The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity)

The FAA has issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive against the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The AD requires that the battery system be reviewed and modified as necessary to eliminate the danger of fires such as those that have recently occurred on these aircraft. The changes needed could presumably involve manufacturing processes, sourcing of components, electrical-system design, or some combination of these things.

The FAA’s action here seems to me like simple and reasonable prudence. It is not uncommon for new aircraft types to encounter problems during their early operational days, and the 787 is an innovative plane in many ways, especially in the use of electrical means to replace functions traditionally done by hydraulic systems and by engine bleed air.  (A nice overview of 787 systems here.) There may well turn out to be simple fixes that can be quickly implemented to resolve the issue; on the other hand it’s possible that the fix will involve signficant redesign and will cost Boeing and the airlines considerable money. Purely as speculation, I’d guess that the worst-case result for the study required by the AD would be the mandated replacement of the plane’s lithium-ion batteries with conventional aircraft batteries, at some sacrifice in the plane’s useful load and some redesign both of the relevant control systems and of some interior spaces.

But the purpose of this post is not to talk about 787 technical issues, as much fun as that might be.

After clicking on the Yahoo report about the AD issuance yesterday, I took a look at some of the comments, and a depressing experience it was. Here are some samples:

Makes you wonder if Boeing did not have the FAA inspectors in their back pocket while certifying this airplane “air worthy”? Maybe a few bucks went along stuffing their respective back pockets as well. Good example of certifying government agencies working too close with the manufacturer.

For the FAA to say it’s safe and then ground the planes, all credibility and trust in competence is out the window.

Were they just going to wait until the costs of wrongful death lawsuits surpassed the cost of fixing the problem?

They do lots of testing but just like windows they release it to the public and then we will fix all bugs in the system

Parts made in China

#$%$ batteries made in China and a world-class American airplane manufacturer fell for their cr@p product. Do you think that perhaps Chinese agents were behind deliberately sabotaging our country’s product?

Dream gone bad. Overseas outscourced components on the cheap, assembled by redneck scabs in South Carolina.

Just one more example of the FINE work being produced by wonderful, hardworking and dedicated union workers.

Just more retaliation from Obama for the move to non- union South Carolina.

no one care anymore all the factory workers just go to work to try to make $$$$$ and this it is hard too the pride in making or to build something does not exist anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!

Too bad the GOP helped rich buddies ship all the manufacturing jobs to china? Expertise comes with manufacturing. Burger jobs make poor planes?

Read through several pages of comments like these, and the overwhelming overall impression is one of social toxicity…of people glaring furiously at one another, quick to assume that anything to goes wrong in any aspect of life is due to either malice or incompetence or both. It is a picture of generalized resentment and distrust, coupled with entitled ignorance.

I don’t want to be too alarmist here…the people who comment at large impersonal sites like Yahoo are surely not a representative sample of American society or of blog commenters generally..but still, this, in especially in combination with other indicators, is worrisome. Our country seems to be in transition from what was a reasonably high-trust society to what will be…unless current trends change markedly… a very low-trust society. Low-trust societies are not economically prosperous, and they are not very happy places to live.

While there are many factors in the erosion of social trust, I believe one of the most important is the politicization of absolutely everything. See this article–the bitter wastes of politicized America–which I have previously linked:

Of course the character of this politicized nation is growing more sour.  How could it be otherwise?  We make too many decisions by voting for other people to make them for us.  We communicate through force instead of persuasion – a one-way transmission of absolutes, rather than a productive exchange of ideas.  Instead of actively testing and improving solutions to our own problems, we yell curses and shake our fists while waiting for political champions to emerge from Washington’s bloody arena, carrying the latest thousand pages of badly-written central planning as trophies.

Consider the following comment from the Yahoo Dreamliner thread:

Just more retaliation from Obama for the move to non- union South Carolina.

