Boeing chief technical pilot couldn’t ‘Jedi mind trick’ his way out of a federal indictment
Boeing’s former chief technical pilot, Mark Forkner, was indicted on two counts of fraud and four counts of wire fraud for his role in the Boeing 737 Max debacle. He’s accused of withholding information from FAA evaluators about software on the Boeing 737 Max that was at the heart of two crashes that killed 346 people,
That software, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), interpreted the plane as stalling when it wasn’t — causing crashes. Rushed development of the 737 Max required larger, heavier engines that could make it susceptible to stalling in certain takeoff situations. To prevent that from happening, Boeing set up MCAS to automatically pitch the nose down. When the system activated erroneously, pilots were unprepared — MCAS was not present on a previous version of the 737 — and unable to regain control of the planes.
Emails uncovered during the investigation showed Forkner was aware that the MCAS could make the 737 Max difficult to fly. They also showed that he knew the system was active at lower speeds than Boeing reported to the FAA.
Forkner emailed coworkers admitting that the system was difficult and said, “I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” according to the indictment. Eight months after sending those emails, he pushed for the FAA to remove any mention of the troubled MCAS from its reports.
Forkner is also responsible for pushing against simulator training requirements for pilots before they flew the 737 Max, despite his experience in the simulator fighting the problems that eventually resulted in deaths.
Prosecutors explain that airlines could spend less money on training and more on each plane by lowering the requirements, increasing the 737 Max’s profitability. In another email, after convincing an airline to drop its training requirements, Forkner wrote, “Looks like my jedi [sic] mind trick worked again! These are not the droids you’re looking for.”
Boeing was charged with conspiracy over the incident and fined $2.5 billion. Forkner faces up to 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud and up to 10 years in prison for each count of fraud.