When the Knowledge Walks Out the Door

Financial Times notes that when cyberattacks occur, it is useful to have some employees around who know how to operate the system…whatever that system might be…without the automation.  And the workers with this knowledge are often those who have been around for quite a while.

The value of older workers with deep operational knowledge was demonstrated two years ago at the Norwegian metals and electricity company Norsk Hydro. Like Colonial Pipeline, Norsk Hydro received a ransom demand but, instead of a shut down, a group of veteran workers switched to manual operations, removing the company from the attackers’ claws. “Without them, our production would have plummeted,” says Halvor Molland, Norsk Hydro’s spokesperson. “They had knowledge that existed 20 years ago but not today, and fortunately some are still employed by us while others returned from retirement to help.”

The CEO of Colonial Pipeline they had “muddled through” in the wake of the ransomware attack.  But a lot of the people who operated the pipeline manually “are retiring or they’re gone.  Fortunately, we still have that last bit of that generation.”

This is like something in a science fiction story: robots running things, humans nominally supervising the robots but not really understanding what they’re doing or why.

It’s been noted for some time that a lot of computer code was written in obsolescent or now-unpopular languages (especially COBOL), with support and modification becoming difficult since most of the people with the skills aren’t there anymore.  But this is different–it’s not about loss of understanding of a linguistic formulation for representing a process, but a loss of understanding of the process itself.

28 thoughts on “When the Knowledge Walks Out the Door”

  1. Institutional memory is leaving Medicine, too. Medical students won’t work long hours and probably the racial spoils system is taking over here, too. I’m glad I retired. I shudder to think about when the Stanford POC “Physics” students start designing bridges and airplanes. We all know this is a joke., They won’t be allowed to design anything serious but what about the engineers who studied and did all that calculus homework ?

    Why were the Black Lives Matter students at Dartmouth not studying for finals?

    We all know the answer.

  2. De-skilling has been going on for a long time. An early example came from Ancient Egypt, where the priestly caste had developed equipment & methods for predicting eclipses and other astronomical phenomena. Generations later, the royal court moved south, taking the priests and their astronomical equipment with them. But the priests now found their predictions were wrong. They knew the method to make predictions, but had never been taught why the method worked — and thus could not adjust for the more southerly latitude.

    A current example is in the medical field, where many doctors are under intense pressure to follow the officially-prescribed protocol, even if their own medical judgement & experience would suggest a different treatment for a specific patient. This seems mainly to be for defense against lawyers.

    It is the old story — automated or prescribed processes are more efficient … until they are not.

  3. Its largely grandstanding by Nork Hydro and Microsoft. They were held up by some fairly efficient people, who have been successful in Europe lately

    The key statement, which really tells the story is: “But Norsk Hydro was not about to pay a single bitcoin to the hackers or negotiate to recover the locked files. Instead, they opted to restore their data through trusted back-up servers.”

    They were down and using pencil, paper and smart phones, to deal with the main part of their system being restored. Microsoft mounted a rather cute, its how they roll, DART team to deal with the situation and much publicity was had by all.

    It was not trivial, but not really the example of brave, non diverse, manual workers saving the day, you are perhaps looking for. ;)

  4. It has always been a mystery to me of the “necessity” of putting critical operation procedures on a critical piece of infrastructure on the Internet.

  5. The Egyptian priests never knew why their method worked because it wasn’t a method. They had over centuries noticed that eclipses followed a pattern, it wasn’t until Copernicus and Newton that we knew why.
    https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEsaros/LEperiodicity.html
    When they moved south, it changed the basis of the pattern and they had no way of correcting it until they had gone through the cycle at the new location.

    A lot of plants are run by pattern followers who have learned, often quite elaborate, patterns in the form of: when this happens, open this valve and start this pump until this gauge reads such and so on. The major effort of automating such things is often tracing back, learning just why things like that work and documenting it. Whoever started the tradition having long departed.

    One of the findings in the 737MAX debacle was the the pilots trained in the various “flight academies” tended to memorize elaborate scripts to get through the predetermined simulator sessions. These sessions were apparently choreographed down to the second and presented in a fixed order to every new pilot so they all knew that in session 5 at such and such a time this would happen and the proper response was this.

    A lot of the knowledge walking out the door is this sort of ritual. Then there’s the game: Just because I taught you everything you know doesn’t mean I taught you everything that I know. There’s no easier way to be a hero than to let the new guy screw up, arriving just in time to avert disaster.