I certainly don’t agree with this explanation for the AD; in fact my immediate reaction when first reading it was “this is insane.” But you can see why someone might believe this, given Obama’s demonstrated readiness to use his administrative authority to reward his friends and harm his political opponents. In the case of the Dreamliner, Occam’s Razor would suggest the the decision to issue the AD was based on legitimate–indeed obvious–safety concerns…and additionally, I doubt that Obama’s malevolent use of his authority has yet penetrated deeply into the FAA’s safety culture. But give him or someone like him another four or eight years, and it probably will.

At Ricochet this morning, Peter Robinson quotes Richard Epstein on the difference between good business deals…in which everyone is happy–and good settlements…in which everyone is unhappy:

Why is everybody happy in a good business deal?  Because everybody expects to profit.  That’s the whole point of business.  It produces growth–a bigger and bigger pie.  Why then is everybody unhappy in a good settlement?  Because each party recognizes the resources they’re dividing among themselves are limited–that is, there is only so much pie–and wishes he could have figured out how to get more.

“Which is the problem with our politics,” Richard continued. “When economic growth was still running at the postwar norm of between three and four percent, there was enough pie to go around.  Democrats and Republicans can compromise in the expectation that both sides will benefit.  But at two percent growth?  There’s a lot less pie–and fighting over who gets what will get very ugly very fast.”

“Thank God that life consists of more than politics,” says Peter in closing. But sadly, increasingly it does not…because everything in our society is becoming politicized. There is no escape, even when discussing battery problems on an airliner.

The overwhelming growth of government would…for the reasons explained in the above two links…tend toward creating social toxicity even if the President were a thoughtful individual who genuinely wished to foster a climate of mutual respect. With a leader such as our current President, a man who encourages demonization and regularly engages in demagogy, the process is much more rapid.

41 thoughts on “The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity)”

  1. David, I agree with your analysis, but here are some additional influences:

    *The whole entitlement mentality that has insinuated itself into the mindset of many, many people.

    *The idea that “nothing bad should ever happen to anyone, and if it does, it’s somebody’s fault, and that somebody has got to PAY”.

    *The “over-lawyering” of America.

    *Identity politics.

    *Everyone’s a victim of something or someone.

    I’m afraid that those comments really do represent the majority of people. I hope I’m wrong.

  2. Mike D…also, I think the complete disconnection of so many people from any sort of actual *production* must play a part.

    The idea that some problems with a product don’t show up until you’ve actually started manufacturing and using matter how careful the design and testing…seems to be very non-obvious and even offensive to many people.

  3. It’s difficult to know how much of this stuff is new and how much has always been around. Obama is an exceptionally divisive American public figure, but the extent to which he is a symptom rather than a cause isn’t clear.

    It seems likely that the negative Internet comments are not representative. Also, the media have always been ignorant and alarmist about new technology. For example, IIRC, around 1980 there was a sensationalistic PBS Frontline documentary about technical problems with the F-16, which subsequently became one of the most successful aircraft ever built. My guess is that the 787 will be a big success once they work the bugs out. That’s usually how it is with new technology, and Boeing has an excellent track record.

    Perhaps what is different now, other than the politicization, which I agree is a very bad trend, is that the Internet provides a no-cost forum for the yahoos and malcontents who would have been silent in the past, as well as for the demagogues and media manipulators who by now have learned to use it.

  4. This goes both way, gentlemen.

    There is a TV network and a wide network of radio stations that does nothing but pound Democrats and the President, 24/7, day in and day out. 4 years and going strong. You wanna talk about demonization?

    And, by the way, believing that the White House was behind the AD is believing that an entire Government agency and its employees are down with this presidential act of retaliation. It’s possible, but I guess it’s also possible the 9/11 was a government conspiracy, too.

