Various websites have stated that during the 737-MAX crash in Indonesia, the pilots could not pitch up because of a faulty AOA sensor pitching the plane down.

The stabilizer has a rear fulcrum and front jack screw. The elevator, positioned by yoke, is hinged to the stabilizer. If the yoke is pulled back, the elevator moves up. Then the stabilizer must move down, either automatically or manually, to remove the yoke loading. However, if the yoke is fully pulled back, why doesn’t this force the stabilizer down directly so that the pilot always has total control of pitch without checking the flight manual or pushing switches?


The yoke does move the elevators, whereas the trim moves the horizontal stabilizer. The stabilizer is much larger than the elevators, and therefore is more effective than the elevator at extreme angles. Even with full backpressure, the nose would continue to pitch down.

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Nonetheless, all 737NGs/MAXs have trim cutout switches, 1 for the autopilot and 1 for the normal electric trim. Using these would immediately disable the electric trim. These are generally part of a standard trim runaway situation, but the crew did not recognize the situation and failed to use them.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Good answer but IMO does not explain "why doesn't the yoke also move the elevator at yoke extremes (full forward and full back) so that pilots always have pitch control?". That's a good question IMO. $\endgroup$ – summerrain Jan 7 at 1:54
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    $\begingroup$ Because the yoke DOES control the elevator. The basis of the question is incorrect, the yoke does NOT control the Trim. In fact, the 737 does NOT have Trim Tabs, it has Servo Tabs for when the Flight Controls are in Mechanical Mode. $\endgroup$ – RAC Jan 7 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the previous crew did use the switches. The condition already existed on PK-LQP during the flight (JT-43) preceding the accident one and the crew cut out the trim (shortly after take-off) and completed the flight. They reported all the various symptoms they had to maintenance, but the troubleshooting instructions failed to mention the possibility of them being caused by bad AoA probes, so maintenance didn't check it. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 8 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ @RAC I think he is asking why isn't it designed with logic that if you have ran out of elevator, the stab starts moving in the same direction. I don't deal with autoflight much, but I think it uses a similar concept of control with the elevator but if it is holding an input for long it'll adjust the trim to unload the elevator. $\endgroup$ – OSUZorba Mar 14 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ Elevator should be able to override any trim. This is where emergency dual rate may help. Airliner control surfaces must operate over a relatively huge range of speeds, which complicates matters. Going too fast may make it very hard to use manual trim, which echoes days when aviators could not pull out of dives for the same reason, too much aerodynamic force. They need to look at this as an integrated pitch control system with backups, rather than a complicated bunch of bandaids, especially with swept wings tweaked to perfection. $\endgroup$ – Robert DiGiovanni Apr 28 at 21:20

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