    None of this is new. Then there’s the sort of jerk that actually sits down a reads the manual and then makes fun of all your superstitions. Martin Luther could tell you a little about that.

  6. “ A lot of plants are run by pattern followers who have learned, often quite elaborate, patterns in the form of: when this happens, open this valve and start this pump until this gauge reads such and so on. The major effort of automating such things is often tracing back, learning just why things like that work and documenting it. Whoever started the tradition having long departed.”

    Brings back memories. I spent most the 1980s toggling between software development and OS support at a USDA data center. The OS support involved digging through foot thick memory dumps of mainframe OS dumps to find, then fix, crashes. These could be a big thing. We had a large team of operators running the computer systems 24/7, with the most experienced operators essentially training the less experienced – which often entailed teaching them the superstitions that they had built up over the years. Some days it got quite frustrating, when their superstitions ran up against the reality of what we had discovered in our dump busting. It didn’t help that the Operations branch chief had come up through the ranks of operators, and having responsibility for millions of dollars of computer equipment, was the second most powerful person at the facility. Rather often, I came to meetings with foot thick dumps, and feet of printouts of code, to “demonstrate” what the real problem was. Ultimately we “acquired” a cart just for this purpose. Of course, no one understood what we were saying, but the show was invariably successful.

  7. A current example is in the medical field, where many doctors are under intense pressure to follow the officially-prescribed protocol, even if their own medical judgement & experience would suggest a different treatment for a specific patient. This seems mainly to be for defense against lawyers.

    This is often described as “cookbook Medicine.” Sometimes the criticism is appropriate but it depends on how the “Guidelines” were developed. Guidelines based on randomized controlled studies, or well designed “outcomes” studies are usually better than tradition. Jack Wennberg proved this with his studies on tonsillectomy in the 70s.

    However, there had been a tendency to create “Guidelines” that are NOT based on any sort of science but on “consensus” by “experts.” These are often based on economics and not Medicine, Obamacare is rife with these “Guidelines.” They are designed to cut costs with no intent on quality of care.

  8. “superstitions”…Dietrich Doerner is a professor who studies decision-making via simulation experiments. One simple but surprisingly interesting experiment was the temperature
    control simulation. Subjects were put in the position of a supermarket manager and told that the thermostat for the freezers has broken down. They had to manually control the refrigeration system to maintain a temperature
    of 4 degrees C–higher and lower temperatures are both undesirable. They had available to them a regulator and a thermometer; the specific control mechanism
    was not described to the subjects. The results were often just bizarre. Many participants failed to understand that delays were occurring in the system (a setting does not take effect immediately, just as an air conditioner cannot cool a house immediately) and that these delays needed to be considered when trying to control the system. Instead, they developed beliefs about regulator settings that could best be described as superstitious or magical: “twenty-eight is a good number” or, even more strangely, “odd numbers are good.”

  9. Brings to mind cargo cult. What are we going to do when “engineers” and “pilots” will try and try but ritualistic dance and shamanic drums will not make the planes fly, no matter what…

  10. I’m going a little off the reservation here but this quote by MCS struck a chord: “Just because I taught you everything you know doesn’t mean I taught you everything that I know. There’s no easier way to be a hero than to let the new guy screw up, arriving just in time to avert disaster.” This 100% applies to my grandmother “teaching” my wife to cook certain German dishes that I love and grew up on. It is our opinion that she always left something out so my wife’s version would never be as good.

  11. Much of the problem with this stuff stems from the fact that the leadership/management class is totally oblivious to these things even existing. They don’t even know that they don’t know how things work within their organizations. If they did know, they sure as hell wouldn’t be putting everything up on the internet for someone to screw with.

    I call them the “educated yet idiot class”. You go out and ask the average boss how to get something done in an organization, and they will tell you “write a memo, change a policy, send an email”, thinking that their expression of their will is somehow going to effectuate fixing a problem. They’re totally unaware of the factors within the organizational environment that contribute to the thing they’re trying to change, and they’ve never been taught that such things exist, or how to look for them.

