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“I worked at Boeing for about 1.5 years in the 2008-9 time period” (reddit.com)
640 points by thereare5lights on Apr 16, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 294 comments

Btw, the new "fix" for the MCAS has just been announced and discussed by a 40-year experienced pilot [1]. Turns out that while we shouldn't be doing armchair analysis and assuming the worst of the engineering, management and executive team; the software fix released appears to be rather elementary and MCAS should have been designed with these safety checks in the first place. Why it wasn't is a huge concern and we wonder what other systems are at risk.

In summary, the software fix does the following:

1. Use inputs from both AOA sensors, if they disagree by 5.5 degrees, disable MCAS. Original MCAS system used only 1 AOA sensor and switched back and forth between the two after every flight.

2. Triple redundant filters, A) Average value reasonability filter B) Catastrophic failure low-to-high transition filter C) Left vs. Right AOA deviation filter

3. Limiting MCAS stab trim so that the elevator always can provide 1.2g of nose-up pitch authority for recovery. Furthermore, electric trim with the yoke switch will override MCAS.

Turns out that armchair analysis was sort of on point and goes along with the incompetency at Boeing affirmed in this reddit post - sometimes, I wonder how we, humans, collectively build extraordinary monuments while we individually rest on stilts.

[1] https://youtu.be/zGM0V7zEKEQ?t=370

The software fixes as described sound sensible and it's hard to believe they were not in the original design. Unfortunately I don't see how these changes will allow them to keep a common type rating with the 737 NG. After the updated MCAS has made its one shot trim adjustment you will now be flying an aircraft with different handling characteristics if you keep increasing the angle of attack into the stall. Surely the FAA can't sign off on the common type rating and half hour of video training ??

Having a new type rating is a fair punishment, I think, for Boeing and the airlines who have been stringing along this obsolete airliner for way too long.

Note the 737 MAX was rushed out not just to fight the A320neo but also to counter this kind of jet:


which is cheaper to run than the 737 MAX but also has much better passenger comfort than the 737. I was in the similar


and even though it is a smaller plane, it feels more like riding in a widebody than in a 737.

Canada developed a fully modern small jet on it's own dime and taking risk, then Boeing nearly killed it by offering airlines a 70% discount on the 737 MAX. Airbus bought a controlling interest in it for free because that was the only way it could survive.

Common type rating is a big reason why airlines are sticking with the 1967 era 737 rather than upgrading to modern planes that will make flying much more pleasant, make less noise, use less fuel, less climate change impact, etc.

>then Boeing nearly killed it by offering airlines a 70% discount on the 737 MAX.

Actually, Boeing lobbied/sued to get punitive tariffs levied on the Bombardier CSeries. While they ultimately lost the case, while it was pending, Bombardier entered an agreement with Airbus to finish assembly of the planes for American customers as a US-based Airbus factory as a way to get around the tariffs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSeries_dumping_petition_by_Bo...

You're right -- but Boeing provoked Bombardier into "dumping" its aircraft by offering that 70% discount!

Do you have any links? Because if true that was a clever tactic, dump your own products to force the competitor to price dump too and then sue them for price dumping.

See The Economist cartoon for this week: https://www.economist.com/the-world-this-week/2019/04/13/kal...

A slightly different event, but when Embraer accused Bombardier of being illegally subsidized by the Canadian government, Bombardier said "no u" and made the same accusations against Embraer. IIRC both companies ended up getting fined

Wasn't Embraer bought by Boeing?

Boeing has a marketing partnership w/ Embraer, but may have a hard time getting the Brazillian government to let go of it.

Not yet.

> then sue them for price dumping

you don't think Boeing has a few attorneys on staff providing legal review for its business decisions?

A new type rating wouldn't be punishment, but the bare minimum of common sense. It only seems like it would be unreasonably onerous for Boeing (et al) because Boeing set themselves in this position to call the FAA's bluff TBTF-style.

What should really happen, in the free market creative destruction paradigm, is that the entire design should be scrapped - designated as non-airworthy by the FAA. Since the design goals seem to have revolved around hacking FAA regulations, as opposed to good faith engineering, how can any of the results be trusted?

A reasonable pick-up-the-pieces approach would see the MAX grounded for a minimum of three years for an overall design review with no getting out of a new type cert, with production halted in case hardware changes are needed.

But what's reasonable can never happen politically, because Airbus, headquartered in that entirely non-allied and utterly foreign country France, would benefit. Mon Dieu!

Which is the general setup for Too Big Too Fail - ignore regulations/prudence, skim profit short term profits, and then make sure it is everyone's problem when the sham inevitably blows up. The Boeing executives that forewent actually designing a modern plane are the ones responsible for not having kept up with Airbus, and should frankly end up in prison for mismanaging a TBTF (ie quasi-government) entity.

The E175 is even better than a 787 in 9 seat configuration. It’s a superior experience in economy, and I hope every 737 and CRJ is replaced by it.

I was blown away when I experienced it. If you had an airline that could always put you on something better than a 737 and have a better cost structure... You'd put the other airlines out of business.

I'm surprised because I incorrectly assumed passenger comfort was mainly correlated with the mass of the aircraft. I.e. small planes get blown around more.

I've been in the Bombardiers, and they are as you said a surprisingly comfortable plane, much more so than the 737s.

I'm not sure it's fair to put Embraer in the same category, it is a much less comfortable plane, both in size and handling in my opinion.

How is the 737 obsolete?

The 737 predates the 747 and the Concorde, and both of those are out of passenger service.

The circular cross-section, for one thing, makes it like the old American cars that were huge on the outside and small on the inside. The only way you'll really understand this is ride on an modern plane such as the E175 or A220 -- you'll get that you hate to fly not because you hate to fly but you hate to fly on a 737 and never get to fly on anything else.

The overall design of the aircraft is not compatible with high-bypass engines. Thus they bolted MCAS onto it. Even there the 737 Max does not support the geared turbofans that are available for modern airliners and the A320. These are so quiet that it isn't that you hate living near an airport, it is that you hate living at an airport where 737s land.

Modern airplanes use fly-by-wire which reduces weight (sometimes dramatically because the size of the control surfaces can be reduced) and enables flight envelope protection (like MCAS) in a way that is a lot more rational and thought-through than MCAS.

An all-electric plane like the 787 might also improve air quality on the flight. I don't think small airplane competitors have this yet.

Boeing has used it's market power to suppress alternatives to the 737 so you will pay more for tickets, suffer in transit, have noisier airports, and have more global warming. The MCAS system was just one part of this scheme.

The 737 Max is a case of the "undercompetition and underinvestment" connected with secular stagnation; it is like how your internet service sucks...

Why is this downvoted? It is 100% true.

The 737 has the _fundamental_ problem of having wings very low to the ground during ground operations. Taller landing gear is not an option, in fact the 737-max has slightly-extending landing gear to resolve this issue. It is part of the reason the plane is called "max" - they maxed out things like ground clearance, fuselage length, wing chord, and other parameters.

Back to the low wings: there is no room for a large (quieter, more efficient) engine. In the earlier 737s, the engine was just as high as it could go, you could even see the cowling squished at the bottom. In the max, the larger engine is placed in front of the wing, which means that it sits much further forward than the airframe was designed for. Thus, MCAS was needed to have the plane "behave in flight like the old 737".

These are _fundamental_ issues that cannot be fixed on the current airframe. Just as the 2019 Ford Mustang chassis is better (stiffer, lighter, safer) than the 1964 Ford Mustang chassis, newer airframes resolve many of the issues that were not designed into their 1960's counterparts.

> Taller landing gear is not an option


Because the plane wasn't designed that way in the 1960s, that's why. They can't change it without designing a different chassis, which means it's a different plane and a whole new type rating that pilots have to be trained for and certified on.

Nowhere to stow it.

747 is out of domestic passenger service in the U.S. but it's definitely still used a ton for international passenger service including to/from the U.S.

It's really old, and the main problem is that it's avionics are old, and don't have the same level of electromechanical flexibility that new planes.

Think of the difference between slapping IoT / real-time monitoring capabilities onto an old factory process versus building from the ground up with those capabilities kept in mind.

Obsoletion happens when there is a better alternative available, and there are plenty of better options to the aging 737 airframe.

> It's really old

The design has been iterated and improved many times. The field of aviation is very conservative. What's old is generally what works. New designs are prohibitively expensive. The 787 won't be profitable for some time, even a decade after it was launched.

> it's avionics are old

They're brand new. Where do you think they get them for brand new planes ?

>versus building from the ground up with those capabilities kept in mind.

They have done that, just the other way around: the avionics are built from the ground up with the capabilities of the well-understood (at least before -Max) aircraft in mind.

> > it's avionics are old

> They're brand new. Where do you think they get them for brand new planes ?

I have some industry experience- there are still new planes that get large, ugly beige Honeywell units in them that're slow and clunky while there are much better avionics packages available. The Honeywell packages are generally pretty newly built, but are still really old. The Raspberry Pi Foundation still sells the original Raspberry Pi, even though they've gone through 3 different generations and like 6 iterations since. The original Raspberry Pi is old, no matter when it was manufactured. The Raspberry Pi 3B+ is new, and has more features and power. Sure, they have similar names and functionality, but there is a world of difference between the two.

