Planes Falling from the Skies By Brian Simpson
Here is a problem for the high IQ people to get to work and solve before we all die; planes falling from the sky:
“The crashes of two Boeing Co. 737 Max jets in five months have focused attention on a little-known device that malfunctioned, starting a chain reaction that sent the planes into deadly dives. Pilots have for decades relied on the weather-vane-like “angle of attack” sensors to warn them when they near a dangerous aerodynamic stall. But investigators are probing Boeing’s decision to enable the sensors on the Max model to go beyond warning pilots and automatically force the plane’s nose down. A review of public databases by Bloomberg News reveals the potential hazards of relying on the devices, which are mounted on the fuselage near the plane’s nose and are vulnerable to damage. There are at least 140 instances since the early 1990s of sensors on U.S. planes being damaged by jetways and other equipment on the ground, or striking birds in flight. In at least 25 cases in the U.S., Canada and Europe, the damage triggered cockpit alerts or emergencies. On April 1, 2012, a United Airlines 767-300 was taking off from San Francisco when it struck a flock of western sandpipers, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database. The birds damaged the left sensor, scrambling the speed readings and auto throttle. The plane returned to the airport.
Boeing’s Grounded 737 Max -- the Story So Far: QuickTake
A Republic Airlines Inc. flight was struck by a tundra swan as it neared arrival into Newark, New Jersey, on Dec. 5, 2016, according to the FAA. It damaged the angle-of-attack sensor and other equipment on the Embraer SA EMB-170, rendering unreliable airspeed and altitude readings on the regional jet. It landed safely. Before the 737 Max crashes, the most recent accident involving the sensors occurred when an Airbus SE A320 on a 2008 demonstration flight went down off the coast of France killing all seven people aboard. Moisture inside two of the plane’s three angle-of-attack vanes froze, confusing the aircraft’s automation system, according to France’s Office of Investigations and Analysis. The report also faulted the pilots for multiple errors. Examining such previous episodes is all the more important because of Boeing’s decision to use a single sensor as the trigger for the anti-stall mechanism on the Max known as MCAS, or Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System.
“With that many pilot reports and with the unknowns that we’re dealing with in these two accidents, that’s an important area to be investigated,” said James Hall, the former chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. The FAA was aware of previous angle-of-attack failures and considers such incidents when it evaluates aircraft designs for certification, the agency said in a statement. “As part of the FAA’s oversight of the continuous operational safety of our nation’s aviation safety system, the agency continues to monitor, gather and evaluate all available information and data regarding the performance of aircraft and related components,” the agency said. FAA officials are meeting with representatives of the three U.S. airlines flying the 737 Max and their pilot unions on Friday to discuss the steps needed to return the grounded plane to service. The 737 Max, Boeing’s best-selling plane, has been grounded worldwide since March. The Chicago-based aircraft maker is redesigning the software so MCAS won’t react to a single sensor reading. If one sensor is more than 5.5 degrees off from the one on the other side of the plane, MCAS won’t activate. It will also be more easily overcome by the pilot. Pilots have conducted of 96 test flights of the new software, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said on Thursday.”
Every time I get into a plane I worry about whether today will be the day that the laws of physics decide that the will no longer tolerate big hunks of steel flying through the air. Seriously though, a plane dropping from the sky into a major city would be an absolute disaster, and clearly something requiring urgent attention. I wonder if this is also a problem for Australia?