The Boeing 737 MAX 8 Aircraft: A Flawed Design or Just A Series of Unfortunate Events?

in #steemstem2 years ago (edited)

At the beginning of this week on Sunday 10th March 2019 the world woke up to the sad news of a plane crash by the Ethiopian Airlines which proved fatal with human lives lost put to 157 which was the total number of passengers on board. The passengers cuts across 35 different nationalities with Kenya being the worst hit nation with 32 of her citizens on board.

Image credits: Wikipedia CC-BY-SA-2.0 from Clemens Vasters]

The flight ET 302 a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aeroplane was en route from Addis Ababa Ethiopia to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, a distance of 1,157KM with the flight time of approximately 1hour 38 minutes. But the plane which took off by 8:38 a.m lost contact six minutes after takeoff by 8:44 a.m and in about two hours later the Ethiopian prime minister offered condolence on the mishap via a twitter post by 10:48 a.m Ethiopia's time.

Apart from the high number of casualties, this may not have generated much controversy as this particular fatal crash had if not for two things: there was a similar crash involving a similar new Boeing 737 Max 8 five months ago in Indonesia.

Secondly, both aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff, and there was an issue involving altitude gain loss. The parallel was not lost to the world, and aviation industries in countries like New Zealand, and China have ground all 737 MAX 8 fleet citing safety concerns to be the reason for the action. These cancellations and drop of the particular model had led to billions of dollar loss in share revenue for the aviation giant.

A look at Boeing 737 MAX 8 Aircraft

The 737 MAX series are currently four which are made up of 737 MAX 7, 737 MAX 8, 737 MAX 9 and 737 MAX 10. The MAX is an upgrade of the popular Boeing 737 which took its maiden flight in 1967 and have sold more than 10,500 unit worldwide as of January of this year.

The MAX series is the fourth generation of the Boeing 737 with the program kicked off in the year 2011 and the first flight four years later in January of 2016 and as of 2019 has been an outstanding success with more than 5011 orders flooding in from different airline operators around the world.

There is a reason for this, the 737NG or 737 Next Generation planes which comprise of the third generation 737-600/700/800/900 series which was the design first launched in 1993 is not as powerful and fuel-efficient as the current fourth-generation 737-MAX series. Which means the 737 MAX 8 can travel for more extended range while saving on fuel and leaving less carbon dioxide emission, a decrease which is up to 20% when stacked against the older 737NG.

To achieve this, the 737 MAX makes use of the all-new CFM International LEAP-1B engine which offers more aerodynamic efficiency, also bigger and more powerful than the 737NG engines.

Image credits: Wikipedia CC-BY-2.0 from Clemens Vasters]

The nacelle, the aircraft engine cover, is bigger and more forward placed on the wing on the 737 MAX when compared with this image of the two aircraft put side by side- the 737MAX is the one on the right.

The aeroplane makes a three-dimensional movement when in flight which includes yaw, roll, and pitch. The placement of the nacelle this further forward results in a change in that stability of the aircraft's pitch (roll up or down movement).

Image credits: Wikipedia CC-BY-2.0 from ZeroOne]

With the powerful thrust of the Leap-1B jet engine, on the heavier Boeing 737, Max 8 plane tends to point its nose too sharply upwards which may lead to a stall while in manual flight. To avoid this, an emergency system that can correct the angle by pushing the nose down is automatically engaged to ensure lift is not lost.

MCAS the gift or the curse?

The system that ensures that lift is maintained is known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS for short.

The larger nacelles, called for by the higher bypass LEAP-1B engines, changed this. When flying at normal angles of attack (3° at cruise and say 5° in a turn) the destabilising effect of the larger engines are not felt.

On flights with a normal angle of attack, say 3° at cruise and say 5° in a turn, the destabilising trait of the bigger nacelles necessitated by the high bypass Leap-1B jet engines are inconsequential. The sensors of the angle of attack have the job of informing the MCAS to redirect the nose of the plane downwards to forestall a stall from occurring.

The pilots of the ill-fated Lion Air Flight 610 that crashed in Indonesia last year struggled with MCAS as it continuously pointed the nose downwards until they lost the fight which lead to the crash that killed all 189 aboard.

