What Are the Discrepancies in the Reunion Flaperon? — UPDATED

According to the New York Times, shortly after the discovery of the 777 flaperon on Reunion Island, Boeing and the NTSB found discrepancies between the part and details recorded in Malaysia Airlines’ maintenance data. This claim was reinforced by an article published by Le Monde on Wednesday, which reported that “maintenance work that Malaysia Airlines has indicated it carried out on the flaperon does not exactly match that observed on the discovered piece.”

I’m somewhat puzzled by this language. What does it mean to “not exactly match”? Airplane parts are engineered pretty precisely, if a part should have eight holes and it has nine, it doesn’t just “not match exactly,” it doesn’t match.

At any rate, it seems to me that just by looking at photographs available on line we can discern some oddities about the Reunion flaperon that have perhaps given investigators pause.

UPDATED: Well, that didn’t take long. Readers @GuardedDon and @Beinahu wrote in and told me that I was mistaken: “the widget” that I write about after the jump most likely does not represent a basic difference between the Reunion flaperon and the reconditioned 777-200ER one. Rather, the two black rectangles visible on the reconditioned flaperon are holes to which a bracket fitting is attached in both the Reunion and India Airlines flaperon. Someone told me weeks ago that the two black rectangles were “rub plates” and I’d assumed that ever since. So there’s one idea I can throw out the window.

UPDATE #2: On 9/3/2015, Nicola Clark of the International New York Times (@_NicolaClark) tweeted to me the following explanation of the discrepancies that the paper reported: “Sources told us wing part showed evidence of expected modifications (reinforcement plate) to the flaperon but the number and placement of screw holes did not precisely match what would have normally been expected.” Given that the identity of the flaperon has since been confirmed, this would seem to imply non-standard maintenance practices or record-keeping by Malaysian Airlines.

Anyway, I’m leaving up the rest of the post after the jump, so people can see what I’m admitting to being wrong about.

You’ll recall that I posted this image yesterday:

inboard end MARKED UP

Here I’ve marked it with arrows to denote a particularly interesting feature I’ll call “the widget.” Now compare that picture with this one, which was posted on Airliners.net by a user who calls himself Txspotter. (Note: Txspotter posted a picture of a left-hand flaperon, so here I’ve cropped and flipped it around so that it is easier to visually compare with the right-hand flaperon found on Reunion.)

New flaperon reversed and cropped

Txspotter writes,

I work for an aftermarket parts supplier who tears down all aircraft including B777’s. I happen to work on the B777 product line. Here are some pictures of a B777-200ER left hand Flaperon. This unit has been repaired. It is from a similar production line number as MH370.

That is to say, it is from a 777-200ER. And as I think is pretty evident, “the widget” does not appear on this part. Perhaps it’s a feature of some 777-200ER flaperons, but not others? Or perhaps it’s a feature of some 777 models but not others?

Below is a photo of an India Airlines 777-300ER flaperon that it posted online as it was tendering bids to have the part repaired. (This time I’ve rotated and cropped it.)

India airlines flaperon crop

It might be a little hard to see because the image is taken from the underside of the piece, but it’s pretty clear that something like the widget is attached here. Perhaps this is something that Boeing omitted from the 777-200ER, but included in the later 777-300ER? For a better look at this image, the original pdf is available here. A supporting document is here.


46 thoughts on “What Are the Discrepancies in the Reunion Flaperon? — UPDATED”

  1. Maybe the widget is only on the inboard side? We’ve already seen from the mounting bracket that the IB and OB sides of the Flaperon are not just mirror images.

  2. I don’t work on airplanes. The middle picture has NONE of the control bracket. The bottom has the FULL control bracket. The top picture has TWO PARTS of the control bracket and barnacles.

  3. @jeffwise: This looks like the flaperon for VT-ALK. Do we know what caused the punctures in the lower skin? Is this kind of puncture damage common? Similar damage is found on the skin of the recovered flaperon.

  4. It doesn’t have to be discrepancies. In this picture you can see the flaperon of MH17 (777-200ER) in storage after the crash:
    If you zoom in you can see an ‘extra part’ is attached to the flaperon. Maybe the widget is part of the construction to attach the extra part to the flaperon. In that case the first picture shows the flaperon bare and the second picture shows the flaperon with (part of) the attachment construction.

