Design for Failure, Build for SuccessCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: June 18, 2012 07:14PM
According to Murphy's Law, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." While it is not a law that can really be tested or proven easily, it certainly seems to be correct more times than it is wrong. If that is the case though, why are so many things built for optimal conditions? That is the question researchers at MIT looked at and starting working with for airplane designs.
Modern airplanes are technological feats from rudder to cabin and engine to landing gear. Every system on board could potentially fail, and many do during the life of the aircraft. These partial failures may not always endanger an aircraft, but some can, and all should be repaired as quickly as possible. What the researchers have done though is considered how to design planes that can take a failure in stride, thanks to the geometry of the aircraft. For example, a faulty rudder or impaired engine could cause instability in the plane's flight, but by making the tail larger, the instability is damped out.
While this kind of thinking in the design of aircraft is something many people would appreciate, like those in the Air Force and on airplanes, it is not something that comes easy to many engineers. Typically engineers design perfect systems that operate at peak performance. Changing the geometry of a plane in preparation for it not operating at its peak is not obvious to them. The hope of the MIT researchers is to show the world that designing for imperfect operation is a good idea.