck up people die.

    Nowadays any given person in that chain of design/production/maintenance may have only been hired for political reasons, because of the colour of their skin, the sky fairy that they let run their lives or what type of genitalia they have, and their competence at their job may be minimal. And the user is putting their life in the hands of these people.

    Its starting to show, and its only going to get worse.

  2. A link to the article mentioned? I’ve seen some conflicting stuff, if you know of a reliable piece I’d like to read it.

  3. I think another, maybe bigger, failure is over-regulation. Boeing could probably have designed a slightly higher plane that let the engines go in a more dynamically stable position without too much trouble. But doing so would mean that it was a new aircraft instead of a varient of an existing one and thus it would have required an order of magnitude more paperwork to be filed and taking much longer to be approved.

    Regulation helped skew the commercial decision so that Boeing really really wanted to anything it could to not have a new plane be considered a new plane

  4. A link to the article mentioned?

    My bad, I thought I’d done that. Fixed.

  5. Regulation helped skew the commercial decision so that Boeing really really wanted to anything it could to not have a new plane be considered a new plane

    That’s definitely true.

  6. I think the people Boeing and the FAA need are still there but aren’t being listened to. I have a horrible feeling though that some engineer somewhere will kop it. Bit like middle ranks in the army being convicted of “war crimes” when the liars to parliament get £100k a pop on the lecture circuit.

    Among the fluff produced these days by these awfully clever leaders and managers are disaster recovery plans. I’ve seen these. Things like what to do if your premises burn down (what if a consortium of 30 key staff won the lottery and all left at once. You know profound stuff).

    What possible disaster could be worse for a company like Boeing than what has just happened (twice). Did those who made the decisions think it couldn’t happen with thousands of aircraft making cumulative millions of flights over years? It would seem they did not ( but that, of course, assumes that they understood the ramifications).

    No need to say much more as I’m sure you’ve all encountered these types and their mentality over the years (I certainly have!)

    I am genuinely scared at the prospects of “self driving” cars as I can think of few things that have gained such traction based solely on the woo you describe above.. “Renewables”, electric cars and “smart” meters are bad enough but the thought of nerd developed, soy boy marketed and big brother approved “ethical” transport. That’s a dystopia I hope I’m not around to see.

  7. I think there is a law that means the more feminised an organisation is, the more focused it is on the trivia of meaningless processes, and the less connected it is to the actual objective.

  8. I have to agree with David Moore’s comment that the feminising of the workplace may well have a correlation.

    I’m seeing this happen in real-time. My department has become majority female-led and you can see how priorities change.

    We now have a culture team, that’s working on all aspects of culture within the team.

    The current discussion point that’s getting everyone (else) excited is how we can refurb our part of the office.

    Instead of being an open-plan hell hole, we apparently want an open-plan with big desks for hot-desking (hell-hole), so we can all spend the day sitting across and next to each other mingling and ‘networking’.

    My sarcastic suggestion of having a water feature in the middle of our area to help relax us went down really well with many.

    Nowhere in these discussions does business improvement get mentioned, it’s always about improving our feelings.

  9. Those lines of code were no doubt created by people at the direction of managers. Neither such coders nor their managers are as in touch with the particular culture and mores of the aviation world as much as the people who are down on the factory floor, riveting wings on, designing control yokes, and fitting landing gears.

    A lawyer might say “Assertion!”. I say “Bullshit”
    As someone who has written tens of thousand lines of avionics code (both 6800 and 68000 assembler, if you insist) I know that all the team were plane heads, and most of us were pilots at some level – and I mean real ones, not simulator.
    On the factory floor, many of the metal bashers were unionised jobsworths, who no longer cared what they made. The PCB layout department was renowned for technical incompetence, crosstalk and poor grounding. Few of their boards worked reliably without much patching. Flight items were invariably reworked in a 3rd party layout shop down the road.

    The claim is diversion from the real cause, which is as our host suggests.

