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Home / Business / Sensor cited as potential factor in Boeing crashes draws review

Sensor cited as potential factor in Boeing crashes draws review



In 2014, Lufthansa Flight 1829 left Bilbao, Spain, and was rising normally when the aircraft's nose fell unexpectedly. The aircraft – an Airbus A321 with 109 passengers on board – began to fall. The co-pilot tried to raise his nose with his controls. The plane pointed even further. He tried again. Nothing, according to a report by German investigators.

When the Lufthansa plane fell from 31,000 feet, the captain pulled back on the stick as hard as possible. The nose finally answered. But he struggled to keep the plane.

A call to an earthquake determines the plane's attack sensor – which detects if the wings have enough lift to continue flying – must have worked, causing the Airbus anti-Stall software to force the planet's nose down. The pilots turned off the problematic unit and continued the plane. The aviation authorities in Europe and the United States finally ordered replacement of angle-of-attack sensors on many Airbus models.

Today, aviation experts say that the Boeing beam attack sensor will have fresh control after two Boeing 737 Max aircraft crashed, in Ethiopia last week and in Indonesia in October.

Accident researchers have raised concerns about the role of the sensor – a device used on almost all commercial aircraft – in October crash of Lion Air Flight 610. There are concerns that wrong signals may have sent to new software on the aircraft that automatically falls into nose to prevent a stall.

It is not clear whether the angle of the attack sensor had a role in the crash of Ethiopian airlines Flight 302. On Sunday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said his firm had finished updating software updates and pilot training protocols to address issues that have occurred "in response to erroneous sensor inputs." He did not specify which sensors.

Muilenberg's comments followed a statement by Ethiopia's transport secretary earlier Sunday that the aircraft's black boxes showed "clear similarities" between the Indonesian and Ethiopian crashes. Aviation Authorities Worldwide Grounded Boeing 737 Max last week without concern for aircraft safety.

In interviews late last week, aviation experts said that there was no need for a wide alarm on the sensors. However, six experts said that the risk caused by an erroneous attack sensor is enhanced by the increasing role of cockpit automation. It is an example of how the same technology that makes aircraft safer – automated software – can be suppressed by a seemingly small problem.

"The sensor goes out is serious," said Clint Balog, a test pilot and associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "But it can become critical of software."

Today, most commercial pilots know how to respond to a malfunction sensor, said Shem Malmquist, a Boeing 777 captain and a professor at the Florida Institute of Technology.

But potential complications arise with how software interprets what the sensor tells it.

"When you introduce data management, you begin to get interactions that are difficult to predict," Malmquist said.

Angle-of-attack sensors are flagged as problems more than 50 times on US commercial aircraft over the past five years, although no accidents over millions of miles have flown, according to reports from the Federal Aviation Administration's Service Problem Reporting database. It makes it a relatively uncommon problem, the experts said – but also one of magnified importance because of its prominent role in the aircraft software.

"It's remarkable," said David Soucie, a former FAA maintenance security inspector.

The sensor is especially useful for night flying, says Soucie, but the loss alone should not cause problems that pilots fail to handle.

The FAA reports contain 19 reported cases of sensor problems on Boeing aircraft, such as a US airline flight last year which declared an emergency when the aircraft stall warning system went off, despite normal aviation. Boeing 737-800 landed safely. Maintenance personnel replaced three parts, including the angle of the attack sensor, according to the FAA database.

In 2017, a US airline-operated Boeing 767 declared an emergency in Zurich and returned to New York. Another attack sensor was replaced. And an American Airlines 767 was forced to return to Miami in 2014 after an emergency due to an improper attack sensor.

A Boeing spokesman refused to comment on this report. The FAA did not respond to a request for comment.

The angles of attack attack on the lethal Lion Air flight were made by Minnesota-based Rosemount Aerospace, according to a picture of the section shown by Indonesian officials to journalists after wreck recovery. It is a model commonly used on commercial aircraft.

A spokeswoman for Rosemount's parent company, United Technologies, refused to comment.

The angle-of-attack sensor measures how much lift the wings generate. The name refers to the angle between the wing and the coming air. The main purpose is to warn pilots when the aircraft can stop too little lifting, leading to loss of control.

Many of the sensors include a small wing attached to the outside of a commercial aircraft. Most planes have two or three blades as part of a redundant system. But they are not complicated machines. The Wright brothers used a version on their first flight.

Adding too much confidence in the sensors can also cause problems. One of the most serious accidents related to angle-of-attack sensors occurred in 2008, when XL Airways Germany Flight 888T crashed into the Mediterranean, killing seven people. The French authorities accused water-damped attack sensors on the Airbus 320 plane, saying they generated inaccurate readings and set up a chain of events that resulted in a stall.

According to the researchers, the lower plane's sensors were made by Rosemount, the same company that made sensors on the Lion Air crash. At that time, Rosemount was also called Goodrich, the company that owned the aircraft industry at that time.

In the Lion Air crash, pilots fought for control with the 737 Max's automated flight controls – Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. Inaccurate readings from the attack sensors may have led the MCAS to believe the aircraft was in danger of stopping just as it took off from Indonesia, according to the preliminary report from Indonesian investigators. Speeding up diving can prevent a stall.

After the crisis, the FAA issued an Emergency Safety Directive in November for 737 Max 8 and 9 models that warned of an improperly high reading from an angle-of-attack sensor "could cause the flight crew to have trouble controlling the aircraft."

Less is known about Ethiopian Airlines crash. But it means the same type of plane and crashed at a similar point in its flight path as the Lion Air plane, according to the researchers.

Both planes were equipped with MCAS, which uses angle-of-attack sensors to determine whether an aircraft is approaching a stall.

Airbus equips many of its commercial jets with its own anti-stall software that relies on an automated process.

During the Lufthansa aircraft in 2014, misinformation from the attack angle sensors triggered the software, pushing the aircraft's nose down, according to German aviation scientists. The program believed that the plane was approaching a stall. The captain was eventually able to override the automated system, and the pilots, after talking to a maintenance staff, identified the probable problem and continued the flight to Munich.

The investigators later found that two of the attack angle sensors were

The European authorities and the FAA issued air disks directives over several years to deal with airbus sensor problems.

Airbus A320 aircraft with certain sensors made by two companies – United Technologies, the parent company of Rosemount, which makes Boeing sensors; and Sextant / Thomson – "seems to have greater sensitivity to adverse environmental conditions" than sensors made by a third company, the FAA said.

An important difference between the Lufthansa incident and the two 737 Max accidents, said aviation experts, was where they happened.

The Lufthansa plane swung at 31,000 feet when it started into a steep dive. It went down 4000 feet in less than a minute before the pilot knocked back control.

If the sensor problem had hit shortly after departure, when the investigators suspect it did with Lion Air crash, this incident could have ended in disaster. [19659039] was thirdPartyFunctions = []; window.addEventListener ("DOMContentLoaded" function () {});
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