The 737 MAX Is Intrinsically Flawed, Misshaped, Software Won’t Fix It

Flawed aircraft have existed before in the history of aviation. There were actually more flawed types than successful ones, arguably starting with the first three plane models. They were made by Ader, a French engineer who, helped by military contracts, built the very first planes, coal powered planes inspired by bats (first flight, 1890 CE, 13 years before the Wright brothers…) However, the main problem of Ader was that the internal combustion engine was not mature enough yet, and his coal engines were too heavy. Plus his planes had to carry coal and water… That could be fixed, and was fixed.

Boeing, airlines and aviation authorities don’t have these excuses with the 737 MAX. With the 737 MAX, as with Brexit, that offending idiocy, now on its way to hell, as deserved, the cause is the same: the financialization of the world, its greedsterization, not to say gangsterization. Never before has a so obviously flawed plane type been ordered in such immense numbers (more than 5,000). This absurdity, an exit from reason, illustrates the world’s corruption. This is a world failure. A flying Titanic, loved by all, until it pogos around.

So why is the 737 MAX so flawed? Engine location. The engines are too powerful and too forward of the 737 Max’s wing.

World’s Third Plane, a program supported financially by the French military. The Franco-US engine CFM 56, the world’s most numerous jet engine (35,000 sold!), weights 2370 kg. An A320 weights around 100 tons. So its engines weight around 5%. In Ader’s plane, the engines, with the propellers, weighted 20% (nearly 50 kgs)… Another problem was the weight of the pilot… A lot in a 258 kgs plane…

What is stalling? Basically, when the plane threatens to stall, it’s because the angle of the plane in the air flow is too great, the nose is too much up. Stalling first increases lift, while, and because, it kills speed forward. After the speed goes down, the only way to stay up, is to augment the angle, killing more speed… hence the name: stalling. When speed forward dies too much, no up nose angle will provide lift, and the plane falls like a stone.

The way to prevent stalling is to increase forward speed. For that the engines are asked to produce more power. This was the general recommendation of the aviation authorities, worldwide. However, this can be a problem in two engine planes: their engines are located forward of the centers of mass and lift of the plane, and do not line up with those; instead, when they are all fired up, they exert a torque. That contributed to the crash of an Air France A330 in a terrible storm in the “pot au noir”.

The “pot au noir”, well-known to French aviation pioneers carrying mail to South America (like Saint Exupery, of Petit Prince fame), is the black stormy intertropical convergence zone halfway between Brazil and Africa, famous for his giant thunderstorms; the Air France plane flew into an enormous storm hiding an even larger one behind; the sensitive sensors freezed, and the plane went crazy; the pilots, bereft of any vision in the black and stormy night applied power as prescribed, and the plane stalled, unbeknownst to them. The accident surprised the aviation authorities, but shouldn’t have: there had been similar close calls before, but they had happened when pilots could see outside, and orient themselves (since then simpler orientation systems have been added).

There was plenty of blame to pass around, as for example the US FAA had insisted on Pivot tubes for the A330s which froze more readily, being of smaller diameter… (Pivot a French engineer invented the tubes named after him which enable to measure an aircraft’s speed.) After the Air France crash, recommendations to pilots were changed, worldwide: don’t just increase power, but keep the nose down. The AF447 crash was instructive because it told us how not to handle potential catastrophes…  

A Norwegian 737 Max. Norwegian, an excellent company, has 18 (eighteen) 737 Max. And another 100 on order. Norwegian is asking those Boeing financial Chicago types to foot the bill. The picture shows clearly the engines are way too far in front.

