Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

John Q. Public and the 737 MAX

Introducing John Q
Sometimes I get the feeling that I'm just a little guy, someone of miniscule significance, basically a nobody. I think the first time that really sank in was when I was driving on the New Jersey Turnpike two or three decades ago. On that special day I think I saw more people in cars in just a matter of a couple of hours than there are in the entire state of Maine, even on a good day. Well that was the impression I had anyway. And when I realized that was only a tiny fraction of the population just around the I-95 corridor... well that started me thinking about just how tiny I actually am. It wasn't the illusion of grandeur I get when I'm back home here in the Maine Highlands and that thought is exactly the thought that was going through my mind that day.
So while I write this blog post I'm going to think of myself in that generic sense and I'm going to take on a mundane personality, a fictional character of course, and I am going to discus the current hottest topic in aviation history known as the Boeing 737 MAX MCAS mystery. I'm going to be that Googling armchair mechanic with too much time on his hands because basically he's retired and has nothing better to do on this the final day of winter. He certainly isn't wasting his time trying to figure out how he is going to get laid this week, or next even, or even this year because basically after fifteen sexless years he's pretty much given up on that fantasy. In other words, I'm going to be John Q. Public, mister nobody, armchair quarterback whose lifetime is ominously limited but whose domain knows no bounds.
John Q. Public is an American of course. He has to be because he enjoys his Constitutional Right to free speech. He can say anything he wants as long as he doesn't intend to harm anybody. He gets to define what the truth is in his world and what makes good sense but he also is free to speculate, to calculate possibilities and probabilities and since he's not an expert on anything he doesn't have to get all snarled up in stuff like statistical probability math and calculus and physics and vector diagrams and Global Warming and all the other jazz that seems to complicate things these days. John Q. Public, in other words, is a simple man.
Call him John Q for short.

So let's get down to business.

Let's start out on the Internet ferreting out a few tidbits of information.
There was an airplane crash in Africa this month of one of Boeing's 737 MAX airliners. All on board were killed in the horrific crash as the airplane burrowed into the ground. The crash had similarities to another crash of this same new Boeing airliner type in Indonesia back in October of 2018 and there are enough similarities between the two crashes that significant figures of authority around the world concluded that until the cause of these crashes is known and the associated problems identified and fixed the airplanes don't deserve to be in the air. They can't be trusted. Well that's what the media has been telling John Q anyway.

The 737 MAX is grounded!

Not only that but the two crashes are shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

Here's an introductory article on phys.org for those who aren't already familiar with the airplane and the situation. It was published today March 20, 2019. The article identifies the suspected cause of the two crashes as the Boeing MCAS (em-cass) automatic wing stall avoidance system unique to this particular modern Boeing 737 MAX version.
Two days ago this same website published an article claiming that Boeing has already worked out a fix that involves a software update to the system plus pilot training.

Here's a great, I mean really good introduction to MCAS on The Air Current. The graphics and pictures in this article are extremely informative.

There is a picture in this Seattle Times article showing the angle of attack sensor and airspeed pitot tubes on the copilot side of the airplane apparently during some ground maintenance. This gives you a great reference to know what they are talking about when they talk about a faulty angle of attack sensor. The pitot tubes are protected here by yellow hoses that would be removed prior to any flight but the angle of attack sensor is fully exposed. Bear in mind that these devices are designed to be undamaged when these airplanes hurdle through rain and sleet and you name it at 550 miles per hour or more. They're rugged.

More stunningly informative graphics are included in this New York Times report dated November 16, 2018 covering the October crash in Indonesia.

In fact you can take these New York Times graphics showing altitude plotted over the actual local time and you can compare them with charts in this Indonesian report Figure 5 page 14 and observe that the MCAS problem reared its ugly head just when the pilot fully retracted flaps and then vanished for a short time after the pilot again extended flaps. When flaps were fully retracted the second time then the malfunction returned and it remained right up until the crash.
This same Indonesian report reveals the official procedure worked out by the industry after the Indonesian crash for dealing with this problem if it happens again, see page 41.
In the news just last night and today there is a hero story about a guest pilot hitching a ride in the jump seat of the cockpit of this same Indonesian airliner during the late night October 28 flight in to Jakarta the night before the crash arriving in Jakarta four minutes before midnight. Flight control and display issues occurred on that flight, and what seems to be the very same MCAS malfunction made its appearance during that flight. The story goes that this guest pilot saved the airplane and all on board that night flight by showing the pilots how to defeat the malfunctioning MCAS system, yet the airplane was turned around and deemed safe enough to fly early the very next morning October 29 just six and a half hours after its arrival. Taking off at 6:20 local time it crashed just twelve minutes into the flight. The airplane took off 35 minutes after its scheduled takeoff time but even that represented only a six and a half hour turnaround time during which maintenance serviced the malfunctions from the previous evening's flight. After takeoff

All that information has John Q's head spinning to say the least.

Here's a source that seems to be updated frequently. This article in the Aviation Herald is covering the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 10 crash. They report the crash location as N8.8772 E39.2512 which can be located on Google Earth. That flight lasted about six minutes. The airport elevation is 7,657 feet according to Google. The airplane was reported to have climbed to 9,000 feet and had descended to 8,600 feet at the last reported transponder position. At that point it was only about 500 feet above the terrain so it clearly didn't climb very high during its whole flight, maybe 1,400 feet or so? The article points out that controllers tried to notify the pilots that they were entering an HA (R)-1 military restricted zone but control did not receive a reply to that message.

Well that sure does have John Q disturbed! What the heck!

The pilots had notified control they were having control problems and needed to come around and land and the flight path and final crash site seem to indicate that is what they were in the process of attempting but they weren't very far above the terrain at that point. There wasn't any room for MCAS to issue an erroneous pitch down command and the aircrew to respond. But was that the problem? So far the flight data hasn't been released by Ethiopian authorities so nobody seems to know anything yet. Time will tell.


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