Origins of the 737 Max Engineering Disaster
This is Part 1 of an in-depth investigative report by Aviation Reporter and Author of aviation books Thomas E. Gardner. The report reveals shocking facts about the Boeing 737 Max-8. Mr. Gardner is revealing his analysis of the anatomy of the 737 Max engineering disaster and its design deception.
The 737 Max accidents
On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610, bearing the registration PK-LQP, crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after take-off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Jakarta Indonesia.
The plane was bound on a domestic flight to Depati Amir Airport, Pangkal Pinang, Indonesia. Everyone on board perished.
Five months later, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, registered ET-AVFJ, crashed six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa Ethiopia. on a routine flight to Nairobi Kenya also killing all souls on board.
Both disasters involved Boeing’s latest tweaking of the 737 models: the Max 8 single-aisle, narrow-body, twin-engine airliner.
Flight investigators concluded that both incidents occurred during the critical phase of take-off. The nose of both aircraft pitched downward as dictated by the malfunctioning M.C.A.S. Flight Control System devised by Boeing.
So how could this happen so quickly—especially within the short span of five months?
Origins of the 737 Max-8 engineering disaster
Nine years ago, the Boeing Company found itself in a rather inconvenient position regarding the Airbus threat to its bottom line.
Boeing 737-NG versus Airbus A320
The Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737-NG family fiercely fought for dominance of the single-aisle, twin-engine domestic international and American travel market.
Any significant changes in technology, namely in more powerful turbofan engines, could give either aircraft design a decisive edge in competition.
Airbus controlled roughly 28% while Boeing entertained a slight market advantage of 38%.
Engine differences between the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737-800 NG
Airbus was able to utilize the new geared turbofan engine GFM International Leap 1 and Pratt & Whitney PW 1000 G. That gave birth to the Airbus A320 NEO (New Engine Option).
These new Airbus-mounted engines were larger in diameter increasing the engines’ bypass ratio and fuel efficiency by 15 -20%. This translated into longer range and payload capacity further increasing the airlines’ financial coffers and market share significantly.
The A320 has a higher ground clearance to that of the 737 NG-800. This facilitated an easy engine change utilizing the GFM Leap 1 geared turbofan.
Figure 1 illustrates this comparison and will establish a greater understanding of the impending 737 engineering design disaster to come.
It is clear from Figure 1 that the Boeing 737-800 NG has a lower ground clearance than its chief competitor the Airbus A320.
The lower ground clearance of the 737 renders it impossible to facilitate a simple engine change involving both the new GFM Leap 1 and Pratt & Whitney PW 1000 geared turbofans.
This situation precipitated a host of negative cascading events resulting from poor engineering design changes implemented to the existing 737-800 NG airframe. This was done in order to use the new turbofan engines.
What’s wrong with The 737 Max?
This huge 737 Max engineering blunder was due to the lack of irresponsible, engineering foresight originating from the top-down corporate leadership.
Adding insult to injury they believed it could still be done especially to an aging 52-year-old airframe design.
The singular most dominant reason behind this engineering fiasco would reside in the economics driving the bottom line of the major airline carriers.
The 737: a 52-year-old-design
The 737 Max is the next iteration of Boeing’s original 52-year-old design. It is essentially a re-tooled, re-engined and re-designed 737 in order to utilize both GFM Leap 1 and Pratt & Whitney PW 1000G geared turbofan engines.
The reasoning behind the constant revamping of this, rather dated airframe, rests in the economics regarding aircraft operation in the airline industry. This also involves Boeing’s fiercest’s rival Airbus as well as maintaining its market dominance.
Clean sheeting the dated 737 or not
As far back as 2006 Boeing was considering to “clean sheet” the dated 737 design resulting in a new updated high-tech version in line with the Airbus A320.
For reasons unknown at that time, clean sheeting didn’t happen. The can was kicked down the runway. Only when Airbus introduced its A320 (N.E.O.) did Boeing seriously consider this former course of action again.
The most pronounced reasoning for this indecisiveness rests in the costs associated with the operation and maintenance of these aircraft.
In Part 2 of the series about the 737 Max-8 engineering disaster we will reveal the major economic drivers that were involved in the disastrous decision to develop the 737 Max.
2. Fear of Landing – What is Going on with the Boeing 77 Max-8. Fearoflanding.com.
3. Boeing 737 Max – Wikipedia.
4. The Economics that Made Boeing Build the 737 Max Video and Transcripts. Made available by WIX.
Featured Image: Ethiopian Airlines ET 302 737 Max-8 wreckage at Bishoftu, Ethiopia. Photo: EPA.
Story: ©2020 Thomas E. Gardner. Renowned Aviation Journalist & Author Thomas E. Gardner has spent months on his investigative report. The author has based his story on facts that he has learned in regard to the 737 Max-8 engineering disaster during his in-depth investigation process of the article.
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