MORE STRANGENESS(?) ABOUT ETHIOPIAN FLIGHT 302

Something seems terribly wrong with the story of Ethiopian flight 302. I blogged about this last week, after having a few emails from various people suggesting that perhaps the MCAS artificial intelligence system on the craft was either deficient, or perhaps had even been hacked. Thus far, the consensus on the story seems to be that this system is opaque and not intuitive, and that there are deficiencies in the pilot's manual.

What concerns me however are the strangeness of airline accidents lately. The disappearance of Malaysia Air flight 370 continues to daunt any explanation (and search), and was followed by the apparent downing of Malaysia air flight 17 over the Ukraine. Then came the crash of Lyon Air flight 610 in Indonesia, the first of the Boeing 737-Max 8's to crash, followed now by Ethiopian Air's flight 302. As most readers here are probably aware, the aircraft has now been grounded, and reportedly Boeing is working on a "fix" to its MCAS system, which is supposed to automatically adjust the trim of the aircraft due to unusually forward-mounted engines on its wings... or... something like that.

But there's two articles that make me wonder if we're getting the full story. I'm not a pilot, of course, and I know nothing about flying (other than that I don't like it and won't do it), however these two articles, taken together, give me pause and make me wonder if there is something more going on than meets the eye. This is one of those "you tell me stories," because to my amateur's eye, something is quite amiss. The first article was sent by Mr. E.G., and the graphs alone make one rather sick to the stomach, imagining what those poor people on that doomed flight were experiencing:

"Something Was Extraordinarily Wrong": Doomed Boeing Swung Up And Down Hundreds Of Feet

If one looks at the graphs of the vertical speed of the Lyon flight and the Ethiopian Air flight, they are quite similar in that the speed increases and decreases seem all out of whack. But what's interesting is that we're not being shown the data for the last half of Ethtiopian flight 302's short flight into disaster. The flight appears to have been on some kind of roller coaster ride:

According to officials with Ethiopian Airlines, the crew of flight 302 told air traffic control they they were experiencing "flight control" problems just a few minutes before contact was lost. Pilot Yared Getachew - who had more than 8,000 hours of flying experience, reported the initial "flight control" problem in a calm voice within one minute of departure. 

According to the radar, the aircraft was flying far below the minimum safe altitude recommended during takeoff. Within two minutes, the plane had climbed to a safer altitude, and the pilot reported that he wanted to remain on a straight course to 14,000 feet.

The plane then proceeded to rapidly climb and fall by hundreds of feet while flying unusually fast, according to the Times. Air traffic controllers "started wondering out loud what the flight was doing."

The plane's trajectory was so erratic that two other Ethiopian flights - 613 and 629, where ordered to remain at higher altitudes.

While the controllers were instructing the other planes to keep their distance, a panicked Captain Getachew interrupted just three minutes into their flight and requested to turn back as the plane accelerated to even higher speeds well beyond the plane's safety limits.

So far, so bad. As the story goes, all of this information seems to support the "problems-in-the-AI-MCAS" system hypothesis. But then there's this tidbit of information:

A minute later, it disappeared from the radar while flying over a restricted military zone.

Ordinarily this bit of information wouldn't make me think twice. But then one turns to the second article, shared by Mr. S.D.:

Army captain killed in Ethiopia plane crash

In this article, there is reference to a statement by an eyewitness, who shortly before the actual crash saw something very strange:

The Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft went down in clear weather just minutes after takeoff. It “rotated two times in the air” with smoke coming from the back before crashing, said witness Tamrat Abera. (Emphasis added)

What's interesting here is the implication that this witness may have seen something very strange during that portion of the flight about which we otherwise seem to have a curious lack of information. What this witness describes is itself something very odd: the aircraft apparently rotated two times... the problem here is what this language actually means: did the aircraft do loops in the air like a looping rollercoaster? That's rather difficult to believe if indeed the witness saw this just before the crash. Or did it do a spiraling corkscrew? or was it in a spiraling nosedive? Or worse, was the fuselage being twisted back and forth along its central axis in some sort of torsion effect? Ordinarily I'd opt for "spiraling nosedive", but the language is ambiguous enough to allow for other, more disturbing possibilities.