  10. Engineering is hard. Talking about diversity is easy.

    There’s a lot of truth in this:

    https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/Parkinsons-law-of-triviality-bikeshedding

    “The act of wasting time on trivial details while important matters are inadequately attended is sometimes known as bikeshedding. That term originates from Parkinson’s observation of a committee organized to approve plans for a nuclear power plant. As Parkinson noted, the committee devoted a disproportionate amount of time to relatively unimportant details — such as the materials for a bicycle storage shed — which limited the time available to focus on the design of the nuclear plant.”

  11. And bridges under construction will continue to drop on the heads of motorists.

  12. I am genuinely scared at the prospects of “self driving” cars as I can think of few things that have gained such traction based solely on the woo you describe above.. “Renewables”, electric cars and “smart” meters are bad enough but the thought of nerd developed, soy boy marketed and big brother approved “ethical” transport. That’s a dystopia I hope I’m not around to see.

    I think that Tesla may end up shafting self-driving cars good and proper. Probably by accident as it desperately strives to avoid going TITSUP.com and fails to do so. Tesla really doesn’t have a clue about self driving but its hype machine says it does and its going to kill a few fanbois while it ptoves that it hasn’t a clue. In the process of course it will kill trust in other, better self driving car schemes too.

    See http://coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2019/05/tesla-story-gets-even-weirder-as-tsla-completely-changes-its-business-strategy-full-article-previous-partial-article-published-accidently.html for a pretty good overview of where the company is now. I think Elon Musk’s various enterprises are going to go bust in fairly short order because of how he has them incestuously invested in each other. The only one I really care about – SpaceX – will probably get rescued and merged with Bezos’ Blue Origin so I don’t really care but it is kind of sad

  13. I remember watching an episode of “air crash investigation” where the plane(flying at night,thus no visible horizon) had crashed because the computer was getting false information from a faulty sensor telling it that the plane was in a nose down angle when it was actually in a nose up position so when the pilot tried to correct this the plane went onto an unrecoverable stall and I watched this and couldn’t help but think that a piece of string with a small weight on the end stuck to the cockpit ceiling with blue tac free to move as gravity dictated would have provided more accurate data as to what the plane was doing.
    Maybe a few critical controls, air speed,altimeter,artificial horizon etc should have mechanical analogue back ups in case the computer does fail

  14. I watched this and couldn’t help but think that a piece of string with a small weight on the end stuck to the cockpit ceiling with blue tac free to move as gravity dictated would have provided more accurate data as to what the plane was doing.

    That wouldn’t be much help if the aircraft was in a positive-g turn: the string would look like the aircraft was flying straight and level. They solved this problem in the ‘old’ analog instruments by using gyroscopic stabilization.

    Maybe a few critical controls, air speed,altimeter,artificial horizon etc should have mechanical analogue back ups in case the computer does fail

    Which is exactly what they have 🙂 – it’s charmingly called the ISIS – Integrated standby instrument system, which functions completely independently from the other instrumentation. Even modern FBW airliners with fancy glass cockpits have it. Now, these days it’s not always mechanical, but if it’s electronic it has a separate power source and sensor sourcing than the main instrumentation.

  15. In related news, Qantas said on the news the other day they want to women to make up 40-50% of their pilots.

    So I guess it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

    FrancisT: there was a time I’d have agreed with you about regulation, but nowadays, I dunno. Like Tim says, it’s something of a fantasy that corporate-types are motivated solely by the bottom line. Do we really think they’d be more conscientious, responsible, etc, in the absence of any regulation?

    Put it another way: the extra paperwork just translates to extra money spent on lawyers, and extra time before the product makes it to market, i.e. it all adds up to extra cost, less profit. If efforts to avoid triggering paperwork are cost-cutting measures, don’t we end up at the same place that Bernie Sanders types are at, i.e. that big business will cut costs regardless of the negative externalities, that they care more about money than people?

  16. I’m horribly reminded of the loss of Nimrod MR.2 XV230, and the catastrophic shambles that Haddon-Cave revealed when investigating “so who ever thought this aircraft was safe to fly?”.

    That at least led to the cancellation of the entire Nimrod MRA.4 programme when it turned out that the MR.2 was only allowed to fly because it had been “grandfathered” with 1940s standards because it used to be a Comet, and that change after change since then had made it less stable and less safe: the reason the aircraft were scrapped and the project cancelled was that it wasn’t airworthy and could never have been made so.