    Look up the term “desire path”. That’s deeply akin to what I’m talking about–Architects and planners have this vision of their work, and try to impose their view of how people living and working within that work will utilize it. The reality is, there’s the sidewalk and path pattern that the architect and landscape designer envisioned, and then there’s the reality of use which the people living there will implement independently. That’s the nature of the problem–Most manager/leader types are ivory-tower architects by selection and training, with no practical knowledge or awareness that such things exist. So, they operate as though they create reality through their words, their commands. Reality bites back.

    We don’t train or teach people to look at these things, or value them. That’s a huge mistake. It’s also why “tribal knowledge” and “tacit knowledge” are devalued and ignored, and why the idiots who get MBAs think that a car is a computer is a stereo is a retail store that can all be “managed” with the same general techniques. You have to have the background to understand your industry in order to work well within it. You don’t have the knowledge? You and your company are screwed.

  12. Kirk reminds me of something about the practice of surgery in a free market setup. I learned that the referring doctors appreciated a long dictated medical history summarizing what I planned to do and why. My office ran a small employment agency for office girls. When a new girl in the community sought a job in a doctor’s office she learned to call my office manager and tell her she was looking for a job. Sometimes a girl who was not happy in an office would call Shirley and say “Put my file back in the active list.” After a few years, most doctors’ staff had gotten their job through us. Guess who they tended to call when the doctor said to “call a surgeon.” When our office staff wanted to go out to lunch, we had a deal that we would pay if they an other doctor’s staff with them.

    All that stuff is forgotten now as hospitals decide who gets referred to who. A friend of mine who is a GI specialist set up his office with endoscopy rooms 30 years ago. In recent years, since Obamacare, the hospital came to him and suggested that if he wanted referrals, he should do some of his endoscopies in the hospital GI lab. “Nice little practice…” and all that. He told them he would consider it if he could look at some of the charts of hospital cases. They agreed and he told me he saw massive use of unnecessary lab and imaging tests.

    Hospital administrators hated doctors. We used to joke about it. Now we know why. We did not cooperate. Now there is no choice. My old surgery group got fired from the Trauma Center we started. New group from elsewhere hired. All women surgeons. Nobody had heard of them.

  13. I’ve seen this evolution – to a degree – in the nuclear power industry. The mantra over the last 50 years has been for the operators to “follow the procedures!”

    We still teach the basics of the physics, engineering, and systems, and why they are as they are. Training can take 2 years of classroom and simulator training before a new operators gets a license to touch a control. We also tell our people to walk around the plant, take a sniff for odd odors, and listen to changes in sounds.

    The positive side is that all those years of industry experience and detailed analysis get incorporated in the procedures. The downside is that much of the logic gets embedded in computer chips where it can be a bear to untangle.

    As a defense, when something goes askew, we usually default to taking a conservative course, often a shutdown although shutting down has it’s own set of risks.

    The safety logics are well-protected from cyber attacks (FPGAs are popular) but the production portions are less so. The result is the plant will protect itself by default at the expense of loss of electrical production. We prefer going dark to a meltdown.

  14. Kirk is so right. I worked in various manufacturing industries (yes even in Britain) during the last twenty years of my working life and his observations applied in every one of them. It must be a terrible criticism of the management class and human failings generally.

  15. The first job I had was running a Heidelberg platen printing press. This was the small one, it weighed two tons and could do 5,000 impressions an hour at up to 40 tons pressure. I quickly learned that getting the setup right was as much about how it sounded as anything else. I could hear it from across the room and know instantly whether everything was good or be halfway back, reaching for the lever to shut it down before I made a conscious decision. At a later job it was the sound of a high voltage arc followed by a piece of equipment stopping and now it’s the sound of breaking glassware. Probably better not to get started on smells.

    Many people here have noted that Boeing’s problems seemed to become apparent when they moved their corporate management from Seattle to Chicago (talk about from the frying pan into the fire). The one thing you can be sure of is that they won’t be wandering out on the shop floor just to see how things are going or how things smell.

    The present trend toward virtual will even further insulate managers from everything, water cooler gossip or how the rest rooms look or who looks like they’re ready to explode. They seem to see businesses as nothing more than machines for making money while they forget that machines need constant attention to keep small problems from becoming disasters. In this case, it’s who never walks in the door rather than who’s walking out.