  5. I agree also with David’s comment about how ignorant many people are about manufacturing. Increasingly there is a disconnect between people who actually run or work in productive businesses and everyone else. And increasingly the people in the everyone else category are so ignorant about how business and technology actually work that they don’t have a feel for what is possible and what is fantasy. A person who works on a production line, or on a ship, or managing people under competitive pressure, or in financial markets, probably understands that things can go wrong, that people don’t always do what they are supposed to do, that most plans and processes need be tested and refined before they will work consistently, that big projects are often extremely difficult to pull off successfully and generally can’t be started or stopped easily, and many other facts of business life that aren’t always obvious to inexperienced people — including notably politicians, lawyers and journalists. And the dirigistes’ emphasis on words, speeches, articulated rationality and govt fiat as decisionmaking tools only makes things worse.

  6. Most places I have given up on comments – look at the YouTube comments – even Amazon book “reviewing” – and those Yahoo comments show the ignorance of the aircraft manufacturing process – When I worked at Cessna in the early 80s, it was explained that the cost of a small Cessna could be divided into 3 thirds – certification, product liability – people wanting to sue over something in a Cessna even 40-50 years old (since restricted by Congress), and the actual cost of production.

    The costs – and time – of certification is so arduous it is the reason there are so few new production General Aviation aircraft – it is just too expensive and time consuming. I am sure the number of man hours the FAA has spent is easily in the 6 figures.

    And – like computer programming – with any complex piece of machinery – I don’t care how much time the designers spend anticipating the ways it will be used, only when it is in the field being used in the real world does the design get the real work out.

    These things come up with all new aircraft – like at the A380 – and they will be solved.

  7. Welcome to political technocracy!

    These anti-technology political issues and sentiments were pioneered by the opponents to nuclear power over the last 60 years. The NRC is generally staffed by decent and competent engineers, trying to do the right thing. Up until the Obama Administration, it has been fairly apolitical (excepting Walter Reuther’s early efforts with the AEC to demonize the Fermi 1 plant – “How We Almost Lost Detroit.”) I’m reasonable confident the FAA engineers have a similar set of work ethics and are reasonably immune to political pressures.

    As to lithium batteries, we’ve been considering such for our nuclear power plants for years now but because of their propensity to explode or catch on fire, we still have not adopted them for critical safety-related applications nor for locating within sensitive areas.

    But them weight is not an issue for stationary power plants – aircraft designers have a different set of priorities.

    Seems like this is a flying version of “never buy a new car the first year its out.”

  8. “There is a TV network and a wide network of radio stations that does nothing but pound Democrats and the President, 24/7, day in and day out. 4 years and going strong. You wanna talk about demonization?”

    Ye, I do want to talk about it. We had an election recently that was won by a man who did not describe his plans for the net four years but, instead, relied on demonization of his opponent. That opponent mentioned in a debate the potential trouble in a country named Mali. In September, during the campaign, there was a terrorist incident in Benghazi, Libya, a country where we had intervened in a peculiar way. We had done something called “leading from behind.” The terrorist incident was blamed on an obscure video made by a man who was arrested and who is still in prison. The true story of the incident has been leaking out slowly in spite of efforts by the administration to conceal it. For example, none of the survivors have ever been interviewed by the media which seems very incurious about the incident, with the exception of the “TV Network” you seem to blame for “pound [ing] Democrats and the President, 24/7.”

    Now, we have just seen another incident on Africa, close to Libya, in which an Algerian gas plant, run largely by foreign nationals, was attacked by the same al Qeada terrorists who were ignored in the Benghazi event. The result of that attack is that the gas plant will probably close since many foreigners were killed and, I will guess, few will want to replace them.

    Egypt has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, described by the administration’s spokesman as “secular and moderate.” What has followed looks like anything but. Egypt has survived on the charity of others and tourism. What private capital there was has fled. Tourism is gone for at least a decade. I see a push for the US taxpayer to support them. Why ?

    I don’t believe that Obama wants to destroy the US but it is not easy to see how his course of action would differ if he did.

  9. How about the four TV networks–soon to be joined by al-jazeera US–that pound the Republicans 24 hours a day, demonizing them for their liberal Democratic party allies? I guess you only want one message delivered to the people–the liberal-left’s.