    And the same issue that Tim mentioned applied – the expertise was deemed “too expensive” and made redundant or encouraged to find employment elsewhere. Business can let the experienced engineers go, and replace them with (cheap) graduates, without immediate impact – and the management is more worried about appointing a “environmental protection manager” than keeping suitably qualified and experienced professionals in role.

    As an acquaintance put it elsewhere:-

    …an airframe with adequate stability (for the 1960s anyway) was converted into an airframe with inadequate stability in at least two axes by nailing new wings and engines onto an old fuselage. By the end of my first term at Uni looking at the basics of aeroplane stability and control, I could have told you that larger swept wings with heavier engines would drive cg and cp back resulting in a reduction in pitch stability; and that higher thrust engines a bit further out would require more yaw authority to deal with. The textbook answer would have been a longer rear fuselage and bigger fin. What we got was a hastily rigged together pitch-stab magic box and a Gurney flap added to the rudder, regardless of the speed dependent vibration such an aerodynamic abortion induced in a critical structure.

    Add to that airworthiness requirements that had advanced considerably since the 1960s when Nimrod was born and the post Haddon-Cave MAA and there is no chance whatsoever in my professional view that such an aerodynamic disaster would ever have been certified.

    However, the real driver towards disaster in my view was loss of collective knowledge in BAe, MoD and RAF post Cold War as budgets were slashed and the experienced left or were made redundant.

  17. Until recently I was fairly certain that most companies – especially the REALLY big ones – were simply responding to the market and “making progressive noises” to sell more product. Unfortunately the reality is these companies’ executives and admins are true believers, having a blast virtue signalling with other people’s money. There might some or many people in said company that are competent and serious about the core business but there’s no way to tell if that critical mass is still intact until the products/services start to go to shit.

    I know this because if a company is a serious one they simply don’t say much politically at all, just quietly go about business. The more public (or attractive to recent female college grads) a company is the harder for it to maintain that culture.

    Consider the political reverse: if a company says they “welcome veterans!” it’s obviously a marketing ploy (nobody advertises that veterans can fuck off) but I’m confident that the owners truly admire veterans and I can probably guess their political leanings. The same is true for companies touting diversity councils.

  18. Sam – I’m reminded of how supposedly our top minds thought that Soviet gov’t commitment to communism was entirely cynical and phony, and then when they finally got a hold on documents or tapes or whatever of private conversations among Stalin and friends, it turned out that, nope, they really believed it

  19. Although trivial in comparison something similar happened in the mobile phone industry.

    Radio frequency hardware design at the frequencies used in 2G onward really is a dark art. If the RF design engineer says something can’t be done then the shape or feature demanded by marketing or whoever didn’t get implemented. This is partly why the early data phones were so clunky, RF design and meeting receiver standards took priority and the data and design guys were told to sod off.

    Then along came Steve Jobs with his iPhone vision and RF design became an afterthought, it is true that the early smart phones were deaf and allegedly failed type approval. That was why people outside areas with excellent coverage, city centres, made a big song and dance, but by that time it was too late. I’m sure most people remember the advice about buying an old phone if you lived or travelled in the sticks?

    Things have improved, fortunately, but that is as much about the density of sites as letting the RF designers have primacy.

    I had an interesting discussion with one of my professors yesterday, kicked off by this post on the hippy entrepreneurs who were selling environmentalism. Marketing started off selling products, and then sometime in the 1960s or ’70s switched to selling lifestyles.

    What also happened was the rise of the MBA and the idea that a manager was a manager was a manager and that the industry they were in didn’t really matter as the underlying business and organisational principles were the same. This seemed to work well in big production companies and retail but when it came to specialised engineering and technical industries they failed to grasp the issues.

    Note also that it was in the late ’60s and ’70s that the nature of work started to change from hard dirty manual stuff to more cushy office work. Women noticed and this is when the equality campaigns started in earnest. No women wanted to be train drivers while it meant serving an apprenticeship shovelling coal and standing inside noisy, smelly cabs but as soon as diesel and electric became the main power source and cabs were clean and quiet and the job was “cushy” women were interested.

