New York:Is the Boeing 737 Max Worth Saving?

As the costs of grounding the fleet of Boeing 737 Max jets mount — earlier this week, Southwest Airlines said the grounding was partially to blame for $150 million in lost revenue in the first quarter — so, too, do doubts about when the plane will manage to get back into the air. After Boeing announced a slate of fixes it intended to make to the 737 Max, CNBC reported that aviation analysts predict it “will take a minimum of six weeks and up to 12 weeks before the grounded jets are airborne again.”

And even when the Max does get FAA approval to fly again, its troubles won’t be over. Bloomberg reported that China had suspended the plane’s airworthiness certificate, meaning the plane would face additional hurdles before it was able to return to that huge and fastest-growing aircraft market.

Perhaps the question should not be when the 737 Max will return to the sky but whether it should.

The model’s current problems are the result of a string of decisions dating back more than a half-century; its design shortcomings run far deeper than just a poorly written piece of software.

The story starts the 1960s, when Boeing was setting the specifications for the 737, the plane that would go on to become its best seller to date. Back then, jet travel was in its infancy, and many airports lacked the infrastructure that we take for granted today, such as jetways. “The airplane was designed to sit close to the ground,” says airplane designer and aviation journalist Peter Garrison. “It would have an airstair built into the door so it wouldn’t need exterior arrangements to get passengers off the plane.”

That decision yielded a plane that met the needs of 1960s aviation, but fast-forward to the early 2010s and the world was a radically different place. Airstairs were no longer much of a concern. But decades of jet-engine development had led engineers to conclude that the key to turbofan efficiency was a large diameter.

“Back in the day when the thing was designed, it had little slender engines under the wings, and then as they started putting in these bigger and bigger turbofans, they had to deal with the fact that there wasn’t room under the wing,” says Garrison. Eventually, he says, “they had to move the whole engine forward and upward in order to keep it off the ground.”

This had an undesirable side effect. A more powerful engine, slung far forward, tends to make an aircraft dynamically unstable, especially when the engine is at full throttle and the nose is up, such as during takeoff. “It’s destabilizing in the sense that the more nose-up it is, the bigger the forces tending to make it more nose-up,” says Garrison.

Designers of commercial aircraft generally aim for stability. Imagine carrying a marble in a deep bowl. If you lurch this way or that, the marble will roll, but it will always return to the center. Instability is like balancing a pool cue on your finger: The further it gets away from straight up and down, the more it wants to fall. In the case of an airplane, the higher the nose gets, the higher it wants to go. If left unchecked, this could result in a situation called aerodynamic stall, where the wings lose lift and the plane starts to plummet.

Because the FAA deemed the 737 Max too unstable to be used as a passenger aircraft, Boeing came up with an automated system that would keep the nose from getting too high — the now-infamous “maneuvering-characteristics-augmentation system,” or MCAS. “It was required for certification,” says aviation blogger Peter Lemme.

The 737 Max’s instability problems eerily echoed another ’60s design, the Cheyenne. At the time, Piper Aircraft wanted to build a more powerful version of its popular twin-engine light aircraft, the Navajo. Piper swapped out its piston engines for turboprops. Like the 737 Max, the Cheyenne had a design that involved putting more powerful engines further forward on the wing.

Jack Webb was Piper’s chief engineering test pilot during most of the Cheyenne development process. “As we were going along, I discovered a kind of scary dynamic-stability problem,” he says. It was the same problem the 737 Max would later have, for the same reason. And as Boeing would later do, Piper tried to fix the problem by adding automation — in its case, a device called a “stability-augmentation system” (SAS) that would push the nose down if it got too high.

Webb came to realize that if the pilot wasn’t properly trained, the SAS could actually worsen the instability. The problem was that the system could get into a feedback loop with the human pilot. Not understanding why the nose was starting to go down, the pilot would pull up, to which the SAS would respond by pushing down. Since each has a lag in their response time, they wind up chasing one another, causing the plane to enter a series of increasingly steep climbs and dives.

Recent press accounts have focused on the fact that the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air planes were equipped with the MCAS, which could be misled if a single sensor returned faulty readings. This would cause it to kick and lower the nose even when the plane wasn’t nose-high. The pilot’s effort to fight the runaway system would cause the plane to porpoise.

Webb believes that this kind of up-and-down motion can take place even when the system is functioning as designed. He has looked at several accidents involving the Cheyenne, “and it’s a classic picture. It looks like the airplane’s on a roller-coaster ride before it crashes. The pilots just get behind the input necessary to stabilize the airplane. They’re fighting it.”

On Wednesday, Boeing revealed the list of fixes it planned for the 737 Max. One was that the MCAS will henceforth take input from two sensors instead of just one. If the sensors disagree, the system will disable itself.

Webb believes that, based on his experience with the Cheyenne, these fixes won’t eliminate the plane’s predilection for roller-coastering. Even if Webb is wrong, and the 737 Max is safe so long as its MCAS is working as intended, that still leaves another problem. A single malfunctioning sensor will cause the system to turn off, thus putting the plane back in the condition that the FAA deemed too unstable to grant an airworthiness certificate.

There is a straightforward solution for all the 737 Max’s problems: to reduce the plane’s pitch up tendency, Boeing could lengthen the landing gear and move the engines further back under the wing; and to increase stability, it could increase the size of the tail. There’s a reason that Boeing doesn’t want to do that. “It would be considered a new aircraft,” explains Garrison.

The whole point of the 737 Max is that, for all its changes and improvements, from the FAA’s perspective, it’s still technically a 737. From a design, testing, and certification perspective, it’s cheaper to update an old design than field a brand-new one. It cost Boeing an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion to bring the 737 Max to market, compared with approximately $10 billion to $12 billion to create a brand-new plane. And legacy airplanes are more attractive to airlines because they don’t have to retrain their pilots.