Imagine that you've designed a product around the original Raspberry Pi. The projects needs include GPIO, internet connectivity, and video output. The expectations have been trimmed appropriately to fit within the hardware available. Custom PCB's have been made for the Pi to socket into, and there's a standardized system in place for testing the Pi.

Later on, you decide that you want to replace the old Pi with a new one. Compared to the current Pi, the old one has less GPIO, less processing power, a weaker GPU, lamer internet, and less IO- and, although you can just drop in the new Pi with an adapter cable, you're still missing out on all the pins, and your code isn't exploiting all the available resources.

This "not everything gets updated" cycle has serious compounding effects the longer you go. After a few decades of Raspberry Pi releases, your product is a little bit antique, and needs some serious updating to be able to compete in the now-mature product category that you were in. Not starting over and working from the ground up has serious knock-on effects in the future, (for instance, the 737's wings were way too low, which is not future-proof for bigger engines).

This isn't just about avionics, either. It's about every single part of the airplane.

I don't see how anything is wrong with "large, ugly beige" electronics. 737's fly everyday just fine. What benefits are they going to get from sleek, thin Jony Ive-inspired UX? Are they going to get to destinations faster? Are they going to have a smoother ride? What product requirements could possibly change that would necessitate upgrading the avionics?

All these high-tech upgrades have downsides. Fiber optic is very slow to be adopted in aviation because movement generally destroys it. those fancy HUD obscure the runway and lighting. AIRDRU's malfunction, sometimes spectacularly [1]. Sometimes they kill people when working exactly as designed [2]. I'm not surprised to see a fetish for the fastest, sleekest electronics on Hacker News, but I'm shocked to suddenly see such sharp criticism for the '37 on here (aside from the Max issue). It's one of the most reliable and safe aircraft ever, yet somehow it needs the latest glass cockpit technology.

[1] https://www.popularmechanics.com/flight/airlines/a26854898/p...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_296

If you look at it, Boeing has put improved technology in all of the other planes it makes, just not the 737. For instance they have retrofitted the 747 with fly-by-wire.

Fly-by-wire offers huge avionics benefits, reduces weight, fuel consumption, etc.

Planes with fly-by-wire also have inertial measurement units that contribute to envelope protection so they would have another input to work from rather than just the AoA vanes.

the A220 is really meant to be an DC-9 Series 80/90/95 (MD-80, MD-90, MD-95/717) replacement, and doesnt match the 737max in either range or capacity.

Yes it is smaller, so airlines can run more frequent flights. The range is not so good, but there an awful lot of flights the 737 flies that don't go to the full range.

>The software fixes as described sound sensible and it's hard to believe they were not in the original design

Without the benefit of hind sight it's not obvious that it's a better decision. MCAS being turned off changes the flight characteristics of the plane. If you do that silently you might run into a situation where an aircraft stalls because a pilot is used to having MCAS correcting their input.

If both aggressive MCAS is unsafe because pilots can't control the plane and nonaggressive MCAS is unsafe because of stall risk that would seem to imply that 737 MAX should not be certified to fly.

An always-on system designed to always override the pilot should be at least as reliable as the control system used by the pilot. Because the 737MAX is supposedly flies like a 737, and because authorities signed off on this without mandating pilot training, this means this system needs to be as reliable as it can - to maintain the illusion.

And basically everyone knows that there are some subfields of software engineering where safety is critical. From nuclear reactor/warhead control to healthcare devices, and somewhere right in the middle there should be aviation, and other transportation industry related software (train signaling, braking systems, self-driving whatevers, and so on).

And we have Boeing, acting worse than Uber (when they put someone into a Tesla to watch it self-drive without hooking that someone up on intravenous Modafinil).

Do the proposed fixes do it silently?

> Original MCAS system used only 1 AOA sensor and switched back and forth between the two after every flight.

Who the fuck thought that was a good idea???

Let's make it 10x more difficult to detect that there is a problem.

If you're looking from an engineering PoV that's absurd.

If you're looking from a regulatory compliance PoV towards optimising sales - that's actually desired behaviour - if it's overly complex to diagnose it's less likely that somebody understands and point fingers back at us. You know, basically what happened after the Lion Air crash - Boeing being all over "it's not us, it's them"

Just to explain a bit more: It uses the main pilot side AOA sensor, and pilots switch seats every flight.

I can’t speak to foreign operators but in the US that most certainly does not happen. The captain flies in the left seat and the first officer flies in the right seat. Turns are taken on who is flying and the automation is selected to the side of whichever pilot is deemed the pilot flying.

> Turns are taken on who is flying

That's what I meant yes

Each side of the airplane has a set of sensors. The ones on the left (while sitting on the plate) are named Captain <sensor_name> and the ones on the right are named First-Officer (F/O) <sensor_name>. The MCAS software would switch from Captain AoA vane to F/O AoA vane between flights. The location where the pilots are sitting doesn’t affect how the airplane is flying itself. The person flying the plane can be sitting on either of the two seats, but the most senior pilot usually sits on the left.

It's not that the MCAS software would switch. It's that the sensors feed into two different flight control computers (Captain and F/O). And which FCC is primary would switch after each flight. Both FCCs run the same software, but with different inputs from the different sensors.

Does it switch automatically after each landing somehow, or because the pilots tell the plane which FCC is going to be primary for the flight?

So switching seats during the flight would have solved the problem?

That sounds so unlikely that most people would dismiss it as silly...

I'm not a pilot, but if the controls are linked -- why would the plane need to know where the pilot is sitting (or even have a switch for it)?

(Any 747 pilots reading? Can you please fill in the gaps for me?)

Not a 747 pilot (not sure why that matters here)... but a pilot. The flight positions are equal. The plane is designed to be flown the same from either flight position and this is routinely done. The guy saying otherwise is talking out their ass.

Thanks for the details :)

I said 747 because I was thinking Boeing at the time, and that was the first of their aircraft I could think of!

I was also thinking something smaller like a Cessna might not have the same setup because they're used for very different things (the air travel equivalent of a bus vs. a car).

Not a pilot either. Perhaps to show different information to the pilot flying vs. assisting? E.g. only the pilot assisting needs to see checklists?

A busted AOA sensor is going to set off a whole bunch of alarms since it's used in air speed and stall calculations. It's not something that is going to be missed with or without MCAS.

Unreliable hardware fails unreliably. It's entirely possible to have all your checks in place, and still not be able to detect that the sensor is faulty.

Independent comparable sensor input is invaluable and irreplaceable.

The plane might not be able to identify that the AoA sensor is wrong, but the pilots will surely know something is wrong. They will be getting stall warnings and airspeed warnings. Again, maybe they can't say it's the AoA sensor but they will definitely know something is wrong.

You're assuming all failures are detectable by a computer. That's not necessarily the case.

I was wondering the same. What is the logic behind this setup? That basically means that it is no better than having one sensor. Because if any one of them breaks, you have broken sensor active on next or following flight. Also I recall there was something said about Lion Air crash that the crew on the day before experienced some flight control problems which was not communicated to the crew involved in crash? Did they use other sensor on the day before and that was faulty too, or isn't that is how it actually worked?

I've heard it suggested [1, 2] the original design for MCAS could only make a small adjustment a single time, which the pilots could easily overcome with the stick, classifying it a less safety-critical component as it couldn't possibly crash the plane.

Later, the MCAS ended up adjusting the trim multiple times, by an amount the pilots couldn't override with the stick. Thus it should have been safety level DAL-A (loss of plane) [3] - but the safety analysis and MCAS design weren't updated to reflect that.

And the FAA, in what with hindsight seems like a ridiculously naive move, allowed Boeing to self-certify their own faulty safety analysis.

[1] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/faile... [2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19419454 [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DO-178B#Software_level

It's worse than having one sensor, the chance that one of two breaks is larger than that just a single one breaks. And by alternating you ensure that the broken sensor will be used.

Was talking to my flight instructor about twin engine planes. He was adamant that they were LESS safe than single engines because 1) you are twice as likely to have an engine failure and 2) the statistics indicate (non-intuitively) that an engine-out in a twin is more likely to lead to fatalities. He said the insurance companies used to think twins were safer but they have adjusted their rates after looking at actual data. I was fully on-board with point #1, but #2 was a surprise to me. I suppose that's what Burt Rutan tried to address with the Boomerang design.

For my commercial MEL training, most of the time was spent on assymetric thrust handling due to a single powerplant failure. When both are working, or neither are working, the plane handles about the same as a single engine.

When one engine fails, while you've lost 50% horsepower, you've lost more like 90% of excess horsepower which is what you need to accelerate and to climb. And assymmetric thrust is dangerous at slow airspeed. You must react exactly correctly and quickly. Failure on takeoff roll means an immediate abort. Failure at takeoff with runway remaining means cutting power and landing on what remains. Failure once airborne and you must quickly identify the failed engine, apply full opposite rudder (toward the good engine), if you don't do this while in a full power low airspeed climb the airplane will absolutely roll over. Many accidents are the result of continuing when they should have aborted, and being anemic or slow with corrective rudder.