The data from the so-called black box is consistent with the theory that investigators have been most focused on: that a computerized system Boeing installed on its latest generation of 737 to prevent the plane’s nose from getting too high and causing a stall instead forced the nose down because of incorrect information it was receiving from sensors on the fuselage.
“The pilots fought continuously until the end of the flight,” said Capt. Nurcahyo Utomo, the head of the air accident subcommittee of the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee, which is leading the investigation. The New York Times: In Indonesia Lion Air Crash, Black Box Data Reveal Pilots’ Struggle to Regain Control

After that disaster, Boeing issued a bulletin which reinforces their earlier statement that there is a manual override for the MCAS.

A day after this present crash, on March 11, 2019, Boeing once again posted a bulletin, this time around it is talking about an upgrade to the software of the MCAS. For details of this bulletin, please click here.

While there still on an ongoing investigation, no one can categorically state if the current air mishap has anything to do with the MCAS or even software-related, we await more information from the aviation disaster investigating teams who are working to unravel the cause of the fatal air crash.

My condolences to the family and friends that lost their dear ones in this great tragedy.



the crashes were very sad incidents. hopefully, proper investigations are done and this is corrected.

The Boeing company are under a microscope, with the world watching their every move. This time around, they'd be under greater pressure to get to the root of this crash.

Great post on a very current issue. This is one of the most detailed reviews I’ve seen on the aircraft and does a great job of just stating the facts and staying away from rhetoric, flashy headlines, or politics.

I'm not really a good politician hence why I just stick with the facts :)

Hey Green,

you are still around. Long time we haven't heard from each other.

As I am not a reader of technical details I just want to send some wishes to the remaining family members and friends who may have good support and strength to cope with the death of their loved ones.

May they be well and may they receive what is appropriate to this situation.

Sincere greetings from Erika:)

P.S. I came to think of you after I saw your vote today.

Thanks for the lovely wish. We hope there won't be a repeat of such bad news. Thank you for coming around :)

Hi @greenrun :)

It's been a while, trust you are doing good sir?
Went through your article, and i would say, you are one of finest writers in the world.

I say this because, your article on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 Aircraft, which recorded an accident and lost of lives is no doubt a masterpiece.

How you put this up within a short period of time is just incredible. But i would like to say this: Anomalies often happen, and i belief the plane crash was a result of an anomaly. I believe the world has also recorded different plane crash in different part of the world. If Boeing has been in existance since 1967 til 2019 then it must be a good company. So for me it may not really be from the design as we are meant to understand but just an anomaly.


Hi there, thank you for the kind compliments. It's been a while we last saw your contribution on the stem tag. I hope you are good. I, for one, would like to think it's an anomaly too. The crash team investigators will soon get to the root cause of the failure. Now we can only keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. Keep steeming :)

This is such a detailed post - I have to fly with this make of aeroplane in August, but now they have grounded it so we will see what happens. Hope all is well and I feel so sorry for the families of the people that were on the flights

All is well my end, though the same cannot be said of the families of two of my country men and the 155 orders that did not make it home. It's really great that Boeing support the band of the now controversial MAX series untill the investigation reveals a way forward. Here's wishing you a safe trip in August.

Thank you. Shame yes it is very sad

Thanks for this detailed review. I have looked or some in the local newpapers, but never managed to find one. Luckily, I will fly a 767 in a few hours :)

With Boeing personally grounding the entire fleet of the 737 MAX aircraft, I don't think any airline will operate one at the moment. Here's wishing you a safe trip.

I have heard they has released a patch :)

Well, they've got to have a way to instill the confidence back on both pilots and passengers. That, sure, is going to be a very uphill task as I'm sure most people won't be in a hurry to board a Boeing MAX plane any time soon.

At least, I am not!

Not a bad one.

Just within six minutes of takeoff, fatal crash occurred. Maybe the plane was actually unfit for route the air

Take offs and landings are the most critical part of flying. Most things that will go wrong is most likely to go wrong at either of the two events. Investigation is in progress, we will soon know what happened

even a smallest of the mistake can be brutal in this

In a machine with a million parts, the simplest oversight or mistake could prove fatal.

I sincerely do hope a solution is found to all this mishappen. Watching a clip of the accident and thinking about the lives lost, is making me fearful of travelling out by air

I hope so too so that they'd be no need for another loss of this proportion.

Something must be wrong with this generation of Boeing. But let's await the outcome of the investigation.

Kai! This is one loss too many.

RIP to the dead

Too early to tell, let's patiently wait further findings before reaching a conclusion.

Don't they do test flights before putting the planes in the market?

There was no rush job here, they did every test possible. It may just be that there was something the pilot was either not aware of or missed or bug in the software. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. We can only wait till the investigations are over.

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the crashes were both very sad incidents. hopefully, proper investigation is done and this is corrected

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