  20. Bloomberg has an article asserting that the key FAA person in charge of 737 training requirements was — a woman.

    … the FAA team in charge of 737 training requirements, which was led by Stacey Klein, who’d previously been a pilot at now-defunct Skyway Airlines for six years. “She had no engineering background, her airplane experience was very limited,” …

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-05-09/former-boeing-engineers-say-relentless-cost-cutting-sacrificed-safety

    An interesting project for someone doing an international MBA would be to look at the relative roles of women in (often flailing) Western companies and in dynamic rapidly-growing Chinese companies.

    Nearly on topic — here is a link to China’s 2018 video for their Armed Forces Day. Women are wives & mothers — men go into battle. What would an equivalent video from a western military have looked like?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToxdTlqUvtw

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  22. The linked article is interesting, but I’d take a lot of it’s conclusions with a large pinch of salt as it’s fairly clear the author doesn’t know a great deal either about how a 737 works, or about why a pair of Max’s got stuck in the ground nose first.

    The author seems to think that the Elevator Feel Computer was the cause of these crashes, and that a 737 is some sort of fly by wire wonder (it’s not – believe it or not, it’s a 1960s design with mechanical linkages for the controls). He then seems to think that the EFC and the pilot toughed it out until the plane planted itself nose first in the landscape (putting in a EFC so powerful the pilot couldn’t hold against it on a FBW aircraft would be a rather strange thing to do!).

    What actually happened is nearer the following (disclaimer – I’m not a pilot – but I have read up a fair bit on this particular accident, if only from natural curiosity).

    MCAS when activated moves the rear stabilizer (the main front sections of the horizontal tail fins) to pitch the plane nose down. These stabilisers are usually controlled electrically, either by manual switching on the pilot’s yoke, or by automatic trim which compensates for air speed etc.
    They can also be adjusted manually, by hand winding tim wheels in the cockpit.

    MCAS is only active when the flaps are retracted, and autopilot disengaged. It takes it’s input from the AoA gauge on one side of the aircraft only.

    I know more about the ET crash than the Lion Air one (the Lion Air aircraft shouldn’t have had paying Pax on – it was under test after repair), so here is a rough description of what I understand occurred on the ET flight.
    Normal takeoff, as the aircraft gets airborne, something bad happens to the AoA meter on one side. One side of the cockpit (which takes it readings from the instruments on the side with the failed AoA meter) gets a forest of warnings, including a noisy and distracting stall warning “stick shaker” as the AoA reading indicates it’s in stall conditions. Crew call in unreliable airspeed issue.

    Pilot successfully retracts gear, retracts flaps – and then the fun really starts, as with the flaps retracted, MCAS kicks in. MCAS reads the faulty AoA meter, decides the plane is pitched nose up, so gives the stabiliser a big hand full of nose down trim, and pauses for a few seconds (I presume it’s set to do this so it can make an adjustment, see if it’s achieved the desired correction, then correct further if needed).

    Pilot sees great dose of nose down trim, pulls the stick back to maintain level flight, starts trimming back where he wants it with the electric trim.
    MCAS runs again, shoves the nose down again (One of the more interesting questions in this is why the manual electric trim doesn’t appear to have had authority over MCAS – all the official documentation seems to suggest it should do, but the practice seems rather different).

    After a couple of cycles of this, FO suggests they have MCAS issues, and they cut out the CB’s to isolate electric trim. They now have an aircraft which is trimmed badly nose down leading to huge forces being required on the control column to maintain level flight. These forces aren’t electronically generated – it’s because the elevators (with full on air flow) are being held full back to counter the effects of the heavily down trimmed stabiliser. Captain is all out pulling back on his stick, FO attempts to unwind some of the trim using the manual trim wheels, but doesn’t have sufficient physical strength (because of the extreme airflow load on the stabilizer, as it fights the elevators).