Turbine powered airplanes are way different, they have a lot more excess thrust available so powerplant failure is not dire. They have so much more power that they will still easily accelerate to a safe single engine takeoff speed and climb away for a circle to land, which is safer than aborting after certain speeds that smaller twins won't get to on takeoff. That's all part of the computation for "balanced field length".

Yeah, there's a pilot proverb about how having a second engine "helps you get to the crash site faster".

Or "the plane is certified such that the remaining engine has enough power to take you to the crash site". Indeed.

As outlined above, you double the probability that a mechanical problem occurs. (For p small, 1-(1-p)^2 is around 2p).

Now, if the pilots are very much on top of things (well trained and current), then they can control things and safely land at the nearest suitable airport. However, if they make a mistake (and that's surprisingly easy [1]), it could easily be fatal.

A single-engine plane with an engine failure, in contrast, becomes a bad glider, with a decent chance of surviving the ensuing forced landing.

[1] For example, the TransAsia ATR 72 twin turbo prop clipping a bridge in Taiwan after the crew erroneously shut down the "good" engine.



Just want to point out that "shutting down the 'good' engine" isn't some isolated incident - that was a contributing factor to the British Midland Flight 92 crash [0] as well.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kegworth_air_disaster

Would it be possible to make single-engine planes usable for commercial passenger flights with similar economics?

To your second point, my assumption as a non-pilot is that a symmetrically balanced glide is more controllable than lopsided thrust that could put you into a spin?

Loss of one engine at low speed will leave a twin uncontrollable. See Vmc (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V_speeds?wprov=sfla1).

If you promptly shut off the other engine, does it become equivalent to single engine failure?

Not really. Twin engine aircraft don't have to meet the same crash worthiness standards and usually have higher stall speeds (in this case minimum crash speeds).

To be fair the statistics are swayed slightly by a number of factors, training accidents and different risk profiles of the flights.

In general, a twin will weigh considerably more than a single as well as having greater drag, making for shorter glides.

FWIW: 5 years ago or so I was on a plane that lost[0] an engine in rough weather shortly after take off.

The only reason I know is because the captain informed us about it and added that since it was technically an emergency landing we would be greeted by the fire department.

He then turned the plane around and landed as if nothing had happened.

The bloke across the corridor, an old pilot, complained about how there never happened anything remotely exiting on any of his flights ;-)

[0]: to be as accurate as possible I think what he said was they'd lost oil pressure on one engine and decided to shut it down voluntarily.

A broken AofA sensor has other consequences, such as the differing pressure altitude and airspeed on the left and right panels, so I would guess that it is expected that the problem would be found and fixed after the flight it occurred on (though this did not happen in the Lion Air case.)

They replaced "something", but probably haven't confirmed that, and haven't coordinated with the incoming crew to watch out for that, etc.

This came up in an earlier discussion. Someone suggested that, in attempting to fix the problem reported from the previous flight, the relevant systems were shut down, and this reset the AofA sensor selection mechanism.

Well if you have two sensors you never know which one is right.

You either trust both when they are nearly in agreement or disengage any autopilot type system like the mcas. The engineering solution is three sensors voting on agreement and disregarding the one that is out of agreement with the other two.

I'd favor one sensor or three... though there's something to be said for one simple structure being more reliable than 2+ complex ones.

coming from an engineering and climbing background... i favor redundancy.

> Let's make it 10x more difficult to detect that there is a problem.

A problem no one can detect is a problem you don't need to fix ! /s

> I wonder how we, humans, collectively build extraordinary monuments while we individually rest on stilts

My take is that we used to have brilliant engineers in the time where computational ressources were scarce (60s, 70 , 80s...), and they thought out their design thoroughly starting with a fucking paper and pencil. Aerospace indutries still rely on the designs from these times.

But now engineering seems to be : let's ask my computing power what is the good design, with little further questioning.

Brilliant engineers are still there. We haven’t gotten stupider as a species in 30 years. It’s the economics that changed.

As people say “They don’t build stuff like they used too anymore”.

First we started going cheap on the materials. Now we are going cheap on the engineers too.

Why pay a senior “brilliant” engineer $$$$ when a fresh out of college “average” engineer can write the “same piece of code” for $$

> “They don’t build stuff like they used too anymore”.

In fairness part (but far from all) of the reason we don't build stuff like we used too, is because we have much better understanding of material limits so we don't need to over-design structual elements like we used to.

How that understanding of material limits feeds into design obsolescence is where I do get annoyed though.

With everything we know now we could (obviously) build things better (for whatever criteria you chose) than they did 50 or 100 years ago, if that was the goal but it rarely is.

My favourite piece of civil engineering in the world (because it's nearby and I've ridden over it many times) was built in 1980 though (it's the exact same age as me) and its still awe-inspiring to look at.


The problem is that if a company gives customers (both b2b and b2c) the choice between a cheaper product with minimal guarantees vs. a product that is indeed better and can last longer, not enough customers will choose the better (more expensive) product to justify development cost (there are exceptions obviously).

Partly, companies are even forced if the lowest bidder for pre-defined specification gets the contract.

I believe there are more than enough engineers and companies that would like to build better and more durable products but demand just isn't there.

The problem is you can't trust anything/anyone any more... Brands are generally trusted until you get burned by one. And then they relabel or buy out another brand to burn.

I often make choices that are anywhere from 50% more cost to 200% if I'm relatively certain I'm actually getting a better product. Unfortunately that trust is usually limited and even then, you often don't have a good trust case.

There are also times where I look at industrial options for comparison, as that's often usually skewed towards more solid/maintainable production. Though again often means more expensive.

I tend to find the best value (my own experience) about 2/3 up the pricing scale for whatever products I'm looking at.

If I could find appliances in general with a 15+ year warranty (that didn't have weird loopholes), I'd be more inclined to buy. Unfortunately, they often don't cover interface boards, and even then they redesign in often incompatible ways each year and stop making the previous version entirely.

As someone who has spent most of their working life so far trying to make it easier to store data on materials, I'm not sure things have progressed all that much.

I do work with people from Boeing (and Airbus) but they are not yet using all the features of stuff I wrote 30 years ago.

I think it may be that brilliant engineers still exist somewhere, but I suspect they're less likely to go into aerospace than in the 50s, 60s or 70s. Heck or even the 40s.

Immediately after the war aerospace was red hot - there were countless countries and companies putting out new jet designs - both commercial and military. The competition and pace was intense and there was quite some cachet and public interest in aviation.

Since roughly, I guess, the 90s aerospace is rather settled and a very mature market. There's only a few major players left, and very very few new products; many of those are variations on the previous. Not nearly as much place or appeal for the brightest stars.

No, there's more to it than that.

Firstly, from 1903-1968 aerospace was in a period of exponentially improving performance (range, speed, altitude) comparable to Moore's Law. But from the mid-60s onwards the rapid improvements stopped, as developments hit hard limits imposed by material science and thermodynamics: it's hard to get a material much stronger than carbon fibre or titanium alloy, it's ridiculously hard to go faster in air (drag increases faster than the square of speed: if you throw more energy at the problem via your engines it comes out in the form of friction-induced heating).

Secondly, there have been huge incremental improvements since 1968. Consider the 737 series. The 737-100 had a maximum range of 1540 nautical miles on 17.86 metric tonnes of fuel; today's 737MAX-10 can do 3850nm on 25.94 tonnes of fuel: it's 72% more fuel-efficient. It's also gone from 118 to 204 seats, so about the same upgrade is passenger capacity. The cargo capacity has almost doubled, too.

This being HN, the point of comparison should be an Intel-cpu laptop circa 2009 with an equivalent laptop today. The headline clock speed is probably similar (stuck around 2.4GHz), as is the number of hardware cores. The modern laptop probably has more RAM and more storage, but only by a factor of 2x or 4x. But it has double or triple the battery life, 4x or 8x the pixels on screen, a screamingly fast SSD instead of a rotating-platter drive, and a GPU that the OS can offload a chunk of work onto other than simply accelerated graphics. It looks disappointingly similar, but if you could give your 2009-self your 2019 laptop they wouldn't be in a hurry to give it back again.

There have also been huge improvements in overall safety, the 737MAX MCAS problem aside; compare accident rates today with accident rates in the 1980s, let alone the 1950s if you want an eye-opener. (Of 1010 Boeing 707s delivered, there have been 173 hull losses in accidents.)

Hmm, aren't we agreeing here? :)

As a brilliant star with a newly minted engineering degree I might go into aerospace pre-1968 to play with blank sheet developments, X planes and XB-70, Concorde, Harrier, SR-71, 707 etc etc. Much the same with at engine makers - Merlin to Olympus and Pegasus. An absurdly long list, often with remarkably small teams. I might not want to take my 2019 vintage degree into a world of incremental improvements at one of the few global giants. Even if those improvements are of enormous significance over the years. It doesn't feel earth shaking any more, Farnborough isn't showing astounding free PR every year, just steady incremental progress (mostly). No more flying bedsteads.

