Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Security Hardware

Remote Control To Prevent Aircraft Hijacking 544

Snad writes "The UK's Evening Standard is reporting that Boeing plans to roll out aircraft remote control systems in a bid to eliminate the threat of terrorist hijackings, and prevent any repetition of the events of September 11 2001. 'Scientists at aircraft giant Boeing are testing the tamper-proof autopilot system which uses state-of-the-art computer and satellite technology. It will be activated by the pilot flicking a simple switch or by pressure sensors fitted to the cockpit door that will respond to any excessive force as terrorists try to break into the flight deck. Once triggered, no one on board will be able to deactivate the system. Currently, all autopilots are manually switched on and off at the discretion of pilots. A threatened airliner could be flown to a secure military base or a commercial airport, where it would touch down using existing landing aids known as 'autoland function'.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Remote Control To Prevent Aircraft Hijacking

Comments Filter:
  • RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dr Kool, PhD ( 173800 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:49PM (#18268578) Homepage Journal
    No remote access allowed unless the pilot flips a switch in the plane.
  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:54PM (#18268644) Journal

    then we can just eliminate the human pilots altogether for nonmilitary aircraft?
    Liability is the reason there will always be a human pilot in the cockpit of non-military planes.

    Liability is also the reason that the military's remote control UAV's have to have a human with their hand on the trigger.

    1. I thought commercial auto-pilot systems already had the ability to be run from the ground.
    2. How does Boeing "secretly" patent "The so-called 'uninterruptible autopilot system'"
  • Re:RTFA (Score:4, Informative)

    by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:54PM (#18268646)
    No remote access allowed unless the pilot flips a switch in the plane.

    Or someone knocks on the door... hard.
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:03PM (#18268786) Homepage
    Buy a clue, please.

    Autoland had been in use on commercial aircraft for over thirty years. It's routinely used for landing at places like Heathrow which are frequently foggy. It's so accurate that they had to introduce some dither into it because the runways were starting to deteriorate what with landing gear smacking into the exact same spot landing after landing.

  • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot...kadin@@@xoxy...net> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:13PM (#18268918) Homepage Journal
    Exactly. If this system ever comes online then hijackers will simply plan and figure out a way to disable the system. Its easier said than done, and probably very costly, but if you get the right hackers you can break into (almost) any system. - Ayal Rosenthal

    While this may be true, it doesn't mean that deploying such a system isn't worth it.

    What you're saying is exactly like "if we get a bank vault, the thieves will just plan and figure out a way to get into the vault. It's easier said than done, and probably very costly, but if you get the right safecrackers, you can break into almost any bank."

    Well, yeah -- but the point isn't that the system is foolproof, it's that the system discourages criminals, or makes them less likely to succeed, before they can be caught or neutralized by other means. Every bank knows that their vault can be broken into with enough effort -- all you need is a big drillpress with a magnetic base, and a diamond-burr coring tool, and enough knowledge of the vault to know where to drill -- but that doesn't mean that they just leave their money out on the counter at night.

    By making it harder to hijack a plane, you require any potential hijackers to have more resources, which limits the pool of potential attackers. Rather than hundreds of terrorist groups who could hijack an airliner, you might shorten the list to a few dozen.
  • Re:Different problem (Score:5, Informative)

    by susano_otter ( 123650 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:13PM (#18268920) Homepage
    More difficult problem for the terrorists. Now, instead of just having to figure out

    a. how to hijack the plane
    b. how to fly it to the destination of their choice

    they also have to figure out

    c. how to override the remote control system

    This increases their planning overhead, their budget overhead, and possibly their coordination overhead. They also have to acquire more information from more sources, and possibly design, manufacture, and smuggle aboard additional equipment.

    It's certainly not a foolproof solution, but even a half-ass implementation will force would-be hijackers to escalate their own operations, to the detriment of their overall chances of success.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:21PM (#18269010) Journal
    even without bats the next deranged whackjob to attempt hijack of a u.s. plane will probably be beaten to death pulped beyond identification by any visual means.

    Something like that happened just recently: Hijacker didn't speak French. Captain did the landing announcement and in the French version told the passengers and crew he was going to do a very hard landing and for the stews and any strong male passengers to rush the cockpit and subdue the hijacker.

    He hit the brakes hard. The hijacker (who was standing) tumbled over. The stews and passengers broke in and jumped him. The stews poured boiling water over him while the passengers beat him until subdued.
  • by penguinrenegade ( 651460 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:28PM (#18269124)
    Here's what happens when airplanes are flown by a remote control:
    (actual video of an Airbus320!)

    The Oops List [oopslist.com]

    Hit AirBus320_trees.mp4. The site won't permit hotlinking. Listen to the spectators at the end.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:31PM (#18269182) Homepage

    "You can't fly any lower [f-16.net] describes an advanced ground contact avoidance system developed in Sweden and tested on F16s. This is really impressive.

    After moderate checks of the system at shallow dive angles and an aborted run or two, Prosser simulated several fatal mishaps. The first replicated a pilot flying on night-vision goggles (NVG) and losing situational awareness. With Auto-GCAS minimum descent altitude set at 500-ft. AGL (a medium-risk test condition), Prosser rolled into a partially inverted 5g turn, then back to a 90-deg. bank before relaxing his grip on the stick. The mishap pilot had lost the night horizon and, thinking he was approximately wings-level, let the nose fall. He was unknowingly diving toward the ground. Similar NVG-related accidents have killed F-16 and A-10 pilots.

