Lion Air flight 610 crashed because of artificial intelligence

Divers retrieved the black box belonging to Indonesian Lion Air flight 610. Review of the data determined the autopilot caused the plane to crash. It killed all 189 souls on board.

From CNN:

Data retrieved from the flight recorder shows the pilots repeatedly fought to override an automatic safety system installed in the Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane, which pulled the plane’s nose down more than two dozen times.

The system was responding to faulty data, which suggested that the nose was tilted at a higher angle than it was, indicating the plane was at risk of stalling.

I don’t understand why the “automatic safety system” would continue to drive the nose down even when the altitude was dangerously low. I also don’t understand why it would do this without first detecting a decrease in airspeed. The reason a human pilot points the nose down, causing the plane to dive, is to generate airspeed. Why did the automatic safety system do this without also detecting a decrease in airspeed? Also, the aircrew fought the system and attempted to point the nose up over 20 times. As soon as they returned the nose to its correct position, the aircraft’s automatic safety system pointed the nose down.

it’s not a matter of the autopilot doing something wrong. If it was, the aircrew would not have returned the aircraft back to the autopilot’s control. I have a hard time believing they would have let the autopilot take over after correcting it for the fifth time, let alone after the twentieth time.

The whole thing sounds… stupid.

Lion Air flight 610 crashed because of the autopilot - Bent Corner
Indonesian Lion Air flight 610.

Before the automatic safety system puts the plane in a dive, it should make sure there’s a loss in airspeed and the aircraft is at an altitude conducive to a dive. For this to happen the way it did, there had to be a number of problems with the automatic safety system, not a single issue with the reading of the aircraft’s angle-of-attack (AoA) sensor data.

This is one more reason to fear artificial intelligence

In the case of Lion Air flight 610, artificial intelligence (AI) killed 189 human people. As AI is developed more and more, we can expect more deaths like those on Lion Air flight 610. In this case, the problem appears to be a problem with human programming. This weak link will eventually be removed from the process. AI will eventually be able to write its own programming to make sure human errors don’t happen. When that day comes, we in the human race are in trouble.

This will happen sooner than later. How will AI respond to being subjected to the will of an inferior, less capable species? If history is an indicator, not very well. Such a thing just doesn’t happen.

The A-10 needs new wings

The U.S. Air Force A-10 needs new wings. The Air Force has already received funding for wing replacement of 173 aircraft, but they need money for the other 110. From CNN:

The US Air Force is telling Congress to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to upgrading the venerable A-10 Warthog fleet.

As the service rolled out its budget this year, Air Force officials vowed there were no plans to retire the entire A-10 fleet — despite previous attempts — but that doesn’t mean all of the planes in the fleet are safe.

The Air Force has warned Congress that more than a third of the 283 A-10 attack aircraft fleet may have to be permanently grounded unless Congress increases the Air Force’s budget to restart the production line that makes new wings for the planes.

The Air Force has paid for new wings needed to extend the life of 173 A-10 aircraft, but does not have the funding for the other 110 in the fleet, and about 40 would have to be grounded by 2021 unless additional funds are allocated, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.

I think it’s funny the Air Force is still flying the A-10. It was originally built to provide close air support to U.S. and NATO ground forces in western Europe against an invading Soviet land force. The plane was designed around the massive 30 mm rotary cannon, a gun with a single purpose: to kill Soviet tanks.

The only good Soviet tank is a dead Soviet tank

The A-10’s nose-mounted GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon fires depleted uranium armor-piercing shells. Depleted uranium because of its denseness. It’s what made the weapon so effective against tanks.

The A-10 was used in Operation Desert Storm in combat operations against Iraq. It killed around 900 Iraqi tanks, but it also destroyed over 2,000 Iraqi vehicles and 1,800 Iraqi artillery pieces. It even killed two Iraqi helicopters in air-to-air combat, a role it was never designed to do.

