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  • This is an airplane engine.

  • It's sitting in a field in Bishoftu, Ethiopiapart of the wreckage of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed on March 10, 2019.

  • 157 people died.

  • This was just a few months after another flight, Lion Air 610, crashed in Indonesia and killed 189 people.

  • These two flights were operating the same plane: The Boeing 737 MAX 8.

  • And its engine is the key to understanding why this particular plane has caused so many problems.

  • But there's nothing actually wrong with this engine.

  • In fact, airplane manufacturers raced to put them on their new planes.

  • That's where the problem started.

  • The two biggest airplane manufacturers in the world are Airbus and Boeing.

  • And they have a fierce rivalry.

  • If one of them can offer a better plane, the other could lose a lot of money.

  • That's exactly what was about to happen in 2010.

  • Airbus announced that they would update their most popular model, the A320, a single-aisle airplane that services many domestic flights.

  • You've probably been on one.

  • For this new plane, Airbus had a big update.

  • It would have a new kind of engine.

  • It was much larger than the previous engine, but it would make the plane 15 percent more fuel efficient.

  • And just as importantly, this upgrade wouldn't change the plane that much.

  • A pilot could walk into the new model, with little additional training, and be on their way.

  • It was called the A320 NEO, and it would save airlines a lot of money.

  • This was a problem for Boeing.

  • To compete with Airbus, Boeing's obvious move was to upgrade the engine on their single-aisle plane, the 737.

  • But there was one issue.

  • Here's a sketch of the 737 next to the Airbus A320.

  • Notice how the 737 is lower to the ground than the A320.

  • This meant Airbus could slide a new engine under the wing of their A320.

  • But there wasn't enough room under the wing of the Boeing 737.

  • But a few months later, Boeing's product development head had big news.

  • He said: "We figured out a way to get a big enough engine under the wing".

  • Their solution was to move up the engine on the wing, so that it would be slightly higher and it would fit on their 737s.

  • Here's a promotional video of that updated 737 in the air.

  • You can actually see that the top of the engine is above the wing.

  • Boeing called this model the 737 MAX.

  • And just like Airbus with the A320, Boeing said their new plane was so similar to its predecessor that pilots would only need minimal additional training.

  • The 737 MAX became the hottest selling plane on the market.

  • And it helped Boeing keep up with AirBus.

  • Except, moving the engine up on the 737 had a side effect.

  • When the 737 MAX was in full thrust, like during takeoff, the nose tended to point too far upward, which could lead to a stall.

  • This was a problem, because these planes were supposed to behave exactly like the old ones.

  • So Boeing came up with a workaround.

  • Instead of re-engineering the planes, they installed software that automatically pushed the nose downward if the pilot flew the plane at too high of an angle.

  • They called it the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

  • But because Boeing was selling the 737 MAX as pretty much the same plane as the 737, they didn't highlight the new MCAS system.

  • Many pilots only got a two-hour iPad course before entering the cockpit for the first time.

  • And the "training material did not mention" the MCAS software.

  • In 2018, several American pilots complained to the federal government that the 737 MAX was "suddenly nosing down."

  • On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 took off from Jakarta.

  • In the flight report, which shows the plane's altitude over time, you can see that the plane was in full thrust during takeoff.

  • But at a certain point, the nose of the plane kept lurching downward.

  • The pilots couldn't figure out why this was happening.

  • The captain "asked the first officer to check the quick reference handbook."

  • They couldn't find the solution.

  • The pilots continued to fight with the MCAS.

  • The plane struggled to gain altitude.

  • Reports show it was likely because the computer was getting incorrect sensor data, pushing the plane toward the earth below.

  • 12 minutes after takeoff, the plane crashed into the Java Sea.

  • In the Ethiopia crash, the report shows that the pilots were actually able to disable the MCAS, but it was too late to overcome the malfunctioning MCAS sensors.

  • For now, nearly every 737 MAX 8 in service has been grounded.

  • And the Federal Aviation Administration is facing scrutiny over how they rushed this plane through certification.

  • Boeing's response has been to apply a software update and make the MCAS "less aggressive," while also saying they'll increase pilot training on how to turn it off.

  • This problem started with a company's race to compete with its rival.

  • It pushed them to pretend like their new plane behaved exactly like their old one.

  • Even when it didn't.

This is an airplane engine.

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The Real Reason Boeing's New Plane Crashed Twice

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    Liang Chen posted on 2019/04/17
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