  16. @MCS,

    I would submit that the “move to Chicago” for Boeing was more a symptom than a cause, and that the real issue was that Boeing essentially got taken over by the assclowns who’d already driven McDonnell-Douglas into the ground with their bean-counting ways. Boeing employees that I know watched what happened during the merger, and started making predictions about the failure cascade which would follow. Almost all of them have come true, to include the one guy who projected that Boeing was going to crash and burn with the successor to the 737, which by his thinking should have been a total “clean-sheet” design. Instead, they tried to cheap-jack everything the way McDonnell-Douglas typically did in their civil aircraft, and… Well… We got the 737 MAX debacle.

    He told me that circa 2006, at a barbecue I went to, soooooo… Yeah. Guy was selling all his Boeing stock, and got his retirement funds out of the company as quickly as he could. Right move, wrong move…? Dunno about the money end of it, but he wanted nothing more to do with Boeing. The way he described it, it was more a re-branding of McDonnell-Douglas than a merger of Boeing’s corporate culture with theirs–As he put it, it was a hostile takeover financed with Boeing’s money, and if he’d been able to, he’d have been up for summary executions of the Boeing executives that performed that bit of stupidity. He said then, and I believe him, that it would be the death of the company, a total betrayal.

    We speak of Boeing, but today’s company is really McDonnell-Douglas wearing a Boeing-colored skin and demanding we respect that fraud as being the Boeing of yore. Boeing as it was? Dead.

  17. @Orde Solomans,

    I think it may be worse in the UK than the states, what with the class issues inherent between a lot of the shop floors and middle management. There are things I’ve heard Brits tell me about the explanations for the muddle-headed crap coming out of UK firms that make me think that the UK has it even worse than we do.

    The root of the whole thing is the arrogance and fear that the “educated class” has when it confronts the fact that their vaunted educations do not equip them for understanding the things they’re put in charge of. They’re also trained not to be either observant or particularly deep thinkers about what they might observe, so when they encounter failure, instead of stepping back and trying to analyze why it failed and where they went wrong with their intended fixes, they double-down on the stupid and expect it to work.

    I think that in then end, a lot of the reason this has been happening is the over-reliance on academia: Everything we’ve so signally failed at in the last century has been something that used to be done by people with experience and tacit knowledge. When we started teaching these things in schools, and then placing the resultant graduates laterally into the middle of the organizational structure, without actual real world experience? That’s when things went wrong. Badly wrong.

    I think that one of the root causes of it all going bad is basically that you can’t distill a lot of the things you really need to know into a book, a lecture, and then a test. You have to have what the Germans called “fingerspitzengefuhl“, or “fingertip feeling”, something that you cannot possibly pick up in the classroom. You have to do rather than just talk about doing. A lot of what has happened across broad swathes of the things we’ve “academized” is akin to trying to teach sculpting stone without ever having the wannabe sculptor ever pick up a chisel until the day they’re thrown out onto the studio floor to start producing actual statuary. You have to have that tribal knowledge, those educated fingertips, before you can actually be effective in whatever field it might be.

    In the military, one thing we learned through sad experience was that anyone who moved laterally into another field was gonna be trouble, no matter what. There are entire cultures built up around the needs and issues of every particular job, even within the same career field. You don’t come up from the bottom in that culture, you’re almost never going to do as well as someone who did, no matter how high up you manage to get. What’s amazing is that people running things just don’t grasp this fact–The Army thinks a Staff Sergeant is a Staff Sergeant, and someone whose sole experience in the Army is as a Staff Sergeant in an admin field can do Staff Sergeant things as an Infantry Staff Sergeant position, if only they are given the same basic academic training that’s required of all Infantry Staff Sergeants. I’m here to tell you, that’s just not the case–There are instilled reflexes, habits of approach to problems, and a host of other intangibles that militate against this succeeding. Goes in the other direction, too–A guy who comes up as a Staff Sergeant in the Infantry is rarely going to do well outside his acculturated field, should he be medically disqualified as an Infantry type. People dread working with those guys, because they simply don’t know how to get things done as an admin puke, they don’t know the culture, and they’re used to running roughshod over everything that gets in their way. That’s just the way it is–Combat Arms guys have different experiential backgrounds, different values, and a totally different set of mores than the support branch guys and girls. You tell someone from that background you want something done, and set them loose to do it? You’d best be damned sure you actually wanted it done, and be prepared for the consequences when he comes back with it done, and a whole laundry list of the people and organizations he either pissed off or broke to get your tasking completed. The expression “bull in a china shop” only vaguely hints at the amount of damage that one of these guys can accomplish in the span of an afternoon, working amongst the Eloi of the rear echelons.