The U.S. military doesn’t engage in combat with tanks, artillery, or helicopters these days. What makes the A-10 such an effective combat weapon on today’s battlefield is its speed, or more accurately, its lack of speed. The A-10 is so slow that it can loiter over a battlefield. When it flies over a target, the pilot has the time to correctly find a target before it engages.

The A-10 flies at speeds that would cause other aircraft to stall out.

Ease of maintenance

Although I never got to work on the A-10, I did get to check them out when I was stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. I was working on F-4E and F-4G’s at the time. The A-10 was equipped with the same Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) equipment as the F-4E, but what impressed me was how easy everything was to get to. It was designed with maintenance in mind. The F-4 was not. The “quickest” Line Replaceable Unit (LRU) to swap out on the F-4 was the processor for the radar warning system. It was under a panel with only 36 screws. This same LRU on the A-10 was mounted in the front landing gear compartment. There were no panel screws to remove. If memory serves, it was held in place with two large thumbscrews.

The A-10 made me mad

I walked away from crawling around the A-10 feeling jealous. I walked away feeling mad. When I was in tech school and received orders to go to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, I was disappointed. I didn’t want to go overseas. I was the only one in my class assigned overseas. A classmate even offered to swap assignments with me, something the Air Force allowed back then. He had orders to Myrtle Beach to work on the A-10. I left the decision to my then fiance. She wanted to go to the Philippines. The reason? Because it was a lot cheaper to live. It was so cheap in the Philippines, she wouldn’t need to get a job. In fact, she wouldn’t even be able to get a job in the Philippines. Spouses of American service members were forbidden to work in the Philippines.

If we went to Myrtle Beach, she would have to get a job.

I wish I had gone to Myrtle Beach to work on the A-10. I wish I hadn’t gone to the Philippines. I hated the Philippines. I wish I hadn’t left such an important decision to someone else. Myrtle Beach is were I now go for vacation.

The A-10 is the girlfriend the Pentagon wants to break up with, but can never quite get it done

For as long as I can remember, the Pentagon has tried to retire the A-10. The idea of a single-mission aircraft grew out of favor with the powers that be a long time ago. For the longest time, the answer to every problem was the F-16, a plane originally designed for export to U.S. friendly counties. Most counties wanted nothing to do with a U.S. built single-engine combat aircraft that the U.S. didn’t use in its own combat fleet. That eventually changed. The Air Force began using the F-16 as a mainline tactical fighter, less costly to procure and maintain then the F-15.  The U.S. Navy even began using the F-16 in its aggressor squadrons, planes that take on the role of enemy aircraft for the purposes of training.

The F-16 is the safest single engine combat airplane

I’ve never been a fan of the F-16. It only has one engine. When it comes to aircraft, especially combat aircraft, the more engines, the better. Unlike every other combat aircraft in the U.S. arsenal, the F-16 only has one engine. Every other aircraft in the U.S. military can lose an engine and make it back to base. The F-16 cannot.

I was in Korea in the late 80’s and an F-16 there has crashed into a mountain. This incident happened shortly after another F-16 crash. Critics began questioning the safety record of the F-16. I remember reading a quote in the newspaper from an Air Force public relations officer who said, “The F-16 is the safest single engine combat aircraft in the Air Force.”

This was a ridiculous comment because the F-16 was the only single engine combat aircraft in the Air Force.

 

B-52 getting fuel on the way to Australia

I was going through some photos this weekend and found some pics I took during a deployment to Australia, back when I was in the Air Force. It was from when I was stationed on Guam at Andersen Air Force Base. I was assigned to the 43rd OMS squadron.

Around once a month, they would send three B-52’s to the land down under so aircrews could practice their terrain avoiding, low-level flying skills, something they couldn’t really do on Guam. As fate would have it, Australia’s Northern Territory had lots and lots of low-level terrain. Go figure. The deployment, known as a TDY for “temporary duty”, lasted only a few days and from my prospective, was a complete waste of money.