There’s only so far you can keep updating a venerable design, though. Boeing knows this. In the mid-aughts, it launched a project to consider a clean-sheet replacement for the 737 that would be ready to fly sometime between 2012 and 2015. In the end, though, it scrapped that approach. When Airbus rolled out an update to its own version of the narrow-body aircraft, the A320neo, in 2010, Boeing was forced to respond. Its answer was the Rube Goldberg contraption it has today.

Maybe Boeing’s luck will change and the world will come around to the view that while it may not be perfect, the 737 Max is good enough. Maybe Boeing will go on to fill all the 5,000 orders currently on the books, and who knows, maybe add a few thousand more on top. What will be the result of this rosy scenario? The skies filled with the better part of a trillion dollars’ worth of could-be-better airplanes, when the company could have taken some small fraction of that time and money and just built an aircraft worthy of the Boeing name.

Note: This article was originally published on March 29, 2019 in New York magazine.

53 thoughts on “New York:Is the Boeing 737 Max Worth Saving?”

  1. Good article Jeff, which raises big issues effecting Boeing and other manufacturers in a highly competitive market.

    Looks like there could be some politics being played regarding the initial report on the second 737MAX crash…

    “…Ethiopia’s foreign ministry spokesman had earlier said the preliminary crash report would be released by the ministry of transport on Monday. It was not immediately clear why the plans had changed…”

    ‘No Ethiopia Plane Crash Report on Monday, Maybe This Week’

  2. @Jeff Wise

    Well written article and displays a commendable style of reasoning “is there anything that I could have done to have caused this”. Self reflection is enormously valuable but risks appeasing another mindset where if something goes wrong “it’s all America’s fault”.

    Possibly Boeing was trying to expand its market too soon rather than making a dud plane.

    There are cultural issues here about what is or is not acceptable use of a Boeing aircraft which is probably at the core of the 9M-MRO mystery.

  3. It always seemed to me that Boeing blew this badly in 2004 when they ended the 757. All of the design challenges pertaining to the 737 have already been solved by Boeing’s own 757.

    The 757 has clearly demonstrated its versatility, even with early 2000’s engines. A re-engined 757 should have no problem occupying the market space currently occupied by the longer 737’s and the A321. A shortened 757, along with some improved Embraer jets, would cover the rest of the market.

    Down the road, the next design is starting to sound a lot like a 767 all over again. Boeing would be smart to do a repeat of the 757-767 pairing, perhaps with a little more attention to the short range routes, but ultimately they’d have two good products.

  4. @Jeff
    To get back to your magic analogy, the magicians were the 3 Eastern European/Russian passengers. They were serious players. The last time the inanimate was object was seen was the last radar return even though we thought we were in continuous contact. The trick was to threaten Malaysia and make the plane disappear. The BFO/BTO faked data was supposed to make us think we were very clever however it led us in the wrong direction. They didn’t know the flight identifier ahead of time so they weren’t able to include it in the satellite data set. The magicians are the key and will lead us to the plane. I still believe the connector between Malaysia and Russia is 1mdb. Someone lost a lot of laundered money and couldn’t use legal channels to recover it. That also connects mh17. Follow the money.

    Bloomberg – Malaysia Expects to Recover Up to $3.5 Billion of 1MDB Funds
    By Anisah Shukry and Pooi Koon Chong
    July 19, 2018, 5:44 AM PDT
    The government may be able to regain at least 10 percent of the 50 billion ringgit ($12.3 billion) of funds that Lim estimated were siphoned from the troubled state fund, and up to 30 percent of the amount, “if we are lucky,” he said in an interview. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad previously said he’s seeking to recoup $4.5 billion.

  5. @Jeff

    My somewhat cryptic comment “what is or is not an acceptable use of a Boeing aircraft… ” is really an endorsement of your hijack hypothesis of 9M-MRO. My original didn’t include the ‘an’ so it didn’t quite make sense. I not convinced the plane is in Russia though.

  6. @Trip:
    “…The BFO/BTO faked data was supposed to make us think we were very clever however it led us in the wrong direction…”

    Very good post, Trip. Distraction of attention is a vital ingredient of all magic or con tricks. If you’re ever stupid enough to contemplate playing a shell game, always watch your back for the showman’s accomplice picking your pocket.

  7. @Jeff, @AJ, @Havelock

    First of all, Jeff – thank you for all of your blogs, information, and for keeping discussion regarding MH370 going. I have been following your blog for years now and read all the comments and am always very impressed by the clear and polite way you answer each comment and question even when they have been asked and answered many, many times before. Thank you for your professionalism and integrity.

    With that being said, I am only an interested amateur, not a professional in any way, so I have never posted as I feel anything I could add would be of little use. However, I had a question regarding Aj’s and Havelock’s posts on Jeff’s previous blog post on the magic of MH370, and going one step further, would it have to be another plane or ship to send tampered BTO/BFO data? Might there be any chance whatsoever that a small object, undetectable by radar, and impossible to find in the SIO afterwards (perhaps such as a long range drone?), might have been able to send the spoofed data along the SIO route and that MH370’s SDU was in fact, never turned back on?

    Again, many thanks for all of the thought provoking posts – keep up the great work!

  8. @Kacue, Thank you! As you your suggestion, it’s not inconceivable that a drone could have been sent into the SIO, but it would require a whole ‘nother level of technological expertise and frankly I don’t know whether it’s even possible or not.

