Murphy's Law: The Fatal Phony Flaw


November 16,2008: Jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney has agreed to pay $52 million in fines and costs for supplying the U.S. Air Force with defective replacement turbine blades used in jet engines. One F-16 was lost due to this, although the pilot was able to bail out safely. The blades were slightly off size, and were shipped between 1994 and 2003 (when the F-16 crashed and the defective blades were discovered).

Pratt & Whitney designed the blades, and a subcontractor (which paid $2 million of the fine) manufactured them. The subcontractor cast the blades to the Pratt & Whitney spec. Pratt & Whitney's payments included $5 million for re-inspecting all the blades the air force had in inventory, to see which could still be used. The defect was very minor, which is why so many years went by before it was discovered. Thus some of the blades were fit to be used after the re-inspection.

High tech means high standards and tight tolerances during manufacture. Tiny defects or errors in design can cause equipment to wear out faster or, in this case, fail. This happens in electronics frequently, less so in cases where metal, plastic or composite components are concerned.



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