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737 Max

The MAX Was “Designed By Clowns Supervised by Monkeys”

The MAX Was “Designed By Clowns Supervised by Monkeys”

We regret the content of these communications and apologize to the F.A.A., Congress, our airline customers, and to the flying public for them.


Even after a year of embarrassments for Boeing that included a congressional roasting, these recently revealed internal communications, handed over to the Federal Aviation Administration as part of their investigation is perhaps one of the most inflammatory follow-ups to the MAX tragedies which, in two separate accidents–one in late 2018 and one in early 2019–killed 346 people.

Designed By Clowns Who Are Supervised By Monkeys

As part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s investigation into the MAX tragedies at Boeing, the company was forced to turn over embarrassing (to put it lightly) communications— both emails and instant messages — that it sent to investigators on Thursday, January 9, 2020.

While these internal communications contain several callous remarks perhaps the most startling is the Boeing employee that called the 737 MAX an airplane “designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys” in a comment on an e-mail sent back in 2017.

“I Still Haven’t Been Forgiven by God”

While the FAA has said that the internal communications raise no new safety concerns, they do seem to confirm that Boeing employees knew how unsafe the MAX was even before the tragic crashes.

Back in 2018, before the first crash, one employee asked a colleague, “Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t.” The colleague responded with one word: “No.”

One employee, presumably speaking about their interactions with the FAA, wrote: “I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year.”

The FAA Is A Joke

The MAX has been grounded for 10 months since the accidents, and while there has been no official word yet on how these communications will impact the future of Boeing’s MAX plane, it will surely further complicate Boeing’s relationship with the FAA and, perhaps the public’s.

In one exchange from 2015, a Boeing employee compared the FAA officials listening to his presentation to “dogs watching TV.”

The communications also complicated Boeing’s relationship with several lawmakers. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said in an interview that he would push for new congressional hearings to question Boeing leadership about the “astonishing and appalling” messages.

It Was Cheaper

If there was any doubt that Boeing’s fatal decisions regarding the MAX were driven by cost, employee discussions about limited training for airline crews that were to fly the plan will go a long way in dispelling it.

Boeing promised to offer Southwest, for example, a discount of $1 million per plane if regulators only required computer-based training instead of the more expensive simulator training usually required.

In August 2016, a marketing employee, upon hearing that regulators approved computer-based training for pilots who had flown the MAX’s predecessor the 737 NB, said “You can be away from an NG for 30 years and still be able to jump into a MAX? LOVE IT!!

“This is a big part of the operating cost structure in our marketing decks.”

Disciplinary Action

In addition to offering apologies “to the F.A.A., Congress, our airline customers and to the flying public for them,” Boeing promised disciplinary and “other” personnel action “once the necessary reviews are completed.”

Boeing already fired its chief executive Dennis A. Muilenburg after the FAA publicly censured him for promising the MAX’s prompt return before they finished their investigation.

Currently, there is no set timetable for the MAX to return.


To read more on this story, go to the New York Times.


View Comments (18)


  1. strickerj

    January 10, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Honestly, this colors my view of NYT more than anyone else – to say the 737 MAX was “designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys” is an absurd hyperbole that’s inappropriate for a tabloid, much less a mainstream newspaper.

  2. spamman808

    January 10, 2020 at 6:07 pm

    I think that was the purpose of The Times including that actual quote, from a Boeing Employee, in the story: it shows how crass and ridiculous some at Boeing were about the whole situation. The story is about Boeing and it’s employees’ attitude towards the Max, not The TImes insulting Boeing.

  3. arttravel

    January 10, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    Strickerj perhaps you should read the article first. The NYT did not say that —!the NYT quoted a Boeing internal email that made the clowns and monkey comment.

    That internal email has been made public and it is also discussed in Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal— same clowns and monkey Boeing email quoted.

  4. WebTraveler

    January 10, 2020 at 8:21 pm

    Boeing employee said in emails the plane was designed by clowns, not the newspaper.

    This plane is done. No one trusts it

  5. diver858

    January 11, 2020 at 7:21 am

    Blaming the messenger? Perhaps a simple thank you would suffice.

    There are some old school airline employees who take their jobs seriously. While cockpit automation will continue to improve, the results clearly show (with hundreds of innocent, dead passengers) that flying the 737 Max requires more than gaming skills. IMHO, highly experienced AA and WN were skilled, smart enough to override the 737 Max automation, avoid similar catastrophic events in the US.

    This is not the first time the FAA has been shown to be a lapdog for the airline industry, too weak to do their job effectively.

  6. Boggie Dog

    January 11, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    I believe the Boeing 737 Max aircraft is fatally flawed. The 737 engine pylons were bastardized to make the CFM LEAP engine fit on the pylon, plus increasing the nose strut length, without striking the ground. That in turned changed thrust angles and under high thrust, low airspeed events causes a pronounced nose up pitch moment. The FAA should never issue an Airworthiness Certificate for this mistake.

  7. Fonsini

    January 11, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    The FAA was and probably still is incapable of doing its job. They simply don’t have the knowledge or ability to fact check the aircraft designers.

  8. RR42

    January 11, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    I’m confused. A journalist directly quoting a Boeing employee is inappropriate? If that’s your only takeaway from this article, then you have some disturbing priorities.

  9. htb

    January 11, 2020 at 10:04 pm

    @strickerj: but it wasn’t the newspaper that came up with this assessment, was it? Boeing’s own employee felt it necessary to describe the plane as such.

  10. atflyer

    January 12, 2020 at 2:41 am

    The sentence is not invented by NYT, but it is a quote from internal communication between Boeing employees. NYT just published what Boeing employees said to each other. That Boeing internal people use such hyperboles about their own company and FAA……think about that one…..