  9. @Kacue

    Absolutely. All we know is that Inmarsat apparently found a satellite to have communicated with a piece of electronic equipment that is/was capable of receiving and transmitting such data to that satellite; data that to that satellite looked like it was sent by a transponder from plane mh370.

    However such communication is not encrypted or something. If you want to “fool” the satellite into thinking it’s communicating with mh370’s transponder, you just need another such transponder (they are neither super expensive nor very large). Obviously you also need the technical acumen to program it such that it sends under the ‘name’ of mh370. Personally I regard it as very possible to just have this unit on a ship and program the delays and signal distortion when responding to the satellite’s pings such that they correspond to particular ‘virtual’ locations of the plane. You could also put this unit (think the size of a laptop) on a suitable drone and go for a joyride, but personally I would be too lazy for that – my gut feeling is that whoever knows how to spoof the messages in the first place would also be able to do the rest of the calculations. (Also, obviously a drone with the required range etc isn’t so easily available and whoever has access to that also has access to the brainpower needed for the aforementioned calcs).

    With respect, i find it illogical of JW to say that “it would require a whole nother level of technical expertise “. I assume that JW implicitly means ‘in comparison to his “northern route” “only BFO meaning Doppler shift being changed” theory ‘. I’ve made this point before – I posit that if you know how to program your transponder such that the ‘signal distortion’ is ‘warped’ such that it ‘sounds’ like it’s going in the’other’ direction, programming that transponder to respond to satellite ‘messages’ with an extra, ‘artificial’ delay in order to make the distance to the satellite appear larger should not be a problem for you. Effectively my argument is that if you assume that someone sent ‘artificially’ changed transmissions to the satellite, there is no logical reason to assume that they only knew how to change one part.

    The only further thing you should be aware of is that due to laws of physics, you can’t make your position appear closer to the satellite than where you actually are, since the distance is effectively calculated by using the time it takes for your transponder’s reply to get back to the sat – the speed of that reply flying to the sat is the speed of light. You can’t speed it up. This means that your potential spoof transponder has to be at least as close to the sat as you want to appear at the closest point – this being why I have suggested the ‘ship in Indian Ocean’ theory.

  10. In other words Havelock, you are saying that the entire spoof could have been generated by some smart electronics guy, with simply a satcom terminal and a laptop to control it, sitting in a stationary location, anywhere within the inner most ping ring. That leaves a number of possible locations, on land, or a ship. Moreover, it requires that the planning to do that, logically implies a multi party operation. It also implies that the aircraft must have been going somewhere specific. Taken with going dark at IGARI whilst going north east, and the ridiculous unsubstantiated radar turnback story, the only obvious reason for the spoof, would be to hide the fact that the aircraft never turned back over the peninsula at all, thus, it must have gone east. That would be a whole new can of worms.

  11. @ Venus

    Thank you – you seem to be the first one to give this sind honest thought.

    To answer your questions, you mention that this theory would require a multi party operation. Yes, though pretty much all theories that currently remain (except “the search in the SIO was exceptionally unlucky and the plane got overlooked”) require some level of planning and a somewhat multi party operation. (Taking JW’s Kazakhstan as a benchmark, there you would also need an electronics guy, some muscle on the plane, an expert pilot evading radars, people on the ground in Baikonur.)

    You further say that the plane must have implicitly gone somewhere specific – i understand this as implying that mean that the intent would have been not simply to crash it / down it. Yes, and again I would argue that all currently remaining theories imply that.

    You further mention that the only obvious reason for the spoof would be to hide the fact that the plane never turned back over the peninsula. This is in fact a core argument of mine. Let us think about JW’s Kazakhstan theory. Actually, I posit that under this scenario, there is zero logical reason to spoof any sat data at all. Effectively, if we assume that someone was able to do a ‘Kazakhstan’, why spoof any data? When you plan a Kazakhstan, effectively you would be looking at a fairly binary risk: either you make it unintercepted, or not. If you make it, Kazakhstan is so far away that no one would seriously consider that as the destination, so once you made it, you would be safe. If you are intercepted for example over India, then the game would be up. Spoofed SDU data wouldn’t help you in this case. The only remotely plausible reason for spoofing the data under a successful-Kazakhstan scenario in my view would be the idea that you might want to leave a subtle ‘trail’ as intimidation. However, I find this fairly far fetched since it’s way too subtle to be effective. So to conclude, to get back to the original point, yes my argument is that if the plane actually went west, spoofing Sat data would have been pointless and actually counterproductive. Under a Kazakhstan scenario, it would have clearly been the simpler and better option to just switch the SDU unit off and not switch it back on again. If we consider the sat data actually spoofed, and given that this data exists and that there seems to be nothing where the plane should be if it was real, it looks like it, then we have to think about why someone would go to the trouble of creating it. Yes, this opens a can of worms as you put it.

  12. @Havelock & @Ventus45

    Presumably the closest point on earth to satellite 3F-1 26,000 miles above is somewhere in the Northen Indian Ocean. So I guess that’s why you suggested a ship in the Indian Ocean. However anywhere closer than the other transmissions allegedly from 9M-MRO would do. Possibly Banda Aceh?

    Anyway its an entirely possible and realistic hack – transmissions from a fixed location at the closest point possible to 3F-1 with BTO and BFO offsets to create the impression of travel at high subsonic speeds.

    As you correctly state a lot of planning would need to go into this. Not the spur of the moment suicide act.

  13. @Steve Barratt

    Thank you for your input!

    I guess Aceh would work geographically, however I personally wouldn’t like the security situation.