Then there's the matter of the smoke "coming from the back," meaning, perhaps, from the back of the fuselage, which would again be rather odd since the engines are mounted on the wings; so it sounds as if something else might have been on fire other than the engines. Thus, if there's smoke coming from the fuselage, what might be burning? Hydraulics from the control systems for flaps and so on? If so, then that means there might be another culprit than the MCAS system, and it is obvious that one could not rule out foul play. In any case, all this "rotating" and "smoking" is taking place while the aircraft "disappears from the radar while flying over a restricted military zone", making me wonder if the strange behavior described by the witness might be the result of some technology being employed against the aircraft, or if indeed a bomb or some other method of destruction had been placed on it. Who knows?

I certainly do not know, but it seems to me that something smells here, and it has my suspicion meter in the orange-to-red zone. My guess is that this witness, cited in the second article, may have an important key, if not the key to it. And accordingly my guess is we'll hear very little - if anything at all - from that witness by way of clarifying those strange remarks in the future. I could be wrong, I hope I'm wrong. But in the meantime, we're in the presence of a mystery, and I want very much to hear more detail from that witness, as I do from recovered black boxes.

See you on the flip side...

 

22 thoughts on “MORE STRANGENESS(?) ABOUT ETHIOPIAN FLIGHT 302”

  1. The fundamental problem here is that the marketing of products to human beings now permeates everything.

    Boeing designs incredibly good airplanes and amazingly safe airplanes. It is inconceivable to me (as a former aero engineer and now 18 years as an airline pilot) that the engineers or test/development pilots supported this system being optionally dependent on only one of the two available sensors. I am certain that the marketing ‘engineers’ saw an opportunity to offer a $$$$ option that they assumed everyone would take. A nearly pure profit option just like charging $500 for heated seats in a $100,000 drop top Porsche. Everyone gets the heated seats and Porsche gets an extra $500 on a near no cost option.

    Boeing failed to adapt when it became clear that the take rate on the ‘two sensor input to MCAS’ option was well less than 100% and their ‘pure profit option’ plan began to turn into a risk management nightmare. I would be surprised if Boeing was not having meetings to discuss this issue prior to these tragic accidents.

    When the subpoenas start I expect that this will all come out. In any case, that’s my speculation.

    Cheers,
    Scott

  2. While I’m a bit rusty on flying, since it’s been more than 40 years since I was learning, the term “rotation” to a pilot usually refers to leaving the ground and becoming airborne. In the air it is pitch, yaw, and roll, when describing movement around the three normal axes.

    Was this “witness” a pilot or just a bystander? Was the word translated (properly) or was he reporting what he saw in English? He could easily be a plant if there is something else going on. The first witnesses in many cases are shills.

    And why would there be a flight path so close to a restricted military site?

    And the American soldier doing missionary work, as well as 21 UN officials? That immediately raised an eyebrow here. What officials, from which departments, on what missions?

    There is indeed much which does not seem quite right with what we are told so far.

  3. (Modded. Forgot the cOck in “c0ckpit” again. Sigh. Once again: )

    Good comment on this aspect from MemberBerry at ArsTechnica:
    https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/03/boeing-downplayed-737-max-software-risks-self-certified-much-of-planes-safety/?comments=1&post=37039691#comment-37039691
    “New information has just been published by Bloomberg about the previous Lion Air flight. Many people have been wondering why that crew had been able to save the aircraft, when the next crew failed to do that while dealing with the same problem.

    One advantage the previous crew had is that an off-duty pilot was in the c0ckpit during that flight. That pilot came up with the idea to disable electric trim:
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-19/how-an-extra-man-in-c0ckpit-saved-a-737-max-that-later-crashed?srnd=premium-europe

    Also, passengers from that flight reported a pilot coming our of the c0ckpit to take a big book from his luggage; it may have been the same guy.