  10. How about 5 TV networks [ABC,CBS,NBC,CNN & MSNBC], soon to be added by al-Jazeera, bashing Republicans 24 hours a day? Makes the one that supposedly bashes the Deomcrats facing 5 to 6 to 1 odds I’d say.

  11. In case you were wondering where the Dreamliner is built – it’s a global endeavor, as can be seen in this excellent interactive map:

    Anyone know if this level of globalized production is something new in aircraft manufacturing? Because trying to create the new generation of planes and a new method of multinational manufacturing could be a case of management biting off more than it can chew.

  12. Mike K….

    “We had an election recently that was won by a man who did not describe his plans for the net four years but, instead, relied on demonization of his opponent.”

    “Plans” like socializing America, confiscating guns, fighting a war on Christianity and women and…wait…I’m sorry, those were the “plans” that Republicans claimed he had…in a totally non-demonizing way, I might add. Actually, Obama’s “plans” filled the airwaves and couldn’t have been more criticized by conservative talk radio and Fox. Those plans, in fact, are making them all rich.

    So there have been some tragedies overseas…and perhaps some diplomatic missteps…and the Obama Administration is the first administration that has made them? Really? Do we really need to go down W’s list…or any other President for that matter? And somehow our republic managed to survive all of them.

    And so will it this time, too.

  13. Percy D….yes, it appears that the level of globalized production with the 787 was significantly higher than that for earlier airplanes:

    …they seem to have realized they’d gone too far on this, and have been pulling some activities back in-house:

    I think one factor that has driven offshoring is SALES. Acquisition of airliners tends to be a very political process, and if you as a manufacturer have a significant jobs-creating presence in country X, people there are going to feel better about buying from you.

    Doesn’t do you any good, though, if the problems creating by the offshoring are so time-consuming and expensive as to negate the value of the incremental sales.

  14. I think one factor that has driven offshoring is SALES.

    Never had thought of that. Thanks for the insight on that and the production methods.

    For what it’s worth, this whole Dreamliner saga soured our senior portfolio manager on Boeing some time ago. He questions its management competence. I think that’s harsh, but on the other hand, one key to management is to not try to take on two huge challenges at once.

  15. “Actually, Obama’s “plans” filled the airwaves and couldn’t have been more criticized by conservative talk radio and Fox. Those plans, in fact, are making them all rich.”

    Actually, the only plan was to tax the “rich.” No doubt you have links to his list of other plans.

    Boeing has been successful in milking the government for a long time. Ask the DC-8 designer or the ghost of Jack Northrup.

    I worked for Douglas a long time ago and saw inefficiency but that’s pretty normal for government work. I have been impressed with Boeing’s ability to compete with Airbus but they eliminated Douglas, the company that invented commercial air travel. There are now only two choices.

    Boeing’s best product was the B 52. If the DoD is smart, they will find the tools and jigs and start the production line again. The fighter plane procurement system is brain dead and we are heading into a world where we will not have a competitive fighter. The F 16 was designed privately, like the Spitfire and the Mustang. The F 35 is a flying Edsel.

  16. Frequent flyers will decide if Dreamliners fly. The FAA can shoot the plane down whenever it wants, but only people who are willing to risk their lives will actually say farewell to thei loved ones, climb aboard and bet they will live long enough to get off the plane when it lands.

    Frequent flyers will know how many times Dreamliners crash and burn and this knowledge will determine if they board the plane. Most frequent flyers won’t use a free ticket if they din’t think they will survive the flight.

    On the other hand if service and survival are better than other planes, the Dreamliners will succeed no matter what comments people write.

    This is how free markets work.

  17. Grey Eagle…crashes of large airliners are now so infrequent that I don’t think very many people, even very frequent flyers, keep track of their relative safety and make decisions on the basis of safety.

    How many people, when reserving a set on an Airbus, are thinking even remotely about the fate of Air France 447?

