The Question is:    Will RoboLander Fly?

The Answer:  Yes, It will Fly Itself    (the only question is when)

1. A. It's becoming obvious that pilots are none too keen about the US and UK "shootdown" policies. They have more or less decided (to a man) on Pprune that the present hijack code would be the last thing they would set. Not only that, but they'd keep quiet about any ruckus on board because they could see any potential Cuba "tourist" (as against "terrorist") leading to them taking a Sidewinder up the Khyber. So that's a poor solution.,3604,564200,00.html 

    BPilots are also not   keen about locked NOR barred doors. It stops them from assisting evacuating passengers and could be lethal in the sort of accident that SAS MD-87 had today at Linate. Isolating pilots from passengers and crew can be seen as "the new anomie".
    C.  Apart from some very vocal redneck types and Duane Woerth (of ALPA), most pilots don't see carrying guns as being in the best interests of anyone and are happy to leave that to the SkyMarshals. However if airline passenger growth ever got back up to normal levels again, the cost of the SkyMarshals would be totally prohibitive (just look at El Al  and the published statistics of their Govt-subsidised operation - or do your own sums on the back of an envelope). It just wouldn't fly, not in any deregulated environment. So being 100% reliant upon the SkyMarshal coming to the rescue is a poor long-term solution. BUT PREDOMINANTLY it is also a major disincentive to passengers. You need a built-in layered technology that would simply make aerial terrorism not worthwhile.
    D.   As you can see from the emails that I've been forwarding, they are even confiscating captain's shaving kits. This sort of overreaction, once it dies down, may permit a rational consideration of the longer-term new face of aviation security and safety - which were previously separate concepts, but are now clearly inseparable. RoboLander offers clear advantages for both.

2.  Taking Iridium's seizure of my original idea about telemetry data-linking (of CVR/DFDR/QAR data only 2.5 years after I mounted it on the NET) as an example, most good (but radical) ideas are spoofed or disregarded at the outset - but then become crystal clear when the chips are down and it's so readily apparent what sizeable hits you can take when all your bets are not covered. 


3.  Looking at all the factors that will lead to a perpetuum downturn in air passenger confidence, they (the industry) desperately need absolutely anything that can restore passenger confidence. That's why Accenture is briefing SIA execs on RoboLander. As I said elsewhere, RoboLander is not tomorrow's solution, but "the day after tomorrow's". You have to look short, medium and longer term at these type problemo's:

a.   SHORT Term:    bars across cockpit doors and reinstating SkyMarshals and airport security.

b.  Medium Term:       New sturdy and bullet-proof cockpit doors, transponder enhancements, profiling, screening, Identity Assurance and intelligence

c.   Longer Term (and predominantly, in new designs)  airlocks (so that crew-rest areas and kitchenette/toilets etc are all self-sufficient), and RoboLander

                       arming pilots (but NOT with stun guns) - so you might refer to that URL

                       which raises aircraft FBW safety questions about use of stunguns and TASERS in FBW aircraft

But there is no SURE remedy against  SLEEPERS and IDENTITY THEFT

4. Compatible and concurrent technology that is under mature development:   and 

   and  and

   The RoboLander Concept fits in very neatly with FreeFlight, Safe Flight 21, Capstone, ADS-B, JPALS, APALS and all those forthcoming (and already existent) technologies. ADS-B is in fact quite mature (planned introduction to service of 2004/2005).

5.  Raytheon is already doing it (i.e. we have the technology for the underlying premise) - Autoland based upon non-ILS DGPS (see also JPALS and APALS existing technology based upon radar profiling). It was first done in March 1994        . 
6.  Tom Cassidy (CEO of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc), whose firm makes Predator and Prowler drones, says the technology is a doddle.

Likewise Teledyne Ryan ( the manufacturers of Global Hawk). That system is capable of both direct line of sight communications with the ground station by a common data link or beyond line of sight through Ku band SATCOM, direct line of sight capability, good support up to 274 megabits per second.

7.  Journo's all over the world are still demonstrating today just how easy it is to smuggle six-inch blades on board aircraft. 

