Saturday, February 09, 2013

"if it flew in it will fly out" -- Feynman's Criteria

If one is asked to sign-off on safety, based on "not having failed yet," in the presence of deviations in performance, then I suggest you read  Feynman's Appendix to the Rogers Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident . Feynman1. outlines the classic tension between managers and technicians (engineers or mechanics).

This is what Feynman had to say in regards to the success of flights in the presence of deviations:

 "The acceptance and success of these flights is taken as evidence of safety. But erosion and blow-by are not what the design expected. They are warnings that something is wrong. The equipment is not operating as expected, and therefore there is a danger that it can operate with even wider deviations in this unexpected and not thoroughly understood way. The fact that this danger did not lead to a catastrophe before is no guarantee that it will not the next time, unless it is completely understood. When playing Russian roulette the fact that the first shot got off safely is little comfort for the next."

metal particles in aircraft oil filter
Metal particles from oil filter

Metal particles in the oil filter is evidence that the equipment is not operating as expected. Given the finding of metal shavings in this aircraft engine oil filter, using Feynman's criteria, should this aircraft be removed from service until a more through understanding of the problem is identified?

1. Richard Phillips Feynman was an American theoretical physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics (he proposed the parton model). For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics.

 "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." Richard Feynman's famous conclusion to his report on the shuttle Challenger accident:

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