  18. When I was a frequent flyer I always wondered if the next flight would be my last. I got on the plane because so very few major US airline planes have ever crashed. I avoided domestic flights in small countries. I remember one overbooked flight in Egypt where four passengers flew standing in the aisle because all the seats were taken.

    It only takes 5 or 6 crashes in 1 year of a particular brand/model to make me wary. I remember a Russian model that had a few crashes. Perhaps the planes were overbooked; perhaps the pilots or mechanics were careless; perhaps the model had a problem. I avoided the model.

  19. Thanks for that link to Boeing;very informative.

    People don’t even know how to be intelligently cynical anymore. I think as we have gotten wealthier,fewer people work at productive jobs and more people work at jobs slinging BS. Doing something that is useful enough for people to pay for out their own pockets requires one to accommodate to reality,to know some things that are provably true or useful. Entertaining people or teaching “studies” or working most gov’t jobs renders one fit for very little. These “jobs” allow one to indulge ones inner slob and parasitize society. The default setting for most people is lazy and stupid,but the wonderful thing about free markets is that they force people to do their best.

    I did work for NY State and it was demoralizing to make believe one was doing something useful. I felt much better knowing I was making an honest buck.

  20. Grey Eagle: It was probably all of the above. I do remember flying a Mexicana DC9 from LAX to La Paz and the pilots didn’t even close the door – it was swinging open & close with the banks. This is pre-911.

  21. David – I think the Air France 447 crash was as much pilot error as design. The thing is so computerized that when the pitot tubes iced up fouling the computers – on a dark horizonless night – the First Officer didn’t know what to do and did the wrong thing – l

  22. I’ve read only preliminary analyses about the AF447 crash, not the final report, but it does seem that certain design features of the aircraft contributed to the pilot errors. I don’t think there’s any question that the Airbus COULD have been flown successfully following the airspeed indicator failure, but some different approaches to the design might have made it easier for the flight crew to react properly during the unexpected transition from automatic to manual flight.

  23. As to offshoring, production of just about any complex system draws on a wolrd-wide procurement network.

    One advantage that American companies is that getting a certification or approval by an American regulatory agency (FAA, NRC, FDA, etc) means it meets an international “gold standard” that give smaller countries a high level of confidence in the product.

    So when the US NRC certifies the AP1000 or ABWR nuclear reactor, a country like Turkey or Estonia has an increased level of confidence in the product which makes for an easier sale.

    Which would you trust more a Russian regulatory review of a Russian design airliner, or the FAA’s blessing on the 787?

  24. @David – I am certainly not the final arbitrator on this but from what I have read the ice filled up the pitot tube which gives the airspeed – literally the air flowing over the wing, it fouled up the computers enough that they gave control back to the pilot – the captain was resting in a compartment behind the cockpit – and it was so dark there was no horizon to be seen. So the FO was at the controls.

    Add to that the Airbus has a stick on the side of the seat rather than Boeing’s view of a control yoke. The stick is completely “fly by wire” – there is no feel of back pressure when moving it. An Airbus pilot compares it to a video arcade. Furthermore the computer is programmed such that if the captain is pushing forward on his stick and the FO pulling back, the computer simply averages the 2 input and applies its calculations to the control surfaces.

    With that said the FO, having no outside sensation and no reliable indications of his speed on the instruments, pulled back on the stick – the plane essentially “pancaked” into the water in a nose-high attitude. This accident reminded me of this

    He too pulled back when that was the last thing that should have been done – airspeed is your friend in such cases.

    So at least to me the accident was a combination of things – the Airbus overly computerized and the pilot doing the opposite thing he should have done.

  25. A friend of mine, who is a captain for a major airline, is afraid of Airbus and the fly-by-wire system. He says, “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going.”

    One of my favorite blogs, written by a major airline captain who flew Airbus, suddenly was deleted last summer. He had never complained about the airplane and it was enjoyable blog, called “Flight level 390.” The link now says:

    “Blog has been removed

    Sorry, the blog at has been removed. This address is not available for new blogs.”