Same goes with the laptop analogy actually - the fun was probably in the earlier years than now with new model every year with an extra few percent on the numbers, or slimmer. Green fields are usually more fun, and when they succeed, more satisfying; even with the odd Osbourne effect or total failure.

Were I that newly minted genius, I'm not sure where I would park myself today. Space X for some, perhaps. Probably not Boeing or BAe. I'm sure there's plenty of good (enough) engineers at all of them still. Working as one of thousands. That's not so alluring.

> 1010 Boeing 707s delivered, there have been 173 hull losses in accidents

Never knew that. That is frankly amazing.

I forgot the point I was trying to make while giving the background!

It's not that the engineers of yesteryear were brilliant while today's engineers are second-rate: it's that what they were doing back then was in some respects easier. (And we remember the good planes: as often as not they invented utter turkeys: look at the history of the Supermarine Scimitar for example — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supermarine_Scimitar — TLDR: yes, it's military, but to lose 51% of your aircraft in 9 years of peacetime service takes some doing. And then compare with the F-35, two crashes out of 308 airframes in service over a 5 year period, even though it's a vastly more complicated and higher performance aircraft.)

Yeah. People tend to forget that as each problem is solved, the next problem is typically more complex.

I like to say we never solve problems, we try to replace bigger ones with smaller ones.

And more equally distributed ones: there are not many easy solutions anymore that are pareto improvements, ie do not have downsides elsewhere.

For example, the door to the cockpit is locked now to keep terrorists out - which allows a suicidal co-pilot to fly the machine into a mountain undisturbed. (Having said that, a suicidal pilot can take down the machine one way or the other, so maybe locking the doors was a pareto improvement.)

Best minds of our generation are trying to get more ads in front of people and trying to get more people to click on them.

They’re at Elon Musk’s companies being underpaid and overworked so they can do something legitimately cool.

> Why pay a senior “brilliant” engineer $$$$

there are very few brilliant engineer of yesterday whose job role today is to train the next generation of brilliant engineers so that their vast experience doesn't get lost in time; the brilliant engineers of today have to relearn their experience walking the same mistakes, so that even companies that pays those premiums for senior engineers will have to face the same generational problem as everyone else, because they don't want to waste highly expensive professional to something as mundane as training on the job.

>We haven’t gotten stupider as a species in 30 years

I'm honestly not sure that's true. On top of anecdotes (in my grandfather's generation, the norm was to fluently speak 3-4 languages), go ask any STEM prof. with 20+ mileage about the general math, science and logic literacy of students nowadays.

> On top of anecdotes (in my grandfather's generation, the norm was to fluently speak 3-4 languages)

I'm not aware of anyone in my grandfather's generation that can speak more than one language fluently. The fact that my grandparents grew up on farms on the edge of the Dust Bowl may have something to do with that, but I rather suspect you're attempting to compare a tiny subset of the population in the past against the majority of the public today.

I agree and that’s why it was framed as an anecdote.

I'm a math professor at a US state university. I once asked one of my older colleagues whether our students had gotten better or worse over the years.

About the same, he said.

I think that professors judge their own generation by their peer group, and the current generation by their classes.

That's almost certainly "rosy past" bias. Even Aristoteles is said to have complained about the terrible youth.

There's also the prevailing management theory that "all staff can do the same job" -- I've seen this in various perverted and butchered variants of Lean and Agile.

The theory is sound -- at least two engineers on a project should know how a given functional unit works. It's a practice for lessening the impact of "bus factor", where you have one engineer everyone relies on because they're "the one person in the whole company who understands it".

The issue is when this kind of thinking reaches management, and you see someone being pushed into a role when their skill set is radically different to what's needed.

And then there's surprise and finger-pointing when things (inevitably) go wrong...

Here's the fun bit. A lot of the brilliant engineers that worked on incredibly important historical projects were not getting paid $$$$.

Only in silicon valley ad-tech do 'brilliant' engineers make 40 times more then the janitor.

> “They don’t build stuff like they used too anymore”.

Okay maybe, but we have been saying this literally forever.

Indeed, and I'd add that we are going cheap because we can, thanks to computing power.

As a matter of fact : computing tools make a lot of things easier and cheaper (which is good). But the setback is a tendency to "laziness" in the whole process...

I'm glad we don't build stuff like they used to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joMK1WZjP7g


Obviously we've banned this account.

> But now engineering seems to be : let's ask my computing power what is the good design, with little further questioning.

I see this quite often at the undergrad level. Even for the simplest problem that can be solved with a pencil and a couple of calculations, many students launch their finite element software and blindly trust the results, even if it is telling them something obviously wrong, like orders of magnitude larger or smaller than expected, or with the opposite sign.

I acknowledge the problem, but I do not know where it comes from, or how to stop it.

I don't find that particularly surprising. Engineering students want to learn how to build machines to find solutions to everything, so it's intuitive that they would place a high confidence in a solution provided by a machine.

Good observation.

There is a nice analogy to programming here. The same that one of the main tasks of the programmer is to handle errors, one of the main tasks of the engineer is to know the limitations of the tools he is using.

With no back checking?

That's why I said "engineering students", not "engineers". Not blindly trusting your outputs is (or, at least, should be) part of the curriculum.

Is this for real?

That's startling to me. I don't really feel like I "know" something well enough to bother with the overhead of developing computer code until I can at least get the essence of it down on paper.

Computers are for enumerating and increasing confidence in proofs. I find pen and paper to be far more creativity friendly.

I personally think the gp is full of crap. I’m trained as an engineer and worked in industry a few years. There is no issue of smartness or skill, and of course computers are necessary, but its ridiculous to think they are some magic box... In the US, engineering has become a relatively shit profession. Poor pay, poor work environment (congruent with the op), poor status. You can make tons more (not just a little more) working for a decent software tech company, finance, medicine. You have to really love what you’re doing to stay in engineering.

SpaceX is landing rocket stages on a drone ship after having them drop from 7400 km/h at 100 km altitude. JPL has a city car sized rover craned from a hovering lander on Mars and DeepMind has a computer win against the acting Go champion. Pretty sure that rules out the "today's engineers are bad" hypotheses.

Indeed we still make great technological achievements, and thanks God there are still brilliant engineers out there. But they may not be equally distributed in the industry.

And many of them (in my humble experience, at least) rely too much on computing tools and algorithms they do not completely master, expecting a "magical" answer out of them.

There absolutely are brilliant engineers out there.

The problem is, they're probably not working at Boeing.

There were a lot of failures and accidents back then.

But in general, designers did get more experience because there were more aircraft programs and they were way faster. So if you designed, say, landing gear, you might have done quite many during your career. It was more "agile" in that sense.

Nowadays companies can not go so quickly to production. The whole business has turned into oligopolies both in the main integrators and the suppliers.

But we do. Look at SpaceX. Landing Rockets, crew dragon going to be half the cost of starliner.

It’s just that LargeCorp eventually has the profit motive as the overriding goal and stops being innovative. It’s schumpters creative destruction in reality

I think that's a bit unfair; designs have gotten so much more advanced and efficient in part thanks to computational design. The efficiency, range and maximum weight that airplanes can carry has pretty much doubled since that time.

However, the original comment and the video it is a reply to explains a bit of the countering force; economy and competition. It's management that pressures the engineers to cut corners, basically.

I don't doubt the Boeing engineers are some of the best people in the industry. I'm very much skeptical of management (and whipping them are shareholders) that optimize for time and by extension profits.

We still have many brilliant engineers. The problem is that the brilliant ones from that age have all retired or died, and the brilliant ones these days didn't go into aerospace engineering, they went into other fields. Even when I was in college 25 years ago, we were making fun of the Aerospace Engineering majors as being in a dead-end field where they could look forward to few jobs and lay-offs. It's only gotten worse since then, I'm sure.

The pay and career potential and job security is much better in computer science and engineering, so that's where all the brilliant engineers have been going for quite some time now.

Why do you say we shouldn't do armchair analysis right before you acknowledge that said analysis was on point? I think it's good our populace is eager to analyze. Ultimately we aren't making the decision, just forming a branch of decentralized checks. Long as witch hunts like the Boston bomber don't happen I say people should analyze till their hearts are content.

I agree with you but the general view is to avoid doing armchair analysis until official word is out.

As far as armchair analysis doesn’t cause any harm, I think it’s fine!

> 1. Use inputs from both AOA sensors, if they disagree by 5.5 degrees, disable MCAS.

Great, and now you have the other problem the MCAS was supposed to mitigate (the tendency of the MAX to do backflips).

Shrugs, if the MCAS disables with a clear notification to the pilots I think at this point most 737-Max pilots would know the procedure to deal with that.

Better than the plane flying itself into the ground.

> Shrugs, if the MCAS disables with a clear notification to the pilots I think at this point most 737-Max pilots would know the procedure to deal with that.

The plane is only certified to be 'identical to the 737' when MCAS is on, and operating correctly.

