Saying Farewell To Another B-17 And Its Crew

The harsh reality of keeping historical airplanes airworthy and flying is that from time to time one will crash. Thus it was that on October 2nd a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress crash-landed after technical troubles. Incidentally, this is the very same airplane which we covered only a number of days ago. Painted to look like another B-17 of WWII (Nine-o-Nine, variant B-17G-30-BO), this late-model B-17G-85-DL aircraft wasn’t finished in time to join World War II, but instead spent its 74 years being a flying museum to these amazing airplanes.

Details about the cause of the crash are still scarce, but from radio communication between the crew and tower, it’s understood the B-17 was having having issues with the number 4 engine, which was seen sputtering and smoking by a witness. The airplane’s pilots tried to perform an emergency landing at Bradley International Airport, Connecticut, where it had taken off from only moments ago. Unfortunately the aircraft ran off the runway and struck a building, after which it burst into flames. The NTSB has indicated that they have dispatched a team to investigate the crash, and say that a preliminary report is likely two weeks away.

Of the thirteen people on board, seven died, with the remaining six surviving with injuries. One person on the ground was injured as well. The vintage bomber (civilian registration number N93012) has been all but completely destroyed in the fire, with only a section of the wing and tail remaining recognizable.

We feel terrible about such loss of life and hope the injured make a speedy recovery. The loss of yet another B-17 is also tough to swallow, as this leaves just ten airworthy B-17s. How long until we say farewell to this part of our history, with the final flight of a B-17, or its kin?

(Thanks to Pez for this update)

Fatalities Vs False Positives: The Lessons From The Tesla And Uber Crashes

In one bad week in March, two people were indirectly killed by automated driving systems. A Tesla vehicle drove into a barrier, killing its driver, and an Uber vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian crossing the street. The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary reports on both accidents came out recently, and these bring us as close as we’re going to get to a definitive view of what actually happened. What can we learn from these two crashes?

There is one outstanding factor that makes these two crashes look different on the surface: Tesla’s algorithm misidentified a lane split and actively accelerated into the barrier, while the Uber system eventually correctly identified the cyclist crossing the street and probably had time to stop, but it was disabled. You might say that if the Tesla driver died from trusting the system too much, the Uber fatality arose from trusting the system too little.

But you’d be wrong. The forward-facing radar in the Tesla should have prevented the accident by seeing the barrier and slamming on the brakes, but the Tesla algorithm places more weight on the cameras than the radar. Why? For exactly the same reason that the Uber emergency-braking system was turned off: there are “too many” false positives and the result is that far too often the cars brake needlessly under normal driving circumstances.

The crux of the self-driving at the moment is precisely figuring out when to slam on the brakes and when not. Brake too often, and the passengers are annoyed or the car gets rear-ended. Brake too infrequently, and the consequences can be worse. Indeed, this is the central problem of autonomous vehicle safety, and neither Tesla nor Uber have it figured out yet.

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