    Exacerbating their problems, the crew have left the throttles fairly well open for a normal climb out, except they aren’t climbing, just flying level – so instead the plane gathers enormous amounts of speed, increasing the airflow over the elevators and stabilizer, and thus increasing the forces acting on both. Neither crew member thinks to close the throttles (or possibly they consider the action, but worry about the loss of any nose up pitch contributed by the engines at high power).

    Eventually, the crew decide to un-isolate the electric trim, in the hope of power adjusting out some of the down trim to the stabilizer, presumably hoping to re-isolate once the plane was controllable. Unfortunately for them, after a couple of seconds of up trim, MCAS kicked in again, wound in even more down stabilizer trim, the plane became impossible to hold back, and went nose first into the ground.

    Knowing what we know now, there are various points when matters could have been recovered by the crew. The easiest “fix” as soon as they realised it was MCAS trimming them nose down would actually have been to go to flap 1, which would have turned MCAS off – but that was probably not widely known or understood amongst aircrew (Boeing were pretty vague about what exactly MCAS does, particularly before the Lion Air crash).

    In fairness to Boeing, they had considered what would happen if MCAS went wrong, and concluded that it would be the same as any other runaway trim event (for which there is a standard procedure on a 737 to electrically isolate the trim motor, which should be a memory item for 737 pilots). Actually the real villain of the piece looks to be the manual trim wheels, which had always been regarded (and certified) as the last line of resort in the case of a trim failure. No-one appears to have ever considered “what if we have a trim failure leading to electrical isolation, where the air loading on the stabilizer is so great the trim wheels can’t be moved by hand”.

  23. theProle
    Thanks for that.

    There’s a horrible logic to it, isn’t there? MCAS is disabled during take off and autopilot as would be expected. Therefore the window of failure is after take off and before the autopilot is engaged. During take off the AoA is higher than normal flight. If the AoA meter siezes* during take off, MCAS will try to crash the plane as soon as take off is complete.

    *It would be interesting to know what the failure mode of AoA meters is. If such a device is going to jam, you would expect it to be when it is unusually extended.

  24. Jason Lynch

    “That at least led to the cancellation of the entire Nimrod MRA.4 programme when it turned out that the MR.2 was only allowed to fly because it had been “grandfathered” with 1940s standards because it used to be a Comet, and that change after change since then had made it less stable and less safe: the reason the aircraft were scrapped and the project cancelled was that it wasn’t airworthy and could never have been made so.”

    Funny. I didn’t know the thing could never be made airworthy.

    I do coaching on project management at times, and I use MRA4 as a worked example of a completely stupid idea turning massive cluster of a project.

    The learning being that, the true art of project management is not to start with a completely stupid idea in the first place.

  25. @Matthew McConnagay

    “supposedly our top minds thought that Soviet gov’t commitment to communism was entirely cynical and phony”

    They were absolutely right to think so if they did. Although I do suspect your top minds lacked the expertise and/or imagination necessary to comrehend the depth of cynicism and phonyness involved.

    It was essentially a rebranding of the good old Russian serfdom system, with the bullshit to justify it being whatever was considered “anti-establishment” in the West at the time of the Bolshevik coup. In the unlikely event that the current KGB regime is overthrown, the next edition of the Russian serfdom will be justified by some sort of “alt-right” cocktail the next “Lenin” concocts while exiled in Florida. With loads of edgy useful idiots in the West ecstatic to the point of being eager not to notice “certain unfortunate circumstances”.

    “private conversations among Stalin and friends, it turned out that, nope, they really believed it”

    I doubt those tapes were accompanied by polygraph records. I also doubt there was anyone sufficiently “friends” with Stalin to take the risk of showing anything other than total loyalty to the communist cause.

  26. I see that Chateau Heartiste is no longer available.

    What’s next for breach of Terms of Service?

  27. I see that Chateau Heartiste is no longer available.

    I saw that, but that’s the danger with being hosted by WordPress. Edgy bloggers would be better off getting their domain name and hosting services from different companies, backing up their archives onto a computer, and having alternative hosts and registrars lined up.

  28. You can run a functional HTTPS server on your router these days, set a frameless redirect from your hosting provider. Or get a static IP address. And that’s before you get to the remaining and emerging dodgy parts of the web.