    So, it seems the MAX can be safely flown when MCAS is acting up. It’s just that you may need three pilots instead of two.”

    Add to the above that international regulations only require the co-pilot (first officer: second in command, or ‘SIC’) to have 250 hours to qualify for the right-hand seat. Pilot-qualification (captain) is 1500+ hours. So, in practice, the co-pilot position is only required to be competent, not experienced. (In the US, this aspect was noticed as a possible ‘contributor’ to a few accidents. The 1500 Hour Rule raised the ‘minimum’ for co-pilot to 1000-1500 hours – with predictable complaints from the airlines.)

    So, in the Lion Air and Ethiopean crashes, we had cases where the pilot was the only ‘experienced’ crew on board. In the Lion Air prior-day ‘incident’, we had two ‘experienced’ pilots on board, by luck. Do international regs need to change to mimic US regs?

  4. Bloomberg reports:
    Pilot Who Hitched a Ride Saved Lion Air 737 Day Before Deadly Crash

    An off-duty pilot saved the 737 Max from a crash. The next day, the same plane on flight JT610 crashed into the sea.
    As the Lion Air crew fought to control their diving Boeing Co. 737 Max 8, they got help from an unexpected source: an off-duty pilot who happened to be riding in the cockpit.

    That extra pilot, who was seated in the cockpit jumpseat, correctly diagnosed the problem and told the crew how to disable a malfunctioning flight-control system and save the plane, according to two people familiar with Indonesia’s investigation.

    The next day, under command of a different crew facing what investigators said was an identical malfunction, the jetliner crashed into the Java Sea killing all 189 aboard.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-19/how-an-extra-man-in-cockpit-saved-a-737-max-that-later-crashed

    1. Good comment on this aspect from MemberBerry at ArsTechnica:
      https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/03/boeing-downplayed-737-max-software-risks-self-certified-much-of-planes-safety/?comments=1&post=37039691#comment-37039691
      “New information has just been published by Bloomberg about the previous Lion Air flight. Many people have been wondering why that crew had been able to save the aircraft, when the next crew failed to do that while dealing with the same problem.

      One advantage the previous crew had is that an off-duty pilot was in the cockpit during that flight. That pilot came up with the idea to disable electric trim:
      https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-19/how-an-extra-man-in-cockpit-saved-a-737-max-that-later-crashed?srnd=premium-europe

      Also, passengers from that flight reported a pilot coming our of the cockpit to take a big book from his luggage; it may have been the same guy.

      So, it seems the MAX can be safely flown when MCAS is acting up. It’s just that you may need three pilots instead of two.”

      Add to the above that international regulations only require the co-pilot (first officer: second in command, or ‘SIC’) to have 250 hours to qualify for the right-hand seat. Pilot-qualification (captain) is 1500+ hours. So, in practice, the co-pilot position is only required to be competent, not experienced. (In the US, this aspect was noticed as a possible ‘contributor’ to a few accidents. The 1500 Hour Rule raised the ‘minimum’ for co-pilot to 1000-1500 hours – with predictable complaints from the airlines.)

      So, in the Lion Air and Ethiopean crashes, we had cases where the pilot was the only ‘experienced’ crew on board. In the Lion Air prior-day ‘incident’, we had two ‘experienced’ pilots on board, by luck. Do international regs need to change to mimic US regs?

    2. (Modded. Forgot the c0ck in “c0ckpit” again. And you cannot use just a capital ‘O’. Sigh. Once more time: )

      Good comment on this aspect from MemberBerry at ArsTechnica:
      https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/03/boeing-downplayed-737-max-software-risks-self-certified-much-of-planes-safety/?comments=1&post=37039691#comment-37039691
      “New information has just been published by Bloomberg about the previous Lion Air flight. Many people have been wondering why that crew had been able to save the aircraft, when the next crew failed to do that while dealing with the same problem.