  18. “Many people here have noted that Boeing’s problems seemed to become apparent when they moved their corporate management from Seattle to Chicago…”

    What’s so special about Seattle that corporate management needs to be there and only there? Why not anywhere else?

  19. “…the real issue was that Boeing essentially got taken over by the assclowns who’d already driven McDonnell-Douglas into the ground with their bean-counting ways.”

    Exactly backwards. At the time of the merger McDonnell Douglas was sitting on several billion dollars in cash and was generating a free cash flow of a billion dollars a year. Boeing, on the other hand, was bleeding cash like crazy and headed for the crapper. They were trying to ramp up production to 500 aircraft per year and did it the only way a monopoly knows how — by throwing people at it. So they hired tens of thousands of new employees and were bleeding themselves dry.

    The cash brought to the merger by McDonnell Douglas saved Boeing. If only McD-D had waited another year, they could have bought Boeing with petty cash and saved themselves a lot of grief.

    “As he put it, it was a hostile takeover financed with Boeing’s money…”

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Boeing guys have been saying that all over the internet for 25 years now. It was rubbish then and it’s rubbish now, pushed along by people blaming others for their own problems.

    Riddle me this: Why are all of the problems with post-merger Boeing happening on the Boeing side of Boeing and not the McDonnell Douglas side of Boeing? The 767 tankers for Italy and Japan, the 737 AEWC aircraft for Australia, the X-32 Monica, the 787, the KC-46 tanker, the 737 Max, the 777X. One screw-up after another with hardly any successes in between.

    Meanwhile the McDonnell Douglas side of Boeing keeps zooming along: C-17, JDAM, F-15EX, Block III Super Hornet, AH-64E, T-X, MQ-25. Some of the finest aircraft ever built and considered the best in their class all over the world.

    But the side that keeps screwing up keeps blaming the side that’s succeeding. I know! Let’s destroy the half of the company that succeeds and make them do things the way the other half of the company — the failing half — does them. That’ll fix things!

    “Yeah. Guy was selling all his Boeing stock, and got his retirement funds out of the company as quickly as he could. Right move, wrong move…?”

    Wrong move. Since 2006 the stock price has risen from $70 per share to $240 per share, peaking at about $450 per share before 737Max and Covid.

    “…if he’d been able to, he’d have been up for summary executions of the Boeing executives that performed that bit of stupidity.”

    Ah, yes. Blame someone else for your problems and then kill them for it. Ain’t that the leftist way?

  20. @mkent,

    Your perspective is not that of the long-time loyalist commercial aviation Boeing engineer or employee. Boeing defense was always a millstone; commercial aviation was the company’s lifeblood. You might note a common thread for McDonnell-Douglas “success stories”: All of them from the defense sector, and all of them, oddly enough, tied in with business practitioners like Michael Sears, former president of the Douglas Aircraft Company division of McDonnell-Douglas.

    You might recognize that name: He’s the guy that became Boeing’s Chief Financial Officer after the merger, and ohbytheway, the guy who eventually got himself terminated in 2003 by Boeing due to the Darleen Druyan corruption scandal. He did time in prison, along with Druyan.

    McDonnell-Douglas was not a good , well-run company. All the Boeing employees knew that, and loathed the executives that dragged them into that merger. Most of the people that came in and ran things into the ground are former McDonnell-Douglas executives that did not give a damn about engineering or actually, y’know… Building commercial aircraft. They were grifters who loved leaching off of defense contracts, and who were used to cost-plus contracts that they could fuck up and not have to deliver on. Also, safety wasn’t a major concern, ‘cos who’s flying those things? Yeah; military. No worries about civil aviation and the flying public there. At. All. Look at the MAX, where the bean-counters all overruled the engineers about the viability of doing “just another re-engining job”. As far back as the early 2000s, the engineers on the civil aviation side were aware that they’d need a 737 successor in order to compete, but they also knew that slapping a fresh set of engines on an airframe designed 40 years earlier wasn’t going to cut it.

    Your apologetics on behalf of McDonnell-Douglas are amusing, as are your laughable allusions to communism–The real “communist” entity here was McDonnell-Douglas, and its over-reliance on the defense market where they could literally get away with murder, and profit was whatever they dictated to the Department of Defense. The relationship between figures like Druyan and the executive suite there at McDonnell-Douglas had rather more to do with their success in that market than anything else.

