Medical Tuesday Blog
Auto Pilots on Planes, Trains, and Cars
Dr. Rosen: We now have another Boeing 737 that nosedived in Ethiopia killing all aboard. What are the real issues? What do we learn or can we learn from these disasters?
Dr. Edwards: One thing that is obvious, the pilots were not aware of how to override the computer control of the aircraft. One of the reasons for the dive is the design of the plane. The original designs on the drafting table were altered apparently without appropriate flight testing.
Dr. Milton: It appears the design changes, including re-positioning of the wings and adding more powerful engines because of increased size, were all theoretical and wound up disturbing the balance of the aircraft. This is extremely important for maintaining the massive tonnage floating, or shall we say “barreling” through the air.
Dr. Ruth: The software corrections that are being made by Boeing do appear to over-ride the redesign issues. But I still worry about the disconnect between the pilots and the computer demands. I don’t think the pilots should ever depend completely on a computer software program. I sometimes have difficulty overriding my own computer’s direction.
Dr. Michelle: There was a reference that this is important in other computer control applications. It seems the same problems could occur in the new push for self-driving cars.
Dr. Yancy: Self driving cars won’t find favor with most motorists. Everyone I know is crazy about the cars they drive. They show off their wealth with their cars. They brag about power and performance. There was one story and picture in a recent issue of the Journal that showed the entire inside of the garage had been turned into a display gallery so everyone driving by could see his car trophy. To display a “self-driving” car is an oxymoron.
Dr. Sam: Can you imagine this 737 aircraft careening into the ocean or into mother earth and the pilots can’t change the course? What the passengers must have felt and thought as they careened to their explosive deaths in a matter of seconds?
Dr. Dave: Wow! Sitting in the back seat of a driver-less car as it careens off the freeway over a cliff, goes into the rocks and reefs below would be similar? Talk about being helpless and hopeless. What a horrible way to die!
Dr. Kaleb: When I see all those safety devices on new cars, that’s the direction we should be headed. Now the driver gets warnings if he crosses a lane, or if he gets too close to the next car, and if he doesn’t slow down, the computer can even activate the braking system.
Dr. Joseph: Ret When my I-phone rings while I’m driving, it holds the call and asks me if I’m still driving? That would suggest that the safety devices on new cars could would also freeze your phone calls or even wake you up should you doze off. Now that’s really important for people our age or for anyone with hypersomnolence.
Dr. Rosen: Boeing has stated that they are making program changes in their software to avoid these issues and are able to upgrade each 737-MAX in a one-hour program installation. That should relieve most of our anxieties, I believe, unless other issues are discovered in the process. I think it would be wise if Boeing did some further flight testing concerning their new programs.
I had a patient who was a B-52 pilot and felt he was near heaven at 55,000 feet elevation (10 miles high!). His wife was a 747 pilot. She was working for Delta which at that time only had Boeing aircraft because she said with “Boeing you always keep going.”
Dr. Edwards: Too bad that Boeing decided to merge and lose that distinction. I hope these new problems can be resolved expeditiously.
Dr. Milton: My bad experiences were with flights on a McDonnell Douglas MD80. One of them required mechanical repairs and after a number of hours on the tarmac required a change of planes. I was then unaware of the 11 crashes the MD80 had which is considerably worse than the two 737 MAX crashes.
Dr. Ruth: You guys are making me rethink “high speed rail” transportation.
Dr. Michelle: That certainly would help us re-engage with nature, the scenic country-side or work at leisure on our wireless laptops.
Dr. Ruth: And our children entertaining themselves on their I-Pads and I-Phones.
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