Boeing’s 737 Crash, Tesla’s Model Y, and More News This Week

The crash of Ethiopian Flight 302 outside Addis Ababa has focused the aviation world's attention on the safety of Boeing's 737 MAX jets. Mustafa Yalcin/Getty Images

Here at WIRED Transportation, we get to write about all sorts of stuff. Self-driving cars. Hyperloops. Bike lane design. Subway maps. The occasional man dressed up as a car seat for an apparently legitimate purpose. You get the idea. So it’s rare when a mere one or two topics dominate our pages for an entire week. But that’s what happened over the past seven days.

The first of those stories started Sunday morning, when a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed a few minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people aboard. From the start, the similarities to the deadly crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in October were striking: same type of plane, similar flight profiles, similar timing. Over the next few days, we tracked how and when regulators decided to ground the 737 MAX. We looked at the software that may be at the center of all this, and how Boeing intends to update it. We noted how airlines are actually well prepared to deal with problems like the grounding of their jets, and at how investigators pull vital data off black boxes, even when they’re damaged.

Meanwhile, we tracked the goings on of our good friend Elon Musk. The Tesla CEO started his week by continuing his tangle with the SEC, which has asked a federal judge to hold him in contempt. Musk’s lawyers defended his latest questionable tweets as free speech (among other arguments). Later in the week, Musk shifted his attention to showing off Tesla’s latest creation: the Model Y. We covered the Thursday night unveil live, broke down all the news, and stacked the new baby SUV against its electric competition.

It has truly been a whopper of a week. Let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • Relive the magic and Muskian giggles of the Model Y unveiling event on the WIRED liveblog.
  • And learn more about the Tesla Model Y, a compact SUV that could really, truly bring electrics to the masses. (Did you know that Americans loooove SUVs?)
  • If you’re in the market for a bigger electric vehicle—or just like keep track of specs—check out how the Model Y compares to its competitors.
  • In a filing submitted to a New York federal judge this week, lawyers for Tesla CEO Elon Musk argued he shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for tweeting.
  • As “flying cars” inch closer into being, aviation engineers must crack a fundamental problem: getting and then keeping heavy machines aloft in the air. Here’s how Beta Technologies is pulling it off.
  • A delayed software update, plus faulty system design and a bad pilot manual, may be to blame for last week’s crash of a Boeing 737 MAX jet in Ethiopia.
  • Here’s how aviation investigators track down crashed airplanes’ black boxes—and how they pull valuable information off even damaged ones to ensure the planes won’t crash again.
  • Oh, and by the way: How does the FAA decide whether to ground a plane?
  • When American authorities finally decided to ground the Boeing 737 MAX on Wednesday, they got lucky—there aren’t that many in operation yet, which meant no global travel meltdown.

Pivot of the Week

And now for something a little lighter. Please observe the embodied spirit of New York City public transit: One enterprising passenger attempts to board the subway with (what appears to be) a solid steel beam.

https://twitter.com/ECM_LP/status/1106631824716034048

Stat of the Week

18,089,503

The number of flight hours served by US-certified airlines in 2017 (the most recent data we have) without a fatal accident. A good reminder that despite the occasional crash, flying is incredibly safe.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet

  • Self-driving cars are the future, but it’s never too early to document their past. The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation has acquired a first-generation, self-driving Chevrolet Bolt developed by Cruise, General Motors’ autonomy unit. It’s now on display, next to a 1959 Cadillac El Dorado.
  • Court filings show that, back in 2016, Uber was spending $20 million a month developing self-driving vehicles.
  • On a possibly related note, The New York Times reports that Softbank and other investors (including an automaker) are considering buying a $1 billion stake in Uber’s self-driving business.
  • Do read this blockbuster Bloomberg investigation into how Elon Musk tried to destroy a Tesla whistleblower.
  • The SEC filed suit against Volkswagen , alleging former chair Martin Winterkorn knew about the automaker’s emissions fraud nearly seven years before he said he did.
  • What happens in Vegas? The city’s Convention and Visitors Authority’s board of directors voted to approve construction of a small underground tunnel system, to be built by Elon Musk’s Boring Company.
  • Self-driving delivery company Nuro has arrived in Texas. The startup has been working with Kroger, using its human-free bots to deliver groceries in Arizona since last summer, and now the duo have expanded their operation to Houston .
  • Shared e-scooter company Bird has laid off about 40 employees , some 4 to 5 percent of its workforce, according to The Information. “We spent a lot of time in 2018 scaling around the world as quickly as possible. The winter has given us a great opportunity to actually take a step back and really focus on unit economics of the business,” CEO Travis VanderZanden told the outlet.

In the Rearview

Essential stories from WIRED’s canon
Back in 2001, we took a close look at the battle between Boeing and Lockheed Martin to build the fighter jet of the future, which you know today as the F-35.