  11. strickerj

    January 13, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    My mistake, I misread it. Thanks for the correction, and the half dozen of you who piled on and insulted me over the next few days; I surely wouldn’t have gotten the point without you.

    But in that case, I’d say it’s really an absurd thing for an employee to say, and I question just how prevalent that sentiment really is there or just a few disgruntled workers. It’s pretty obvious to me the mainstream media (NYT especially) has had an agenda here from the start, which I suppose is why I jumped on this as I did. I don’t know if their motivation is the “big corporation bad” mantra or something else, but the fact is neither of these incidents had to result in fatal crashes. Point out that any decently trained pilot should know how to deal with runaway trim (particularly the Ethiopian Airlines crew who had the benefit of hindsight from the Lion Air crash), or that no western airlines had such an incident despite orders of magnitudes more flights, and you just get dismissed as a racist.

    As an engineer who has worked in aerospace, I find it mystifying that the MSM has gone on a crusade to convince the public that neither Boeing nor the FAA can be trusted. There absolutely are checks and balances in place, and the certification process is quite thorough.. It’s obviously not perfect (what system is?), but to claim the FAA is just a lapdog or rubber stamp to the industry is absurd. The 737 MAX has a flaw that, from the looks of it, can be easily fixed with software (that MCAS only relies on one AOA sensor and automatically re-engages after being disengaged), and yet for some reason the media has decided to make the general public think it’s inherently a death trap.

  12. Sydneyberlin

    January 13, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    Oh wow, fun to read: Some Trumpist has to derail the entire discussion. Only in America!

  13. IanFromHKG

    January 14, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    But, strecker, I think you are conveniently ignoring the fact that two flight-simulator sessions replicating the conditions on the doomed flights contradict the contention that better trained pilots would have escaped disaster. Take a look at this article: which includes this memorable quotation:

    “I’m disappointed with those who sit in their lofty chairs of judgment and say this wouldn’t have happened to U.S. pilots,” said a veteran captain with a major U.S. airline

    It is a simple fact that the Max is inherently unstable under certain conditions, and to say that it can be easily fixed with software (because that worked sooooo well last time) undermines your credibility utterly – if it were that simple, the Max would have been back in the air months ago.

    Boeing explicitly recognised the poor design around the AoA sensors that was the instigator of the crashes when it considered, designed, built, and offered to customers, for an extra price, two separate optional display features that would have addressed this. One is a light that illuminates when the signals from the plane’s two angle of attack sensors disagree. Another would provide the angle of attack data to the flight crew directly on the primary flight display. Neither of the crashed planes had those options. But Boeing saw the potential for the AoA sensors to disagree, established a workaround, didn’t make it standard, but did include in the plane’s operating systems a piece of software that the deliberately avoided informing pilots about. Furthermore, Airbus use three AoA sensors and if they disagree, exclude the minority report. That seems to me to be a sensible approach – redundancy. Boeing included no redundancy whatsoever. None.

    Those are not the actions of a company that is totally focused on safety, are they?

    Yes, a lot of people are bashing Boeing. Personally I believe they have good reason.

    Don’t get me wrong, Boeing are a great company, but they have badly dropped the ball and the FAA weren’t refereeing properly and failed to pick up on it. Hopefully this experience will lead to safer planes and a better culture from Boeing. Both are badly needed.

  14. FEasy

    January 15, 2020 at 2:41 am

    @strickerj: The story is real, the quotes are relevant. Hundreds of people died due to an issue that can be traced to conscious decisions made by Boeing employees during the design and certification process. You jumped the gun – it happens. It’s really cool you apologized, but just leave it at that. For occasions like that it could be nice if the system allowed to delete one’s own comments.

  15. PepeBorja

    January 15, 2020 at 6:09 am

    Questioning the paper’s choice of headline is legit considering how journalism has turned into activism and headlines are click-bait generating metrics to gauge interest and performance…
    Which oddly enough that’s why we read this worthless thread.

  16. strickerj

    January 15, 2020 at 9:52 am

    And now I’m getting called a Trumpist despite that no one has mentioned Trump until now. (And how does one derail the thread on the first post?)

    I give up. I absolutely agree with the previous poster that journalism is now thinly veiled activism, and only serves to reinforce everyone’s preconceived notions. (This goes for both sides – I’m actually more or less in the middle so I actually see both sides.) I will end with this though – I never absolved Boeing of responsibly for the issue. They absolutely should have documented this key difference vs. the 737NG, and built in redundancy. But the rhetoric I’ve been seeing in the media since the second crash, that this was somehow a conspiracy between Boeing and the FAA is ridiculous, and in light of that publicity for the last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the grounding order is never lifted (especially outside the U.S.) even if the software is fixed. At this point it has all become politically motivated.

  17. Dougg

    June 18, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Flyer talk should be ashamed using a racist headline. SHAME ON FLYER TALK FOR BEING RACIST! Using the word “monkeys” in this context makes one immediately think of another racist term beginning with the letter N. One would hope Flyer Talk would be sensitive about what’s happening in the world today and NOT use racial slurs in their headlines. Time for the editions to RESIGN NOW!

    As for Boeing and the FAA reminds me of the WWII story about malfunctioning torpedos. The captains of ships were giving reports of torpedos hitting there targets and not exploding or of torpedos which would circle back on the ship that fired. In at least on instance the submarine that launched the torpedo sank itself. The Navy blamed it on the captain and crews which were poorly trained for nearly 2 years. The Max sounds like a death trap just waiting to claim more lives. Boeing execs once again are valuing profits over human lives.

  18. flyerCO

    July 1, 2020 at 7:51 am

    @Dougg Its a quote! Also in this context it says clowns and monkeys, which are part of a circus, which aptly describes the MAX situation.

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