So when security relaxes again, just how difficult will it be then?    And have you seen the IASA page about the non-metallic lethal knives? URL

What about the six-shooter in a plastic cell-phone

(movie is here: ) 528kb- suggest download then play.

8.  RoboLander has more to offer than simply an anti-terrorist mode. It covers a number of different dire emergencies (beside being the direction that Bernard Ziegler was always taking Airbus anyway). About 80% of accidents, particularly in landing and take-off are pilot error. Automating recovery via an interface with ADS-B could probably allow more precise ATC but also improve problems presently stemming from dense air-traffic and reduce the number of human error accidents). It would also interface well with the Virgin Bus concept.
9.  A major objection about how "impossible" it would be to implement it in current technology (non-FBW) aircraft was earlier addressed here. It's a relatively easily soluble obstacle.       and

10. When reflecting upon possible passenger acceptance of an irreversible RoboLander mode (versus its other reversible and pilot-monitored modes) think about the Flt 93 pax (and probably the others as well) who saw their pilots dead on the cabin floor and their fate in the hands of a dedicated "hallowed martyr". I'm sure that they would have seen a RoboLander concept as being a god-send.
11.  This is the mob Ray Hudson works for. He designs and proves their airliners automated flight control systems (auto-land). He says RoboLander can be done. In fact on Bluecoat, in a fit of pique, he said that they were already into the Proof of Concept Stage - so do you think that Boeing is really going to let anyone steal a march?


``There is no higher priority at the moment for Boeing than making commercial aviation as strong as it needs to be to protect passengers and crews against the threat of terrorism,'' said Alan Mulally, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and chief executive officer. ``Moving people, goods and ideas freely around the world is essential to the world economy. We are committed to maintaining a safe and efficient global air transportation system.''

Mulally said Boeing engineers and executives had been working around the clock since the tragic events of Sept. 11 to identify the best steps to take to ensure the near-term safety of flight crews and passengers. A team to support airline customers in the follow-on airplane security enhancements has been formed, he added. It is designing an improved door and bulkhead, and is developing avionics and video improvements responsive to the secretary's recommendations.

``We are 100 percent committed to this effort,'' Mulally said. ``We will use all of the resources of The Boeing Company to help the airlines and the government make our aviation system safe and secure.''

12.   Perhaps the biggest obstacle to RoboLander is that people have simply not yet appreciated the enormity of this new threat dimension. A "hallowed martyr" has nothing to lose. Even in abject failure his mission will be a success. He will have frightened away profitability in the form of those few passengers who make that essential difference. That bin Laden and Al Qaida will require another aviation atrocity is quite apparent. That will reinforce the effectiveness of 11 Sep 01 manifold times.

The alternative proposed  "waypoint exclusion" idea does not stop an in-control terrorist from simply crashing the aircraft anyway. If he was to be convinced that an aircraft could  irretrievably lose its flight-control to the ground, well he'd probably consider that the risk of failure, capture and looking really stupid would be far too high.

So why should RoboLander be rejected?
Well let's see now. Not even sure what "RoboLander Rejected" is based upon here.
a.  It was really never submitted as a proposal, however Time Magazine have been interested, since they became aware of it.
b. "Airline security bill remains stalled in Congress" was still the headline on 06 Oct 01 and as Jim B pointed out "there is a next stage".
c.  I have a number of individuals who have contacted me and expressed interest in it.
d.  I'm not trying to flog it, it's just that I think that my answers address most of the objections (see below).
e.  Raytheon and all the other submitters had a vaguely similar (but very very vague) proposal.
f.  Quite evidently Ray Hudson (as the most qualified individual around) thinks it will fly (he said at <$10M per plane once amortised over the fleet). In comparison with the $217bn now being cited as the NYC cleanup alone (and regardless of the industry meltdown), that's cheap. The thing that convinced me more than anything else, that it would fly,  was Hudson assuming ownership of it on the Bluecoat forum.
I'll try and address some of what I see as the failings and strengths of the submitted proposal below (which may well be seen to be broadly based upon a vague RoboLander idea anyway)