    Also, the AH-64 was a Hughes Helicopter product before McDonnell-Douglas bought them. Care to outline the fate of that formerly profitable company, purchased for their military contracts and contacts, then run into the ground because McDonnell-Douglas wasn’t interested in the civil aviation line? Ever hear of Lynn Tilton, or the whole downward spiral of that formerly-profitable civil aviation firm?

    McDonnell-Douglas was always more a financial vehicle than a company devoted to producing quality products. They bought successful companies and then ran them into the ground at the speed of sound, and that’s pretty much the story of Boeing. Final legacy? The money men (and, women…) will be remembered as the idiot class who ran America’s aviation industries into the side of Mount Reality. Boeing is only the latest example.

  21. mkent,
    Seattle was where the action was.

    Kent,
    I’ll defer to you on who was the top and who was the bottom in the merger. The 737MAX on the other hand is and will, if Boeing survives, remain a success. The failures had nothing to do with the actual airplane. As far as a “clean sheet” design, they were and still are embroiled in working the kinks out of their last one, the 787.

    A bit of aviation history. Unless you were in the Air Force, you’ve almost certainly never flown in a 707. Virtually all of them went to the Air Force where too many of them are still flying. Boeing stretched the 707 into the 720 which is what the commercial market bought, it reverted to being called a 707 for some reason. Then they took and converted it to three engines and you have the 727. Got rid of the noisy and problematic fuselage mounted engines and you have the 737. All as the state of engine development evolved. The 747 was probably the only nearly clean sheet design until the 787 and it turned into a very successful dead end.

    All good things must come to an end. The 737MAX may be the end of the Boeing aluminum tubes with wings. Making the transition too soon can kill them as easily as making it too late.

  22. Seattle was where the action was.

    Seattle is where some of the action is, mainly the 737Max, 777X, and KC-46 Tanker.

    But why is it so important that corporate headquarters be located there and not in, say, Charleston, SC, where the 787 is made? Or St. Louis, where the jet fighters are made? Or Mesa, AZ, where the combat helicopters are made? Or Philadelphia, where the cargo helicopters are made? Or El Segundo, where the satellites are made? Or San Antonio, where the services business is located? Or…you should get the idea by now.

    What does it say about a division that it can’t even function unless the corporate headquarters is in the same city when the other divisions can handle it just fine? What does it say about the failing division when it blames all the other divisions for its problems?

  23. mkent,
    In case you’ve been on Mars or something, the point is that every part of the company is a disaster in progress and a lot of it seemed to start when they moved. A better question might be why can’t the people in Chicago seem to manage anything anywhere?

  24. McDonnell-Douglas was not a good , well-run company.

    You, like many heritage Boeing employees, keep asserting that yet providing no evidence.

    At the time of the merger McDonnell Douglas was sitting on billions in cash and was generating a free cash flow of over $1 billion / year, while Boeing was bleeding cash and headed for bankruptcy if they couldn’t stop the bleeding. It was McDonnell Douglas’s cash that saved Boeing.

    All the Boeing employees knew that

    Yes, “all” the Boeing employees that were responsible for the 767 Tanker fiasco, the 737 Wedgetail fiasco, the JSF fiasco, the 787 fiasco, the KC-46 Tanker fiasco, the 737Max fiasco, and now the 777X fiasco blame the part of the company having success after success after success for their problems. But that says more about them than it does about the successful part of the company.

    Most of the people that came in and ran things into the ground are former McDonnell-Douglas executives

    No. All of the CEOs of Boeing Commercial Airplanes before Stan Deal took over in October 2019 — Alan Mulally, Scott Carson, Jim Albaugh, Ray Conner, and Kevin McAllister — were Boeing guys, not McDonnell Douglas guys.

    They were grifters who loved leaching off of defense contracts, and who were used to cost-plus contracts that they could fuck up and not have to deliver on.

    The McDonnell Douglas defense products are legendary: The F-4 Phantom II, the F-15 Eagle, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the AV-8B Harrier jump jet, the C-17 Globemaster, the AH-64 Apache, the Delta II launch vehicle, the JDAM precision-guided munition.