The problem of the 737 Max is that the engines are so disposed that the torque causing stalling is much larger than in any other two engined jet. Boeing is trying to fix this with software… but genius software can’t correct all and any bad hardware. No amount of software will allow a turkey to fly across an ocean…

Why did Boeing, one of a handful of top aerospace companies make such a mistake? Well, Boeing was born and thrived in Seattle. In recent years, though, it moved its headquarters to Chicago, to be closer to the source of all powers in this age of doom and gloom, finance. Uncontrolled finance is the deepest source of evil (yes, it financed Hitler, Stalin, as I have explained in other essays). It’s also the greatest source of leverage. One can imagine Boeing executives exchanging stupid American style jokes with financial types suggesting Boeing may as well make an unstable plane subject to stalling while in peril, and correct that with software: software at this point is what makes financial overlords ever more wealthy (and they distribute crumbs to politicians, or even to media plutocrats, who then try to Brexit us…).

But why was Boeing forced to make a plane subject to stalling from its intrinsic geometry? Airbus. (We told you the French invented the devil, and then shrugged!)

A few years back, Airbus observed that jet engines had vastly improved, getting 25% more mileage, or so. Thus it was irresistible to make a plane with such engines. Airbus workhorse is the A320, the first fly by wire plane (after the Franco-British Concorde, and then the Space Shuttle). The A320 program cost 3 billion dollars by 1984, the first customer was Air France, by February 2019, 8674 A320s had been built. Airbus is now fabricating sixty-three (63) A320, per week: nine planes every single day are churned out of Toulouse… (It’s roughly the only thing working really well in France…).

The new A320 was appropriately called the “Neo”. When Boeing saw the A320 Neo coming, it was petrified… Boeing couldn’t just slap new engines on the 737, as Airbus did with the A320 Neo. You see the new engines are more efficient because of a higher “bypass”, a huge hidden turbine which acts like a hidden propeller grabbing air and pushing it like a giant fan. That’s all around the jet engine itself, and makes the entire engine much bigger. The problem was that the 737 is short-legged. The A320 is long-legged, so it could accommodate the much bigger, higher bypass engines. But not so for the 737, which crawls on its belly like a snake.

Why couldn’t Boeing have slapped longer legs on the 737? Because it would have had to modify the fuselage, and the wing roots, big time. In other words, it would have had to make a brand new plane. A brand new plane cost more than ten billion dollars, and take years to come around. Plus, Boeing, Airbus style, was advertizing that the most modest of training, with a tablet and a bit of paper, was enough to transition a pilot from the 737 to the 737 Max. That was a complete lie, as the aerodynamics of the types are completely different.

There was a famous example of a flawed plane: the British Comet. The first commercial jet. Four of them exploded (my mom flew on them between the explosions). The cause was discovered by making metal fatigue tests on the ground. The high altitude was causing the aluminium fuselage to expand and contract, until it unzipped itself. That could, and was corrected. No Comet exploded afterwards, and all other jets profit from the Comet’s unfortunate pioneering.

The case of the 737 Max is obviously different: the plane simply looks, and is, wrong (no Trump will try to resist, that’s hard, and, although he may think it, may not tell you so in his next tweet…)    

This is a small example of how the financialization of the world, making everything into profit and soft talking, software, leads to unmitigated disaster. I don’t think the 737 Max can be saved. Sure, it can fly. But, in the same exact dire circumstances as a A320 Neo, it will crash when the European plane will not.

Financialization of the world is a strange madness, an aspect and tool of plutocratization, an even greater insanity. It started with Reagan, big time, was amplified by Clinton, and that boy, Obama, couldn’t express his admiration for Reagan enough. Now in France, an idiotic, pseudo socialist government (truly from Rothschild, as US president Andrew Jackson would enjoy to point out) want to sell the airports to private entities… Because anything private is superior, they say. Andrew Jackson knew better, and was very explicit about it.

It’s a category error, as Aristotle would point out (hopefully): greed is superior when no higher motives can be called upon. Greed is what you do, when you can’t call on the highest, more specifically human motivations. Greed motivates rats, or maybe monkeys. We humans fly higher. Just don’t try it in a 737 Max…

Patrice Ayme

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31 Responses to “The 737 MAX Is Intrinsically Flawed, Misshaped, Software Won’t Fix It”

  1. benign Says:

    Are you short Boeing? That was harsh. The flight characteristics of the plane absent the stupid software might be more stall-prone, because of load balance shifted aft, but the plane may still be flyable.

