No Minister

About bloody time, Boeing.

with 8 comments

When NASA laid contracts with Boeing and SpaceX a decade ago to develop spacecraft that could transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), I don’t think anybody expected that it would be Boeing that would drop the ball on the job.

SpaceX was a newbie in an industry where deep-seated, careful design, engineering and testing was prized, and which Boeing had in depth. Most space industry observers thought that SpaceX was merely a backup to Boeing, a little bit of potential redundancy against development problems, but not expected to be the leader.

In fact SpaceX was the one that grabbed the prize, first developing the Dragon spaceship for sending freight to the ISS in the mid-2010’s, then modifying that vehicle into Crew Dragon, to carry humans into space. After an uncrewed test flight to the ISS in 2019, SpaceX got people there a year later in 2020, after some of their own problems. They’ve since sent and returned several ISS crews.

Meantime, Boeing’s problems with their Starliner spacecraft went from bad to worse. You’d think that being slow and careful would at least produce a good spacecraft, even if over-budget and years behind schedule. But that was not what happened, with test flights that went off course or were scrubbed because of potentially catastrophic failures with things like thrusters. It’s been quite the black eye for Boeing and, along with their production problems on the 787 Dreamliner aircraft and crashes of the latest 737 model, has raised serious questions about their engineering prowess.

Well, today they finally managed something with Starliner:

[Boeing’s] Starliner was successfully launched by the aerospace company and NASA from the Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Thursday .

[It] docked with the International Space Station for the first time Friday. The uncrewed test flight docked with the space station at 8:28 p.m. EDT, NASA said in a tweet.

Sighs of relief all around I’d say, not just inside Boeing but NASA also since, as good as SpaceX and Crew Dragon have proved to be, it’s always nice to have a backup.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 22, 2022 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Aerospace, Space, USA

Tagged with , ,

8 Responses

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  1. Long story short: Boeing went full “woke” a few years ago and started hiring “diversity” box tickers and firing engineers for PC infringements.
    “Boeing’s dearth of upper management engineering experience is offset by a wealth of wokeness. They of course mandate extensive diversity training and occasionally purge those who resist. The latest is that they intend to increase the number of black employees by 20%.”
    “Unsurprisingly, the company is now plagued by design and safety issues. It turns out that airplanes don’t get designed and built on their own or by investment bankers or by racial quotas or by skillful lobbyists or by tax breaks or by Harvard MBAs.”


    May 22, 2022 at 2:11 pm

  2. The biggest problem Boeing has is that McDonnel Douglas executives and management personnel now run it, and all the engineering based ethos that had served Boeing so well since its foundation has gone out the window. The self same McDonnell Douglas executives and management personnel running Boeing ran McDonnell into the ground and that’s why Boeing took the company over. They moved Boeing HQ from Seattle to Chicago, but Boeing doesn’t build anything in Chicago, so they’ve physically removed its corporate HQ from its original site and main assembly facility, driving a wedge between the two.

    Boeing has an engineering safety problem now with lots of FOD (Foreign Object Damage) incidents being recorded in newbuild aircraft. The most frequent ones are workers tools left with the aircraft, sometimes the occasional toolbox and occasional a ladder. These are generally in inaccessible areas and where they have the potential to cause catastrophic damage to the aircraft, resulting in a fatal crash. It can be anything from jamming control cables to puncturing or causing sparks in fuel tanks resulting in fire, or shorting out across electrical cables / points, causing a fire onboard. They had also managed to capture FAA inspectors enabling aircraft to bypass strict flight safety inspections by the FAA inspectors. So not good at all.


    May 23, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    • Christ, I didn’t know about the stuff in your second paragraph. What I did know from an aerospace engineer friend in the US, was more around design and senior or mid-level management decisions that led to these problems, even if the detail you provide is down to sloppy workmanship and supervisors.

      … that McDonnell Douglas executives and management personnel now run it,..

      I still marvel at what was effectively a reverse takeover. As this guy concisely put it.

      Tom Hunter

      May 23, 2022 at 1:13 pm

      • Yep Tom, where Boeing was really successful was that it was engineers and designers who ran the company and knew what was required to be a successful in the aerospace industry. It was about craftmanship, safety being paramount, worker and workplace pride, and having excellent customer relations. Now its the opposite. Under the old management the Boeing MAX 10 wouldn’t have happened the way it did. I actually think the B737 line would’ve ended with the B737-800 series and a replacement would’ve been in the market by now. To stick with the B737 line is a mistake and they’ve given up a lot of market share to Airbus with its A321 series.

        Boeing have also annoyed the hell out of the USAF with their KC-46 delays and stuff ups. It’s also costing Boeing a fortune because the USAF negotiated a fixed price contract and the problems and delays have cost Boeing more than the contract price. They are having problems with the boom operator remote vision system and the USAF are still finding FOD in newly delivered aircraft. Hopefully we won’t have the same FOD problems with our P-8A Poseidon aircraft because they are assembled at Trenton, Washington, which is a different plant to the KC-46 plant,


        May 23, 2022 at 5:40 pm

  3. The P8? Oh no. Even if it is a different plant I can’t thinking we’ll need to go over them with a fine tooth comb upon delivery.

    Tom Hunter

    May 23, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    • They’re being acquired through FMS and the USN will go over them with a fine tooth comb. Also there is a MOD Project team based out of the Embassy in Washington who will be keeping a close eye on things. We have RNZAF air crew and tech people imbedded with the USN undergoing training on the aircraft and its systems. That’s how MOD & NZDF operate now with big acquisitions and having project liaison and oversight teams onsite where the new capabilities are being built has saved us a lot of money and time. We will be doing the same with the C-130-J30 acquisition which is also through FMS, this time with the USAF as the contracting party.

      When we had Aotearoa built by HHI in South Korea, we had a Project Liaison & Oversight time based in the shipyard so any issues and problems were fixed onsite. The team had a MOD Project manager, a RNZN engineering officer in charge of the RNZN personnel and various RNZN and civilian technical and specialist personnel. WE haven’t had any problems bringing Aotearoa into service and she’s expected to achieve Full Operational Capability at this years RIMPAC off Hawaii as planned. The Poms meantime had four Tide Class AOR built for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in South Korea by DMSE and they have had nothing but problems with shoddy workmanship, poor electrical fittings (wrong wiring used etc., and other problems. They didn’t have a project liaison oversight team at the shipyards and ran what oversight they did out of their embassy in Seoul. That failing is costing them a fortune. Mind you part of the problem is the UKMOD and the civil service therein, plus the RN who have a tendency of changing specifications partway through a build. The other issue is DMSE which at the time as going under and its shipbuild quality was of of the reasons for that. The quality had steadily declined over the years.


      May 23, 2022 at 9:02 pm

  4. Two thrusters were duds. Thankfully they did not rapidly disassemble, but were just duds. The new approach of prioritising diversity over competence will have some consequences over the next few decades, in all industries.


    May 24, 2022 at 12:44 am

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