Initial findings put Boeing’s software at center of Ethiopian 737 crash

The Boeing 737 MAX's MCAS software was officially linked by FAA investigators to the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight earlier this month. The software was intended to compensate for the aerodynamic differences caused by the aircraft's larger engines.

Enlarge / The Boeing 737 MAX’s MCAS software was officially linked by FAA investigators to the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight earlier this month. The software was intended to compensate for the aerodynamic differences caused by the aircraft’s larger engines.

At a high-level briefing at the Federal Aviation Administration on March 28, officials revealed “black box” data from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 indicated that the Boeing 737 MAX’s flight software had activated an anti-stall feature that pushed the nose of the plane down just moments after takeoff. The preliminary finding officially links Boeing’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) to a second crash within a five-month period. The finding was based on data provided to FAA officials by Ethiopian investigators.

The MCAS was partly blamed for the crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX off Indonesia last October. The software, intended to adjust the aircraft’s handling because of aerodynamic changes caused by the 737 MAX’s larger turbofan engines and their proximity to the wing, was designed to take input from one of two angle-of-attack (AOA) sensors on the aircraft’s nose to determine if the aircraft was in danger of stalling. Faulty sensor data caused the MCAS systems on both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights to react as if the aircraft was entering a stall and to push the nose of the aircraft down to gain airspeed.

On March 27, acting FAA Administrator Daniel Ewell told the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s aviation subcommittee that there had been no flight tests of the 737 MAX prior to its certification to determine how pilots would react in the event of an MCAS malfunction. He said that a panel of pilots had reviewed the software in a simulator and determined no additional training was required for 737-rated pilots to fly the 737 MAX.

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Boeing/Saab joint T-X design wins Air Force’s jet trainer competition

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Enlarge / The Boeing/Saab T-X has won the Air Force’s advanced jet trainer contract. (credit: Boeing)

Air Force’s T-X next-generation advanced jet trainer contract. Boeing’s joint bid with Swedish aerospace company Saab came in more than 50 percent below the Air Force’s initial cost estimate, shutting out Lockheed and the US subsidiary of Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica). Both of those entities bid trainers based on existing aircraft.

The award comes less than a week after the Air Force awarded a Boeing-Leonardo bid the win for the Air Force’s replacement of its UH-1 nuclear security helicopters. And on August 30, Boeing won the Navy’s MQ-25 unmanned carrier-launched tanker contract.

The T-X is designed to bring pilot training into the 21st century, providing an aircraft to train pilots in the pipeline to fly the F-35 Lightning II. The new jets—at least 351 of them—will replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of Northrop T-38 trainers. Those T-38s, based on the Northrop F-5 fighter, have been in service since the 1960s. The new contract also includes 46 training simulators and ground equipment. It could eventually be expanded to 475 aircraft and may also result in international sales to other countries who have committed to buying the F-35.

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Boeing wins bid to build the Navy’s carrier-launched tanker drone

MQ-25 drone

Enlarge / Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueler, known as T1, is currently being tested at Boeing’s St. Louis site. T1 has completed engine runs and deck handling demonstrations designed to prove the agility and ability of the aircraft to move around within the tight confines of a carrier deck. (Photo: Eric Shindelbower, Boeing) (credit: Boeing )

Navy’s first carrier-based drone prototype , the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration (UCAS-D)—dropped out of the competition last year. The prototype contract is the first step toward delivering “initial operating capability,” a first production run of the drones, by 2024.

The MQ-25’s design requirements called for an aircraft capable of launching from a carrier deck and delivering 14,000 pounds (6,300kg) of fuel to aircraft 500 nautical miles (926km) away. That capacity and range, along with the low-observable shape of the drone, could essentially double the range of  F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-35C Joint Strike Fighter attack missions. Eventually, Boeing could deliver up to 72 Stingrays at a cost of $13 billion.

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