    I wonder if he had posted a complaint and the airline made him remove the entire blog.

  26. Mike – just one of the things that amazes me about this design is the “averaging” feature – if one is pushing forward and the other is pushing back – only 1 or the other is right – they aren’t both “partially right” – but the computer takes the averages – clearly programmed by people who don’t know how to fly an airplane.

    Add to that a dark night, no horizon, no feel in the stick, and it truly was a deadly “video arcade”. If the FO had a horizon to see he would have known what to do.

  27. “The default setting for most people is lazy and stupid”; and ignorant – lazy, stupid and ignorant. No, four things, ………

  28. They apparently *did* have functioning artificial horizons, which provide the same attitude information as the real horizon….I suspect if they’d had an outside horizon, which tends to serve as an unmistakeable cue, the outcome would have been different.

  29. Control systems design like the Airbus stick can indeed cause accidents or near accidents.

    One classic case for nukes was Rancho Seco plant in California. The control system was -30V for 0% and +30V for 100%. Ergo, 50% was at zero volts.

    An operator was changing an indicator light bulb on the control panel one evening and dropped the bulb. It shorted out the control system power supply so what was really 100% was now indicating and controlling to 50%.

    It still failed safe but we don’t want such failure modes and all US reactors with such a control voltage scheme had to change it.

  30. They were indicator lamps, showing on/off status. The bulb was either energized or not.

    The voltage variations in the control system changed valve position, pump speed, etc. The dropped bulb simply shorted out the power supply so both on/off and variable voltage signals were lost.

    The on/off lights went off and the variable signals went to 50%.

  31. There was a huge push, hype, for lithium-ion battery development. Lots of govt spending on it. Li batteries have been used for quite a while but almost all were very small. When they were scaled up for laptops there were lots of problems with overheating. Notice the number of fires in Chevy Volts and other electrics? There have been a few attempts to use larger Li batteries for larger applications but they never proved very promising. The 787 was designed around Li batteries for use in environmental conditions that have fried them in less demanding conditions.

  32. I personally have never been much of a doom and gloom person when it comes to analyzing the “toxicity” of today’s society vs. prior times. I’m of the opinion that people have always been the same and are no more “toxic” today then they were in the 1930s or in the 1880s. Simply, Yahoo comments (and generally most sites like that) are always negative, toxic, and absurd. No matter the topic, you are guaranteed to lose several IQ points by reading Yahoo comments. But have we become more “toxic” as a society, or is it that those voices on Yahoo would not have been heard in the 1930s or 1880s form “us”, unless we operated in those circles? (which I would assume most of us do not in our daily lives). I believe “we” have always been as ignorant, impulsive and toxic, as we are today. Today, at least, we have the ability to “escape” that toxicity if we so chose.

    People have always been skeptical of technology, of politicians, of things we didn’t understand, of foreigners etc. Newspapers in 1880 or 1930 would publish equally sensational pieces on the technology of the day.

    The one thing that may have changed, is the power of politicians and the “toxicity” of politics. Of course, if politicians hold the power of life or death over a Boeing plant, than the responsibility is shared with those politicians. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, it was worst in the 1970s, or the 1930s?

    PS: I worked as an engineer at Boeing. There’s one thing I can say about that; when you have a stagnant workforce with guaranteed lifetime jobs, no new blood, no new ideas, no new spirit, sooner or later you will end up somewhere you don’t want to. The real toxicity is in Seattle. Boeing’s new strategy of outsourcing most of the 787 production was by all accounts a tremendous success (and it was done for many good reasons). But, perhaps it went further that it needed to go due to the need to go as far away from the toxicity of its Seattle workforce as possible. It should be a great case study for years to come, but I’m certain that the right lessons will not be learned.

  33. }}} There is a TV network and a wide network of radio stations that does nothing but pound Democrats and the President, 24/7, day in and day out. 4 years and going strong. You wanna talk about demonization?

    BWAAAAAhahahahahhahaaaaa, what a load of crap.

