The failure of the 737 Max – evil software




An interesting read is available about the cumulative failures of the Boeing 737 Max. The author is a pilot and a software developer Gregory Travis.

“So Boeing produced a dynamically unstable airframe, the 737 Max. That is big strike No. 1. Boeing then tried to mask the 737’s dynamic instability with a software system. Big strike No. 2. Finally, the software relied on systems known for their propensity to fail (angle-of-attack indicators) and did not appear to include even rudimentary provisions to cross-check the outputs of the angle-of-attack sensor against other sensors, or even the other angle-of-attack sensor. Big strike No. 3.

None of the above should have passed muster. None of the above should have passed the “OK” pencil of the most junior engineering staff, much less a DER.

That’s not a big strike. That’s a political, social, economic, and technical sin.”

The article makes clear that the failure is essentially regulatory. Boeing’s goal was to make the 737 Max look like it was not a new aircraft but a continuation of the previous design, when it was not. The FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) does not have the engineers to detect the changes and blow the whistle.

“As airplanes became more complex and the gulf between what the FAA could pay and what an aircraft manufacturer could pay grew larger, more and more of those engineers migrated from the public to the private sector. Soon the FAA had no in-house ability to determine if a particular airplane’s design and manufacture were safe. So the FAA said to the airplane manufacturers, “Why don’t you just have your people tell us if your designs are safe?”

The airplane manufacturers said, “Sounds good to us.” The FAA said, “And say hi to Joe, we miss him.”

and further:

“The 737 Max saga teaches us not only about the limits of technology and the risks of complexity, it teaches us about our real priorities. Today, safety doesn’t come first—money comes first, and safety’s only utility in that regard is in helping to keep the money coming. The problem is getting worse because our devices are increasingly dominated by something that’s all too easy to manipulate: software.”



Arran Gold

All fighter planes have been designed for a long time so that they are aerodynamically unstable. That is the price for pushing the performance envelope. What don’t they drop out of the sky on a regular basis? Well, because the software was properly written and has been debugged since then. This kind of code is very complex and you need a experienced programmers to do it. Boeing had the work done by contractors who were paid $10/hr. If you want to see what a top notch software team looks like do a search that documents the team that wrote the software for the space shuttle. All middle age, no all-nighters, no steady supply of Jolt Cola. Just a team of very experienced men and women. In addition to that the design of the software system was obviously poor because it seems Boeing lacks the expertise in this area. Perhaps they should have contracted that out to a company that builds fighter planes who solved some of the issues decades ago.

Lot of the design requirements come from the clients and if the client says, we want to minimize the training then that is taken into account and design adjusted accordingly. Engineering is about finding solutions to requirements.

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