> In the end somebody decided that money mattered more than safety -- probably not deliberately
> but this is the kind of sloppy "it'll probably be just fine" thinking which sooner or later kills people.
Indeed. Companies need to learn how to say NO. When someone came up with the idea of putting ever bigger engines on the thing and it's no longer stable, the idea should have been buried, not sustained with "hey johnny is systems can write us up a software solution". NO god-damn NO! And in it's soul-less pursuit of sales and profits the aircraft co. decided to do something stupid the regulator should have jumped all over them and stopped it dead in its tracks.
From https://www.pprune.org/tech-log/615709-737max-stab-trim-architecture-2.html I really like the bit about " And then we had STS, which trimmed the stabilizer without pilot input. Huh???? ... But rational was to tell the pilot ( I use pilot to assert whoever was in charge of moving controls), he needed to trim for the new speed/AoA."
This is meddling on the part of the software by do-gooders. By interfering in the natural operation of the aircraft the pilot has now mentally checked-out. Any pilot paying attention would feel and recognize right quick he need to re-trim without being "helped", just like it had been for decades prior. If not, then by god he's not fit to sit in that seat! Then they layered on yet another nanny function because Boeing in this case made a DELIBERATE choice to say 'Yes' to some retard at the airline or in marketing. The customer, as a rule does NOT know what they are talking about and I'll bet airline execs don't have a clue or care about physics, they just want to cram more seats into the same space and have it fly farther and faster or negligible fuel. At some point an adult needs to stand up and say, "No, we're not doing that, this 50 year old design can not be modified further." The bane of modern technology is that the software programmers always pipe up with "we can write some code to 'fix' that". And as we've found out they did a typical CRAP job of it and didn't bother to follow the RULES that had long since been established.
Revised engine nacelle and blade design for better thrust and fuel efficiency is again, fine. Decreasing drag with those winglets - brilliant. Upsizing, rotating and shaping the engine so the plane is no longer stable - STOP right there and do not execute! Or go hire yourself out to Lockheed and work on fighter jets.
We do NOT need to fly at the ragged edge of performance. We do NOT need to carry ever more ridiculous numbers of helpless/hapless souls at one time. We do NOT need razor-edge efficiency in lift or engine performance that *require* ever more complex software solutions to try to bash it back into some flyable shape. We do not need more fancy software to make up for ever less skilled and mentally not-engaged pilots to pretend they know what they're doing. Progress does NOT have an infinite endpoint. Every activity has a cost and human beings are LIMITED. Apparently modern man has decided that all costs can be papered over and with ever increasing amounts of software.
Same shit in motorcycles - not to jack the thread. First it was ECU and FI. Ok, reasonable and simple improvements that didn't overwhelm the meat or fundamentally change the relationship between rider and machine. Now we have cornering ABS, corner-by-corner brake and throttle maps, launch control, and gd fly-by-wire etc. All of it completely pointless and unnecessary to the task at hand - riding the damn thing from point A to B. You now have world-class racers, the best in the world who can literally get away with being as clumsy as a 2-bit street hack; pinning it and not getting their ass thrown over the moon. Worse, you have said street hacks with but 5% of the talent and skill riding machines that without electronic nannies would have found themselves quickly in the ER or morgue. "electronics this, electronics that" you hear incessantly in interviews. NO, god damn it! If you can't *directly* control the hydraulics of your brakes and regulate the engine with the throttle (again with no electronic, "here I'm detecting some slip, I'll take over") then the whole thing is a farce. We want to see skilled individuals doing their craft, not who has the best software developer and smartest algorithm and sensors all but riding the bike for him.
Back to planes - "here, hold my heading and altitude for a couple minutes while I root around in my flight bag for the PB&J and a cup of coffee, so long as sensors appear nominal, otherwise warn me and let go" is/was a proper and acceptable degree of improvement. Though properly this should be and has been solved for decades via "yo, co-pilot, you have the stick". When someone else is doing the flying (eg. the computer) the natural tendency is for the human brain to check out.
How many millions of hours were logged by mere teenagers in WW2 and wars since in transport planes, flying on partial panel, in lousy weather and getting shot at? Yeah, yeah the big bomber losses were atrocious but it wasn't because the pilot didn't know how to fly or the damn computer was second guessing them based on a shot-out sensors.
Chasing unreasonable efficiency and lower costs is now taking lives and as the chorus for "more AI because it's better than people" is only going to make the failures bigger and costlier and more importantly the pilots increasingly helpless to diagnose and recover within the limited (by physics) window of opportunity. If you're going to have a pilot in command then the plane must fundamentally comport with human limitations, not spew thousands of messages and alerts at him to the point that their ability to cope is overwhelmed - the damn programmers again (I don't mean just the guy writing the code, but the whole foodchain). The computer must by definition be no more than an advisor or really dumb help. Otherwise toss the pilot out on his ass and have the computer run the entire show.
If the introduction of computers are making a significant improvement in safety, then the conclusion is some combination of:
1) the damn things are too complicated for humans to fly which by definition means the trajectory of design is WRONG.
2) the skill level of the pilots it highly uneven and probably insufficient
The answer isn't more computer, it's smaller, properly designed planes, fewer, simpler planes and more expensive seats. That or just go to drones and be done with it. If PiC screwup kills only 150 people at a time that's better than killing 800 because the gd computer was interfering and worse could NOT be removed or sufficiently sidelined because the airplane requires the computer to even fly at all, and some programmer decided the software (and it's suppodedly non-dodgy failure detection logic) knew better than the supposedly trained people with hands on the yoke.