Boeing and Air Safety Experts Have Been Wary of the Angle of Attack Sensor As a Possible Cause of “Pitch Trim Runaway” Since At Least November 2018


KING 5’s Aviation Specialist Glenn Farley with the warning about the Boeing 737 MAX 8 goes back to October 2018 (Video published on Seattle NBC affiliate KING 5 Nov. 7, 2018).

Air safety experts have been aware of a possible issue with the Angle of Attack sensors in the Boeing MAX 8s at least since October 2018 when an Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed in the Java Sea 12 minutes after takeoff on October 29, 2018.

Pitch is the up and down motion of an aircraft on the transverse or lateral axis of an aircraft, involving nose up/tail down and nose down/tail up motion. Angle of Attack is the angle of an aircraft on the transverse axis as the aircraft flows through air, which along with air speed, controls the lift of wings in the atmosphere. The higher the nose relative to the tail, the higher the angle of attack. Angle of Attack is highly related to pitch.

The Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor was designed to prevent an Angle of Attack that is too high, which could cause an aircraft to stall and crash. The Boeing design could be an example of “the cure being worse than the illness.” The AoA is like a tiny little wing device that sticks out of the side of the aircraft, and looks like something that could be easily damaged by ground operations, bird strike, hail or other inadvertent contacts.

The Angle of Attack sensor problem isn’t the only issue that can cause pitch control problems, but one thing is certain: a flight control problem, such as a pitch control issue right after takeoff, is one of the most hazardous emergency situations facing pilots.

A flight-control anomaly shortly after takeoff ranks among the most hazardous emergency situations. With little time or altitude to troubleshoot the problem, detailed understanding of the systems involved, and close coordination among the crew are essential to maintaining positive aircraft control. Pitch attitude is especially crucial: Airspeed and aerodynamic loads build rapidly if the nose is allowed to drop, while letting it rise risks an unrecoverable stall.


Arthur Rosenberg, aviation attorney and former pilot, says he would not get on a Boeing 737 MAX 8 at this time.

Rosenberg says Boeing sold the MAX 8 so that flight crews could transition with very little extra training and no simulator training, but initially the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) using the AoA sensor operated without the flight crew even knowing about the system, without knowing about the possible pitch problems, and without knowing how to manually override the feature. Unfortunately, there might not be enough time for any pilot to react if a pitch problem occurs within minutes of takeoff when there is not enough altitude to make the correction before impact with the ground occurs.

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Ethiopian Airlines has grounded all its Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft after a fatal crash on the weekend. China’s civilian aviation authority ordered all Chinese airlines to temporarily ground their Max 8s. We asked Arthur Rosenberg, an aviation attorney and former pilot, whether all Max 8s should be grounded and what the impact would be (CBC is a Canadian public broadcast service Wikipedia).


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