  5. To clarify: There obviously are discrepancies between the found flaperon and the maintenance data, I was just saying that the flaperon pictures in Jeff’s article don’t have to be that different. Sorry if I wasn’t being clear 🙂

  6. @VictorI, @Jeffwise: I wonder if the puncture damage is due to some kind of machine grip pulling/torquing away the flaperon from the wing.

  7. Jeff, I think the differences are simply because the MH270 flaperon has only the remnants of a bracket attached. The Air India pic shows the full bracket and the refurbished flaperon does not have the bracket fitted (yet).

    Lisa N. It is not a Flaperon in pic of MH17 parts that you see. The flaperon has a much greater chord, and has different attachment and hinge brackets. It is also the wrong shape for a right hand flaperon.

  8. It all matches. The ‘widget’ is the vertical hanger structure for attaching the inboard fairing/cowling. The Air India shows the hangar installed with the 2×2 bolts. The new flaperon only shows the two dark rectangle holes where the 2 x 2 bolting occurs prior to installation. The Reunion shown the hanger broken off with 2 x 2 bolts remaining.

  9. The installed flaperon comprises a curtain/fairing attached to both the aft bracket & the hinge bracket.

    It’s evident in videos of the flaperon while deflecting, normally, while in flight.

    A higher rez image of the rotable part would be helpful to show the fixing points for the aft bracket.

  10. Lisa & Fritz-Flyer,

    Coincidentally, I encountered a debate over Joost Niemoller’s image of the 9M-MRD parts laid out in the hanger at Gilze-Rijen airbase.

    Niemoller’s image shows (part of) the outboard flap, not the flaperon. There are at least 4 additional images recording the same scene, from different angles, in which the part’s chord, width and underside cowl are clearer. Also, the flaperon’s outboard clevis-lug attachment is recessed into the leading edge whereas the part on the hangar floor shows the attachment parts fixed on the leading edge/outboard rib ‘corner’.


  11. @Don, thanks I didn’t know. It sure looks like it.

    I wonder if the flaperons of MH17 are found, would be interesting as a comparison. The lodge is accessible for NOK and I know people who are going to see it (I live in the Netherlands) but I’m not going to ask since they obviously have other things on their mind.. I haven’t seen other MH17 flaperon pictures, have you?

  12. Cheer, Jeff. Copied the mobile search address instead of the direct link. CNN did two segments that day, one earlier in the afternoon, and then redid it for Don Lemon with more clarification on the plate.

  13. Lisa N

    I have viewed many of the image collections recording 9M-MRD’s debris across the lands of eastern Ukraine. I haven’t seen anything readily identifiable as a flaperon.


  14. @Ron, I forgot to credit @MuOne for his earlier contribution to the topic. I don’t think, however, that his proposed discrepancy holds up, either. (He sees six bolts just aft of the “gray rectangle” on the inboard side of the airliners.net flaperon, and five in the same spot on the Reunion flaperon.) I think that the upper skin of the flaperon has folded down to obscure the topmost of the six bolts. Here’s a good high-resolution photo from the Wall Street Journal that you can zoom in on quite a bit to see what I mean: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-JR291_DEBRIS_H_20150802231637.jpg

  15. @all

    We are probably not going to get much from the French until their experts return from vacation. This is just a very unfortunate time for this part to arrive in France.

    Sad, but actually very true.

  16. @jeffwise, Ron,

    I think the jury is still out on the 6 v 5 fasteners.

    I don’t think, it is the upper skin, which folded down, but the backing or attachment bracket for the seal, that is visible there in its right place, maybe slightly displaced inwards.

    The seals seem to be set back from the outer skin. This is clearly visible in the CNN flaperon video. The width and alignment of that feature in the Reunion photo seem to correlate to the remaining attached seal of the box arrangement.

    In the linked pdf it can be seen that the last fastener is just less than one spacing between fasteners away from the seal. If one extrapolates the spacing of the Reunion flaperon, it appears that a sixth fastener would sit right on the seal. Still, I don’t think it is conclusive yet.

    We need a photo from a different angle, looking under that portion to conclusively say either way.



