As U.S. government test pilots ran through dozens of flight scenarios on the Boeing 737 Max in recent weeks, a potential failure got their attention. The plane’s flight computer tried to push the aircraft’s nose down repeatedly during a simulator run, prompted by a stream of erroneous flight data. The Federal Aviation Administration pilot concluded commercial pilots might not have time to react and avoid a tragedy in a real plane.
That flaw — the latest discovered on the family of jets involved in two fatal crashes since October triggered by a different failure that pushed their noses down — was revealed by FAA last month. It threw new uncertainty on the return to flight of the Chicago-based company’s best-selling model and sent its engineers scrambling for a fix.
Interviews with people familiar with the failure suggest it triggered multiple, aggressive movements to lower the plane’s nose, which alarmed the FAA pilots and other officials. However, the nose-down motion didn’t occur as a result of a computer hardware fault, according to one of the people, who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the matter.
That would add credibility to Boeing’s assertions that it can fix the issue with a relatively simple software change.
“We are confident that is a software update, not a hardware update,” Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg said during an earnings call on Wednesday. “It’s an understood update and we’re in the middle of working our way through that.”
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