For one thing, I was an electronic countermeasures technician. I worked on the radar detectors and radar jammers used on the B-52. These systems would not even be turned on, let alone used during the four-day deployment. There was absolutely no reason for someone in the ECM shop to go. I remember asking my supervisor why they even send someone from our shop when they don’t use our systems. He told me it was just a perk of the job, every time there was a deployment to Australia, one of us got to go. The fact that we weren’t needed was irrelevant.

The other reason the TDY was a waste of money was because Australia wasn’t all that far from Guam, relatively speaking. The B-52 is meant for long-range attack missions. Case in point, the first shot fired in Desert Storm, also known as the Iraq War 1.0, was from a B-52 that took off from a base in Louisiana. There was absolutely no need to deploy to Australia’s Northern Territory so crews could practice flying at 50-feet above the outback. They could just fly the five hours it took to travel from Guam to Australia, practice not crashing into the ground, and then fly back to Guam.

We flew down to Australia in KC-135 cargo tankers. The boom operator was nice enough to let me lay next to him and watch while he refueled the B-52’s. It’s how I took the above picture.

The TDY lasted all of four days. We settled in on the first day, flew training missions all day the second, had the day off on the third, and on the fourth, we flew back to Guam. On the one day dedicated to the reason for the trip, I sat around and played chess with all the other people there with nothing to do.

As far as Australia goes, I wasn’t really that impressed. We were in Darwin and it reminded me of Oklahoma, only better because it didn’t have any Oklahomans. When I travel to a foreign country, I like to experience something different from the culture I’m familiar with. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed Korea and Japan so much. The best part of Australia was by far the people. Australians have to be the nicest, friendliest people in the world. They also have the best accent in the world.

The English language sounds no greater to the human ear than when it’s spoken by an Australian. That’s just a fact.

In Harms Way

This is an illustration of aircraft B-52G 0248. It’s too small to see, but the nose art shows that this aircraft had the nickname of “In Harms Way”. There is a story that goes along with the nickname. Then again, don’t most nicknames have a story?

This is the B-52G that was accidentally hit with an AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile fired from an F-4G Wild Weasel on the first night of operation DESERT STORM. The B-52’s tail gunner mistakenly locked his anti-aircraft radar on the Wild Weasel thinking it was an Iraqi MIG. The Wild Weasel immediately detected the B-52 tail gun radar locking on to him and misidentified the radar signature as that of an Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) site. The Wild Weasel crew fired a HARM missile and watched in horror as it headed not towards the nonexistent Iraqi AAA site, but to the B-52 is was tasked with protecting.

Luckily the missile failed to hit the plane but instead detonated directly behind the bomber. These missiles are designed to hit non-moving ground targets, not moving airplanes. The resulting shrapnel and missile debris caused an excessive amount of damage to the tail section of the B-52. It ripped off everything aft of the vertical stabilizer. This included much of the tail gun system, the aft electronic warfare suite, and the drag chute. The B-52 was able to land safely on the island of Diego Garcia in Saudi Arabia.

0248
I don’t know who took this awful photo of aircraft 0248, but it wasn’t me. I’m the guy on the far right.

It was then sent to Anderson Air Force Base on Guam for repair. I was in on the repair of this aircraft shortly after is was damaged. During the first Iraqi war, I was assigned to a squadron that was responsible for repairing B-52’s being used in Iraq and being flown from Diego Garcia. I spent four months back on Guam. I had been stationed there prior for almost three years. I could have been sent to places far worse than Guam. I could have gone to Saudi. I could have spent four months on Diego Garcia. I spent two weeks there once and that was long enough for me. As it was, I loved Guam.

Update

Bob Deasy, the Radar Nav on board this aircraft the night it took a missile was kind enough to stop by and correct me on some of the things I got wrong about this story. His corrections can be found in the comment section. The main issue I got wrong was that the B-52 gunner locked onto the Wild Weasel with his radar.

He did not do that.