  17. @ Guarded Don
    You wrote:
    Niemoller’s image shows (part of) the outboard flap, not the flaperon. There are at least 4 additional images recording the same scene, ……

    Could you please provide us with a link to these other pictures of the flap from the hangar?
    The flaperon is the only size which fits the part on the hangar floor. If it is part of a (otherwise longer) flap like you say than it seperated from the rest of the flap like in a clean cut without any visible damage to the rest of the structure.

    Imho it shows the right flaperon with the fairing of the hinges and the broken PCU actuater rod still connected. The adjacent structure to the left of the piece fits as well.
    But if your reference could show the piece from the outboard side things would clear up.

    But whatever it is, it looks pretty good for a piece freefalling from more than 30.000 feet after being ripped from the rest by airloads.

  18. My opinion, the two adjacent (upper) ‘rivet style’ connectors on the mid inboard side are covered by barnacles up under the seal support. (Angles from photos can be very deceiving.)

  19. Thanks Ron,

    That’s the angle I was asking for.

    Before I saw your post, I was working on some “image processing”:


    According to that analysis, it seems questionable, whether there is space enough for a sixth fastener.

    Though, looking at your last image post, it looks like there is plenty of space. It is hard to make out, whether there is a fastener or a rather well placed barnacle…



  20. Retired F4

    Yes, I will post those further images. I’m mobile for the remainder of the day, so later. However, if you look carefully at Niemöller’s image there are two features that immediately differentiate the Gilze-Riijen 9M-MRD part from a flaperon:
    1) its attachment hardware on outboard leading edge corner. The flaperon”s outboard actuator clevis-lug attachment is recessed into the leading edge someway inboard of the outer rib.
    2) there is an underside cowl and its bracket evident on the outboard end, it’s designed to overlap with the next outboard surface. As a result the part cannot deflect upwards, only rearwards & down: exactly what a flap does.

  21. @RetiredF4, a good way to show pictures is to either include the link to the original site or put them in a dropbox or other online storage site. Bear in mind that if you include more than one URL in a comment I have to approve it by hand, so there will generally be a delay.

  22. @Jeff,

    “I am still extremely curious to know what these ambiguous discrepancies could consist of…”

    I think we all are awaiting to here what these are. One possibility could be related to simple (potential) sloppy maintenance record keeping, who would be shocked if this is uncovered by the French. It could also snowball into a flurry over the mysterious fire that MAS experienced. The fire investigation appears to have gone underground, running silent, run deep. (raised eyebrow)

    My gut tells me the French investigation is wound up around the axle related to a sloppy paper trail of maintenance/repairs while MAS came in and looked past the inconsistencies (they likely expect inconsistencies based on past experience) and was able to determine that it was from MH370.

    I prefer that the French run any inconsistencies to ground, it’s just tough to wait. The French silence may be related to not wanting to tip off the Malaysian’s regarding the trail they are pursuing (to avoid further cover up attempts).

    Just some thoughts from the peanut galley…

  23. @all
    After a fruitfull mail discussion with Guarded Don I am convinced, that he is right and the airfoil from MH17 in the Dutch hangar is about 1/3 of the left outboard flap

    thanks for the hint to use my dropbox for posting pictures, will try next time.

  24. Still unbelievable that the MAS Fire made the maintenance records disappear when they could be stored on servers and there should be offsite backups that could retrieved ….

  25. I thought the maintenance records were destroyed in the fire?

    August 6, 2015 AP Malaysia’s transport minister says the maintenance records of Malaysia Airlines prove conclusively that the wing part found last week on an Indian Ocean island belonged to the missing Flight 370.
    Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that the Malaysian team, which is part of the investigations in France, is convinced that the one of the sealants on the wing part, known as flaperon, matches “with our maintenance records.”

  26. @jeffwise,

    I saw your UPDATE #2 a few weeks late. It seems that Nicola Clark, the NYT reporter, confirms MuOne observations. The number and placement of the fasteners is indeed a discrepancy, the one that made Boeing and the FAA refuse to agree that the craperon is from MH370.

    If I understand correctly the reinforcement plate of the craperon was installed with the number and placement of the screws against expected practice (maybe even against Boeing directions?). MAS maintenance docs however claim the installation was done correctly.

    This is a very serious matter, either MAS maintenance docs are lying or the French prosecution did a grave mistake.