    Twitterbook, Googlesoft and friends have kiled most of the hobbyist internet but it doesn’t have to come to completion.

    Tolkein, no providers will contest an insistence from the offence-taking industry that any site get taken offline. One vague legal threat and they pull your pages, even if you say you will indemnify the thrilling courtroom battle (which never happens). Safe harbour gets forgotten, except when it is Twitterbook livestreaming mosque slaughter videos, ISIS beheadings, or k!ddie pr0n. That’s fine because “lessons have been learned”, etc. For the little guy – happened to me once, on the basis of discussions as to whether a small and insignificant professional society should get an obscure, dated, and irrelevant form of official approbation.

  29. On a more important note than a provocative red-pill bloggerist, these few big companies now want to control your business and income stream. It might not seem like that, but Sharepoint, Google Docs, Amazon Cloud, are becoming the default place to store business stuff. And of course Microsoft could yank your use of Win10 tomorrow for a “terms of service” violation. Or just by accident, because the eternally-running background licence-checking app gets borked.

    And then be unreachable by any means other than mail. It amazes me the companies that are entirely capable of running their own servers but are running off to some cloud POS because it saves a few dollars and is apparently “more secure” (if you believe that, I have some great value bridges over swampland you may be interested in purchasing).

    It doesn’t take much downtime to bankrupt an information business whose owners you don’t like. And it has the advantage that bankrupt businesses don’t sue for breach of contract.

  30. @theProle on May 11, 2019 at 2:23 am

    “it’s a 1960s design with mechanical linkages for the controls”

    No, 737NG & MAX have electric motor control of trim jack-screw, manual override means fighting against motor resistance in addition to forces on tail-planes

    Other than that minor niggle agree

    .
    @Roué le Jour on May 11, 2019 at 5:54 am

    Excellent hard hitting, no excuses honest accurate summary of MCAS

  31. @Pcar

    That was my understanding. My point was that the main control column connections are mechanical, as is a way (if not the normal method) of moving the stabiliser, and it was primarily the air loading on elevators as they fought with the stabilisers against which the pilots were ultimately unable to hold.

    The fact that MCAS got them into this mess is actually only half the story. Boeing appears to have asked the question “what happens if MCAS goes wrong” and concluded, more or less correctly, that it’s a trim runaway event, no different to the yoke button getting jammed or the relay from the airspeed auto trim jamming.
    Where they seem to have messed up is by not discovering that once the elevators are fighting the stabiliser more than a certain amount it’s impossible to turn the hand trim wheel,and the situation is effectively unrecoverable (if you’ve a lot of height, potentially you could unload the controls, wind the trim like mad, and pray you’d wound enough off to be able to recover the aircraft from the resultant dive, but it doesn’t sound much like anyone’s idea of fun).

    Theoretically, I can’t see why one couldn’t end up in exactly this same mess as a result of trim runaway in an NG if the crew are slightly slow to pull the CB, although I believe that the trim wheels on a Max are smaller, and therefore harder to turn. Obviously the MCAS tendency to manifest itself early on in climb out means crews encountering this particular variant on a runaway trim event get presented with it at a particularly bad moment, but the safety case for the whole trim system should presumably be based on a “worst case” moment of failure.

  32. @Roué le Jour

    IIRC the Lion Air and the Ethiopian AoA sensors displayed different failure modes.

    The ET one appears to have just jammed solid at a nose up reading – I doubt we’ll ever know why, given it ended up in a smoking hole in the ground. I believe bird strikes are a fairly common cause of damage.

    The Lion one appears to have worked throughout the doomed flight (I.e. it wasn’t jammed), but gave readings approx. 30deg out from the correctly functioning unit on the other side. This is a more interesting failure mode, and could suggest possible manufacture or installation problems.

  33. theProle

    Thanks for the update. There is a teardown of an AoA sensor on youtube here which shows that the internals are admirably robust and I would be strongly inclined to believe that the angle of the input shaft is what it says it is. The obvious weakness is the input vane which can jam, ice or bird strike, or will misread due to foreign matter adhering to it, ice or bird.

    The device cannot be incorrectly installed as it has a belt and braces locating system, both locating pins and unequally spaced mounting holes that only line up in the correct orientation.

    Although the video is disparaging about the sensor itself, I would expect it to be outputing three voltages, one from each phase, varying with the angular displacement, which should be the same. I expect the controller compares these readings and flags a fault if that is not the case. This would be in line with the general principle of triple redundancy in aircraft.

  34. Ahem. The sensor is almost certainly detecting phase shift not amplitude. My bad. That makes the electronics simpler and more reliable. The only way then it can give a false reading is if the sensor comes lose and rotates in its housing, which I’m guessing is not an issue. We know how to clamp stuff still.

    In the video it is said that the other device in the housing is a damper. If so, that might be a mistake. If flutter is a problem better to detect it and remove it electronically, because a lack of flutter is a sure sign of a jam.

  35. @theProle: For a non-pilot, that is a pretty darn good summary.

    @Roué le Jour:

    There’s a horrible logic to it, isn’t there? MCAS is disabled during take off and autopilot as would be expected. Therefore the window of failure is after take off and before the autopilot is engaged.

    MCAS is disarmed when the flaps are extended to avoid improper MCAS activation at low altitude. MCAS isn’t armed when the autopilot is engaged because it has envelope protection that isn’t available when the airplane is being hand flown.

    So there are two cases when MCAS is active — on takeoff, after flap retraction until the autopilot is engaged (which can vary from 1000′ above the ground up to 26,000′, depending on the pilot and other conditions. The other time is during arrival, when the autopilot is disengaged before extending the leading edge flaps. Typically, the AP isn’t disengaged until configured on final, but it is certainly possible to hand fly an entire arrival.

    @Pcar:

    Where they seem to have messed up is by not discovering that once the elevators are fighting the stabiliser more than a certain amount it’s impossible to turn the hand trim wheel, and the situation is effectively unrecoverable

    That’s true, if the pilots don’t know what they are doing.

    The proper response to an out of trim configuration is to slow to min-maneuvering speed for the configuration. For 737 at typical takeoff weights, that is around 210 knots. The Ethiopian crew flat failed to fly the airplane — 400 knots with their situation at that altitude was an epic fail. The manual system wasn’t designed with that kind of buffoonery in mind.

    About that IEEE article.

    It gets a great deal wrong.

    To start with, the author attributes to the Max characteristics that are true of all airplanes with under wing mounted engines. They all have a significant nose-up pitching moment with thrust increase. At high pitch attitudes and low speeds, the thrust induced pitch moment can exceed pitch control authority. Stall recovery in that situation can require either waiting to add power until pitch attitude is decreased, or rolling the airplane so to move the lift vector out of the vertical so the nose will fall through.

    There is nothing special about the Max in this regard.

    So Boeing produced a dynamically unstable airframe, the 737 Max. That is big strike No. 1. Boeing then tried to mask the 737’s dynamic instability with a software system.

    The Max is not dynamically unstable. The position and size of the nacelles compared to previous generations means that, without MCAS, it would take more control force to get the nose down. MCAS neutralizes that difference.

    Big strike No. 2. Finally, the software relied on systems known for their propensity to fail (angle-of-attack indicators) and did not appear to include even rudimentary provisions to cross-check the outputs of the angle-of-attack sensor against other sensors, or even the other angle-of-attack sensor.

    AOA sensors are not known for their propensity to fail. In forty years as a professional pilot, I’ve never had one fail. I only know of one guy who had one fail, and it was smacked by a piece of ground equipment.

    There is a tradeoff here: MCAS will only come into play in very rare, in extremis, situations. In those circumstances, do you want reliability, or complexity?

    —-

    Ultimately, both the Lion Air and Ethiopian crews crashed perfectly flyable airplanes in response to what were, fundamentally, simple situations.

    Rather than faffing about MCAS, the real questions should be about why they so badly mishandled a simple problem that should have been detected and solved in less time than it took for me to write this sentence.

