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Fri 22
Three airplane design flaws which ended up in disasters

Three airplane design flaws which ended up in disasters

Both accidents with the 737 Max 8 are being investigated, but it has entered the list of models that had problems during their first months of use

Vandré Kramer

The eyes of the air industry world are turned towards the Boeing 737 Max 8, one of the most recent models of the world’s biggest airplane manufacturer, capable of transporting between 170 and 210 passengers, which was used for the first time in a commercial flight in 2017. Two accidents with this model, one in October, in Indonesia, and the other on Sunday, in Ethiopia, caused 346 deaths. The planes had been used for no more than four months.

According to The New York Times, at least 25 of the 68 companies which had purchased the model stopped using it, among them Brazilian carrier Gol. Air traffic authorities from China, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Oman, Singapore, Mongolia, Morocco, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Ireland suspended all flights with this type of plane.

“This is a relevant model for commercial aviation,” points out Arthur Siqueira, an analyst at GEO Capital. Boeing has already delivered around 350 Boeings 737 MAX to 68 companies all over the world, and has 4,600 more already commissioned to be delivered in the next years. “75 percent of them are MAX 8 models, the same one which crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia,” says the analyst.

The episode with 737 Max 8, with two accidents in such a short period of time, is unusual in the history of commercial aviation. At least three other models, including Comet 1, the first jet passenger airplane, faced serious problems during their first flights.

De Haviland Comet 1

The De Haviland Comet 1 was the first commercial passenger airplane in operation. Its first test flight was made in 1949, and its commercial debut was made in May 1952. A series of six accidents – four of them fatal, with 110 deaths – in its first two years of operation caused the project to be questioned, and British air traffic authorities determined the interruption of all operations with the plane. The production was suspended.

The project had several issues, related to metal wear and tear. The constant pressurization and depressurization cycles increased pressure on the edges of one of the plane’s antennas and on the fuselage windows, which were square, causing the plane to break up and explode during flight.

The design of the plane was redone, and, in October 1958, the Comet 4, a larger and remodeled version of the plane was put in operation. But the prince of this pioneering spirit was too expensive for De Haviland. Three weeks later, Boeing began to fly their first commercial passenger jet, the 707, a bigger and newer plane, able to transport between 120 and 180 passengers, while the Comet transported a maximum of 101.

That flaw caused the British manufacturer to lose market space. Between 1949 and 1967, 112 planes were produced, while 858 Boeings 707 were manufactured until 1991.

Lockheed Electra

Another aviation icon strongly questioned was the Lockheed Electra, known in Brazil for operating the Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo air shuttle service until the early 1990s. Two accidents which resulted in the complete disintegration of the planes, in September 1959 and March 1960, in the United States, caused 97 deaths.

“The trust of the public on the plane was disintegrated, and there was a sort of choir asking the plane to be kept on the ground,” tells writer Robert Sterling in the book The Electra Story: The Dramatic History of Aviation’s Most Controversial Airliner (Endeavour Media).

The investigations involved Lockheed and Nasa. The wing structure would break down during flight due to a design mistake in the nacelles, where the engines were housed. The company was forced to redesign them, but it soon ceased to be manufactured. Between 1957 and 1961, 170 units were made.

McDonnell Douglas DC-10

The DC-10 was McDonnell Douglas’ answer to the launch of the Boeing 747 in 1970. Both airplanes inaugurated the age of widebodies (planes with a long fuselage and two corridors). Its first flight was made in August 1970, and, one year later, it began to be operated commercially.

Even though it was a hit in the market, with 440 airplanes produced between 1970 and 1989, the project had a flaw which resulted in the worst accident in aviation history until that time.

A plane operated by Turkish company THY exploded during a Paris-London flight, causing 346 deaths, on March 3, 1974. The reason was a flaw in the lock of one of the cargo compartment’s doors. The door was opened during the flight, causing the plane to decompress and the passenger cabin to collapse. The plane’s hydraulic system was affected, making it unmanageable.

A similar problem had happened little over one year earlier, with an American Airlines plane flying from Detroit to Buffalo, in the United States, but the problems were less intense and the pilot was able to land safely in Detroit.

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determined changes in the door locking system after the accident with the Turkish plane, and the problem never happened again.

In 1979, however, a new problem caused all DC-10 to be banned from flying for five weeks in the United States and other countries. Another American Airlines plane fell down as it took off from Chicago airport, killing 273 people due to a problem in one of the engines. The investigation found out that it was due to a maintenance issue.

 

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Três falhas em projetos de avião que resultaram em desastres

Os dois acidentes com o 737 Max 8 estão sendo investigados, mas ele entra na lista dos modelos que tiveram problemas nos primeiros meses de uso