Line Pilots invited to test MCAS in simulators
Addresses Pilots’ concerns about Max 8 Introduction without adequate description of software
IRONY: Boeing test pilots alleged to not have known
Federal Aviation Administration safety officials are seeking pilots from airlines around the world to test modifications to the flight-control software on the grounded Boeing 737 Max jet, according to two people briefed on the situation.
The FAA is asking that some of the pilots have relatively little experience on the Boeing 737, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the testing plan hasn’t been announced.
Testing will happen in flight simulators — not on actual Max jets, which remain grounded — and is designed to determine how pilots handle the software. Exact timing and details about the testing are unclear, but it will be done before the FAA recertifies the plane, according to one of the people.
Boeing declined to comment.
Boeing is rewriting the Max’s flight-control software after faulty sensor readings caused automated systems to push down the noses of planes that crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing 346 people.
The changes will make automated nose-down movements less powerful and easier for pilots to overcome. The flight-control software, called MCAS, will also rely on two sensors instead of one. Boeing is also working to fix a separate problem that FAA test pilots discovered in June and that could also push the plane into a dive.
Nearly 400 Max jets that were being flown by airlines around the world have been grounded since March, shortly after the second crash. Boeing hopes to submit all changes to the FAA in September and get the plane approved to fly in November.
In a statement, the FAA said it had not specified the number of required hours of flight experience, but said the candidates would be a cross-section of line pilots and must have experience at the controls of the MAX.
Given the previous comments that the MCAS posed problems for some pilots, but not all, and Boeing’s inadequate information to the line pilots of the inner workings of this new “black box”, it makes immense “small p” political and analytical sense to bring in pilots into B-737 Max 8 simulators to see if they are able to master the MCAS and the controls.
There is, however, a bit of irony in inviting pilots, other than the Boeing test pilots, to provide an additional assessment of the MCAS, given the below report from Plane&Pilot
We’ll get right to it. The latest revelation is that Boeing’s own test pilots on the 737 Max program did not know the details of how MCAS worked. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Boeing program leadership chose not to involve the test pilots in the final stages of flight test certification, thereby cutting those pilots out of the details behind the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), an automated stability system that has been implicated in two deadly crashes in the past six months that killed a total of 346 people. The planes have been grounded since the middle of March.
The report is problematic though. Just how the test pilots would have been cut out of a process in which they play a central role is baffling. But if the pilots were knowingly kept in the dark about changes to MCAS and the resultant risk the changes introduced, those actions would surely interest multiple teams of investigators already looking into the certification process and the FAA’s role in it.
The most disturbing part of the report, if true, is that the pilots said that while flight testing the 737 Max they were unaware of how aggressively the system could trim the plane nose down in the event of an angle of attack instrument failure.
One assumes that the Boeing test pilots have run the MCAS through all of the relevant scenarios and cleared the system from their expert positions. Bringing in line pilots is an important step in the process to return the Boeing 737 Max 8 back to service, particularly the Rank and File cockpit professionals who were infuriated by the absence of any MCAS explanations in the aircraft manual.
It is a bit ironic that the final tests include both the Boeing test pilots and those who will be flying the plane in regularly scheduled flights.
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