    I trained as a glider pilot and got FAA certified a few years ago. In gliders, depending on the pilot’s weight, lead weights under one’s feet are used to bring the balance point forward if required (only a problem for very light pilots).

    What is abundantly clear is that the software developers did not talk to the pilots. The pitch-forward software activates *without warning* when auto-pilot is *off*, when one might least expect it; but can be manually deactivated by setting manual trim (not sure if this applies both on or off auto-pilot). This led some Southwest pilots (the best 737 pilots around IMHO) to say that the software had to be “jury-rigged” to fly the airplane. Forget to set manual trim on approach (which you haven’t had to do in decades), and you might be in for some surprises. The pilots have to be furious about this.

    It is axiomatic to put the nose down when stalling in virtually all conditions (in gliders: in all conditions). Most general aviation accidents occur on the turns to base or final when the wings’ lift decreases in the turn without the pilot adequately compensating with increase in air speed, and the airplane spins into a dive with no opportunity for recovery and crashes.

    “Techno-optimism” might have peaked right about here.

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I am not short Boeing.
      I don’t short companies.
      It’s anti-American, to short.
      Once, I shorted Japan, but that’s history…
      Boeing is the most impact component of the Dow Jones. So if Boeing goes down big, so does the Dow. I am (very) long the market(s), so my anti-Boeing stance at this point proves once again that I am a Saint… In truth, I am just talking out of the obvious: that plane was made in a completely EVIL way, a total disregard for human lives, thanks to EVIL-POWER = PLUTO-KRATIA.

      My assessment was not harsh (as someone said in the WSJ!) It’s just the truth. I didn’t even mention the SINGLE SENSOR…. Just the airframe… I am going to add a single sentence or two about the single sensor…

      Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The point is that the 737 MAX is more unstable than other jets. Now very unstable planes make great fighter planes… But poor commercial planes… The MAX is over the line….

      Like

  2. benign Says:

    Reference: https://theaircurrent.com/aviation-safety/what-is-the-boeing-737-max-maneuvering-characteristics-augmentation-system-mcas-jt610/

    Like

  3. Gmax Says:

    Wow. I will think twice before my next trip to Hawaii. Check whether it’s an Airbus or a Boeing flying coffin.
    I am not sure I understand all the technicals
    Anyway thanks for the tip as they say

    Like

  4. benign Says:

    Test pilots flying 737 MAX: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XEsSRqnOwc

    Like

  5. Pravin Nema Says:

    Thanks for the clarification. Pravin.

    On Sat, 16 Mar 2019, 2:32 pm Patrice Ayme’s Thoughts, wrote:

    > Patrice Ayme posted: “Flawed aircraft have existed before in the history > of aviation. There were actually more flawed types than successful ones, > arguably starting with the first three plane models. They were made by > Ader, a French engineer who, helped by military contracts, b” >

    Like

  6. benign Says:

    “The airframe with the engines mounted differently did not have adequately stable handling at high AoA to be certifiable. Boeing decided to create the MCAS system to electronically correct for the aircraft’s handling deficiencies.” If this is true, the FAA carries a big share of the blame.

    All of the above commentary applies. It is a major cock-up.

    Good analysis from a pilot: https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-03-17/best-analysis-what-really-happened-boeing-737-max-pilot-software-engineer

    Like

  7. benign Says:

    From the link above, from a mechanic (not software but hydraulics):

    Lion Air crash and Ethiopian Air crash are different. Similar failures did not cause these crashes. Pilot of Ethiopian plane mentioned flight control problems right after launch. He couldn’t properly control the jet. He firewalled the engines in an attempt to maintain flight while his flight controls were acting wonky. (Data received showed his engines way over max takeoff limit.) Eyewitnesses reported smoke trailing from the plane before it augured in. Engines were not the source of smoke. Loss of hydraulic fluid was the cause. Skydrol. Used in all commercial aircraft, when leaking will billow out into clouds of smoke. Most likely: jet had major hydraulic failure at launch. Capt notices it right away in the controls. He continues his launch but goes balls to the wall with the throttles to maintain flight. As hydraulic fluid leaks badly from tail, flight controls go manual reversion, causing the jet to porpoise in its path. Jets ain’t easy to fly without hydraulic pressure. If the hydraulic failure was severe enough, the jet would be in deep trouble. Capt might not have had enough recurrent training to deal with hydraulic loss on takeoff. In she goes. Software ain’t got nothing to do with it. Yes, the airplane design is shitty but that ain’t the cause, either.
    Aircraft mechanic 34 years major airline.

