Not So Fast!

A great many people in the United States feel that progress is an unmitigated good. I’d even agree that real progress is indeed good, BUT… these days so much of what is considered progress is either a commercial scam or someone putting out a product that’s really not progress at all… or a marginal improvement to an existing product or system, and all too often those “new” products that are really incremental improvements are rushed to market with bugs in them.

When it’s a case of computer software, such bugs can be an annoyance, as in the case of a personal computer, or far worse, if that software is part of something much larger.

The latest tragic example of this is the Boeing 737 Max 8, an aircraft that, in terms of actual improvement in passenger convenience, travel time, and maintenance time, is at best a marginal improvement, BUT it’s nine feet longer than the 737 Max 7 and carries 21 more passengers in standard configuration, and it’s fourteen percent more fuel efficient. The cabin design has to be less expensive and lighter because Boeing removed all the passenger seat consoles in favor of “streaming entertainment,” meaning that the passenger has to carry his or her own computer, cell phone, or tablet.

Boeing also installed more “pilot-error” proof software, except that, in the rush to get the 737 Max 8 into service in the competition against Airbus, Boeing apparently went “light” on pilot re-training, claiming that not that much was needed since the aircraft was the same “type” as the most recent 737 predecessors… which is largely true… except when certain sensors malfunction and then the aircraft software drops the nose, even on take-off, and the pilot has to know exactly which three switches to turn off… and know that in seconds. And in the Ethiopian and Lion Air crashes, the pilots didn’t know that, even though the Ethiopian captain had more than 4,000 hours in earlier versions of the 737.

Now, with over four thousand 737 Max 8 aircraft sold and delivered, the probabilities of such a malfunction are low… but the consequences can be brutal if and when they occur. In this case, as a result of this rush to market, two airliners crashed and killed everyone on board, and Boeing has admitted that the grounding of the 737 Max 8s will cost Boeing $150 million just in first quarter, possibly over $1 billion before all the glitches are fixed.

Was the rush really worth it? To anyone but Boeing, that is?

1 thought on “Not So Fast!”

  1. Tom says:

    I wonder if it was a rush to market effect.

    I do not understand how the Boeing engineers changed the configuration of the aircraft and did not emphasize pilot retraining. Yes, it was still a monoplane with two engines, but the balance was shifted by moving the wing and the engines.

    I also do not understand how a complex machine was given software which allowed it to respond to data input from a single sensor: a sensor that was then able to over-ride any and all other data.

    This makes the future advanced world of mixing robotic machines, with fixed minds, with people with absent minds; is frightening.

    Doing things once and well allows us to stop and smell the roses – looking down rather than looking up.

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