    As you say many locations would be possible. If you wanted to speculate, much would probably depend on who the ‘operators’ are. An idea I had today would also be Hambantota airport in Sri Lanka. It’s supposedly the least used airport in the world. It’s been built with money from China and there’s Hambantota port nearby which is also built with Chinese money and was recently debt for equity swapped to the Chinese. It would probably have been pretty easy to put a sat tech team on a plane, fly it there for ‘refueling’, and then fly them back. In fairness that would be easier than a ship and would avoid security issues like in Aceh (Sri Lanka at the time was very closely allied with China and as I said, Hambantota is in the middle of absolute nowhere, moving in and out would be safe and riskfree).

  14. @Ventus 45

    Thank you – very interesting theory. However I can’t see the logic behind Fais or Manus Islands as originally intended destinations. Also, I can’t understand the implication of western intelligence services being behind it. This operation needed fairly extensive planning and only appears logical to me if you specifically wanted to create the appearance that someone or something that was on the plane disappeared innocently in an aircraft accident rather than having been detained by law enforcement or other security agencies. What should there have been on the plane that western intelligence shouldn’t have been capable of snatching way before those people or things got anywhere near mh370, or why would western intelligence have been literally forced to obscure the fact that they took possession of it / detained them? I repeat, since this operation must have had preplanning, of maybe at least a week but likely much much longer, it’s not logical to assume that they wouldn’t have had the time to choose simpler options if the perpetrators hadn’t had a specific reason to make the disappearance of said things or people look innocent. I want to point out additionally that this operation, if such it was, would have been planned fully accepting that there would likely be civilian casualties. Whilst western intelligence has certainly been accused of being ethically challenged in some instances, I can’t really see them intentionally sacrifice white westerners (I know it sounds politically incorrect but let’s say it how it is.)

    Fais or Manus frankly make no sense to me. What is the idea behind that supposedly? Those places could at best have been refueling stops.

  15. @Havelock

    Counter espionage is a dirty world, where the requirement for success is an “all or nothing” deal. Any “leakage” = mission failure.

    In this case, from a counter espionage viewpoint, think along the lines of, “all your rotten eggs in one basket”.

    The Freescale people had been at a trade show of some sort in KL “with their kit(s)”. They had presumably “gathered there”, for the event, independently, from multiple locations, over a period of days. They were then travelling “all together, with their kit(s)”, on one flight to China.

    The counter intelligence operational imperative, was to “wrap them all up, in one go, and also secure the kit(s)”. The only opportunity to do that, was to take the plane, land it somewhere that the locals could not, and / or would not, “interfere with proceedings”, offload the innocent pax, refuel it, then fly it to the ultimate secure location with the prize. Less than an hour landing to takeoff again.

    Unfortunately, those “minding” the Freescale people took exception to the hijack / diversion. Look at the passenger manifest. Not a “typical” flight to Beijing. Next to no children, mostly Chinese, and look at their ages, nearly all are of “service age”. Plenty of possible “minder” people travelling on that flight.

  16. So Ventus your theory would be that the Freescale guys were agents, had ‘minders’, and were ‘rotten eggs’ presumably from the perspective of the ‘other’ place, let’s call it ‘Team A’. Your theory seems to be that Team A tried to hijack the plane, got interrupted by the minders, and then the plane either crashed in the pacific or got diverted to mainland ‘Team B’?

    I see several issues. First of all, that would imply that the final hijack by Team B (‘taking exception’) would have been an unplanned incident, a last minute rescue operation. That would mean that they would not have been able to prepare the SDU spoof? Now you could argue that maybe team A retroactively had Inmarsat come up with it because they would have wanted to distract from possibly being exposed as having tried and failed to hijack the plane, but I don’t 100% buy it.

    The other question is, under your theory why would Team A not have snatched the Freescale guys and their kit in Malaysia already? A plane abduction is super messy tbh, I can’t see them preferring that over a ground based operation. Not least bc of witnesses and potential casualties. The ‘rotten eggs’ if such they were would have been all in a basket on the ground, and besides, why would you even need to snatch all of them? You talk of an ‘all or nothing deal’ and ‘no leakage’. What is being leaked?

    The next thing is, what kind of kit could those guys have had that team A would not have wanted them to bring to Team B? Many of the Freescale guys had actually come from Team B, so any kit they had with them had presumably already been in mainland B.

    My hunch would actually be that it was the other way around. The Freescale guys were apparently sort of consultants at the Freescale factories. I could imagine some of them working for Team A with, for example, the mission of placing surveillance bugs in Freescale chips. Under such a scenario, they could have been given such technology by Team A whilst in Malaysia. Team B might have known about it. Team A could have been informed about Team B knowing about it mid flight and desperately tried to retrieve their technology as well as getting their Freescale agents to safety. Alternatively, some of the ‘minders’ could have gotten ahead of themselves mid air (“you rats! Wait til we get to B-town!”), upon which the Freescale guys could have tried a hijack in the knowledge that their game was up, badly. There could have been a fight on board, resulting either in the plane going down in the pacific, or eventually it being brought to mainland B. Under this scenario, Team A then might have not wanted to go public about their spectacularly failed attempt at espionage, whilst Team B might not have wanted to go public about being really messy mid flight. Team A might then, during the first days after the incident, have made Inmarsat come up with the data in order to bury this embarrassing incident. What do you say Ventus?

  17. @hHavelock, Ventus45,

    “Operation Freescale” certainly seems like a great effort relative to opportunities that in the past have been successfully achieved other ways, such as via old fashioned industrial espionage, outright stealing, or hacking and counter hacking–regardless of which team you’re on, unless your team is the United States, in which case its counter methods seem downright nonexistent, as evidenced by a current president, who uses unsecured devices and invites Chinese spies to freely wander his compound, and a former president, who had options prepared but apparently did nothing with them, not to mention some sort of misplaced ethical conflict, as explained in this fascinating story on the legality of digital vigilantes in the New Yorker:

    There is something oddly tolerant and gentlemanly in the Chinese-U.S. relationship when it comes to bad behavior. And little of the extrajudicial activities, as far as we know, that Russia and the West seem engaged in.