    Like

  8. benign Says:

    Another article on the history of bad design decisions for the 737 that I was not aware of, going back to the 1960s when the 737 was angling to replace the DC 9 developed in WWII. Sad. I had no idea.

    https://www.veteranstoday.com/2019/03/15/737-max-finally-the-scrap-from-seattle-has-to-stay-on-the-ground/

    Yes, financialization has ruined the world economy. With FAS 56, the US government no longer has to account for how it spends our money; the Fed pays the banks tens of billions a year for doing nothing at taxpayer expense; and in Europe, the perversion of negative interest rates, which are truly a crime against nature, are leading the European Union into a terrible disaster. Airbus may gain at Boeings expense, which may be great. But everywhere you look, the money has turned to sh*te, while the monetary authorities are claiming victory.

    BTW, I always thought the Space Shuttle was a turkey, meant to provide Star Wars entertainment to the people and justify NASA’s budget.

    Like

  9. benign Says:

    From the Veterans Today article, damning the fully captive FAA:

    It was not the FAA or the manufacturer Boeing that banned the 737 MAX from flying in the USA. It was Donald Trump who pulled the emergency brake with a decree [after the rest of the world had grounded the aircraft!].

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      God save the Donald…
      He probably saw at this point that it was a bad business decision to have the US being the only country on earth to claim there was no problem with the 737 MAX. Everybody notice Ethiopia selected the French BEA for opening the Black Boxes… And they said it was because France was… neutral…

      Like

  10. Jo Liana King Says:

    Business model: make the most profit possible with the lowest manufacturing and maintenance costs.

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I think it’s a bit more complex than that. It’s not exactly how it started… But then they got stuck in the thing they had started… And the more time passed, the more they got stuck, suddenly, OK, 30 years ago, having to play catch-up behind the superior A320…

      Like

  11. David Eckert Says:

    What aeronautical engineering training do you have?

    Like

  12. David Eckert Says:

    David Eckert: The science and engineering is not where I question your logic so much. Studies need to be made for this to be conclusive. It is more the relationship to greed, the monetarily leveraged position that Boeing has taken, and how you argue that this position has lead to potential flaws in engineering where I question things. Sure, the two things could be related but not necessarily. In your blogpost, you state that finance is evil. I get it. Finance has caused a lot of pain over the years. However, it has also lifted billions of people out of poverty. It seems to me the alternative is to have a few wealthy dukes, earls, and knights who enjoy the right of jus primae noctis over millions of peasants. I prefer the availability of cheap credit where companies and people can leverage themselves and make great products for all of humanity. I know this is idealistic. But, the alternative is worse.

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I doubt that I said in my essay (I write essays, not “blogposts”) that “finance was evil”… Because I don’t believe it, per se, and I write what I believe. I make a huge difference between plutocracy and “finance”. Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, Hitler and Louis XIV were plutocrats, not financial types. Also I happen to be a financial type, and I am not that much into mortification.

      I have been following the 737 for a very long time. Very dangerous decisions were taken, to maximize profits. Now Boeing is not selling houses. Flying is a dangerous miracle. Profits are possible, only under tight regulations. Even the experimental rocket companies fall under very tight FAA regulations. The mood of excruciating tightness was claerly not applied to Boeing with the MAX. Boeing should have been told by the FAA that plane was NOT possible as something to fly millions of people a year.