      One advantage the previous crew had is that an off-duty pilot was in the c0ckpit during that flight. That pilot came up with the idea to disable electric trim:
      https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-19/how-an-extra-man-in-c0ckpit-saved-a-737-max-that-later-crashed?srnd=premium-europe
      (replace ‘0’ with ‘o’)
      Also, passengers from that flight reported a pilot coming our of the c0ckpit to take a big book from his luggage; it may have been the same guy.

      So, it seems the MAX can be safely flown when MCAS is acting up. It’s just that you may need three pilots instead of two.”

      Add to the above that international regulations only require the co-pilot (first officer: second in command, or ‘SIC’) to have 250 hours to qualify for the right-hand seat. Pilot-qualification (captain) is 1500+ hours. So, in practice, the co-pilot position is only required to be competent, not experienced. (In the US, this aspect was noticed as a possible ‘contributor’ to a few accidents. The 1500 Hour Rule raised the ‘minimum’ for co-pilot to 1000-1500 hours – with predictable complaints from the airlines.)

      So, in the Lion Air and Ethiopean crashes, we had cases where the pilot was the only ‘experienced’ crew on board. In the Lion Air prior-day ‘incident’, we had two ‘experienced’ pilots on board, by luck. Do international regs need to change to mimic US regs?

  5. Let’s all pray for Tamrat Abera at 6:00 PDT on March 20th, 21st and 22nd. It seems to me the odds he/she will have an accident or fall critically ill in the next two years just increased dramatically.

  6. The Malayasia flight #370 had similar path if you believe witnesses, it also flew at a low altitude. But maybe I am reading the wrong articles, but last week on Mail On-Line, authorities said there were no remains … did the plane explode? Then I noticed the lack of debris from the crash… no seats or seat cushions, no luggage with clothes everywhere. No purses or any other items like a burnt passport. I did not see anything that looked like an impact or burning debris. When Lockerbie went down from the explosion, there was plenty of remains that authorities could ID…

  7. Another good article with many informed comments:
    https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/03/boeing-downplayed-737-max-software-risks-self-certified-much-of-planes-safety/

    That article cites a (very good) Seattle Times article. From there:

    “The limit of the system’s authority to move the tail applies each time MCAS is triggered. And it can be triggered multiple times, as it was on the Lion Air flight.

    One current FAA safety engineer said that every time the pilots on the Lion Air flight reset the switches on their control columns to pull the nose back up, MCAS would have kicked in again and ‘allowed new increments of 2.5 degrees’.

    ‘So once they pushed a couple of times, they were at full stop,’ meaning at the full extent of the tail swivel, he said.

    Peter Lemme, a former Boeing flight controls engineer who is now an avionics and satellite-communications consultant, said that because MCAS reset each time it was used, ‘it effectively has unlimited authority.’

    Swiveling the horizontal tail, which is technically called the stabilizer, to the end stop gives the airplane’s nose the maximum possible push downward.

    ‘It had full authority to move the stabilizer the full amount,’ Lemme said. ‘There was no need for that. Nobody should have agreed to giving it unlimited authority.’”

    The key here is that each reset “allowed new increments of 2.5 degrees.” Assuming the article is correct (and I am reading it correctly), this is like a ratchet mechanism which only allows a gear to turn in one direction. Add “out of a physical maximum of just less than 5 degrees of nose-down movement.” So, reset two or three times, and MCAS will have moved to full horizontal tail swivel! (I did not realize “reset” worked in this manner, before reading this article. I assumed there was some ‘reversion’ between activations. Damn!)

    This amount of authority should have kicked MCAS into must have full redundancy, before certification. I would not have even settled for a two Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor cross-check. I would have demanded a full three AoA sensor system with automatic vote-out capability. This is flight critical stuff, with this level of authority…

    I did have a thought on why the two 737 crews may have been ‘distracted’ enough to not recognize the stabilizer trim issue in time. Both flights were probably near or at max thrust, in that busy period just after takeoff when you are cleaning-up the a/c and beginning climb. If it was the Captain’s side AoA sensor being bad, the MCAS would have started nose-down stabilizer trim as soon as the flaps fully retracted.

