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Volume 26, Number 12a2
March 18, 2019
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MCAS Certification Flawed: Report
Russ Niles
The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation (MCAS) system at the center of investigations into two fatal crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 was misunderstood and mischaracterized in a flawed certification process as Boeing and the FAA rushed to bring the new jet to market, a Seattle Times investigation published Sunday alleges.

Citing named and unnamed sources, the Times’ Dominic Gates says the final certification of the system, which was intended to give pilots a control feel on the aerodynamically different MAX similar to that of previous iterations of the 737, not only gave “unlimited authority” to the stabilizer for nose-down trim, it literally fought the pilots’ attempts to correct the condition possibly to the point where they were physically unable to fight the stabilizer down force any longer.

“It had full authority to move the stabilizer the full amount,” Peter Lemme, former Boeing flight controls engineer, told the Times. “There was no need for that. Nobody should have agreed to giving it unlimited authority.”

The Times story said the profound ability of the system to take over a key flight control action should have resulted in close scrutiny in the certification process.

But the original specifications of the system called for MCAS to limit its ability to move the horizontal stabilizer .6 degrees at a time. By the time deliveries began, it could pitch the stabilizer 2.5 degrees, about half its total travel, in one movement, the result of flight testing tweaks aimed at finessing the flight control feel.

The system would also pivot the stabilizer that much repeatedly as long as data inputs indicated the aircraft was about to stall, regardless of the pilots’ strenuous efforts to overpower the system. In the October Lion Air crash, which killed 189 people, the flight data recorder counted the captain countering the system 21 times with the first officer taking over for few tries before the captain’s final futile efforts to arrest a 500-MPH dive. The data indicated the nose-down yoke forces peaked at a little more than 100 pounds.

The newspaper’s investigation said that engineers involved in the safety assessment of MCAS were not aware the system could move the tail five times more than the original specs called for. The certification documents should have been amended to reflect the final configuration but they apparently were not, according to the Times report. If they had been, the seriousness of a potential failure of the system would have required it to receive data from at least two sources.

MCAS gets data from only one of two angle of attack indicators on the MAX and the flight data recorder on the Lion Air airplane showed the AOA feeding MCAS was malfunctioning. “A hazardous failure mode depending on a single sensor, I don’t think passes muster,” said Lemme.

The newspaper is reporting that Boeing’s software fix will wire MCAS to both AOAs and only allow the system to move the tail feathers once, instead of repeatedly battling manual control inputs. It will also require additional pilot training and operating manual changes, both of which were called for by pilots unions following the Lion Air crash.

Boeing’s position, endorsed by the FAA, has been that because MCAS is only supposed to trigger in extreme circumstances—high angles of attack and accelerated stalls—that additional pilot training was not necessary. The company has also said that it assumed that based on their existing training on earlier models pilots would recognize the erroneous nose-down commands and hit cutoff switches that would disable the system. This is a standard runaway trim scenario for all aircraft.

“The assumptions in here are incorrect. The human factors were not properly evaluated,” the Times quoted an unnamed FAA safety engineer as saying.

The story also suggests that due to budget cuts the FAA’s certification managers were under increasing pressure to delegate more and more of the safety assessments to Boeing itself. The unprecedented levels of self-certification in the MAX were compounded by the urgency to get the airplane into service because of competitive pressure from Airbus’s new A320neo series. “There wasn’t a complete and proper review of the documents,” the former FAA engineer is quoted as saying. “Review was rushed to reach certain certification dates.”
Our Friend Mary Grady
AVweb Staff
Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I think long-term relationships in the workplace aren’t as common as they once were. Because of the work we do at AVweb and the predilection of our management, we tend to attract and retain marathoners rather than sprinters. One of those was our dear colleague Mary Grady, who died this week after a long illness.

That Mary was a stalwart is evidenced by the fact that she joined AVweb not too long after it launched in 1995 and despite the physical challenges of illness, she wrote regularly until just a few weeks ago. She wrote when she felt poorly and she wrote when she had to cover another editor traveling for a week. She hauled her laptop into the clinic and covered news cycles under the mirthless drip of chemotherapy. Courage and determination are the overused currency of the eulogy, but I can apply no better words than those.