    Counterbalance that single TV network and radio stations with a vast array of newspapers and not less than SIX TV networks (ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN/PBS/MS-NBC), with wider exposure, that produce endless crap like this “treacle” (h/t: Patterico):

    It was on the FRONT PAGE of the NYT today.

  34. Dave, have we become distrustful of everything? What’s the root cause? Are we more toxic today than yesteryear?

    Some skepticism of large institutions is healthy. But distrust of everything is unhealthy for society, IMHO.

    Trust is required for a society to function. Societies without trust ultimately decline.

    Being political, while BHO is not the cause of this, he’s made things worse and is dividing America in ways i’d never thought possible. Do we trust our leaders, political and corporate, to do the right thing?

  35. AIG…” people have always been the same”…pretty much true, I think….but there can be huge differences in culture and hence behavior across organizations…you suggest that there is a fair amount of toxicity at Boeing Seattle…and also across entire societies. And the level of toxicity within a given organization or society doesn’t always take that long to change. As an extreme example, compare German in 1913 with Germany in 1933.

  36. “Mike – just one of the things that amazes me about this design is the “averaging” feature – if one is pushing forward and the other is pushing back – only 1 or the other is right – they aren’t both “partially right” – but the computer takes the averages – clearly programmed by people who don’t know how to fly an airplane. ”

    I also wonder about the feature that allowed the pilot (Actually the FO) to move the rudder forcefully enough to break the tail off.

    The second-worst crash in US aviation history was caused by “unnecessary and excessive” actions by the plane’s co-pilot, who was in control of the plane at the time, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded on Tuesday.

    But the board made it clear that both faulty design and bad training contributed strongly in leading the co-pilot to his tragically incorrect actions, which caused the American Airlines flight 587’s tail to break off.

    The plane crashed soon after takeoff from New York’s JFK airport in 2001, just two months after the September 11 attacks, killing all 260 people on board and five on the ground. There was initial speculation that it might have been another terrorist incident. The board has decisively ruled out that scenario.

    Problems began for the plane – an Airbus A300-600 – when it encountered wake turbulence left behind by a 747 jumbo jet that had taken off immediately before – a common occurrence in busy airports. And in this case, the board concluded, the turbulence would have been no problem if the co-pilot had not used the rudder at all, which is the normal course of action.

    The training was also at fault.

    Unknown to either the co-pilot or the airline’s trainers, a change in the way the plane’s rudder mechanism worked seriously worsened the problem. The change made the rudder control pedals far more sensitive than any other plane’s – including other Airbus models – and the sensitivity increased dramatically with speed. This is exactly the circumstance where excessive use of the rudder can cause high stresses on it.

    The five-member board were split 3-2 as to whether the design flaw or the “negative training” was the greater factor, with the majority blaming the design more. Pilots know that they cannot use the plane’s rudder – normally used only while taxiing on the ground – above a certain speed, known as the manoeuvring speed, in this case 250 knots.

    Why would designers, who have control of fly-by-wire planes’ behavior, allow such force to be a feature ?

    NTSB materials engineer Matt Fox, who conducted detailed tests on the remains of the rudder, says he knew of no other aircraft whose rudder could have withstood the forces the tragic flight was exposed to.

    Good grief !

  37. In theory, the “averaging” feature shouldn’t be a problem, because there should be verbal communication between captain and FO (“your airplane”…”I’ve got it”) on who is physically flying the aircraft. But if this step gets omitted under stress, the traditional mechanical interconnect makes it easy to detect what’s happening.

    There IS apparently a “priority” button on the Airbus that can select a single sidestick and exclude the other…don’t quite understand how this works…apparently was not used in the AF case.

    Re the rudder-deflection case, I believe what happened is that the training basically said “do not use full rudder deflection about X knots” but the data that was not presented, and maybe not even analyzed, showed that the safe maximum airspeed for rapid REVERSALS of rudder deflection was significantly lower than X.

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