The first "letter to
the editor" I ever got published in my life was in the Washington
Post. I would have liked it to be about politics,
but instead it's about airplanes.
airframes being assembled from sections built in Wichita Falls, KS.
Photo by Dave Williams, The Wichita Eagle
LETTER TO THE
The April 17 front-page
story "Boeing Parts & Rules Bent, Whistle-Blowers
that 737 airliners are getting fuselage skin made from parts
of the wrong size and
shape and with pre-drilled holes in the wrong
place; workers drill new
holes by hand to put the plane together. The story
said that the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) did not pursue three
because the parts in question would not present a
safety risk even if they
failed in flight. Such failures have never caused
a crash, the FAA
But in 1953 and 1954 three de
Havilland Comets flown by Britain's BOAC
exploded in midair when their
fuselage skins failed, and 99 people died.
failures, Britain lost its chance to be the dominant jetliner
the rest of the 20th century. Britain eventually lost its
business to a rival named
Boeing but first it lost its reputation.
has a great graphic
showing how an airplane fuselage is built, and where these parts fit in
(or didn't fit in) to put the "skin" onto the airplane.
EXTRACT OF ORIGINAL
ARTICLE in case you don't have time to read it all:
...Cindy Wall, a company spokeswoman [for Boeing says,] "Our planes are safe."
The three whistle-blowers, however, contend that Boeing officials knew
from their own audits about thousands of parts that did not meet
specifications, allowed them to be installed and retaliated against
people who raised questions. They say the parts, manufactured from 1994
to 2002, fit the Federal Aviation Administration's definition of
"unapproved" because they lack documentation proving that they are
airworthy. Moreover, they say, forcing a part into place could shorten
After the whistle-blowers notified federal authorities in 2002, the FAA
and the Pentagon looked into their charges. Each said its investigation
cleared the airplane parts... The Department of Transportation's
inspector general also dismissed the charges.
The Post's review, however, found that the FAA did not assess many of
the whistle- blowers' key allegations. FAA inspectors examined only a
small number of parts in the plants and did not visit any airplanes to
inspect the roughly 200 types of parts questioned by the
The Pentagon and Transportation Department, in turn, relied on the FAA's work, documents show.
One reason the FAA chose not to pursue the whistle-blowers' claims,
officials said, was that... [t]here has never been a crash caused by
such a failure, the agency said.
REACTION ON BLOGS
The reaction from
(Gideon Starorzewski's blog)
"Oh well, by all means, let's wait until people die before addressing a
potential and very serious problem; we don't want to ruffle the feathers of of
Boeing's stockholders, do we?"
BOEING HAS VIOLATED
NATIONAL SECURITY EXPORT REGULATIONS
and sent a gyroscope guidance chip used in military missiles out of the
The reaction from:
http://www.dvorak.org/blog/?p=5042 the "Dvorak Uncensored" blog
I hope someone at Boeing kicks some serious QC ass over at AHF
Ducommun, or we won’t have a commercial aircraft industry soon. How many such reports do
airlines (especially foreign) need to see before they exclusively buy Airbus?
--John C Dvorak
Call me unadventurous, but I would rather not be looking down from
above the clouds, knowing I was on a plane respec’ed during assembly with
Elmer’s, duct tape or ad hoc holes drilled in ANYTHING related to keeping it in the air.
If you can’t trust outsourced, low bid subcontractors working
for giant military industrial corporations, who can you trust?
Ballenger on "Dvorak Uncensored" blog
I used to work on the 737 line at the Boeing plant in Renton,
Washington [JIN: where the fuselage sections from Wichita, KS,
are put together], and this doesn’t surprise me. Shoddy
work is fairly common. Sadly,
Boeing is still the best of the bunch. While working on Airbus planes
structural and casting defects hidden with body filler (Bondo-type
material for you car guys). I fly
if I have to, but I prefer to take the train.
Comment by Mike on
"Dvorak Uncensored" blog
REACTION at McLEAN HIGH SCHOOL, VIRGINIA
Jerry '60: I was a kid living in Europe when de Havilland made its own
with the fuselage skin of the Comet airplanes --- the world's first
commercial jetliner. The cold war was closing in, and these
airplanes kept falling out of the sky. It was pretty scary,
which is why I remembered it. The other famous metal fatigue
incident in history involved Liberty cargo shops hastily made to supply
the troops abroad during WW II. They fell apart in mid-ocean.
The Comet's cracks started at the corner of the windows.
The Liberty ship's cracks started at the corner of a cargo
hold. Moral: always round off your corners. Anyway,
now you know why they always X-ray planes. They all have
cracks; someone decides when they should stop flying.
Feeling better now?
Pam '59: If you are
feeling better, why not relax and watch "No Highway in the Sky"
a prescient 1951 movie about planes that crash from metal
fatigue. Duke '60: Better yet, read the book the movie was
taken from: No Highway (1948)
], the guy who wrote On the Beach.
Nancy '60: We wanted the Comet, it was the only jet and so much
faster. I do remember the Comets being grounded. We were in
Burma at the time getting ready to come home and instead of BOAC's
Comet I think we came home either on TWA or Pan Am.
Frank '60: ... there was the Aloha Airlines jet that had a
large section of the top of its fuselage blown apart but with
only the stewardess lost (wear your seatbelt) ... the cause was
metal fatigue due to so many inter-island take-offs and landings.
One passenger had noticed an anomalous bulge in the side of the
plane before the catastrophic decompression. Maybe you remember
Duke '60: ...and let's not forget the catastrophic fuselage
failure at 24, 000 feet near Maui in 1988 of a 737-200 (N73711) flown
by Aloha Airlines where a skin crease cracked along lap joints under
the forces of pressurization and became a full-blown rupture. A
senior flight attendant was sucked out through the hole and vanished;
65 of the 89 passengers were injured -- 8 seriously. [JIN:
how nice to know the 737s are being built so much more carefully today
. . . ]
assembly hall, from the Y2000 Annual Report of Ducommun Inc., a
venerable California company. It is painful to see this
happening to them, or to Boeing either, for that matter.
Ducommun was accused of using routers to cut the panels of fuselage
skin when CNC (Computer-Numeric-Controlled) machinery was specified.
Numerous parts were off-spec. Management retaliated
against workers and Q/C personnel who tried to set things right.
The most interesting point is that the required written
certifications of independent FAA inspectors for numerous parts were
never given, so that, legally, the planes were never certified
airworthy to fly. Hats off to all the decent people who
tried to do the right thing. Sorry they hurt you. We were a
great nation once.