If MCAS has to be disabled in response to a common mechanical problem, then the plane must be re-certified.

Which raises a rather obvious question ...

Although at least now you're trying to solve a more logical problem. Increasing angle of attack => counter with elevator, if not sufficient reduce thrust

Reducing thrust will increase angle of attack. The angle of attack is the angle of the wing relative to the airflow, not the angle of the plane relative to the horizon.

Yes conceptually, no because of signage error.

If you were in a position MCAS would have to kick in, you were at positive AoA, reduced thrust would impart a negative AoA moment.

> you were at positive AoA, reduced thrust would impart a negative AoA moment

I don't think that is correct. I think you're still thinking of the angle of the plane with respect to the horizon, not the AoA.

If reducing thrust reduced AoA, then you could recover from a stall by reducing thrust. In reality, the opposite is the case. The only way to recover from a stall by manipulating engine thrust is to increase it (though this won't always be sufficient by itself).

AFAIAK the procedure is to not increase thrust, quite the opposite (disable the autothrust thingie), get the nose below the "horizon" (which is of course wind dependent), gain airspeed, and then start to increase thrust (which will automatically start to up the nose a bit), then climb back to whatever altitude you should be at.

I don't mean to say that increasing thrust is the standard stall recovery procedure in most aircraft, or that all stalls could be recovered from merely by increasing thrust. But if one could only manipulate thrust, one would increase thrust to recover from a stall, not decrease it.

Ah, yes, of course, theoretically if you can just increase thrust arbitrarily, that always solves the issue. (Again, of course, this might mean the whole plane becomes a rocket because the wings already fell off, so you might need some thrust vectoring too.)

Okay, I get what your saying. I just wasn't reading right, and while what I've said may be theoretically correct, under most circumstances, the control surfaces are the primary contributors to the aircraft's orientation.

Fiddling with engines in an MCAS activation situation would just offset the flight envelope into a more dangerous zone, that could be even more difficult to recover from.

Took me a bit, but I got there.

We're not talking about the aircraft's orientation, we're talking about the Angle of Attack. The AoA can increase even if the nose of the aircraft is dropping relative to the horizon.

Exactly, I'm only talking about in the MCAS-scenario.

> 1. Use inputs from both AOA sensors, if they disagree by 5.5 degrees, disable MCAS

This can only mean that MCAS is disabled even more frequently. This is a terrible idea. This is like RAID0.

The failure mode will increase greatly in complexity. MCAS might cut in and out, the plane might behave erratically.

What the need to do is add a damn switch for 'disable MCAS' and tell people how and when to use the damn thing.

No, they can't do that, because then they'd have to retrain the pilots, or maybe even have a different type rating, which would make them uncompetitive against the Airbus and Bombardier planes.

Remember, profits are more important than passengers' lives.

Just booked a flight. Price between two major carriers was about the same. One was a Boeing, the other Airbus. Guess who got my business?

> because then they'd have to retrain the pilots,

I think that ship has sailed already.

I don't get it, Boeing seemed to have a positive slope, with their plane outselling the competition. Fragile system design is hard to understand in this context. But maybe MCAS were conceived at a time where Boeing was more willing to cut corners.

I thought that the flight immediately before this one had MCAS trouble too. Were both sensors busted, or was that actually an even number of cycles previous to the crash, and only the previous day?

The plane went through a maintenance cycle in-between the flights; it was suggested that the maintenance caused the chosen AoA sensor to flip twice.

I'm not sure of the exact mechanics of this, but it's conceivable the maintenance crew performed a full engine or board computer boot cycle. Therefore, when the pilots started on their flight, it was the second warm-up since the previous flight, hence the same sensor was selected.

There was an extra pilot in the cockpit uninvolved with flying the plane.

His participation in Crew Resource Management allowed the previous flight to correctly identify and remediate the issue before things became unrecoverable.

I remember that, but if the issue was that one AOA instrument was broken, then only half the flights should be affected.

I know very little about aircraft, but wouldn't making the MCAS less powerful increase the risk of a stall? How do we know that there would be a net decrease in crashes?

We know nothing about how many times MCAS got engaged, maybe Boeing does. Who knows.*

Furthermore, the problem seems to be that there is no explicit feedback about this from the pilots, because some of them did not even know about this. Consequently there was no widespread beta test in simulators, meaning there was not much data to base the fine tuning on.

* actually, since MCAS activates only when the plane is over the critical angle (according to the AoA sensor), and there are other warnings, probably those can be counted.

I wonder if the new iteration will also get an intermediate disable state, where you keep powered trim but shut out all automatic inputs. Defense in depth.

>Furthermore, electric trim with the yoke switch will override MCAS.

Does that mean it didn't override MCAS before? Really?

The point was, that they "just" put that shadow system there which will perfectly encapsulate the 737MAX to match the old 737 "interface".

Now, they completely fucked that up. They did a so mindblowingly bad job, that anyone involved at the FAA who should have known about this should be in jail. Either for incompetence (negligence) or worse.

They designed a system that relied on one input, operated periodically, told no one, documented nowhere, made it too powerful, always on, and un-turn-off-able, and spent the rest of the day corrupting/pleasing the FAA, then made the AoA input mismatch light an upsell feature, and finally called it a day.

Yep, this being one of the reasons the planes went splat.

I worked at Boeing on a large satellite program back in this same time frame (2008-2011). I worked on the software simulator for the satellite that was used to test flight code and the ground system (i.e., give the ground control software simulated satellites to talk to, and to ring out procedures).

Anyway, as the final configuration for this satellite was still being tweaked, I needed to get updated mass properties (in order to simulate the physics properly) from the team working on the real satellite as the configuration changed (e.g., they added more batteries, solar panels, decreased RCS tank size, etc.). Ordinarily, these would be emailed to me in an excel spreadsheet every so often. I would make the updates, life would go on.

Now, internally, the simulator software worked with metric units, and the spreadsheet I received would also use metric units. Apparently, one day an engineering manager on the vehicle team found out that one of their engineers had been "helping" the simulator team by plugging the mass properties into an excel spreadsheet, translating the units from imperial to metric, and sending them to me (I did not know any of this, of course... I just knew the vehicle team would send me updated mass properties from time to time).

This was an outrageous affront to said manager, who ordered his folks to not expend any time helping "some other team." So, the next time I needed updated mass properties, what did I get? A faxed copy of something that looked like it had been generated on an old line printer. I called and asked "Where is the spreadsheet?" and got "Sorry, that's all I can do anymore."

Some of the numbers were questionably legible, but I tried to use it anyway. As I was making my updates, I noticed the numbers were way off. Units weren't labeled on the fuzzy faxed copy, so it took me a few minutes to realize that the vehicle engineering team apparently worked with imperial units internally.

Angry phone calls back and forth ensued, but I don't recall the (political) issue ever being fixed. I didn't stay much longer, so I don't know if it was ever resolved.

I’m surprised there wasn’t a push to standardize units after this incident: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Climate_Orbiter

I'm all for Freedom Units... But honestly if you're doing aerospace you just use metric and that's all there is to it! Period.

This is true for almost all engineering. I use metric but it is annoying in PCB design because mils is the standard there and those are just Tiny Freedom Units.

I'd be in favor of switching to metric for USA, but I see no indication of that happening. But a company has a choice esp one the size of Boeing!

The aerospace industry is stuck on imperial fasteners. That trickles down to other design elements.

That isn't the greatest example of that IMO. From what I've read, the real problem there wasn't just imperial/metric confusion, it was the fact that the team providing data did not provide any units at all, and the team receiving the data didn't ask and just assumed units.

One of the first things I was taught in engineering school was to always provide units! It doesn't matter if you're only using metric; that still doesn't tell you if it's a gram or a kilogram, after all.

I dislike using MCO as an example of why engineers should standardize units/use metric. This was one of the first NASA projects to be done using metric units with this exact goal in mind. The more interesting part about MCO is that it's actually a pretty compelling story about engineering culture interacting with management and how risks and problems are handled. It's not as simple as "NASA messed up metric" at all and people could learn a lot by reading the whole story.

Is there a tl;dr on those relevant parts?

I contracted with a branch of Lockheed. While I couldn't/shouldn't talk about any of the technology involved, I can attest to the culture I witnessed. I always assumed it was horrible because of the government affiliation. But I think that mostly affected their focus, in that most of the branch was dedicated to wasting money so they could ask for more money. However, the culture itself was stagnate by design. Most of the employees actively fought anything that would require them to learn or change. EVERYONE was counting the clock to retirement. Anyone who wasn't in the same boat left as soon as they got the big picture. It made me extremely pessimistic about taxes.

I worked at a similar large aerospace contractor just in the past couple years. I can attest 100% to what you've said.

They estimated they would need to replace 40% of their workforce within the next 10 years just to stay afloat. Recently at my old site they hired 1000 people. Within a year, 800 had quit. These are software engineers, mechanical engineers, etc. I watched people just play on their phones, keep their feet up, basically do nothing at all.