    While the flat Rosamond Dry Lake raced upward at us, filling my out-the-canopy field-of-view, I glanced at my back-seat HUD repeater and saw two large chevrons moving toward the center of the display. Their arrow-points touched, and we immediately snap-rolled to wings-level and pulled sharply to about 10 deg. nose-up. When the "You got it!" annunciation sounded, we were climbing at about 317 kt. and 2,940 ft., roughly 600+ ft. above the lakebed--an artificially high altitude established for safety reasons.

    This thing is dealing with flight situations much tougher than anything the big transports do. It's designed not to interfere with typical attack aircraft maneuvers. We flew about 200 ft. above the ground at 520-560 kt., popping over high-tension power lines, hills and small ridges. Slipping through cuts in the desert mountains, rolling inverted to pull down the backside of ridges, and carving around the sides of rocky hills, Prosser demonstrated that a pilot could fly a normal, low-level tactical mission without experiencing a single nuisance fly-up. But go a little too low, and there's a "speedbump" as the system nudges the aircraft up a bit.

    The system turns off when you're set up for landing: slow speed, wheels down, flaps down.

    This would have saved United 93, where they had a fight in the cockpit. If the computers take over when the plane is headed into the ground, a number of situations become survivable. Not just hijackings; crashes due to pilot distraction or navigational error; what's called "controlled flight into terrain".

  • Re:SEPERATE CABINS (Score:3, Informative)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:48PM (#18269410) Homepage Journal
    No, it is an incredible expensive retrofit, and difficult.

    It means less passengers per flight, more weight, a complet change of the elctrical system.

    Large planes are very comlex. Changing the length of just 1 wire can be recalibration of several instrements, now take that to all the wires from all the sensors needing to be changed.
    Plane wiring isn't some simple 60Hz wiring job.
  • by innot ( 582843 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:56PM (#18270242)

    While the parent was moderated Insightful I would like to point out that up to date no commercial Airplane can take off with autopilot. Take off is always done manually.

    Also, even on an Autoland the pilot has to perform a few tasks like extending the landing flaps and lowering the gear. Again no airplane that I know of has these under autopilot control.

    Besides, autoland for the pilots is far from leaning back and enjoying the show. Current autopilots are still limited in the operational envelope (max wind inputs etc.) and need a lot of working systems that a pilot can do without (landing signal receivers etc.). It is not uncommon for an airliner in normal operation to be restricted to "no autoland" because some subsystem is not performing nominally.

    Why these Limitations? Because certifying any automatic operation on an airplane costs lots of money which is not necessary as long as a pilot can perform these operations for "free".

    Disclaimer: I earn my living flying airplanes.

  • by innot ( 582843 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:47PM (#18270858)

    While you are correct that autoland has been around since the 70s, it is far from used routinely.

    Pilots use autoland only when required so due to fog (visibility below roundabout 300m, depending on aircraft type). Even at London I doubt that more than 1% of all landings are made with autoland.

    And the thing about hitting the exact same spot on landing is a myth, because so many factors (weight of airplane, temperature, wind, rigging of the control surfaces to name just a few) will affect the landing spot even for an autoland that it is impossible to touch down at the same spot consistently.

    Disclaimer: I earn my living flying airplanes

  • by lendude ( 620139 ) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @01:57AM (#18272854)
    Actually that video has no relation to remote control flight - it's video from the rather infamous demonstration flight crash of an Air France A320 at Mulhouse-Habsheim in France.

    http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id= 19880626-0&lang=en [aviation-safety.net]

    Purely attributable to Pilot error. You may be getting confused with the fact that the A320 is fly-by-wire.

  • by innot ( 582843 ) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @05:17AM (#18273828)

    Not quite. At some point during the autoland, usually around 50 to 20 ft above the runway the aircraft does not follow the glideslope anymore. Instead it will do a preprogrammed flare following a fixed programm like "pull the yoke back by 2 inches and wait for touchdown" (I know that it is a little bit more complex than that). Any (vertical) disturbances during those last few seconds are not corrected and will lead to different touchdown points.

    I am not saying that autoland systems do not have a dither (like from the sampling rate of the radio altimeter), but I doubt that it was put in intentionally. It is system inherent.

  • by dr.Flake ( 601029 ) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @06:26AM (#18274164)
    I'm an anesthesiologist by profession.

    I'll have to agree that simply adding some substance to the air, and having everybody falling sound asleep is a little over simplified.

    First of all, chloroform is not that good for your health, there are multiple reasons it is not used for human anesthesiology anymore, but severe organ damage was the most convincing reason.

    The russians tried an opiate based drug, and that only proofed that for an adequate sedation, by opiates alone, the dose is so high, that severe respiratoiry depression results. (somehow i feel a 1st year resident anesthesiology could also have told you this).

    The rapid onset, non toxic, non voilatile, non respiratoiry depressant and safe for all children and geriatrics drug has yet to be found.

    The only thing i can come up with right now is some for of severe hallucinating drug (there are war gasses with these properties). Cant really stand in for the consequences though, after some terrorist with an UZI starts tripping....

  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @07:22AM (#18287270)
    Dangit, I'm even giving up mod points for this. That's just stupid. Be careful whose Kool-Aid you're drinking.

    Here's one well-researched and very thoughtful rubuttal [serendipity.li] to the Popular Mechanics article. The Popular Mechanics article is widely considered too silly to even consider. --There are more logical flaws in that article than can be forgiven in any intelligent discussion.



BLISS is ignorance.