    Drag is separated-out into induced drag and parasitic drag. Induced drag is a function of lift which is a function of AoA. Assuming the crew had not yet raised the nose for climbout while cleaning-up the a/c, the a/c would have been at moderate AoA. Having the MCAS drop the nose would have significantly reduced the induced drag. Being at or near full thrust, this would have accelerated the a/c significantly – with the a/c meanwhile starting to fall out of the air, due to the low lift.

    I wonder whether – at the moment the flaps fully-retracted – riding a suddenly-accelerating a/c and coping with a low-lift condition was just too much ‘distraction’ (especially with all the airspeed warnings/indicators going off and the stick-shaker actuating) for the minimal ‘diagnosing’-time at low altitude. (Remember, the altitude above ground level for the Ethiopian flight was only around four hundred feet at its maximum point.)

    (For the record, I had a slight part in helping to aerodynamically design the 737MAX’s predecessor, the 737NG. A good aircraft. And, I do not appreciate the general ‘smear’ tones some commenters are using against anything Boeing…)

  8. The initial investigation will have a number of suspects. Even then, one might miss the real culprit, simply because we’re lacking key evidence.
    Most likely is the military. Which military?
    Another is industrial espionage. The airline industry is a top-of-the-food-chain technology. A must for any nation and/or transnational corporation.
    An extrastate? Stirring-up political/economic rivalries?
    I’m going with the coup de grace be a military weapon.
    But, what steered it into the restriction zone[kill zone?]?

  9. Small world…
    Massachusetts Native Among Victims in Ethiopian Airline Crash …
    [Search domain http://www.necn.com/news/new-england/Massachusetts-Native-Among-Victims-in-Ethiopian-Airline-Crash-507095341.html%5D https://www.necn.com/news/new-england/Massachusetts-Native-Among-Victims-in-Ethiopian-Airline-Crash-507095341.html
    A woman who grew up in Massachusetts was one of the 157 people who died in an Ethiopian Airlines crash last weekend. … Stumo was the grand-niece of consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

  10. Witnesses who fail to support the “narrative” tend to live short lives or fall afoul of the law very quickly. Note the teen with the video of the Christchurch shooting; we will have to wait and see what happens to this witness.
    J. Stone has been covering this also and he reports other witnesses claiming clothing and other articles were trailing the plane as it fell apart in mid air. This is a wait and see as the “official narrative” unfolds.
    There is the possibility it was downed as it flew into restricted airspace, also.
    It is also somewhat apparent that the less than stellar design of the aircraft is somewhat to blame requiring automated systems, subject to failure, to keep it in the air in conjunction with a lacking flight manual covering such failures and how to compensate for them.

  11. An Al Jazeera report from 2014 : https://www.thelastboeinginspector.com/boeing-workers-agree-only-fly-on-boeing-planes-if-you-have-a-death-wish.html
    Shoddy workmanship, the first article cited above refers to a criminally ‘lean’ flight manuel..
    https://www.latribune.fr/entreprises-finance/industrie/aeronautique-defense/boeing-stocke-ses-b-737-max-oui-mais-les-murs-ne-sont-pas-extensibles-810912.html
    (sorry in french.. but basically they say that its the MCAS that’s looking the likely culprit…No mention of spiralling corkscrews and black smoke coming from the back..

    1. Probably nothing….at all.. Just picked up a comment from the RottenChilds from 2011.. https://www.edmond-de-rothschild.com/site/suisse/en/news/economic-outlook/1245-the-counterfeiters

      “The emerging countries in contrast continue to grow rapidly, and their currencies are appreciating. This is helping export industries in Europe and the US, with Japan benefiting less owing to its tsunami-induced slowdown. But rising inflation and initial pressure on China’s banks could start slowing their growth. Moreover developing local industry will not help global sectors that have been protected by their exclusivity. Embraer has already entered the fray in aerospace, and the day of Chinese airliners is not that far away. Boeing, Airbus and their subcontractors can take notice.”

    2. Thanks for that A.J. report, I read it then noticed the video link at the bottom. After reading that I wouldn’t want to fly the 787 and surely not this “Max” pos.

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