Medical Tuesday Blog

With Boeing you keep going, unless you are computer driven

Mar 2

Written by: Del Meyer
03/02/2019 5:40 AM 

  • This has been a very eventful March. We’ve had two 737-MAX Aircraft that have plunged to their death on land and on sea with the pilots feeling helpless as they took the entire plane load of passengers to their death. However, one of the 737-MAX was starting to make a downward correction the previous day and a pilot riding in the cockpit was able to disconnect the over-correcting program and all went well. This brings up the issue as to why the pilot the next day on the same aircraft didn’t understand the computer over-correcting for a stall since the larger engines on this aircraft modification tends to climb which if too marked can cause the aircraft to stall. It would plunged to land or sea on its belly instead of its nose.
  • It was of concern that one expert suggested we eliminate the pilot and make all aircraft like drones. This, it seems to me to be counter-intuitive in view of the same aircraft on the previous day made this same error but an extra pilot who happened to be in the cockpit made the correction. Didn’t this save hundreds of lives the previous day? I personally would not board a plane without a pilot in the cockpit as I passed down the aisle searching for a seat.


The wife of a retired B-52 pilot was a pilot for the Boeing 747 twin aisle aircraft on long intercontinental trips. She always bragged that “with Boeing you always keep Going.” Mather AFB had a Bomb wing and we saw all the B-52s lined up on runway as we went to work at the Mather Hospital. Those were the days when the United States had a General in the air at all times as a safety measure in case of an attack. I was fortunate to go on a 14-hour training flight of a B-52. (Please my report in Sacramento Medicine.)

I also flew on a Boeing 707 from California to the UK over the North Pole while stationed near Sacramento. It had been converted to a weather plane with sensors on the walls since it had to fly at 10,000 feet (2 miles) for its mission instead of the usual 7-mile high atmosphere for which it was designed.

Boeing also designed and built the bombers which were the work horses during World War II. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber which was flown primarily by the United States during World War II and the Korean War. It was one of the largest aircraft operational during World War II and featured state-of-the-art technology. Including design and production, at over $3 billion it was the most expensive weapons project in the war, exceeding the $1.9 billion cost of the Manhattan Project. Innovations introduced included a pressurized cabin, dual-wheeled, tricycle landing gear, and an analog computer-controlled fire-control system directing four remote machine gun turrets that could be operated by one gunner and a fire-control officer. A manned tail gun installation was semi-remote. The name “Superfortress” continued the pattern Boeing started with its well-known predecessor, the B-17 Flying Fortress. Designed for the high-altitude strategic bombing, the B-29 also excelled in low-altitude night incendiary bombing. One of the B-29’s final roles during World War II was carrying out the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Because of the B-29’s advanced design, unlike other wartime bombers, the Superfortress remained in service long after the war ended, with a few even being employed as flying television transmitters for the Stratovision company. The B-29 served in various roles throughout the 1950s. The Royal Air Force flew the B-29 as the Washington until 1954. The Soviet Union produced an unlicensed reverse-engineered copy as the Tupolev Tu-4. The B-29 was the progenitor of a series of Boeing-built bombers, transports, tankers, reconnaissance aircraft and trainers including the B-50 Superfortress (the first aircraft to fly around the world non-stop in 94 hours in 1949) which was a re-engined B-29. The type was retired in the early 1960s, after 3,970 had been built. Dozens of B-29s remain as static displays but only two examples have been restored to flying status.

The Smithsonian gave a tribute on the 50th anniversary of the first Boeing 747 when it rolled from the Hanger in Everett, Washington, the onlookers were stunned. The aircraft was more than double the size and weight of any existing jetliner to which it owed its instant fame. It was the first jetliner with two aisles—two floors, having gone from the back-of-a-napkin drawing to a fully functional aircraft in just over two years, an astonishing achievement.

It was only a decade earlier that the Boeing 707 had ushered in the Jet Age. With 4 thirsty jet engines with fewer than 200 passengers, the fares were beyond the reach of most vacationers. The Boeing 747 introduced economies of scale that, for the first time, allowed millions of people to travel nonstop over great distances. It changed global travel forever. And it did it with a style and panache that is seldom see in aircraft design. The “Father of the 747,” Boeing engineer Joe Sutter and his team built an airplane that wasn’t just colossal, but also downright beautiful. Architects called it a horizontal skyscraper. From the Bubble top to 200 feet behind, the jet’s six-story tail evoked a snippet of palindromic poetry according to Pilot Patrick Smith, the author of the Smithsonian article: the Past is Prologue.

With sales down, Boeing is retiring the 747 after building two more for Air Force one. They will be flying as freights crossing oceans for years to come.

With diligent investigation, computer updates, and further simulated testing by the pilots, Boeing will have learned its lesson in trying to short circuit aircraft design. We are sure that the Boing 737 MAX will fly again before the Chinese enter this race of air travel trying to be first in safe flights: confirming that with Boeing you always will keep going, because there won’t be a third mistake or a third chance for being first in either war or peace.

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