      “Finance” has caused pain only because of decisions mostly taken under Clinton, who allowed the dismantlement of FDR’s banking reforms (“BANKING ACT OF 1933” aka “Glass Seagal”). That will have to be brought back, one way or another. Right now a leveraged private equity bubble is developing… which will pop.

      Greed is good, when nothing else will do, and no other, more noble motivation is at play. And only then.

      Like

  13. Jo Liana King Says:

    People need to be informed about WHAT HAS AND IS WORKING in the U.S., such as some of Eisenhower’s policies, and more recent successes (many documented in Michael Lewis’s “The Fifth Risk). As for what’s not working, the current administration provides numerous heartbreaking examples.

    Like

  14. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Sent to NYT]

    The 737 MAX is actually too low to the ground, considering the size of its engines. This, in turn, forced the engines to be too forward, with too much of a torque.

    The A320Neo has longer legs, so the situation is not as bad, the engines were not positioned as badly. I wrote a whole essay about the difference and the financial approach of Boeing, consecutive to its move to Chicago, which emphasized profits over safety.

    Like

  15. Peter, Maryland Says:

    @Patrice Ayme: Boeing did the short-undercarriage thing once before, with the 707. They couldn’t up-engine it as Douglas did with the DC-8. So instead they designed a new plane, the 747.

    Like

  16. Paulie, Earth Unfortunately The USA Portion Says:

    Peter you are wrong, the Air force version of the 707 has been re engined with CFM engines. Slightly narrower fuselage than the 707 otherwise identical.

    Like

  17. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Aviation Daily
    https://aviationweek.com/commercial-aviation/ethiopian-max-crash-simulator-scenario-stuns-pilots?NL=AW-05&Issue=AW-05_20190513_AW-05_525&sfvc4enews=42&cl=article_1&utm_rid=CPEN1000001204572&utm_campaign=19626&utm_medium=email&elq2=9b54f79f99d34b8a855a939805f259a1

    Ethiopian MAX Crash Simulator Scenario Stuns Pilots
    May 10, 2019 Sean Broderick | Aviation Daily

    COMMENTS 19

    Wreckage from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

    Jemal Countess/Getty Images
    WASHINGTON—A simulator session flown by a U.S.-based Boeing 737 MAX crew that mimicked a key portion of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 (ET302) accident sequence suggests that the Ethiopian crew faced a near-impossible task of getting their 737 MAX 8 back under control, and underscores the importance of pilots understanding severe runaway trim recovery procedures.

    Details of the session, shared with Aviation Week, were flown voluntarily as part of routine, recurrent training. Its purpose: practice recovering from a scenario in which the aircraft was out of trim and wanting to descend while flying at a high rate of speed. This is what the ET302 crew faced when it toggled cutout switches to de-power the MAX’s automatic stabilizer trim motor, disabling the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) that was erroneously trimming the horizontal stabilizer nose-down.

    In such a scenario, once the trim motor is de-powered, the pilots must use the hand-operated manual trim wheels to adjust the stabilizers. But they also must keep the aircraft from descending by pulling back on the control columns to deflect the elevator portions of the stabilizer upward. Aerodynamic forces from the nose-up elevator deflection make the entire stabilizer more difficult to move, and higher airspeed exacerbates the issue.

    The U.S. crew tested this by setting up a 737-Next Generation simulator at 10,000 ft., 250 kt. and 2 deg. nose up stabilizer trim. This is slightly higher altitude but otherwise similar to what the ET302 crew faced as it de-powered the trim motors 3 min. into the 6 min. flight, and about 1 min. after the first uncommanded MCAS input. Leading up to the scenario, the Ethiopian crew used column-mounted manual electric trim to counter some of the MCAS inputs, but did not get the aircraft back to level trim, as the 737 manual instructs before de-powering the stabilizer trim motor. The crew also did not reduce their unusually high speed.

    What the U.S. crew found was eye-opening. Keeping the aircraft level required significant aft-column pressure by the captain, and aerodynamic forces prevented the first officer from moving the trim wheel a full turn. They resorted to a little-known procedure to regain control.