One guy showed up to work on the first day and was told by his manager : "I don't have an office, so you'll have to sit here for now". The manager then flew back to another state, and the guy did not see him ever again. For a year this guy played Candy Crush on an iPad and did nothing because no one else knew who he was or who he worked for. Eventually he got a new manager and his job was then unboxing computers...for a year...When I started working with him, he would go into a large empty lab and just lay down behind some boxes and nap for 2hrs a day.

He was hired to be some sort of cost accountant.

This was not uncommon, it was rampant. I still cannot believe workplaces like that exist.

Here's a story that I received secondhand, so I cannot verify its authenticity.

A man exited the Navy, and got a new job with a private Navy-supporting contractor. He reports for work, and his manager tells him what he'll be working on. So he gets right to it, sets up a cot, and hammers away for a few days, until the problem is completely fixed. As one does when trained by the Navy.

He then tells his manager that he's finished. Manager just goes berserk, and tells him to not show his face at the worksite again; just fill out the time card remotely, until instructed otherwise. So he toddles off, to go SCUBA diving every day, for about six months, until the work hours allocated to the project were finally used up. After that, he played the game correctly.

This story aligns perfectly with my anecdotal experience, though it is not uniform across all contractor companies, or even across different work groups within the same company. Even the estimates for the work required to pad the estimates are padded.

I understand why people laugh at the stories I tell from there, I laugh at it now that my time is over. But when you're in it, it's just disheartening. No one wants to tell their grandkids "I was in a lot of meetings, and I was the best at looking busy".

This is kind of why SpaceX is so efficient. That kind of dead wood doesn't really exist there, plus their actual aerospace/mechanical engineers are cream of the crop from the best universities.

I think it's that as well as the fact that they are a private company and don't do as much "contracting" in a sense. They aren't handed a gigantic set of legaleze requirements from the customer (the government).

Unless they do- I don't work there but it seems like they build their product, make sure it can lift X mass to orbit well, and if anyone needs shit lifted into orbit they just goto SpaceX. Far less bloat.

They also have a mission (Mars) that transcends everything.

Wait, the forgotten employee from Dilbert [0] is real? Learn something new every day...

[0] https://dilbert.com/strip/1992-05-05

Don't forget to charge all that labor to the program (taxpayers).

> wasting money so they could ask for more money.

When one strongly encourages government doing business with contractors over hiring govt FTEs, it should lead to (1) all technical duties being offloaded to contractors, (2) loss of govt FTEs with technical expertise, (3) inability to hire replacement govt FTEs because of stigma and budget priorities, (4) govt FTEs taking on contract administration duties, effectively administering the production and maintenance of things they know nothing of and have no interest/investment in, who are working with (5) businesses (private corps) whose legal duty is to make profit, employing management, sales, and technical people (contractors' employees) whose primary priorities are their own careers.

(6) is a bonus. If you get to hire a technical govt FTE somehow, s/he will start identifying the inefficiencies and irregularities of the contractors' practices. That means his/her manager and colleagues will feel threatened or fear retribution (for contract mismanagement), pushing the new FTE out in one way (demotivation) or another (bureaucratic and/or political games).

No one is evil or lazy in this dynamic. It's more simply the unintended consequences of public policy choices, which have slowly became the basic tenets of the culture of societies implementing those choices and quickly creating very sturdy social structures and roles.

At the last place I worked, Fortune 50 systems integrator, you can find yourself in a program where risk is increasing and schedule is galloping to the right, yet people are getting shuffled to other projects in the classic matrix organization move to "save the budget". Maybe this is because higher management is gambling that another component of the program is going to be late and therefore there's no pressure anyhow, but this doesn't get communicated downward and there's jerky and inconsistent progress for reasons that don't otherwise make sense. After a time, people get tired of the idea that they are pawns in a financial game and whether they do good, mediocre or bad work isn't important or perhaps even relevant to company goals.

You hit the nail on the head with regards to the culture in this industry. This is my experience as well.

For an engineering oriented industry you have an alarming number of engineers with an aversion to learning anything new. As much as incoming / lower level software engineers complain about tools, management / senior engineers just go ahead and choose the shittiest IBM or Oracle product for the job because some vocal graybeard minority in a meeting will complain it's not Clearcase.

How come we end up with ineffective duopolies? Why isn't market competition finding a way around these failing companies?

I give this a lot of honest thought all the time.

My conclusion is this: it's easy to say "well, because the government is picking winners and losers." And it's true. But let's assume government will always be here (anarcho-capitalists are generally imbeciles) and it will generally rely on big industry.

So it's not necessarily a market failure. The businesses have a steady stream of income they can rely on because, well, the government probably isn't going to change any time soon. Also, these businesses are experts at forming relationships with the state. It's probably what they do best.

So if government will always be there, and will always spend into the market, what's the solution here?

Limit business size. A progressive tax on the size of any company once it reaches some number like 1000 people (1% at 1000 up to 90% at 1M+). Putting downward pressure on company size does a lot of things: it eliminates a lot of bureaucracy, it creates more businesses (and competition), and it limits the power any one business has (political or economic).

If the government decided "wow Boeing's planes suck nowadays" they can shift their contract and not worry about ~150K people losing their jobs which is a political dumpster fire.

More competition, more choice, more ability to change. I'm sure there would be downsides, but I have trouble thinking of downsides that outweigh the upsides.

Of course, I'm not a dictator, and passing any kind of tax law like this after the fact is going to be a no-go.

I like the idea of progressive corporate taxes. Concentration of power is bad for society and should be taxed commensurately.

It's all about the moats, to use Warren Buffett's term. Enormous moats around aircraft manufacture.

That's why I'm looking forward to the Chinese entry into aviation. It takes a government to bridge a moat.

In rockets, we have SpaceX. Commercial aviation has a higher regulatory barrier for entry, both in technical knowledge and facilities. You don't just spin up a gigantic, cavernous assembly line with thousands of technicians and billions of dollars in tooling overnight. I wouldn't be surprised if in 10-20 years though, someone backed by Google tried building a self-piloted, subsonic blended-wing-body 200-300 pax jetliner. Google right now has Kitty Hawk, but I think their ambitions are far greater.

What market competition? Airlines are possibly more regulated than medicine!

I've worked on both excellent teams and dysfunctional teams doing contract work for the government. The distinction to be made is size and longevity of the programs involved. For various reasons, large long lasting programs have accumulated rules that prevent anyone from doing anything productive.

I've seen teams of people working on a flash app to produce a handful of reports for one general, who would look at it occasionally, or not at all. There are guys who work there entire careers to maintain this one small, outdated application.

> To this day, I refuse to fly on a 787. I'm sure that the Dreamliners that came off the assembly line after about a year or so were fine but there's that first year of production that, as far as I'm concerned, are ticking time bombs. I talked to many engineers who had worked on that program to know just how badly they rushed that initial production.

Ouch. Anybody know where to get a list of who’s operating the planes from that first year of deliveries?

Do airlines publish the serial numbers for upcoming flights? ie is it possible to check the delivery order of the plane you’re potentially flying on?

Sometimes, online flight trackers estimate the registration prior to the flight and they usually have the serial number as well (otherwise you can look it up on airfleets, plane spotters etc). For some flights it's easy to estimate the registration yourself (if the only plane available is a current inbound flight).

But generally, you won't get that info more than a day in advance. Airlines won't even know it more than a week in advance, they only know that it'll be one of a pool of planes of the same type.

But typically the same types of planes fly the same routes, I would imagine.

Aircraft model is set in advance (has to be, the airline needs to know how many seats available to sell) but late model substitutions sometimes do happen.

And if you want delivery year of the aircraft with an airline operating multiple aircraft of that type, you're probably going to have to know serial/tail number which might not be possible to determine until very late on.

https://www.planespotters.net/production-list/Boeing/787 rest should be easy.

https://www.reddit.com/r/videos/comments/bdfqm4/the_real_rea... gives some background and estimates the first 'safe' plane to be SN 27.

Slightly unrelated but I've built https://myplane.info/ to quickly check if my plane is still the same before the flight. AFAIK, in case of a plane change than the scheduled, we have right to get a full refund* with most of the airlines. I'm thinking about adding a notification feature on that.

*Edit: Upon my findings, full refund case above is not available with all airlines, but rebooking option being offered instead.

Which airlines provide full refunds? Do they allow this for both changed aircraft types and N-numbers, or only the former?

Few articles quote American Airlines, I've found the related page: https://www.aa.com/i18n/Tariffs/AA1.html

If you search for 'category 16' and go to 4.C.III, equipment change is considered as 'not acceptable' for the passenger.

Source: https://onemileatatime.com/airline-schedule-change-airplane-...

yes, it's possible, but only on a very short notice e.g. via https://www.flightradar24.com/airport/phl/departures

I think there was a way to find the info without paying premium, but I forgot what of these names to put on to google to get more info on the specific plane.

Yah that gave me shivers. I’m flying a 787 in June.

In his other comments, he walks back on his remarks:

> Also, in all fairness to my hated former employer, air travel is still by far the safest form of travel. Even with the shitshow at Boeing, Boeing planes manage to be incredibly safe. I'm really not sure how, but they are.

