Dropping 500 Feet in 20 Seconds: Simulating the Cockpit Experience of an Airliner with a Trim Control Failure

A. Redei
Central Michigan University,
United States

Keywords: flight simulation, MCAS, 737 Max


The grounding of the 737 Max fleet has had a tremendous impact on the airplane manufacturer, Boeing, and indeed the entire aviation industry. Two tragic accidents became the catalyst for the FAA’s decision to ground the fleet: Lion Air Flight 610, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. 346 people died in these accidents. In October 2019, the FAA released an investigative report performed independently by the joint authorities technical review of the two 737 crashes, chaired by investigator Chris Heart. This report included involvement from 10 countries, and analyzed the crashes in depth (particularly Lion Air 61). The report outlined broad recommendations and specific recommendations for the future safety of the 737 Max and other new aircraft. In this paper, we use the data provided in the report to reconstruct the Lion Air 610 crash using a full-motion flight simulator. Using the telemetry data from Lion Air 610, obtained by ground radios tracking the flight, we synthesize a recreation of the accident including the aircrafts flight path and heading, what the pilots saw out the cockpit window that day, and what the weather looked like. Using software we’ve created to enable high-intensity manuvers, participants are put into our flight simulator to experience the same g-forces the pilots did on that fateful day. This includes a terrifying 500 foot drop in 20 seconds as the electric trim control of the MCAS system forces the nose of the plane down shortly after takeoff. Using a mixed-methods approach, quantitative and qualitative data is collected. Qualitatively, we analyze the participants reactions, looking at disposition during certain events and facial reactions. Qualitatively, we observed g-forces encountered, and measure yoke (simulated via joystick) and throttle position at various points in the flight. This data provides insight into the human element when pilots in the cockpit are encountering unexpected g-forces during an aviation emergency.