Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Nightmare

This Design News article describes very well every design engineer's worst fear. Did I screw something up that got a lot of people killed?

Engineering design decisions are viewed by the unknowing as precise, no-compromise conclusions. If that were so all of us would feel better about our design choices. But in the real world, decisions are always made under the watchful eye of the accountants. So compromises are made and we live with the consequences. Except when people die. Then the binary nature of designing complex devices hits home: good decision, good result. Bad decision, bad result. Maybe really bad.

The designers at Airbus must be going through a lot of soul searching right now as they sift through the incredible three-minute burst of telemetry data that originated from Flight 447 on May 31. If you placed yourself in their shoes, you know you'd be hoping against hope that whatever happened was not the result of a bad decision you made. "228 people are dead. The airplane came apart. What if I screwed up?"
Every time an aircraft goes down my first question is: "was it one I worked on?" The second question if the first answer is affirmative is, "Did a system I worked on fail?" So far I have never gotten an affirmative response to the second question. Thank the Maker and my attention to detail. But there is always a chance something I didn't anticipate or overlooked or mistested will go wrong.

And that very low level background fear will be with me my whole life. Which is a very good thing because it still informs every engineering decision I make.

No comments: