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How Boeing's Deadly 737 Max Ever Got Approved

'That's nuts,' says an engineer who worked on the project
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 2, 2019 2:00 PM CDT
In this file photo, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jetliner being built for Turkish Airlines takes off on a test flight in Renton, Wash.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
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(Newser) – A small army of engineers, test pilots, and regulators missed a deadly flaw in the Boeing 737 Max—one that now seems unimaginable. "It doesn't make any sense," says an ex-test pilot who took part. "I wish I had the full story." Enter the New York Times, which dives into the development of a plane that was approved in 2017 and crashed twice last year, claiming 347 lives. The story hinges on MCAS, an automated system designed to make the 737 Max handle better at high speeds by lowering the nose. It was originally triggered by two sensors—one for G-force, the other for wind angle—but when the 737 Max handled poorly at low speeds, the G-force measurement was discarded. That left only one sensor controlling the nose of the plane.

And if that sensor got damaged, a common occurrence that influenced both 2018 crashes? Seems that wasn't considered in follow-up test flights. Engineers then made MCAS more powerful—enabling it to push the plane down harder—to improve the sensitivity of the flight controls at lower speeds. Then the FAA, which had approved the original MCAS, didn't re-approve the updated system because regulations didn't require it. Finally, Boeing saved millions of dollars in extra training by not mentioning MCAS in the pilot's manual. Now MCAS has been redesigned with two sensors, but the 737 Max remains grounded. Whether it flies this summer may depend on how much new training pilots require, per the Financial Times. (Boeing has blamed a failed safety alert in the cockpit.)

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