> And it might be because I grew up around Boeing, but I'd still fly Boeing over Airbus, to be perfectly honest. Airbus makes good planes, but that reliance on computers over pilots just makes me nervous.

> Even the 787, despite all the horrible issues with the initial run, is probably going to be an exceptionally safe plane due to the carbon fiber construction.

So it sounds like much of his commentary is of the "how the sausage is made" nature that is common to the gestation of many (all?) complex products. You probably have nothing to worry about with air travel.

I have some experience with carbon composite construction. His statement about the 787 initial production is eerily similar to other stuff I've seen. I'm not saying it will end poorly, but let's just say we don't know nearly as much about how carbon fails/ages as we do about aluminum. Carbon is an amazing material, but I've seen a lot of cases where during initial production people realized they needed extra material here and there, and various process improvements to prevent delamination and eventual catastrophic failure. It may take a few more years, but I wouldn't be surprised if those initial aircraft find their service lives to be much shorter than promised. Unfortunately we may never be made aware, however.

> You probably have nothing to worry about with air travel.

Well, the conclusion is already made in the statistics, and air travel is the safest, yes, but it's worrying that it's safe despite the enormous fallacies, despite the insane pressure of market forces.

A very eye-opening thing is to watch what the pilots should have done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xixM_cwSLcQ&t=16m55s

Runaway stabilizer scenario has associated memory items (meaning the pilot must have the checklist committed to memory). There are big wheels that turn, with noise and a big visibility marking.

This was Boeing's initial defense too, that the pilots fucked up, because disabling any electronics works the same way. (There's a cutoff switch.) So if something is doing something, shut off the power, rotate the wheels manually.

And in this regard Boeing is right. Pilots decisionmaking was suboptimal. However, it is Boeing's fault that they opted for a no-training-required strategy.

A similar WTF is that pilots don't keep up with the aviation industry news. How - the fuck - can you pilot a plane that you know nothing about (except that your license is valid for it)!?

Commercial pilots these days are glorified bus drivers. Pay is similar too.

My view of aircraft engineering has certainly changed since the 737 stuff came out. You always get told software engineers are a bunch of cowboys compared to aircraft people, because they have to put everything through a bunch of rigourous tests.

I asked a friend who trains commercial pilots about it, and to my surprise he told me the processes to get things certified are political and hand-wavy.

I know software is bad.

But using the same airframe from the 60's and just strapping bigger engines to it until you have to move the nacelle and alter flight characteristics seems like a cowboy move also.

"Cowboy" is one person taking shortcuts to get things done but in a risky way.

This was Boeing optimizing very hard at "how do we get better fuel economy while keeping the same type rating". In general, I'm totally in favor of them doing this sort of optimization, since pilot training is legitimately a big expense.

(In this case it clearly went wrong, both in that MCAS was an unsafe design and that the FAA should not have allowed it to keep the same type rating.)

There's a point where shortcuts are appropriate, and there's a point where the shortcuts actually cost you time.

You can spend ten weeks messing around with "quick fixes" when it'd take two weeks to redesign the unstable or broken part.

Too much of engineering is obsessed with "get the thing out there and we'll fix it in version two".

The problem is not “cowboy attitude” or “bureaucratic swamp”; these are two sides of the same coin, process inefficiency promotes corner-cutting.

The problem is lack of care. They don’t even seem to care about the money, judging from their current stock prices.

I think there were some stories about this from Challenger. The cost, be it financial, political, or other was so great to get a part “space rated” that they’d use redundant bad parts to cope with errors in some cases. I vaguely remember this being used to describe a temperature sensor that was wrong like 1% of the time, they used a group of them and some algorithm to filter out error.

Can you think of a more geek sexy project than working on a rocket, space craft or jet? Then the reality is that it has to be about the least satisfying engineering job around, it looks like you have to make a titanic effort just to do something

I haven't worked for aviation yet, but from what I have seen in other areas that need certification processes, the system is setup in a way that invites gaming it. In Europe, most certifications are performed by competing private companies. That cannot possibly go wrong and erode standards, right?

Dieselgate happened in spite of having tests executed by "independent" bodies, even if it certainly looks better, it is not fail safe either.

But it is harder to plead ignorance, incompetence or bad luck when you have purposely implemented a code that run only in test settings.

Dieselgate has nothing to do with who performs the testing but is an clear example that if you as an regulator want X, but test for Y, manufacturers will optimize for Y and ignore X.

>the processes to get things certified are political and hand-wavy

The big processes that make everything less cowboy inevitably lead to the build-up of people that only do politics and processes and are far removed from actually desigining code.

I lived in Seattle for 7 years and got to know some Boeing project managers. The stories they told are very similar to this one. Apparently the life of a Boeing PM or Engineer is endless meetings, I asked one of my friends why this was the case. His response? A good chunk of the managers at Boeing won’t use email.

I wouldn't be surprised if this was a liability thing.

You can't subpoena a conversation unless it was recorded...

It’s standard practice for big corp to auto-erase emails after N months for this reason (well officially they dress it as cost saving measure).

Not being able to use modern forms of communication is one of the biggest problems where I work now. I'm in a remote team and we are completely isolated to whatever happens in the company.

Most departments only get reached by management when there is a problem.

It's a relatively small company of about 50 employees and there is zero sense of team work.

Not every big company is bad at this.

I used to work for a large company in the aerospace sector (not an aircraft maker) where software was a big part of what they did. I was in the safety assurance part of the company, and on a couple of occasions I had to tell management that the software wasn't up to scratch. One of them was The Big Project On Which Everything Depends.

Management didn't even blink. They went straight back to the supplier and spent the next several weeks in tough negotiations about timescale and how the additional costs were going to be split. The project was delayed, and I got zero blowback. They didn't even argue with me. The nearest I got to argument was some careful review of my report, which was perfectly reasonable given the amount of money at stake.

I'm posting anonymously here and not naming names because I stand by my duty of confidentiality. But I am proud to have worked there.

"I worked at Boeing for about 1.5 years in the 2008-9 time period and I can absolutely guarantee this happened."

was in response to this comment:

"I would be very surprised if in a few years from today a bunch of engineers don't testify that ample of warning was given to management about this. "

Reddit doesn't make it easy to find what they replied to.

> Reddit doesn't make it easy to find what they replied to.

The trick is to add ?context=3 to the end of the URL: https://www.reddit.com/r/videos/comments/bdfqm4/the_real_rea... (or for the better "old" interface: https://old.reddit.com/r/videos/comments/bdfqm4/the_real_rea...)

I use the "Old Reddit Redirect" Chrome extension to automatically switch to old.reddit.com. It's kind of unbelievable how much worse the new site layout is by almost any metric (usability, performance, etc.). https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/old-reddit-redirec...

I suspect reddit is going the way of Digg

Using old.reddit also lets you read the entire comment, which seems to be truncated for me in the new UI

You can thank their redesign.

Try using "old.reddit.com" while it last. And stop using reddit once that gets taken down.

Reddit was once a great site. Now it's a corporatized, censored mess that sold its soul for short-term cashout in their 2020 IPO.

I have never seen a more incompetent redesign in my life, especially for a "unicorn". That new redesign completely falls apart on Chrome on my mobile (a OnePlus 5T). Comment threads get squished together so much that by the 5th comment in a thread, all words are basically vertically arranged.

If I switch to "desktop site" on Chrome, any text I enter gets automatically erased after hitting a certain number of characters.

I sometimes can't believe the amount of incompetence that is allowed to thrive at successful companies.

"oops, there's nothing here!" <posts load, showing everything that's there>.

This happens on every subreddit, every. single. time. I can't believe in 2018 we got a front-end that does this, just shoddy, shoddy engineering.

I'm pretty sure the mobile website is designed to be as awful as possible to force users to use the mobile app.

It's very effective. It's how Facebook forced all of its users to use the app.

i.reddit.com is nice on mobile. Please nobody tell management that it still exists...

Or one of the very nice crop of 3rd party API consuming apps.

I suspect it's bad on purpose to force people to install the app.

On the old layout there's a "parent" link under every comment.

If you're not logged in, you can just add "old." at the start of the url.

Yes it does. Just click on the link labeled "parent" at the bottom of any comment.

Depending on your layout and whether you're signed in, there's no such link. On my view, I see a "show parent comments" button above the comment.

>Reddit doesn't make it easy to find what they replied to.

Just click parent

>"I would be very surprised if in a few years from today a bunch of engineers don't testify that ample of warning was given to management about this. "

I love this mentality that "managers" are the only people responsible, and that the people actually putting the thing together are not. It's the same with the bank scandals, or the VW scandal, or the Facebook scams; it's all the executive team! We were just peons following orders! We aren't responsible!

If you see a major safety issue or other concern, and report it to your superior, who does nothing, you're pretty weak if you shrug your shoulders and say, "I did my job!"

Not everyone is swimming in buckets of FAANG cash and has the freedom to be fired at any time.

The pressure to keep putting food on the table is strong, especially when you have kids.