Editorial operations like ours have a manic pace—weeks of routine news and content production, leavened by breaking news and the pressure cooker of show coverage. While the rest of us cycled through phases of blown gaskets, Mary was the steady hand who could generate just the right amount of excitability to soldier through a difficult deadline. And she always did.

Those of us who grew up in the news business, who spent time street reporting and who had heard the clatter of wire machines and labored in chaotic news rooms, can always recognize others of our ilk. News sense is part of it and so is the stamina to chase stories, but mainly it’s the writing and Mary could bring it. Boy, could she bring it. Crisp, precise and quick. Always quick.

Of the past few years, Mary couldn’t travel much so she supported our show coverage with what we call outside news—stuff that’s happening beyond the fence at AirVenture or Sun ‘n Fun. She could bury us in copy if we needed it and we often did. She did so without drama, without complaint and never a hint of strain.

Others will speak for themselves, I’m sure, but I secretly think all of us long to be as kind, as decent and just plain gentle as Mary was, if we could just imagine how. For me, Mary Grady was the sort of colleague and friend you could always count on and who would always be there. And one day, she wasn’t. Goodbye is hardly sufficient. -- Paul Bertorelli

I knew Mary for 20 years, in that way you “know” someone you interact with mostly online, mixed with sleep-deprived, deadline-fueled meetups at OSH. Mary was a senior editor; I was just the lowly copy editor. It didn’t matter: Mary treated everyone she met with kindness and respect. She brought out the best in all of us, mentoring new journalists who’ve joined us over the years.

Mary shepherded me around the field my first trip to AirVenture and managed to wrangle my newbie enthusiasm (“Look at all the airplanes!”) with a patient but disciplined focus on our work. And she made it look effortless. I recall her walking up to a booth manned by Tuskegee Airmen, chatting and jotting a few notes, and suddenly there was this fully drawn story with nuance and character and history I wasn’t even aware I’d overheard.

She was a pro, sure—but I also think she had a deep, abiding curiosity about the world and people’s stories. We are all richer for it.

She filled in as executive editor during a staff transition in AVweb’s early days. She had final responsibility for the publication, but I don’t know that that was an ambition; I think there was simply a job to be done and Mary, as always, rose to the challenge. She and I would trade tips about how to strip out rogue characters from redlined Word files, because back in those halcyon days the Flash had to be plain text with a maximum of 72 characters per line.

Technology marched on (only to fail in spectacular new ways). Mary remained unflappable. Our go-to gal. Our conscience. Our anchor.

She and I talked some about her illness. Ever the optimist, she talked about the luck still on her side, thanked her family and friends, and joked about finally having some deadline-free time to enjoy the city, the ocean, the kayaking, her lavender farm. She earned it.

Thanks, Mary. I miss you. -- Jennifer Whitley, AVweb copy editor

Mary was one of AVweb’s first journalists, and one of the best. She brought her long experience as a newspaper reporter to our fledgling internet news service, together with her love of aviation. It was a wonderful combination. -- Mike Busch, AVweb founder

So sad. She was so nice and always a pleasure to speak with. I’m sorry for your team. -- Mike Goulian, Red Bull Air Race pilot

Mary was an old-school journalist, careful, methodical, fair and balanced but she had her eye on the future. She loved covering the innovators, inventors and fresh talent in aviation to put a spotlight on their passion.

She was kind, tough, even-handed and while she looked for the best in everything and everyone, she never shied away from calling out injustice and dishonesty. It was an honor to work with her and she and her gentle and confident influence will be missed. -- Russ Niles, AVweb contributing editor

Mary played a small but critical role in preparation of IFR Magazine, and was almost completely unrecognized for her part. Mary provided a regular monthly one-page overview of important aviation news items that appeared as a general part of the magazine.