    The crew repeatedly executed a three-step process known as the roller coaster. First, let the aircraft’s nose drop, removing elevator nose-down force. Second, crank the trim wheel, inputting nose-up stabilizer, as the aircraft descends. Third, pull back on the yokes to raise the nose and slow the descent. The excessive descent rates during the first two steps meant the crew got as low as 2,000 ft. during the recovery.

    The Ethiopian Ministry of Transport preliminary report on the Mar. 10 ET302 accident suggests the crew attempted to use manual trim after de-powering the stabilizer motors, but determined it “was not working,” the report said. A constant trust setting at 94% N1 meant ET302’s airspeed increased to the 737 MAX’s maximum (Vmo), 340 kt., soon after the stabilizer trim motors were cut off, and did not drop below that level for the remainder of the flight. The pilots, struggling to keep the aircraft from descending, also maintained steady to strong aft control-column inputs from the time MCAS first fired through the end of the flight.

    The U.S. crew’s session and a video posted recently by YouTube’s Mentour Pilot that shows a similar scenario inside a simulator suggest that the resulting forces on ET302’s stabilizer would have made it nearly impossible to move by hand.

    Neither the current 737 flight manual nor any MCAS-related guidance issued by Boeing in the wake of the October 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610 (JT610), when MCAS first came to light for most pilots, discuss the roller-coaster procedure for recovering from severe out-of-trim conditions. The 737 manual explains that “effort required to manually rotate the stabilizer trim wheels may be higher under certain flight conditions,” but does not provide details.

    The pilot who shared the scenario said he learned the roller coaster procedure from excerpts of a 737-200 manual posted in an online pilot forum in the wake of the MAX accidents. It is not taught at his airline.

    Boeing’s assumption was that erroneous stabilizer nose-down inputs by MCAS, such as those experienced by both the JT610 and ET302 crews, would be diagnosed as runaway stabilizer. The checklist to counter runaway stabilizer includes using the cutout switches to de-power the stabilizer trim motor. The ET302 crew followed this, but not until the aircraft was severely out of trim following the MCAS inputs triggered by faulty angle-of-attack (AOA) data that told the system the aircraft’s nose was too high.

    Unable to move the stabilizer manually, the ET302 crew moved the cutout switches to power the stabilizer trim motors—something the runaway stabilizer checklist states should not be done. While this enabled their column-mounted electric trim input switches, it also re-activated MCAS, which again received the faulty AOA data and trimmed the stabilizer nose down, leading to a fatal dive.

    The simulator session underscored the importance of reacting quickly to uncommanded stabilizer movements and avoiding a severe out-of-trim condition, one of the pilots involved said. “I don’t think the situation would be survivable at 350 kt. and below 5,000 ft,” this pilot noted.

    The ET302 crew climbed through 5,000 ft. shortly after de-powering the trim motors, and got to about 8,000 ft.—the same amount of altitude the U.S. crew used up during the roller-coaster maneuvers—before the final dive. A second pilot not involved in the session but who reviewed the scenario’s details said it highlighted several training opportunities.

    “This is the sort of simulator experience airline crews need to gain an understanding of how runaway trim can make the aircraft very difficult to control, and how important it is to rehearse use of manual trim inputs,” this pilot said.

    While Boeing’s runaway stabilizer checklist does not specify it, the second pilot recommended a maximum thrust of 75% N1 and a 4 deg. nose-up pitch to keep airspeed under control.

    Boeing is developing modifications to MCAS, as well as additional training. Simulator sessions are expected to be integrated into recurrent training, and may be required by some regulators, and opted for by some airlines, before pilots are cleared to fly MAXs again. The MAX fleet has been grounded since mid-March, a direct result of the two accidents.

    Like

  18. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Sent to NYT]

    So why is the 737 MAX so flawed? Engine location. The engines are too powerful and too forward of the 737 Max’s wing.

    The A320 has longer legs, so the new engines could be left under the wing. Also the A 320 has three angle of attack sensors. If one sensor differs from the other two, the A320 AI ignores it.

    Like

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