Many people see nonsense they have no power to personally fix, and in a big bureaucratic organization even making a ruckus will usually get you nothing but shown the door.

So for many, the choice is 1: say nothing, keep your paychecks, and the problem still exists, or 2: say something, possibly lose your job, and the problem still doesn't get fixed because you have no authority.

The only resort is whistleblowing, which may or may not work and is losing its protections all the time.

> I love this mentality that "managers" are the only people responsible

Well, the managers are the dudes who are getting paid for being responsible. The 'peons' are correct.

I mean... that's literally their job. Hence why they get higher pay and more responsibility. The dictionary definition of manager includes "a person RESPONSIBLE for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization". My job description, on the other hand, is simply to aid in implementing and developing the technologies I'm told to by my manager. If they tell me to implement something that is a concern, and I bring it to my manager, and they still tell me to do it then I have done my job and the responsibility of that issue is now on my manager

>My job description, on the other hand, is simply to aid in implementing and developing the technologies I'm told to by my manager.

Boy, good thing that's what your job description says, it completely absolves you of any accountability in the real world!

"Not my job" is such a great attitude, and is precisely the reason why these huge scandals are able to persist. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

I'm currently working at Boeing, and had a very similar experience to him getting onboarded as a contractor on a major project. Just as an example, I'm going to outline the steps it took to get me a proper badge

1. Filled out badge request form and gave it to my manager who gave it to the person who would be my manager at boeing

2. 4 months later have to refill out form because they lost it

3. 1.5 months later I receive badge, but it doesn't have the chip I require

4. Get told by manager to go back to badge office and get chip, but apparently the form was submitted by someone who actually isn't my manager but is listed as my manager and they selected "no chip" so they can't reissue until they get a new form

5. My manager submits new form requesting chip, go back to badge office and get told I can't get a chipped card because he isn't technically my manager so they need to change my assigned manager first

6. Actual manager attempts to contact the person boeing says is my manager multiple times, after about 3 weeks they hear back from them

7. Manager finally changed so he sends email to badge office saying that he is now my manager and I need the badge

8. Go back to badge office and they can't give me chipped badge because he submitted the form before he was my manager and the email isn't sufficient.

9. He submits new form, go to badge office and they finally give me chipped badge

And mind you, everyone is so lazy that it takes multiple days minimum for every communication with anyone. So essentially Boeing payed me for an extended amount of time where I couldn't really do anything because no one cared to get me what I needed to do my job. Also, that was only the first piece. I am still working on getting everything else I need, and it doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon.

Another thing I hate is everything costs a ton of money and is garbage. No free coffee, no free tea, no free snack, no free cups, no free stirring sticks, and the cafeteria food and options they do have are way over priced and worse than dog food. The majority of the staff are old, sad white men that don't seem to want to do anything.

Oh, and on top of everything the project is 100% in the cloud but the out of touch manager requires everyone to be onsite

By far the worst company I have ever had the displeasure of being contracted at. Can't wait to be done

edit: thought of another wonderful example, I once heard a member of the "security" team say that their job is to just say no to everything that comes their way

Dude we had totally different experiences. When I got my grey badge, I walked in, gave them my forms I was told via email they would need, was then told to wait 3 hours and left to go hang out at the lake. Sunbathed for 2 hours. Came back. Got my badge. No issues.

My team was very underutilized... We got legitimately excited when we came in and there was real work for us to do instead of sitting around and being 'available'.

I did get a badge the first time, but it didn't have the chip I needed to access certain things required for my job so I could get in the building and lab but not really do much. Apparently it also has to do with the location, because another person that was getting onboarded for the same project at another location also didn't get a chip but they immediately issued a new card when he walked back in without the hassle I went through. Seems to be pretty hit or miss, but I haven't had any luck

Right, and I neglected to mention that I did get the chip with no issue. My point was just that the system can work well, sometimes.

Well a decades-long oligopoly of two companies is similar to central planning in many aspects and his story indeed rings a lot of bells.

In the last 50 years, fatalities per miles travelled have been reduced by a factor of 100.

If that’s an oligopoly at work, I want to try a monopoly and see if it’s even better.

Is there any evidence to attribute that process to the effects of oligopoly?

It's good that the C919 and MC-21 have arrived to compete then. I just don't see how the catastrophic MCAS design could have been avoided with more competition...

Poor Boeing, I guess they're putting all their best people and resources into off-world spacecraft.

Its interesting how an unknown source making unverifiable claims on a site which is basically a rumor mill gets so much attention.

It's not, if you think about it. People believe what they want to hear. Unverified post agreeing with the popular narrative gets immediately accepted as fact, and posts disagreeing with the narrative gets accused of being shills or damage control.

I'm not saying this guy is a fraud, but if there's no supporting evidence, there's no evidence to believe him.

There's probably some truth to it, but there is probably some confirmation bias to his story. I have no love for big companies with horrible corporate culture. But this is like a Yelp review from an unsatisfied customer, might be true, but should be taken with a grain of salt.

I don't know about the safety record stuff - but I've been told stories from people who've seen it first hand about the waste and red tape and fiefdom defense and a staff counting the days to retirement and all the gross counter-examples to unionization like out of a General Motors horror story from thirty years ago.

> I'm not saying this guy is a fraud, but if there's no supporting evidence, there's no evidence to believe him.

C'mon you've been around long enough to know that this is just a datapoint in a field of datapoints. You're not going to get a youtube video of people putting their feet up on their desks. But you get enough data points and you can draw a trend line.

Have you read through the other comments here and on reddit? Many people have had similarly bad experiences

this happens all the time on reddit and it definitely worries me a bit. People post what is, for all I know, complete fiction and people seemingly take it as fact. Point out that it could be made up and watch those downvotes fly...

It's almost a creative writing contest in some threads. The problem is that just enough situations are verifiable that it blurs into the well written fictional accounts. I spend time on r/BestOfLegalAdvice sub and I have no doubt that upwards of ~25% of posts are fake.

Interesting. I was hanging out at a wedding with someone right around that time frame who was one of the lead engineers on the 787 rollout. He too had similar comments about safety. He told us that the 787 was failing it's FAA tests, but since the head of Boeing's relationship with the FAA was a former FAA tester, he "helped" the FAA rewrite the tests so that the 787 would pass.

I told him he may want to consider being a whistleblower, but his response was "well the AirBus didn't pass their FAA test either until they rewrote the tests".

I still look at the overall safety numbers and realize that flying is still safer than driving, but it sounds like it could be safer still.

Everything I learn about Boeing smells of the traditional failings of “national hero” type industries, where national pride and government incentives effectively isolate a company from any sense of responsibility; economic, moral, or otherwise.

Can’t help but wonder if Airbus is any different, and if so, why?

This was interesting

> When I showed up at my first day of work, the first words out of my supervisor's mouth were, "I don't know why you are here, we have no need for programmers." (The Boeing interview process is done so that at no point, do you ever have contact or communication with the team you will be working with.)

My first job out of college in 1984 was with Grumman Aerospace in Bethpage Long Island. I was hired by a college recruiter and didn't speak to anyone on the team I would be on 'til my first day of work.

They had no work for us to do. I left after exactly one year. I wrote some utility programs to format compiler errors just for fun.

They had these "cost plus" contracts with the Navy and they could make a few extra dollars by making a small profit charging for some junior workers on a project. The F-14D project was canceled a few years after I left.

Neither safety critical software nor critical aircraft engineering relies on the personal quality of people involved. The safety is build into the process and the organizational structure. Usually involving multiple organizations that check each other's work.

What can happen is collapse of the process and regulatory capture.

Boeing is able to cut corners because FAA is cutting corners. FAA whistleblowers have demonstrated that FAA has culture that resulted in "malfeasance, bordering on corruption" https://www.latimes.com/travel/la-trw-airlines4apr04-story.h...

There is no sign that things are getting better. 737 MAX gained FAA certification on March 8, 2017. Meanwhile FAA has been running without administrator for two years. Trump tried to nominate his personal pilot, but when it failed he didn't nominate anyone. Dan Elwell is the acting administrator.

It would be presumptuous to think "this is the real Boeing" based on anecdotes from people who worked there. Even in big companies, where a lot of folks are twiddling thumbs, there are undoubtedly teams where real quality work gets done. These teams are somewhat insulated from the bureaucratic environment around them and attract true performers.

Do you think that the teams are insular or the people who know what they are doing are insular?

Because in my experience the people that do the heavy lifting are just randomly distributed and are bright spots in a otherwise gray landscape.

You do find good talent embedded in poorly performing teams, but that doesn't last very long (few years at most). People like to be around others with similar standards. Good talent will gravitate to teams with high quality talent and conversely good teams tend to pick good quality people. It's a form of sorting that over time results in people with similar standards working with one another.

"To this day, I refuse to fly on a 787. I'm sure that the Dreamliners that came off the assembly line after about a year or so were fine but there's that first year of production that, as far as I'm concerned, are ticking time bombs."

He doesn't like the Dreamliner too! Eeek! That was the best value for crossing the Atlantic. Damn, this is gonna haunt me now, I liked flying those :(

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