What If We Tell The Machine To Misbehave?

What If We Tell The Machine To Misbehave?

CX 89 Staging What If

I recently read a very sad and disturbing article in an Aviation Journal regarding an aircraft crash in Namibia a few weeks before Christmas last year. The aircraft was a very new (manufactured in Nov 2012) Embraer 190 with a mere 3,000 operating hours, flown by an experienced pair of pilots with a total of over 20,000 flying hours between them.

The (preliminary) conclusion of the investigation is that the captain of the aircraft deliberately crashed the plane for no apparent reason (there obviously was a reason, but nothing was obvious to investigators). There were no obvious faults with the aircraft, and the FDR (flight data recorder) and CVR (cockpit voice recorder) were recovered intact.

They show the First Officer (co-pilot) leaving the cockpit to answer a call of nature, the Captain locking the cockpit door and proceeding to program the autopilot to descend the aircraft to an altitude below ground level at the highest permissible speed. 28 passengers and 6 crew perished in the crash.

This aircraft was an example of the epitome of sophisticated controls and safety systems, with levels of redundancy and system reliability orders of magnitude greater than anything we will ever encounter in a stage machinery system.

The flight crew did nothing else for a living except fly aircraft and had spent a significant part of their lives doing so at the very highest level of proficiency.

The weather was good, flying conditions close to perfect and there was no suggestion that the pilots were overworked, stressed or under any unusual pressures that would have them take their eyes “off the ball”.

How does this tragedy relate to the world of stage machinery?

Stage machinery and controls range in sophistication and complexity from simple counterweights and hemp lines to multi axis computer controlled powered flying systems with the highest safety certifications.

The high safety compliance devices are safer than their lower compliant cousins because their safety related functions are more reliable. They will always STOP when you tell them to. They will always go UP when you tell them to. They will always go DOWN when you tell them to.

If you program them to know when a collision is imminent, then they can help avoid that collision.

If you lock them as a group, then they will all stop if one stops with a fault.

If you want to deliberately crash pieces of scenery (or worse) together and you know how to tell the control system that this is a good thing to do, then it will faithfully obey your instructions.

The complexity and certification level of the stage machinery or controller is not, in and of itself, what makes something safe, it is just a (highly desirable and necessary) part of the overall safety equation.

The knowledge, experience and attitude of the operators, the maintenance of the machinery, the diligence in carrying out risk management, the good work practices of the venue, the collaboration within the crew and the morale in the venue – these are the things that make operating stage machinery “Safe”.

The higher the safety certification of the system, the more the operator can rely on it to do exactly as it’s told in the safest possible manner, but it will only do what you tell it to do.


Jands Staging provide articles to the "Staging What If" section in CX Magazine. If you have any questions regarding this article then please comment below or email info@jands.com.au.

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