One of the most pointed and impressively simple questions I've seen so far on here. My thoughts EXACTLY. It is high time that we got some answers as to the basic handling characteristics of this airframe, and what was discovered ruing testing/modeling that made the need for MCAS (or, if you are being pedantic - 'enhanced MCAS' on the MAX) to be implemented/allowed such aggressive and exclusive/recurring control of certain situations.
The Max is not inherently unstable (like some fighter planes may be to achieve better maneuverability as someone upthread quipped). It will fly straight and level under normal conditions just like the NG will. What differs is the behavior as you approach edge of the flight envelope. The closer to stall you get in a max the harder it is to recover in relation to the NG
* Note, this does not mean that you cannot recover from that portion of the envelope, only that it does not behave, or feel
like the NG does. To help assist, and to maintain type ratings, the MCAS was introduced to adjust horizontal stab trim automatically. The result was that as you approach these edges of the flight envelope you would perceive virtually no difference in aircraft behavior between the Max and the NG.
And this is the fly in the ointment here. If the MAX does not "like to fly" as well as the NG in the same edge-of-envelope areas, then Boeing knowingly chose to continue with a design that was aerodynamically inferior to its predecessor.
Game this out: Pretend that all of the airlines who dumped the MD-11 so quickly had instead stuck with them like Delta sticks with its MDs. How many landing rollover crashes would we have had by now, with hundreds or even thousands of dead passengers? The outcry would have been so severe that the MD-11 would have been grounded, and likely retired. All because MD went in pursuit of a little more gas mileage and made the horizontal stabilizer too small for the airframe, as opposed to the DC-10.
Now picture that you've got 5,000 MD-11s on order when the landing issue becomes clear. What does McDonnell-Douglas do? What do the NTSB/FAA do? Do they wait for 3 or 4 inverted balls of fire before grounding the MD-11? And what happens with the 5,000 pending MD-11 orders?
Now we see the huge downside of the current Airbus/Boeing duopoly. Half the world's future orders are in the Boeing basket, There's no Lockheed or MD-D or Convair to pick up the slack and let those orders jump elsewhere. The MAX is a fait accompli
, and It will take a huge governmental/carrier effort to drag Boeing kicking and screaming toward a solution that elevates true safety over the huge hit to Boeing's bottom line that would happen were major airframe changes to be implemented for the purpose of eliminating MCAS, such as a new landing gear, repositioned engines, etc., as opposed to software tweaks.
Make no mistake, the resolution of this issue is a huge historical moment in the age of duopoly. Will the world's airlines and passengers be forced to eat the MAX as is - or nearly as is - with some software fig leaf, all because the momentum of the project is too great to disrupt, and the world's airlines can't easily take their business to a competitor, due to lack of capacity and designs?
What a mess. I had more faith in a multi-manufacturer world. Now we get to choose from Spam, Spam, or Spam.