    Until a few years ago MAS had an excellent reputation and it’s difficult to believe they would do such a thing. It seems the French prosecutor was too hasty to accept that MAS docs were fudged and the craperon is from MH370.

    There are good reasons to think the French government pressured its prosecution to confirm the craperon. French prosecutors are not independent like the judges and it’s possible they make “national interest” considerations.

    Personally, I’m waiting for the French technical report and until it arrives I think that keeping a healthy suspicion on this matter is recommended.

    The right way to get closure for the NOK is to find the culprits and if possible get them to trial. It’s a matter of justice. Continuing with the cover-up and manufacturing a fake closure is an added insult to the victims.

  27. Jeff,

    Is there any available records as to whether MH 17 received this same modification? I’m just trying to keep my “Writing Ducks” all lined up in a row, with no loose ends and this is definitely a “Loose End”.

  28. @Dave Nettles, I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you mean—which modification? If you’re wondering whether it’s been established that the part came from MH370 and not MH17, it has.

  29. RetiredF4,

    I don’t know if anyone is watching this old thread, but what I saw in the dutch hanger picture sure looked like a right flaperon to me. However, what I saw looked brand new, shiny paint and all. I’ve got extensive experience in the automotive collision field, and I’ve never seen a part from a major crash that looked new, they may be good and reusable, but not like that thing. It looks like it just came out of a factory box, ready to install.

  30. Jeff,

    Let me explain a little further. If this whole thing is one big spoof, which I still believe it is, then expect it to be a good one, because if I’m right, “Russia Did It”, they have a way to have done a spoof on the flaperon too. They have 13 B777’s in their airliner fleet. Like I said up front, Where are the seat cushions?

  31. @Dave Nettles, Well, the parts have numbers on the inside, and the numbers inside the Réunion flaperon match those in the manufacturer’s records for MH370 uniquely. So the idea that the part came from another plane is off the table for me. On the other hand, it’s very easy to imagine a scenario in which someone took the plane, then got uncomfortable about the questions that were starting to gain momentum around the one-year anniversary about the lack of debris, removed the flaperon from the airframe, put it in the water, and then arranged for it to be found at the end of July 2015. Indeed this scenario would explain why the barnacles only appear to be 4 to 6 months old.

  32. Jeff,

    I always felt there would be some sort of removable mold plate cast in number on the inside to number each part, that’s how we do our race car part numbers.

    If that’s the case & it was planted, but how did they do the damage? I thought of dropping it from altitude, but it would fall heavy side first. I also don’t see this part floating very well, it appears to be a non-hybrid composite, strictly Carbon/Carbon, with no strengthening fiber like Kevlar. This makes it relatively heavy, by carbon fiber standards. It would have to have trapped air in the structure, & the lamination of the segments would have to be perfect with no pinholes, or fissures of any kind.

    The damage on the trailing edge should have compromised the structure enough to make it leak, and sink. I feel it would have had to be placed at the discovery site, I don’t think it floated there.

    As I said this part, is for sure, a big loose end, nothing about it quit adds up.

  33. Jeff,

    Here’s a “What If”. Let’s say that Russia got this airplane under their control with the idea of duplicating it (I have a reason to believe this could be the case) by making engineering drawing of everything, pulling molds from the composite parts, & making construction fixtures for the metal parts. This could have been done in the 1 year before the flaperon was found.

    Continuing this “What If” a little farther, The Russian’s wouldn’t want this thing just lying around once this work was done, so why not load it on a ship, sail down to the South Indian Ocean and push all the parts over the side. End game on 1 big spoof.

    It also might have been carried someplace else so as not to be found, it could be scattered all over everywhere, with pieces in most every ocean, & 1 lone flaperon to be found on dry land. Also the flaperon might be the only part that’s actually been dumped so far, or at the time the flaperon was found.

    Now, “What If” Russia used one of their other triple 7’s for duplication of the Flaperon, with the flaperon being a relatively easy part to pull off the aircraft and simply ran something like a forklift into the flaperon to simulate crash damage before pulling it off the aircraft (it does look like it was struck, or struck something solid, like e metal object).

    I think you can see what I’m getting at. I will also say this, somebody, someplace knows. How do we get them to talk?

  34. @Dave Nettles, Unfortunately I’m not sure what you’re getting at. If the Russians did take MH370, their motive could have been any of a number of things.

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