WorldWide Drilling Resource

18 JUNE 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® The Domino Effect by Britt Storkson Owner, P2FlowLLC China Airlines Flight 5735 Boeing 737-800 made an unexplained rapid descent and crashed March 21, 2022, killing all 123 passengers and nine flight crew. FlightRadar24 showed the plane plunging at a rate that reached nearly 31,000 feet per minute before it struck mountainous terrain in Teng County, located in China’s Guangxi region. A security camera at a mining company near the crash site also captured video of the plane plunging at a near-vertical orientation. While it is still too early in the investigation to draw firm conclusions about what caused the crash, the fact is, airplanes don’t just fall from the sky. Confirming this concept, David Learmont, operations and safety editor at Flight International magazine, told NBC News: “These don’t just fall out of the sky. Modern airplanes just don’t.” Other informed sources offer similar conclusions as well. We know a pilot can intentionally “aim” an aircraft into the ground, but can a computer malfunction cause a plane to do the same thing? The answer is: Yes, it’s possible. So what happens when a computer malfunctions? The answer is complex; many things can happen depending on how the computer interfaces with the various systems found in a modern aircraft, as well as other variables. We now know one or more flaws in the Boeing MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) software caused two planes to plummet uncontrollably to earth. Could the same thing have happened with the China Airlines Flight? Possibly. While this aircraft was not equipped with a MCAS system, any computer-operated device that comes between the pilot and aircraft control (often called “fly-by-wire” and is widely used in the industry) could cause that problem. Back to computer failure causes. In simple terms, there are two basic sources of computer failure: Hardware and software. Hardware is things you can see and touch. Software is the instructions stored in the hardware which tell the computer what and when to do various things. Either or both can fail at any time. The critical component here is computer memory. There are several different types of computer memory tailored to satisfy different demands, but all operate the same way. Computer memory contains 1s and 0s with each 1 or 0 called a “bit”, which are organized in various ways, but most commonly organized as “bytes”, which are “strings” of 8 bits each of which are numbered from right to left from 0 to 7 just like conventional numbers. These organized bits are also called “data”. If you take a voltmeter and measure the voltage of each bit, a “logic 0” would measure anything less than 1 volt. A “logic 1” would measure anything over 1 volt to a maximum dictated by the processor design, which could be anything from 1.8 volts to 5 volts. These bits are often organized into bytes, with each byte having an “address” (where it lives). These addresses are simply numbered locations from 00 to whatever size the memory is much like numbering a sheet of notebook paper and are used to find the information when you need it. In a computer, not only is the information (data) located within the memory byte critically important, its location within the memory (the address) is critically important as well. The 1s and 0s within the byte tell us what it (the data) is, and the memory location (where it is) tells us what it means. For example, I’m 67 years old. If I store my age (67) at memory location #10, I know whatever data is stored at location #10 represents my age as of 4/1/2022. With this technology, it is possible for performance of critical operations to hinge on the status of a single bit. So having one bit altered from its correct state can dramatically impact computer operation and often not in a good way. That’s why it is good computer programming practice to execute critical operations using several bytes of memory which must all agree before the operation is performed. Or better yet: Don’t allow the computer to perform a critical operation in the first place. Leave it to the humans. Likewise, if the status of a single bit in the data controlling where the program goes is incorrect, it can drastically alter computer program execution by sending the program execution to a place it isn’t supposed to be - which can send it to another place it is not supposed to be. And on and on it goes like a row of dominos. The most likely external result of all this is the computer “locks up”. It doesn’t change anything after the initial error. Internally it’s still working, but it’s not working right. If it’s in the process of pointing the nose of the aircraft down, it just keeps pointing it down. Software and hardware can be used to test for and correct this condition, but if it has been done incompletely, incompetently, or not done, nothing is going to change. Of course this is all speculation as I do not have a way to verify any of what happened to cause this crash, but computer operation and function is the same everywhere. As with most everything, there’s a right way and a wrong way to make and use computers. Britt Britt Storkson may be contacted via e-mail to 2022 NDA Convention ~ Golf Outing ~ Day Excursion ~ Past Presidents Cruise ~ President’s Dinner ~ Presentations ~ Outdoor Rig Displays ~ Exhibits ~ Much More! September 27-28 Pittsburgh, PA Act Now for Special w o Early Bird Rates! For more information, call the NDA office 877-632-4748 or register online at Keynote Speaker: Former Pittsburgh Steelers player Charlie Batch