    At any rate, if a Freescale scenario did occur–while it might explain the tepid Chinese governmental response to the disappearance–without the plane having actually landed in China, we still have a wreckage issue that doesn’t exist, and another radar problem, stretching from South Korea to Japan and Taiwan to the Philippines–an array which was more likely to be active than, say, Bangladesh or Myanmar’s and so likely constraining the flight to the South China Sea, and especially so, if there is truth to the rumor that Australia’s JORN has a range significantly greater than its published 3000km. No snaking through the Sulu and Celebes seas.

    Of course, if one believes a hijacking is possible not to mention sensible to obtain some special hardware, there’s no reason a hijacking couldn’t have happened for dozens of other reasons–like, for example, obtaining (or is it re-obtaining?) one’s special investment in a sovereign fund. After all, we know there is little tolerance among gangsters…

    My point: an actor’s M.O., is always a significant part of an investigation and there really isn’t a pattern of behavior in any way publicly known that would point to such an event as a mid-air battle royale.

    P.S. Ventus45, what constitutes a “typical” flight to Beijing? When looking at the manifest I count five children under the age of 5 and and at least 57 Chinese between the ages of 50 and 80 and another 20 over 40. That leaves half the Chinese passengers younger than 40, which matches statistics in the United States, which show 18 to 35 year olds significantly over-representing those who fly. Anyway, with nothing to compare it to, we don’t know what a random distribution of age would be for this flight, though it doesn’t necessarily appear the Chinese contingent on the plane was packed with conscripts…

  18. @Scott O

    Thanks for your input.

    You mention that “”Operation Freescale” certainly seems like a great effort relative to opportunities that in the past have been successfully achieved other ways, such as via old fashioned industrial espionage,” etc. Well effectively Scenario Freescale is simple espionage, the idea is that one team tried to sneak surveillance bugs onto chips being produced. We don’t know whether the US is/was really as gentlemanly as publicly known.

    You further mention the issue of missing wreckage or radar. Well the base case scenario would be that the plane ultimately made it to ‘mainland B’. There would be no radar to worry about on the way.

    South Korea and even Taiwan are far away. Why would the plane be close to the respective radars?

    You mention that Australia’s JORN would have picked it up over the Philippines. Well JORN has been discussed here extensively, most likely it wasn’t operating at significant capacity and it’s unlikely it would have ‘seen’ a plane up there. Also, a flight path easterly over the Philippines only really makes sense if ‘Team A’ had ultimately gained control and had then directed the plane to Guam (this would have been in comfortably reachable distance). However in that scenario we would again continue with ‘Team A then asked Inmarsat to cover for them’, and had Australia actually seen anything they would, as allies, have covered as well.

    Regarding a possible crash, that would under these scenarios likely have happened over the south China Sea. With the Chinese military islands up there there would have been no problem for them to cover it up. However I strongly favor a safe landing since in the case of an actual crash it would have been easier in my view to just go public and spin this as a terrible tragedy rather than being all sneaky with the SDU. I mean presumably no one would have been keen to say that there was a spy-drama-gone-wrong behind it. In the end, combining the information of ‘no wreckage’ and ‘weird SDU data that someone likely went to the trouble of creating’ to me implies prima facie that the plane landed. Having said that, the fact that it took a while initially until a search was started and the fact that no civilians were released, points in my view to ‘Team B’ rather than ‘oof we just made it to Guam’.

  19. Ventus45 said:

    “The Freescale people had been at a trade show of some sort in KL “with their kit(s)”. They had presumably “gathered there”, for the event, independently, from multiple locations, over a period of days. They were then travelling “all together, with their kit(s)”, on one flight to China.”

    Do you have a source for this please?

    It was reported by Reuters:

    “The 20 Freescale employees, among 239 people on flight MH370, were mostly engineers and other experts working to make the company’s chip facilities in Tianjin, China, and Kuala Lumpur more efficient, said Mitch Haws, vice president, global communications and investor relations.

    “These were people with a lot of experience and technical background and they were very important people,” Haws said.

    The employees who were on board, 12 from Malaysia and eight from China, came from a range of disciplines and they were part of a broad push by Chief Executive Officer Gregg Lowe to make Freescale more efficient and cost effective, Haws said.

    They had been streamlining facilities in Tianjin and Kuala Lumpur that Freescale uses for testing and packaging microchips used in automobiles, consumer products, telecommunications infrastructure and industrial equipment.”

    None were patent holders, just to quash that idea.

    (Note: Freescale has now merged with NXP Semiconductor:

    And has assembly and testing factories in KL and Penang:

    Freescale’s HQ was in Texas and was largely owned by large US investment companies such as Blackstone and the Carlyle Group, who are both deeply involved in military ventures.)

  20. Hello Jeff,

    My name is Arley and I am a college student working on a research report about MH370. I have spoken with Larry Vance on his “rogue pilot” theory. I was hoping to get your opinion and ask a few questions. Any help would be most appreciated.

  21. @Arley, If you’re asking Larry Vance questions you should ask him why he’s misrepresented himself as the lead investigator on Swissair 111.

    FWIW, Larry Vance doesn’t have a theory. He has a single piece of evidence that he’s decided to claim special insight into, despite never having seen it in person. In other words, he is a charlatan.

    At any rate I’d be happy to answer any questions you’d like to ask here.