    At the time of the merger with Boeing, McDonnell Douglas had the top jet fighter in the Air Force (in the world, actually, with the F-15), the top jet fighter in the Navy (the F/A-18 Super Hornet), the top combat aircraft in the Marines (the AV-8B), the top combat aircraft in the Army (the Apache), the top cargo aircraft in the world (the C-17), the top anti-ship missile in the world (the Harpoon), the top precision-guided munition in the world (the JDAM), and the most reliable launch vehicle in the world (the Delta II).

    Most of McDonnell Douglas’s defense contracts are firm, fixed-price: C-17, F-15, F/A-18, Delta IV, A-10, T-X, MQ-25, JDAM, SDB, Harpoon, SLAM ER.

    The real “communist” entity here was McDonnell-Douglas, and its over-reliance on the defense market where they could literally get away with murder…

    An accusation of murder is a serious charge. Either report it to the authorities or retract the claim.

    …and profit was whatever they dictated to the Department of Defense.

    Profit on defense contracts is capped by law at 18%, but that almost never happens. The de facto cap is 15%, though I’ve never seen one written for more than 12%.

    Also, the AH-64 was a Hughes Helicopter product before McDonnell-Douglas bought them. Care to outline the fate of that formerly profitable company…

    Still going strong, cranking out AH-64E Guardian Apaches for customers worldwide.

    …then run into the ground because McDonnell-Douglas wasn’t interested in the civil aviation line?

    The MD-500, MD Explorer, and NOTAR commercial helicopter lines were sold off right after the merger because Boeing CEO Phil Condit didn’t want any business in his portfolio that wasn’t already #1 or #2 in its market. It was the fad from Harvard Business School at the time. So after McDonnell Douglas developed the innovative NOTAR no-tail-rotor design and the MD Explorer civilian helicopter, Boeing sold them off, as they did the proposed Bell-Boeing 609 commercial tilt-rotor derivative of the V-22 Osprey.

    You’re not doing too well, getting almost everything in this sub-thread exactly backwards. Perhaps your Boeing BBQs weren’t the best source of information on the aerospace industry?

  25. To be more specific:

    737MAX: Shouldn’t have left the flight manual to be written by the marketing department as dictated by the air lines.

    KC46: Years behind schedule, and years from being fully usable. Very embarrassing when the the Airbus that it was supposed to be so superior to is ready to go.

    Starliner: Silly name for something that will maybe make it 1 millionth of a percent to the nearest star if they can be bothered to test the software all the way through.

    787: The only sort of bright spot. They may be on the far side of years and many billions of dollars of mostly self inflicted problems on something that they desperately need.

  26. In case you’ve been on Mars or something, the point is that every part of the company is a disaster in progress…

    No. Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle is a disaster with the 787, KC-46 Tanker, 737Max, and 777X. Boeing Huntsville is a disaster with CST-100, SLS, GLS, HLS, GMD, and GBSD, but Huntsville is a heritage Boeing site not affiliated with McDonnell Douglas.

    The jet fighter division in St. Louis is going like gangbusters. The weapons division in St. Charles and the services division in San Antonio are growing like crazy. The combat helicopter division in Mesa, the cargo helicopter division in Philadelphia, and the satellite division in El Segundo are bringing in good, steady work.

    …and a lot of it seemed to start when they moved.

    It started before the merger with Boeing trying unsuccessfully to ramp up production to 500 aircraft / year in 1996 and 1997 and bleeding cash while doing so. That failure was the cause of the merger, not the effect of it.

    A better question might be why can’t the people in Chicago seem to manage anything anywhere?

    As I just stated, most of the company is doing well. The question is, why can’t the Boeing Commercial Airplane headquarters in Seattle manage their own division?

  27. I’m staying nout of this argument although I did work for Douglas back in the late 50s. Douglas was late getting jets, the DC 8 was too late, and that probably killed the company. The F 4D was a prototype and the Navy bought it. The F 5D was ready two years later and the Navy passed on it. The chief engineer on the project shot himself in a VP office when I worked there.

  28. @mkent, you are on the mark. I lived through that merger. Boeing had a crap-ton of excellent engineers, but their bean counters and MBAs had decided that to shove all their design engineers out the door thinking they had all the knowledge locked up in the design software. They found out they made a mistake and were contracting McDC to provide design engineering services. Then like you said, they wanted to ramp up production and bring design back in house to try to save some money. Boeing also inhaled Rocketdyne at the same time.

    The merger did the employees of any of the three companies any favors. Every change decided in Seattle went against the employees.

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