AI News, Ethics and the pursuit of artificial intelligence

Boeing 737 Max: an artificial intelligence event?, by James Thompson - The Unz Review

‘…what I find astonishing is that Boeing engineers specified, designed, tested, and then implemented a system (MCAS) that overrides all other controls and systems, including the pilot’s, but is itself so fault intolerant that in case of malfunction in a single component it would fly the airplane into the ground unless disabled.

Here’s how that works…let’s say the pilot is pulling back on the yoke in order to nose the plane up and hold a particular airspeed [the airspeed of the airplane is mostly a function of the aircraft attitude, or nose-up or nose-down angle in relation to the oncoming airflow]…rather than hold that yoke pressure for an extended time which is tiring and not a good idea, he will just command the electric trim with that thumb button to spin the trim wheels and that tailplane out back will move up or down [by means of a jackscrew in the tailplane nose] until it’s not necessary to deflect the elevator anymore and the pilot can simply let go of the yoke and the airplane will continue flying ‘hands off’

In other words, in a normal, pitch-stable airplane the pilot pulling back on the yoke and nosing the airplane up will require more and more pull force on that yoke, the farther the nose tilts up since the natural stability of the wing is to resist being nosed up ever higher…in a stable airplane, when the pilot has brought the nose up to the very edge of the stall, letting go of the yoke will cause the plane to nose down right away and get out of danger all by itself…ie the airplane doesn’t want to keep nosing up…the force behind this is called the pitching moment, and is inherent in every good wing design…[in fact it is a fortunate coincidence of physics that it is actually quite difficult to design a wing that doesn’t have this ‘self-righting’

So what happens if that stabilizer is commanded into the fully nose down position…?…in very simple terms it means there may not be any way to pull the aircraft nose back up, by simply pulling on the yoke…remember the yoke only controls the relatively small elevator surface in the back portion of th stabilizer…what needs to happen in order to get the nose back up is that the stabilizer must be trimmed back to the nose down position before the yoke can start to pull the nose up…

This is especially true at high speeds…the amount of airflow increases with speed and so does the force on that stabilizer…in fact this force increases exponentially…ie by the square…if the airplane is flying at 400 mph, the force generated by the stabilizer will be FOUR TIMES HIGHER than at 200 mph…at 600 mph it would be nine times higher…[ie 2^2 = 4…and 3^2 = 9]…this is known in aerodynamics as ‘dynamic pressure, and it is basically the force of flowing air against any object…ie putting your hand out the car window…what you feel is dynamic pressure…

This concept is crucial to understand if you want to know what’s going on in an airplane in flight…for instance, let’s say the airplane is flying at just 200 mph and your copilot puts in full nose down trim…that stabilizer out back is now extended to the full airplane nose down position [the stabilizer itself is actually full nose up] and your copilot now asks you to take control of the airplane…you take the yoke and suddenly feel that it takes a lot of effort pulling back on the yoke to keep the airplane from nosediving…this is actually a common way that a flight instructor will introduce a student to the power of the trim wheel…

Now just imagine that instead of a copilot or flight instructor playing games with you with the trim…it is the MCAS computer that is doing this…and now here is where it gets interesting…let’s walk through this scenario…the MCAS noses the plane down, which results in the aircraft immediately picking up speed…you counteract this by commanding trim from the thumb button or by pulling back on the yoke, but before you even get the plane nose back up, the MCAS is again putting the nose down…again the sped builds up…before long you are going much faster than your typical climb speed of 250 knots…

“It makes a difference in your assessment of the hazard involved.” To make matters even worse…[if things could even get any worse]…this Frankenstein system that could effectively size control of the airplane and put it beyond the reach of pilots to recover…was allowed to be made dependent on just one AOA sensor even though the airplane has two such sensors…[I had posted a picture of that sensor with one of my previous comments above…] So those are just some of the astounding details that are emerging now…I have tried to give a little bit of aerodynamic and piloting background here to further the understanding of the layman on some of these points…

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