  22. @Havelock, a late responding to your response of

    Scenario Freescale, as we are imagining it for the purposes of this back and forth, is not simple espionage at all. It is colossally difficult to penetrate the supply chain and sneak a surveillence chip onto a device’s motherboard. This is why the world was shocked when it was learned that certain Supermicro boards—installed in literally millions of devices—had acquired a rice-sized chip not in the board’s original design. The chip allowed a third party to potentially access and alter code on hardware at Apple, Amazon, the CIA and dozens of other companies and government agencies. Not surprisingly, though engineered in the United States, the boards themselves are manufactured in China, which has advantages in pulling off such a feat: hackers from the People’s Liberation Army and the fact that they assemble three quarters of the mobile phones in the world and 90 percent of the PCs. It is one of the reasons some companies have pledged to move their manufacturing–or parts of it–elsewhere.

    You can read a fascinating story about it here:

    All of that said, while it is interesting that U.S. intelligence agencies realized this in early 2014 and approached the White House seeking guidance, it is unclear which factories the chips are tied back to. What’s more, it seems that the U.S. had a vested interest in downplaying the hardware hack, for trust, economic and operational espionage reasons. Usurping a plane of engineers would certainly have the potential to call more, not less, attention to the issue.

    To flip the argument, if the Freescale employees were wanted by the B team, those targets, being majority of B team heritage, well, they’d be easy enough to pick off once on home soil, no?

    As for other comments, briefly: If the flight made it to mainland B, why make it disappear before home soil? And, as you suggest, would it not have continued to be tracked on the Vietnamese FIR until it’s next handoff? As far as we know, it turned away and in that turn it either went straight down, west (through Thailand), south (as radar seems to show) or east (to Brunei, to the Philippines?).

    Extent of the radar: I did not mean to suggest that the aircraft definitely flew east, but only meant that there was a virtual gauntlet from as far north to as far south as the plane could fly that would likely have tracked any flight into the Pacific. As for JORN, yes, the discussion: I contributed to them then and maintain there is too much we don’t know about it.

    Finally, a crash: I agree a crash that unlikely but disagree on the potential for a coverup if one did occur. A jumbo jet impacting the surface leaves behind an estimated one million pieces of debris. The point of those absurdly illegal artificial islands is an attempt to lay claim to one of the most economically active patches of water on the planet. The sheer number of boats and plans traversing the area would make it as hard to hide debris as it would to collect all of it.

    All of that together tilts me away from thinking this was about collecting a bunch of guys wearing pocket protectors.

  23. @ Scott O

    Thank you indeed for your very well informed, very informative and very well argued reply. The story how China managed to place hardware bugs on chips is really absolutely fascinating and looks to me like a major candidate for a possible explanation for this mystery.

    Initially you make the point that “Usurping a plane of engineers would certainly have the potential to call more, not less, attention to the issue”. Well I was initially inclined to agree with you, but let’s think about it. So imagine you know that something like that is going on, and you want to stop/change it whilst drawing the least possible attention to it? Well maybe a plane disappearance is just the diversion you would like?? The fact is, until a short while ago no one even remotely saw a connection to the fact that the plane was full of engineers?! Further, if the Freescale guys as we call them had really been linked to the hardware hacks in some way, I would find it conceivable that ‘something else’ than “trying not to call attention to the issue ” might have (additionally) been going on that might have led to such an outcome. F ex, you could construe the idea that maybe the Freescale guys were investigating those bugs (for team A), team b found out about it, team a tried desperately to save their agents, etc etc. Or they may have been given new kit by team a, maybe in order to stealthily render the bugs useless or even put in a second backdoor so team a could ‘also’ listen in.

    You further argue that “if the Freescale employees were wanted by the B team, those targets, being majority of B team heritage, well, they’d be easy enough to pick off once on home soil, no?” I agree in principle but as I suggested before, one could argue here that they might have wanted to make the disappearance of the Freescale guys appear innocent, so as to try to safeguard what must have been an espionage mission of critical strategic import (think about it – if that hardware hack really worked, they must have gleaned unimaginable knowledge in basically every sphere from it). If the future of your country will be changed literally even by days of your hack working, maybe you go to extreme lengths to protect it. This argument essentially mirrors the earlier argument about why team a might have had a reason to act in this way – both parties had reason to go to extreme lengths to keep this secret.

    As an overarching point I want to say that we will always run into the question of “why in the air/why hijack a plane if many aims could reasonably also have been achieved on land?” I mostly agree with you on your further point that a crash in the South China Sea is unlikely (as is any crash in my view), which means that the only really remaining theories would boil down to “hijack and landing”, ergo any theory will have to wrestle with the question “why in the air”.

    Regarding Vietnamese FIR: well the plane would have simply had to fly sufficiently far east of Vietnam.

    So you finally say that “All of that together tilts me away from thinking this was about collecting a bunch of guys wearing pocket protectors”. Honestly this surprises me a bit. You spend a fairly long, well researched part of your reply detailing a highly important, well documented espionage matter that must have had immense strategic import to ‘team b’ as well as team a in their own way (not wanting it to become publicly known). Now there was a group of people on the flight who apparently were very highly competent semiconductor engineers working in the industry in focus of the espionage matter. Frankly to date none of the other passengers have really come under spotlight (maybe JW’s Ukrainians, if you really want to be inclusive the pilot, but both didn’t really convince). The disappearance appears to have been made possible by an extremely advanced satellite hack. I can further only see two arguments really that you make against the idea of a connection to semiconductor espionage, both of which I have discussed above and which honestly fail to tilt me personally away from the idea that mh370 might have been connected to semiconductor engineering.

