The Human Factor

Horrible news today out of Ethiopia, with the loss of a second Boeing 737 MAX 8 resulting in the deaths of all aboard. I’m grateful to learn that the recorders have been recovered, though one was severely damaged. Hopeful Boeing and the authorities can piece things together quickly.

Reading the initial reporting on today’s incident, this amateur plane nerd’s first reaction was a single word: Prius.

Remember when shortly after the Prius hit the mainstream there was a series of unfortunate events involving vehicles and their occupants sailing through hedge bushes and shopping mall storefronts? Toyota did eventually issue software updates to help prevent crashes, but over time the platform also became familiar to the public. Now, we see more and more models with push button starts and unconventional shift levers and transmissions.

This is the Prius, at scale. Boeing is already working with the FAA to deploy software updates to improve safety, and I’m sure they will help prevent future events. But training and familiarity with an aircraft and, now more than ever, it’s software, will always win the day. Like when you hit birds and determine your best bet is to go for a swim.

Further Reading

That Corned Beef Sandwich Steals the Spotlight, Again

John Young died January 5 at the age of 87. He was NASA’s longest-serving active astronaut, having flown two missions each for the Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs. He commanded the maiden Shuttle flight, taking the Columbia out for a spin with Bob Crippen. He was also one of only three people in human history who returned to the moon for a second visit.

But despite his storied career and extensive experience as a master spaceman, his accomplishments have always seemed overshadowed by an incident onboard Gemini 3. Continue reading “That Corned Beef Sandwich Steals the Spotlight, Again”