Addressing the Doubts and FAQ's
of a Dubious Industry
A: Question: "Terrorists could use putty to block cabin surveillance camera lenses (although even a covert attempt to do so would indicate potential trouble)".
Answer: Ref the bit in blue. Once you black out a surveillance camera, you're just not sure if it's bust or what (once the light is cut off to it, it just goes black). Small point perhaps - but one minute you've got the picture, the next you don't - and the act of obscuring it is likely to happen sight unseen.
B: Question: (in part)
For instance" Even so, the required comms links and control-transfer decision logic only hint at the potential failure modes."Answer: The answer to this of course is simply that if the aircraft loses its link with the controlling ground-station there would be a reversionary mode (i.e. there will and must always be one entity in 100% valid control, be it ground or air - but never a case of nil control - so call it a fail-safe link if you like). How does a fail-safe link work? Think of it as a latching relay that will only allow the Ground station to retain control whilst the sat-based ground-control uplink is both valid and in "trapping" mode. These fail-safe (aka "fail-operable) aspects need to be spelt out in order to help dispel the bogey-man aspect of the RoboLander concept being viewed as ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL (which it IS NOT).
OR TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY:
C: Question (in part) "This complicated system would by design have the ability to wrest control of the aircraft from the pilot irretrievably, since the design goal would be to not allow anyone in the cockpit to be able to regain control. "
Answer: Yes irretrievably, but NOT irrevocably (there is a difference).
In other words, if the ground station wished, for good reason, they could relinquish control back to the pilot. For what reason you ask? The pilot may state that the hijackers have been overpowered, that it was really only an air-rage incident and that he will now be inserting his personal code (after earlier having hit the BRB (big red button), albeit prematurely). It is a most difficult concept to overall get your mind around - isn't it? Might be too complex a concept perhaps? I doubt very much that the technical challenges are anywhere as complex as you portray them. After all the Global Hawk is commanded to carry out very complex surveillance functions and whilst in its mission, thousands of miles away, it can be totally reprogrammed and, in future, even mid-air refuelled.
D: Question: So why cannot hijackers just take the fire-axe and destroy wiring bundles and CB's etc and cause the aircraft to crash anyway?
In the future, once wiring bundles are remoted and inaccessible and circuit-breakers
are physically inside the code-locked E&E bay, (being replaced in
the cockpit by status lights) then would-be hijackers should be unable
to "down" the aircraft. However the RoboLander system is presently
designed only to stop normal hijackings and suicide terrorists who might
otherwise repeat their 11 Sep cruise-missile routine with much greater
loss of life. Unless systems were physically protected from their predations,
hijackers operating with impunity could always "down" an aircraft.
This may not (hopefully) be the case in future designs .
E. I watched an ex NTSB Board member interview on TV tonight and
had some wifely queries:
F. Question: Which brings up the point about the 20 minutes specified in the RoboLander's passivity periodicity. Why 20 minutes?
Well you'd have to be mighty unlucky for a terrorist take-over to happen
with exactly 20 minutes to go (unless he was a new-hire F/O who had just
watched you punch it in or heard the warbler tone). So in the majority
of cases the clock would be running with somewhat less than 20 minutes
to go and then you'd hopefully be in excess of that flight-time from any
high-value mass murder type targets. 20 minutes equals about 120 - 150
nms in terms of flying distance so a potential hijacker would have the
additional task of determining inflight just where they were before making
his move. And that move would have to be fast enough to stop the captain
from lifting the guard and using his activator button (on the side-console
down by his left thigh). That may be the case if he were out of his seat
(say). So the combination of the captain being out of his seat and having
the whole 20 minutes to run before the failure to insert and radiate the
passivator code causing a RoboLander take-over? ...not very likely at
all. In the not too distant future the Free Flight (non-airways) capabilities
that are under development will also confound the terrorist's abilities
to know where they are in respect of any number of main [or contingency]
ground targets. Of course that also now means a judicious killing of the
cabin screen displays of enroute position.
G. Question: Could a copilot's seat also have an activator button?
H. Question: Could the captain carry a remote activator with him while he's out of his seat?
I. Question: What's to stop a new-hire (terrorist) copilot from becoming aware of his Captain's RoboCode?
J. Question: Is a GPS-based autolanding system available?
Raytheon and Air Force Demonstrate Civil-Military Interoperability for GPS-Based Precision Auto-Landing System.
MARLBOROUGH, Mass., Oct. 1 /PRNewswire/ --
A government-industry team accomplished the first precision approach
by a civil aircraft using a military Global Positioning System (GPS) landing
system Aug. 25 at Holloman AFB, N.M., Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN) announced
today. A FedEx Express 727-200 Aircraft equipped with a Rockwell-Collins
GNLU-930 Multi-Mode Receiver landed using a Raytheon-developed military
ground station. Raytheon designed and developed the differential GPS ground
station under an Air Force contract for the Joint Precision Approach and
Landings System (JPALS) program. The JPALS system
is being developed to meet the Defense Department's need for an anti-jam,
secure, all weather Category II/III aircraft landing system
that will be fully interoperable with planned civil
systems utilizing the same technology. Raytheon and the U.S. Air
Force have been conducting extensive flight testing for JPALS at Holloman
over the last three months. The FedEx Express 727-200 aircraft at Holloman
successfully conducted a total of sixteen Category I approaches. After
completing a number of pilot flown approaches for reference the aircraft
conducted six full autolands using the JPALS ground station. "The
consistency of the approaches allowed us to proceed to actual autolandings
with very little delay," said Steve Kuhar, Senior Technical Advisor
Flight Department for FedEx Express. The aircraft was guided by differential
GPS corrections, integrity information, and precision approach
path points transmitted from the Raytheon developed JPALS ground station.
Although the approaches were restricted to Category I, accuracies sufficient
to meet Cat II/III requirements were observed. Raytheon is the
world leader in designing and building satellite-based navigation and
landing solutions for civil and military applications. In addition to
developing JPALS for the Department of Defense, Raytheon is also developing
both the Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS) and the Wide Area Augmentation
System (WAAS) for the Federal Aviation Administration. The JPALS and LAAS
will provide an interoperable landing capability for military and civil
applications. "Raytheon is committed to developing and deploying
satellite based navigation and landing systems for the military and the
flying public," said Bob Eckel, Raytheon vice president for Air Traffic
Management. "We understand the importance of this technology and
are proud to be a part of the success achieved this summer during JPALS
testing at Holloman." With headquarters in Lexington, Mass., Raytheon
Company is a global technology leader in defense, government and commercial
electronics, and business and special mission aircraft.