  24. If there was a connection between MH370 and MH17, then the purpose was simply to hit where its hurts.

  25. RE: “The disappearance appears to have been made possible by an extremely advanced satellite hack.”

    One week after the disappearance of MH370, the Royal Malaysian Police went to the home of the pilot in command and took his computer and diskdrives. When MH370 disappeared, the pilot’s wife was reportedly staying at the family’s second house. The family employed an Indonesian housemaid who was afraid to be questioned by police and probably left for Indonesia to stay with her mother. The pilot’s home was probably unoccupied most of the time in the week after MH370’s disappearance. Many people believe that the pilot was guilty of deliberately diverting the flight because data recovered from one of the confiscated drives revealed flight simulations in the Southern Indian Ocean. How easy would it have been to ‘hack’ that diskdrive?

  26. @Jeff/Gysbreght – thanks for the dialogue, albeit a snippet, re MH370/MH17. Every now and then it’s important for any sane rational person obsessed with this case to just take a step back, take a deep breath, and acknowledge the fact that within a mere three thousand hours, two exact same aircraft types from the same carrier met their demise. Anyone in their right mind cannot just say this is a coincidence and dismiss any connection between the two flights. I have no idea what happened to 9M-MRO and have admittedly at times found myself massively disagreeing with everyone’s theories, but one thing I just can’t do is say MH17 and MH370 aren’t related. How so, I don’t know — but the odds of this being just a coincidence are infinitesimal. I just wish everyone can just pause, be intellectually honest, and think about this.

  27. @Jeff/Gysbreght – thanks for the dialogue, albeit a snippet, re MH370/MH17. Every now and then it’s important for any sane rational person obsessed with this case to just take a step back, take a deep breath, and acknowledge the fact that within a mere three thousand hours, two exact same aircraft types from the same carrier met their demise. Anyone in their right mind cannot just say this is a coincidence and dismiss any connection between the two flights. I have no idea what happened to 9M-MRO and have admittedly at times found myself massively disagreeing with everyone’s theories, but one thing I just can’t do is say MH17 and MH370 aren’t related. How so, I don’t know — but the odds of this being just a coincidence are infinitesimal. I just wish everyone can just pause, be intellectually honest, and think about this.

  28. @Sunken Deal

    With the excellent investigative work by Jeff Wise on certain Ukrainian passengers on 9M-MRO alarm bells would have rung in the Kremlin at the time. That being 9M-MRO landed and could be used in a 9/11 event against Russia

    9M-MRD may have been an emphatic message that mother Russia will be defended/protected at all costs.

    The Ukrainian passengers are of course innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

  29. All, presented without comment:

    Another attempt at a mathematical solution to the location of MH370 being reported, this one using debris recovery locations and Markov chain models.

    An international team of university researchers reporting in the journal “Chaos” estimates a plunge along the seventh arc between 33 to 17 degrees south latitude. The researchers admit that insufficient data–meaning not enough debris–increases the probability of error in their work.

  30. Is it feasible for any law enforcement agency to hold Blaine Alan Gibson for questioning?

  31. @ABN397, I think we’re still a long way away from officialdom of any stripe accepting that MH370 was taken as part of a Russian special ops. And even if they were, Gibson is incredibly secretive. He won’t even let anyone know what country he’s in. Which is itself a tad suspicious, IMO.

    @ScottO, Thanks for the link. It’s interesting how credentialled scientist take a swing at this from time to time.

  32. I completely agree with theory that MH370 flew to northwest route and landed somewhere in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, and Inmarsat data had been contemplated to cause the wrong clue that the plane had flew south.

    However, I disagree with the Russians’ involvement with it. I believe that East Turkestan independence movement (Uyghur nationalism) is the mastermind behind the abduct of MH370. Since 2009, the movement has plotted several terrorist attacks in China. On March 1, 2014, just days before the disappearance of MH370, a group of eight knife-wielding men and women (East Turks background) attacked passengers at the railway station of a Chinese city Kunming.

    So investigation should be focused on passengers on MH370 with Turkish or Iranian (including countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) background. For example, an Iranian with fake passport on MH370 should be a chief suspect (do not believe current conclusion). The most important thing is to find out any passengers with links to East Turkestan independence movement.

  33. @York, as discussed here before, such technological manipulation as is theorized to have happened to MH370 would require state-level actors. The Uyghurs themselves certainly don’t seem capable of such a sophisticated attack, and their prior attempts at hijackings, of which there have been, possibly, two, were reported as brute force affairs. And unfortunately the East Turkestan independence movement will have a rough go of it, given that the Kazakhs, while previously protesting treatment of the Uyghurs, have recently supported China’s treatment of them, as you can see in this story…

    …while the Chinese already operate a military base in Tajikistan, operate independently in parts of Afghanistan and going forward have tremendous sway over the Central Asian Republics thanks to economic engagement, including the Belt and Road Initiative. And, yes, I understand there are a few years between one event and the others, but it would seem a big shift in attitude and allegiances.

    As for Iran, which is predominantly Shia Muslim–would they jeopardize a friendly strategic relationship with China in support of Sunni Muslims?

    Finally, what good is a terror attack aimed at gaining independence, if one doesn’t claim responsibility?

    @Havelock, this brings me back to your challenge of why I discuss the potential for Chinese involvement and then discard it. I can’t say that there isn’t increasing tensions and even aggression on the part of the Chinese, as you’ll see in this disturbing story:

    And there’s this from the U.S. FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich:

    “Actors working to benefit China are the most active perpetrators of economic espionage against us. These unconventional actors are becoming the new face of the China threat. They seek to gain any advantage on the global stage…They’re strategic in their approach—they actually have a formal plan, set out in five-year increments, to achieve dominance in critical areas.”