Her material was always first rate and required no copy editing at all. I often mused that I wished I could bottle her professionalism, enthusiasm, respectful cooperation, and general excellence and use it to teach my other contributors.

Mary is missed, and we’re all saddened and a bit worse off for her passing. -- Frank Bowlin, IFR Magazine Editor

She did so many interesting things apart from, and in addition to, the aviation world. She was one special lady and will be sorely missed. -- Crystal Loonsfoot, former colleague
JP Instruments 'Primary JPI EDM 930'
How Effective is the Cirrus Parachute System?
Paul Bertorelli
The Cirrus line has been flying for 20 years and although most people in aviation know they have full aircraft parachutes, it's fair to ask how effective these have been. With more than 90 uses of the so-called CAPS, has the system really saved lives? In this video, AVweb's Paul Bertorelli analyzes the record.
'Clear Similarities' In Lion Air, Ethiopian Flight Profiles
Russ Niles
Ethiopia’s transport minister told reporters on Sunday that preliminary data from Ethiopian Flight 302’s flight data recorder showed “clear similarities” to data pulled from a similar Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed off Indonesia last October. Dagmawit Moges said the FDR, which appeared significantly damaged from the Ethiopian crash, is actually relatively intact. "The black box has been found in a good condition that enabled us to extract almost all the data inside," she told reporters Sunday evening. The FDR is being analyzed by the BEA, France’s aviation authority, and Moges said Ethiopia will release its full findings within a month.

The Lion Air investigation is focused on faulty data supplied by an angle of attack sensor to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System that is supposed to protect against high-speed stalls by adjusting the angle of the horizontal stabilizer. The Lion Air plane pitched up and down about two dozen times before diving into the ocean. Early flight tracking data suggested the Ethiopian aircraft’s flightpath was similar to that of the earlier crash plane. The new Boeing is grounded worldwide pending a fix from Boeing that is anticipated in the coming week.

Meanwhile, the impact forces in last Sunday’s crash were so severe that officials say it will be six months before victims’ remains can be properly identified and turned over to relatives. In the meantime, families are being given a one-kilogram box of charred dirt from the crater created by the plummeting airliner. There were 157 people from 35 countries aboard the plane. Many were on their way from Addis Ababa to Nairobi for a U.N. climate change conference.
Sully Slams Flight 302 FO Experience
Russ Niles
Flight 1549 Capt. Chesley Sullenberger has weighed in on the MAX 8 discussion but from a crew training and experience perspective. The pilot who deadsticked an A320 into the Hudson River after a dual engine failure 10 years ago with the help of First Officer Jeff Skiles said in a Facebook post on Saturday that the FO on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 602 lacked the experience to play a meaningful role in dealing with the in-flight emergency. The FO is reported to have had only 200 hours of total flight time, a level of experience Sullenberger called “absurdly low” for someone with responsibility for the safety of an airliner full of people. “A cockpit crew must be a team of experts, not a captain and an apprentice,” Sullenberger said. The 28-year-old captain had 8,000 hours and was considered a “senior captain” at Ethiopian Airlines.

On Flight 1549, Skiles was on his second flight in an A320 but had more than 30 years of cockpit experience in a variety of aircraft. He was pilot flying when multiple bird strikes knocked out the engines. Sullenberger assumed control while Skiles ran the checklists and other support cockpit duties. “In extreme emergencies, when there is not time for discussion or for the captain to direct every action of the first officer, pilots must be able to intuitively know what to do to work together,” Sullenberger said in his post. “They must be able to collaborate wordlessly. Someone with only 200 hours would not know how to do that or even to do that.” Sullenberger qualified his comments by noting that it’s not known what influence pilot experience had on the Ethiopian crash.
Planes Collide In Setting Sun
Russ Niles
A low setting sun may have been a factor in a runway collision between a T-28 Trojan warbird and a Cessna 172 at Compton Woodley Airport near Los Angeles on Wednesday. A student in the 172 was killed and an instructor seriously injured. The T-28 pilot was unhurt. A video of the incident shows the warbird landing about 10 seconds behind the 172. The accident occurred about 7 p.m. A voice can be heard on the video saying “He can’t see him,” and calling for the T-28 pilot to go around. Moments later the Trojan hits the 172 from behind and there’s an explosion and fire.