  36. @Jeff Guinn

    Rather than faffing about MCAS, the real questions should be about why pilots so badly mishandled a simple problem that should have been detected and solved in less time than it took for me to write this sentence.

    Because pilots were in “wtf is happening?” mode as Boeing & FAA agreed pilots didn’t need to know MCAS existed as (like Brexit) it was too complicated for mere pilots to understand.

  37. @Pcar:

    Because pilots were in “wtf is happening?” mode as Boeing & FAA agreed pilots didn’t need to know MCAS existed as (like Brexit) it was too complicated for mere pilots to understand.

    You are looking at this from the wrong direction — cause to effect. The acronym “MCAS” is a shiny thing that ultimately serves as nothing but a distraction.

    What matters here is the effect: incorrect pitch trim commands. The cause itself — and there are many potential causes aside from MCAS — is immaterial.

    No matter whether it was chafed wires that caused power to get to the pitch trim actuator, or stuck yoke switches, or failures in the elevator position sensors, the response is exactly the same: remove power to the primary pitch trim system via the very obvious and easily accessible cut-out switches.

    These crews showed they were incapable of handling *any* failure in the pitch trim system.

    And both crews made the problem worse by flying far faster than necessary.

    Both those planes were completely flyable. Getting to the appropriate checklist and executing it step-by-step would take less time than to type the last several sentences (presuming one even needed the checklist to deal with it).

  38. @Jeff Guinn

    Time?

    Reports say pilots had ~40 seconds from Fatal to go from “wtf is happening?” mode as Boeing & FAA agreed pilots didn’t need to know MCAS existed and fighting it to understand “auto-pilot off, but plane has taken control”.

    Saying “just flick a switch” when pilots didn’t know why their inputs were being countered by secret mcas is insulting.

    Boeing & FAA should not have withheld MCAS existence from pilots.

  39. “Saying “just flick a switch” when pilots didn’t know why their inputs were being countered by secret mcas is insulting.”

    To repeat, it does not matter *why* their inputs were being countered. What matters is knowing what to do when that happens, no matter the cause.

    Keep in mind that knowledge was no help to the Ethiopian crew, who grossly mismanaged their airspeed, thereby causing about eight times as much force on the yoke as there would have been had they not forgotten how to fly the airplane.

  40. @Jeff Guinn

    No point continuing: I blame Boeing secrecy, you blame pilots for not circumventing secret.

    We disagree.

  41. No point continuing: I blame Boeing secrecy, you blame pilots for not circumventing secret.

    We disagree.

    We disagree because you don’t know what you are talking about, and because you haven’t even bothered to take on board a single point I have made.

    Speaking as a B757 Captain with forty years flying experience.

  42. @Jeff Guinn

    Speaking as a B757 Captain with forty years flying experience

    Cough, still Captain of the same 1979 B757? – grammar

    However, I am – you don’t know, thus stop your ad-hom insults

    You have your opinion, I have mine. Leave it at that.

  43. However, I am – you don’t know, thus stop your ad-hom insults

    Asserting you don’t know what you are talking about, or that you have completely failed to take on board anything I’ve said are not ad hominems.

  44. Projection? Distortion? Misrepresentation? I know best? Insults? Lies?

    Ignore trolls

  45. Ok, since you know what you are talking about, explain why MCAS is a special case of uncommanded pitch trim, given that the non-normal checklist is exactly the same.

    And then explain why “Reports say pilots had ~40 seconds from Fatal to go from “wtf is happening?” makes any sense, considering the Lion Air crew flew for 12 minutes, and the Ethiopian crew for 6.

    Then explain how it is that flying at 250 knots v. 200 (Lion Air) or 400 (Ethiopian) isn’t a failure — gross in the case of Ethiopian — of basic airmanship.

    I’m confident you won’t, because you can’t, on account of you don’t know what you are talking about.

  46. @Jeff Guinn

    I won’t answer because
    1. You’re constant misrepresentation, distortion, misquoting, “you don’t know what you are talking about.” insults reveal all
    2. It’s pointless, we disagree; leave it.

    btw hope your 1979 757 is still working; most “1982 first flight of 757 aren’t” 😛

    CLOSED

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