The airplane that fell to earth.

The original Boeing 737 narrow-bodied airliner was introduced in 1968 and was a short to medium range two-engine jet aircraft favoured by regional airlines. More than 10,000 737s were built by Boeing over the years as the company took it through various upgrades, including the 737 Classic, the 737 Next Generation and finally the 737 Max that could hop oceans and continents. In its final versions, it was a US$100 million plus aircraft.

By early 2019 almost 400 of the 737 Max aircraft had been delivered by Boeing and today, they are all grounded. They might never fly again.

Experienced commercial pilots are often delighted to express an opinion about the air worthiness of the aircraft. It has been test flown by experts without a problem. There are those who think it should be put back in service and there are also those who think it should be sent to the scrap heap. The arguments continue.

The facts are that there are basic design flaws that were accentuated over the years by the conflicting desires to improve the aerodynamics and reduce fuel consumption while adding distance and space for more revenue-paying passengers.

What is even more serious is the fact that many of the numerous computerized systems on the aircraft are using forty to fifty-year old software programs. Why update something that works, is the usual rationale. There are always new software modules to write with every version and ‘fix’ of an aircraft.

But there has been little changed in how we design and write software after all these years. Strangely enough there has been little concern for the advancement of software design. Other than questions being asked periodically during Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) meetings and discussions, and left unanswered. Software seems to be the forgotten science.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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