Here's what the aircraft security task force has to say.  My commentary in blue
IDEA: Use of Existing Data Link for Uplink of Flight Control Commands


DESCRIPTION: If an aircraft is compromised, provide a system that controls the aircraft from the ground  (but be sure to ask the hijacker's permission first if initiating it from the pilot's seat. The Flight Management Computer (FMC) could be locked, so that the filed flight plan could not be altered  (bit of a bummer if the weather turns really lousy at destination, or if there's a nasty systems failure onboard . In another scenario, the FMC could be remotely programmed to fly to the nearest airport and autoland  (sounds like a flavour of RoboLander) . Alternatively, the aircraft could be remotely piloted  (requiring tens of thousands of pilots on round-the-clock standby and lots of simulation time for them so that they'd have the confidence to do so - it's not like RP'ing an unmanned drone) . Finally, in extreme situations the aircraft could be sacrificed to prevent an attack similar to September 11th.  (Yeah right, that's really going to uninspire those missing passengers to return in droves)


  • Aircraft would remain under positive control  (sort of - but a pre-programmed control with no options as in RoboLander - nor alternative modes) 
  • Aircraft would land safely  ( Where's Bloggs, can't you contact him? He should know he's on standby this week. Can anybody here fly a plane remotely? Don't you guys all leave! - I need help here.") 
  • Reduces the threat to pilots (but they've not said how it would be initiated - as is stipulated clearly in RoboLander)


  • Public acceptance of being on remotely controlled vehicle  (well they cope adequately with high-speed elevators don't they? Maybe like a TV interactive audience they could vote for a preferred destination via their seat-back entertainment systems). Maybe they should consider the lack of options for the pax on the four a/c on 11 Sep. What brand of insecurity would they rather have?
  • Present collision avoidance algorithms require human intervention  (With RoboLander, TCAS would still take RA's (resolution alerts), other traffic would still get TA's (traffic alerts and RA's). EGPWS would still work.
  • Remotely piloted aircraft present a hazard in controlled airspace since pilots cannot see to avoid other aircraft  (that would be taken care of by Radar clearing a path and the onboard TCAS) 
  • Many systems (flaps, landing gear, brakes) on even the most sophisticated of today's aircraft require pilots to configure them as appropriate for landing. Without such pilot intervention, a landing would be impossible. Additionally, today's flight management systems and autopilots have failure modes which require pilot monitoring to assure safe operation.  There is no doubt that systems would have to be modified to permit remote actuation. This could be as simple as free-falling the gear and having a flap-motor able to be RoboLander controlled. Main gear Autobrake could be similarly set (i.e. armed) by RoboLander. Whether or not you'd need to bother about reverse? You could have the fuel jettison set to dump to min fuel on a robo-command, so that the landing would always be a light-weight "brakes only" (like QANTAS does  anyway). Spoilers might have to be weight-on-wheels automated (as they are in many jets).
  • Providing for ground override of pilot control of aircraft would introduce other failure modes which could be catastrophic if inadvertently selected, especially during critical phases of flight (takeoff). Such modes would also be subject to sabotage  ( easy throw-away statement that, if really viable, would necessarily apply already to most existing safety, comms, power-plant, electrical and nav avionics in existing aircraft.). We are fighting unsophisticated terrorists here. They have major problems getting their cell-phones re-charged - let alone funding extensive research programs on how to play Star Wars with airliners.


  • Kill switch on plane  ( see existing RoboLander coverage on this aspect. I think the solution is workable) 
  • Security of ground switch  (computer control room would be under crypto-lock and key of Traffic Supervisor in each ATSU) 
  • Standardization of flight guidance data link commands - this is already in Global Hawk and other UAV's
  • Creates new risk through new technology (scrambling of software) throwaway gobble-degook here. All new technology has its risks assessed.
  • Not possible to be done with today's aircraft and very expensive- see #9 above on the "not possible" bit.

Original page of proposals (with four appendices):

RoboLander URLs :        and


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