Compton Woodley has two parallel runways (7L/25R, 7R/25L) and is uncontrolled. The video shows the aircraft landing on Runway 25L and the sun was almost directly in line with the direction of flight. The 172 was almost entirely consumed by the post-crash fire. The Trojan has damage to the prop and cowl.
BVLOS Drone Operations Approved For AEDs
Russ Niles
The future of package delivery has arrived in Reno, Nevada with the FAA’s approval of beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone operations by Flirtey. The company’s drones will first be able to deliver automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to medical emergencies. The drones will be operated by pilots using onboard cameras to maneuver the aircraft. The medical deliveries are a prelude to the gradual integration of commercial package delivery in the city. "Public safety is our top priority, and the use of drones to provide life-saving AED technology to cardiac patients will save lives across our community,” Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said in a statement. Reno is one of 10 locations approved for experimental drone operations under an FAA program.

The significance of the FAA approval was highlighted by Flirtey CEO Matthew Sweeney. "Flirtey's industry-leading technology is now approved for drone delivery beyond visual line of sight, a major milestone that brings life-saving and commercial drone delivery another step closer to your doorstep," Flirtey founder and CEO Matthew Sweeny said in a news release. Among its partners in developing the technology are Dominoes and 7-Eleven.
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Sensitive Air Force Base Flooded
Russ Niles
Some of the Air Force’s most expensive and strategically sensitive aircraft have been evacuated from Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, after it was flooded by the Missouri River over the weekend. At least nine aircraft were flown to other bases and crews were working around the clock to try to protect facilities that are the heart of NORAD’s strategic and intelligence operations. By Sunday, more than a third of the base was underwater and since much of the most sensitive facilities at the base are underground, the threat from the flooding could be catastrophic.

According to, the Air Force just finished moving a command bunker that controls the U.S.’s strategic nuclear forces underground. The new bunker was commissioned in January. It's not clear if it was affected. The base is also home to the so-called doomsday planes, the Boeing 747s that the president uses in times of threat and crisis to act as an airborne military command post.
Top Letters And Comments, March 15, 2019
Boeing 737 MAX Grounding

I strongly suspect that many (if not a majority) of airlines do not include enough aircraft handling simulator training on their conversion courses, especially on difference courses.

For example, converting from the B737-800 to the 737 MAX should include simulator training specifically aimed at how to deal with a malfunctioning MCAS, not just handing out manuals & some stuff on an iPad.

Boeing may share the blame on this by playing down the potential danger of a malfunctioning MCAS to allow airlines to save on pilot training. However, those airlines who skimp on training and do not emphasize "stick & rudder skills" are guilty of gross negligence. Computers are not infallible!

I spent 42 years airline flying, have 21,802 hours total including 6,219 in command on the 737-800, so have a reasonable idea of how the industry works.

David Hutchison

Am I missing out on something concerning FLIGHT SAFETY? or is the need to earn money the overriding factor? My background in aviation is 12 years served with the Royal Air Force as an instrument avionics technician many years ago. I know it doesn’t make me an expert, but I feel I need to comment. What I learned during that time geared me up for life.

We learned FLIGHT SAFETY comes FIRST! and if in doubt......CHECK......but don't proceed regardless. Why then do the authorities permit the 737 to continue making dollars whilst a BIG doubt hangs over the air worthiness of the 737 MAX 8 series of aircraft worldwide, this being the office, if you like, for the 737 MAX 8?

Two ultra-severe, very similar, if not identical, crashes of this brand-new type in such a short time frame raises concern for all. Why put lives at risk when nobody knows the causes of these incidents...which seem to be identical? Why throw DOUBT out the window and FLIGHT SAFETY with it?

My congratulations to the Chinese, Ethiopian and Caymen wise men for taking the lead in grounding these aircraft, respecting the fare paying innocents.