    Or the disturbing talk FBI Director Christopher Wray gave to the Council on Foreign Relations in April, and for which you can Google a transcript.

    But all of this comes a handful of years after MH370. Was Xi powerful and confident enough to stage such an attack in his first year as Premiere? And what’s more, as we see with the internment camps for Uyghurs, the stealing of a U.S. drone from Philippine waters and the recent layering of U.S. C-130 pilots near Djibouti, the Chinese do not any longer seem to hide their intentions.

    So if MH370 happened today, I would be more inclined to see it as a potential conflict over cyber espionage and Freesacle between the Chinese and the United States, whomever the bad actor might be.

    But it happened five years ago now, and at a time when Russian oligarch money was disappearing from sanctions and from 1MDB losses, when Russia was taking Crimea and harassing NATO by flying without transponders and ignoring territorial boundaries in Northern Europe–remember, the West suspended trade and investment talks and military cooperation the week prior to MH370’s disappearance.

    There’s also a history of asymmetrical aggression on the part of Russia as outlined in the Gerasimov Doctrine and practiced through Putin’s reign in Georgia, Chechnya, Ukraine, Belarus, and on turncoats and enemies living at home and abroad and of course, in United States elections (which, btw, the Chinese now seem to be doing too). The Russians advance the boarder between Russian and Georgia a few hundred yards in the middle of the night. The Chinese build an island in your territory in plain sight.

    So really for me, Havelock, it comes down to gut, past behavior, the coincidence of MH17, the Seychelles meeting that is returning Russian and allied money missing from 1MDB, the Bloomberg report, which suggests the U.S. did not take action, and something of how a culture has previously conducted itself that makes me tilt toward a Russian rather than Chinese operation.

  34. @Scott O, Uyghur nationalism is a official movement aimed to break away from the Chinese rule with a lot of endowment, and are based in Turkey and other Central Asian countries with many (fanatic) followers. As the result, they certainly have the personnel and capability to carry out such sophisticated abduction of the plane. For example, they can send someones to learn the infrastructure of the Boeing 777 like al-Qaeda (The most difficult part is on changing the ping to Inmarsat data for wrong clue of direction).

    The biggest flaw in the theory of Russian involvement in kidnapping MH370 is that China is (one of) the biggest ally of Russia. Russians would not do such a brainless act of abducting a plane with most passengers being Chinese because that would significantly jeopardize its relation with China. Russia needs Chinese import of goods and China needs Russian’s resources like oil.

    As the matter of fact, oil price has plummeted since 2015 and Russian Ruble has depreciated significantly against US dollar since then. As the result, Russia’s dependence on Chinese imports has greatly increased ever since because Russian trade with China does not rely on US dollar but on goods to goods basis. Despite this happened after the missing of MH370, Russia would certainly have anticipated this and would never commit such a potential disastrous act.

    Uyghur nationalism, however, has the most obvious motivation to abduct a plane of most Chinese passengers because, they want to hold them as hostages and use the plane to carry out a terrorist attack on Chinese targets in attempt to break away from the Chinese rule. The reason I can think of on why they did not carry out attack like 911 is because they wanted to keep passengers alive as a bargain in later confrontation with China. As the result, the passengers on MH370 could well be alive at the moment and are held somewhere in Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan and so on).

    Thus I believe that missing of MH370 must be a deliberate and sophisticated act by Uyghur nationalism in attempt to fight with Chinese government. The biggest trick is to leave wrong Inmarsat and give a wrong clue that the plane headed south and crashed into the south Indian Ocean. The debris discovered on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean in 2016 could be intentionally dumped as well because it was found that none of them contained organisms more than 2 months old, which suggests that they can not always be in water since March 2014. Uyghur nationalism also has this capability to move the debris from Central Asian countries to southern Indian Ocean.

    The above is the most likely scenario for the missing of MH370. However, the biggest baffle remains is that why they have not carried out such attack, and we will probably find out why soon.

    As long as to the Iranians with fake passports on MH370, they could be tied to Uyghur nationalism because many Uyghur separatists live in Turkey and Iran, and have nothing to do with Iranian government. They simply want to fight with Uyghur separatists on their own (religious) belief or as mercenary. The official investigation ruled them out because it was found that they simply wanted to move to Europe (illegally). This is highly doubtful because China is not a gateway to Europe and once the fake passports were found at Chinese custom, they would not be deported to Europe but (probably) to their own country.

  35. @Jeff Wise, you are (probably) the only one who is right on the missing of MH370, i.e. it headed northwest and hidden somewhere in Central Asian countries, rather than headed south and crashed in the Indian Ocean.

    The only thing wrong is on who is behind this and what is the motivation. As the analysis in my post, Russians are definitely not behind it. The mastermind must be Uyghur nationalism with the clear motivation.

    You should continue your investigation based this new clue and can probably collaborate with Chinese government. This is a highly important (sacred) mission because the passengers are (highly likely) still alive and waiting for rescue.

    Another key evidence is the lack of organism old enough on the debris found near the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, which means that somebody were planting evidence on the crash of MH370, but missed the fact that organisms on the debris can tell the true story.

    This act of coverup, together with the fact that some cell phones of passengers still rang several days after missing of the plane, almost confirm that MH370 is still there and not crashed in the Indian Ocean.

  36. Today’s (May 5th) episode of 60 Minutes Australia provides some additional clues about the reason why Boenig designed the MCAS so it is relies on data from only one AOA sensor at the time. According to the whistleblower, who is now involved the investigation, Boeing knowingly opted for this solution because the FAA would require Level D simulator training in order to certify the system.

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