Peter C. MacDonald

I don't think the MAX should have been grounded in the U.S. unless U.S. pilots were reporting the same kind of oscillations that occurred with the Lion and Ethiopian flights. If U.S. pilots were reporting the same oscillations that occurred on the Lion flight, the plane should have been grounded long before now.


What would it take to unground the plane? Simple, some confirmation from the FAA or some other qualified entity after inspection of the black box information that says the plane did not suffer from some manufacturing process error. There were "fire and sparks" coming out of the plane BEFORE it crashed witnesses said. That doesn't sound like a software problem to me. Prudence requires the plane to be grounded just like the 787 was grounded.

If they don't then the money that the plane makes is far more important than the up to 210 people on the plane. That is not what the airline says when these things happen. You may want to get on the plane but will you if it is found the plane’s panel blew up and incapacitated both pilots so that the plane came down almost vertically with no attempts from either the 200-hour person or the 8000-hour person to correct the dive. You say this could never happen now but never is a very long time.

Peter Bowen

I see the writer of this piece is not identified with a byline. Re: confidence in U.S. pilots flying the airplane: How do you know what the 737 MAX is "throwing at them"? When the trim cutouts are "flipped" is the automation well and truly disconnected from the controls, or is it similar to modern cars with stability control systems, with on-off switches that aren't exactly on-off switches at all? Can a pilot of the airplane answer that question or should it be put to the responsible software engineer and decision-makers at Boeing who approved this design feature?

C. E.

It appears Boeing generally are getting too `Big headed` in what they consider necessary in `training` and/or conversions in regard to 737 operations. To hang on the coat tails of original 737 100/200 all new variations of said 737 is CRAZY – newer types are NO WAY near the original in almost any area – except by retaining the now VERY old overhead panel.

FAA are in collusion with this!!!! verging on CRIMINAL actions – WITH INTENT. The almighty dollar wins again????!!!

Graham Lucas

Yes, [I would] fly tomorrow with an experienced pilot on one of the three U.S. carriers – not with a foreign carrier or one who has 2nd pilot with only 200 hours time – inexperience probably caused the crashes!!!

Edward L. Moore

Equipping ADS-B

I don't mind the technology in and of its own, though it is still a lot of money to spend with no gain in capability. I don't mind the safety enhancement of other traffic knowing WHERE I am, but no one has any reason to know WHO I am, particularly not anyone with cheap equipment passing it to a worldwide network.

Steve Rush

Teen Pilot Seeks Age Exemption

Remember the 8-year-old who killed herself and her instructor while trying to set a record? The regulations are there just to prevent the stupid competition of "Youngest to" which, by its very definition, engenders a race to the bottom.

His request should absolutely be denied. As a matter of fact, no "Record" should be recognized unless the pilot has met a standard of qualification set to be considered for that record.

Barry Gloger
Picture of the Week, March 14, 2019
I landed my 1968 Cessna 182 on frozen Lake George, Alaska, on a gorgeous winter day. Taken with an iPhone XS Max. Photo by Chris Bena.

See all submissions

Short Final: Flight Following
I was flying with a student in SoCal. Before taxi, she got an appropriate VFR clearance as required per ATIS.

However, she was a little confused and despite talking to approach with a distinct transponder code, was unsure if we had flight following. She asked me if she could confirm with ATC and against my wishes, proceeded to do so.

Except, she asked ATC to confirm if we had IFR flight following.

The controller, being in a good mood, responded, “No ma’am, you are VFR, with flight following aaaaall the way to Montgomery field.”

The next transmission from another pilot on frequency, went as follows: “N1234 also requesting flight following aaaaall the way to Chino.”

Piyush Kumar San Diego, CA
Brainteasers Quiz #253: Stop Me If You've Experienced This

A pilot and a wallaby walk into a pilot's lounge, and the FAA says ... a whole lot of regulatory nonsense that sends the pilot running, and the Wallaby thinking how easy it's going to be to ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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