Dagger Dirk
Just another number

Member # 7231

posted 28 September 2001 15:50    
If it was so easy to jam satellite transponders, GPS would be a particularly vulnerable system. The fact is that it is now an indispensable tool of commerce in many industries, apart from aviation - and it is protected by a number of means which you are simply unaware of.

To quote from the text of the Bush speech: "He said the government will offer grants to develop new airline safety technology, such as video systems to allow pilots to monitor the passenger cabin and transponders that cannot be shut off from the cockpit and continuously relay a plane's location to air traffic controllers. He also said the government will explore the possibility of allowing air traffic controllers to take over the helm of a plane in trouble and land it by remote control. Aviation experts say such technology is well within reach."

The RoboLander concept is simply a post 11 Sep 01 up-to-date development of something that Stanford U and NASA Langley were working on with 100% success back in 1994 (and since). Over four days in 1994 they autolanded a 737 with centimetric accuracy utilising GPS - over a 100 times with no failures or failings. So why has nothing much further been heard of it? The problem with the concept has always been the public's gut reaction to the whole proposition. This has led to inhouse studies and research within the larger avionics companies, but no government contracts and very little military research funding beyond what has gone into the Global Hawk, the Predator, cruise missile and other RPV's. Following on from GWBush's statement you could expect all that to change and the Aerospace consortiums are now forming up as we speak for a slice of these technology research grants. See also Raytheon Successes at this url.

Moreover, both this satellite transponder-based technology and airliner autoland itself are now very mature. So you would have to expect, following on from the traumatic events of 11 Sep and the Presidential announcement, that movement on this front will not be dissimilar to that created by JFK's "We will put a man on the moon by the end of this decade - and return him safely to earth". The requirement for RoboLander (and its system specs) was virtually defined on 11 Sep 01 by the terrorists themselves . You have to recall that terror in various forms revisits airline aviation very regularly. Its latest format is wholly unacceptable and totally repugnant to any concept of "civilised" warfare and so the eliminatory response must be, in the medium term, based upon the Western World's considerable capacity for technical innovation. There is ample precedent for the present knee-jerk reactions of adding Sky-marshalls and then later covertly withdrawing them [following in camera hearings held behind closed doors for "security reasons"). It's simply a 21st century stammering and stuttering response to what's been done before and always later failed (but this time with greater calamity). The Administration knows that but is strapped by having to be seen to do something tangible right now - in order to stop the aerospace and airline industry global meltdown. But they are certainly now looking beyond band-aid solutions toward permanent fixes. It's a certain case now of "Fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me". They know very well that comes the day that those two licenced USAF Generals make a decision to shoot down a jet full of innocent passengers, whether hijacked or simply disabled, well that's the beginning of a slippery slope (for background read "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire").

So like it or not, it will come and I'll cite the opinion here [below] of Rainman (a long-time Boeing and McDD automated flight-control expert). He sees no impracticality at all with RoboLander, neither in design, implementation, nor reliability. In fact when you look at the detailed RoboLander concept, do so with a jaundiced eye and try to pick the flaws. Keep in mind that it's an irreversible but not irrevocable transfer of autonomous flight-control - and that there are other useful modes without any anti-terrorist considerations or provisions. That is a wholly unsubtle difference that is being missed by most of the poo-poo, tut-tut, shock-horror and otherwise dismissive brigades.

Charlie R wrote:

Ques: Did I hear President Bush correctly today at O'Hare? - that a remote system is being proposed to allow ATC to safely land a disabled aircraft?
Talk about a risk!

Rainman Answer: With all due respect, Charlie, unless you are a design engineer who has done formal Safety Analysis (which includes risk and probability assessments) for aviation systems (I have done them for automatic landing systems that have to meet 10^-9 probabilities of catastrophic failures) I would encourage you to not make such assumptions about a remotely-controlled "hijack proof" airplane.

Many "lay folk" love to throw around the words "safety" and "risk" as if they are nebulous subjects. In the world of aircraft system design, they are very specific. And I guarantee you that a remotely-controlled system could be developed that would meet its intended function, and be at an "extremely improbable" risk (those are FAA words) for suffering a hull loss.

The human pilot is the strongest link in the aviation safety chain when it comes to handling malfunctions. Unfortunately, that same pilot can immediately become the weakest link in a hijacking situation. The most effective solution is simply to REMOVE control (or ceding thereof) of the airplane from any soul on board.

I know I will get my hand slapped on this one (again), but at least my issue (being one of flight deck technology) is closer to the Bluecoat charter than discussions of pilots packing heat.


I think it's realised that the industry downturn will cause many older (and aging) aircraft to be parked (most of them permanently). Rainman's opinion is "It would work well and be readily retrofittable onto the most modern fly-by-wire flight decks (777, A320, A330, A340 series)." So I think that any such qualified opinion gives some considerable credibility to the concept.... as does the opinion of Tom Cassidy, president and CEO of the San Diego company of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. In a letter to Secretary Minetta he said: "Aircraft anywhere in the nation could be remotely controlled from just one or two locations using satellite links, Cassidy said. Those locations could be heavily fortified against terrorists.

"The technology is available," Cassidy said. "We use it every day."

.There are other qualified opinions here (in the RoboLander Concept Discussion)

Posts: 114 | From: Perth | Registered: Sep 1999  |  IP: Logged

Thomas J. Cassidy, Jr.
President and Chief Executive Officer General Atomics
Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

As President and Chief Executive Officer of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, San Diego, California, coordinates the activities of the company's sales, design, manufacturing, training, operations and support of unmanned aircraft surveillance systems and programs. He led General Atomics' entry into the unmanned aircraft business area and in a period of three years successfully established General Atomics Aeronautical Systems as a leader in this field. The Company manufactures, supports and operates a variety of sophisticated unmanned aircraft surveillance systems for U.S. government and overseas customers.

After joining General Atomics in 1987, he directed Business Development efforts for defense-related activities. Prior to this time he served in the U.S. Navy for 34 years, retiring as a Rear Admiral. Previous assignments included Command of the Pacific Fleet Fighter and Airborne Early Warning Wing, Command of the Naval Air Station, Miramar, California and Command of Fighter Squadron 161 aboard the aircraft carrier Coral Sea during combat in Vietnam. He has extensive experience flying a wide variety of U.S. and foreign aircraft and combat experience at all staff levels from a carrier group to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As a flag officer, served in the Joint Chiefs of Staff organization as the Chief of Naval Operations liaison officer to the Chairman and was Director of the Tactical Readiness Division on the staff of the CNO. As a naval aviator, he had numerous Washington area, fleet staff, operational fighter squadron, test squadron, joint service, and joint special access program tours.

Mr. Cassidy is an Associate Fellow, Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and a member of the Board of Trustees' Scholarship Committee. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the San Diego Aerospace Museum.


Mr RoboLander

Upgraded: Mike Heintz
Boeing established a new organization to coordinate its efforts in the expanding unmanned systems market, and named Mike Heinz to lead that organization as vice president and general manager, Unmanned Systems.
Heinz, based in St. Louis, will report to both Jerry Daniels, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile Systems, and George Muellner, president, Boeing Phantom Works, the company's advanced research-and-development unit.
"Unmanned systems are the future of aerospace," Daniels said. "We intend to lead the transformation they will bring by leveraging the best from across Boeing. That's what Mike's organization will do."
Muellner added: "Most attention focuses on the unmanned vehicle, but success depends on understanding the broader system - aircraft, control software, payloads and support concepts. Boeing is better at integrating system solutions than anybody else."
The unmanned systems organization will oversee current Boeing projects including the two Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle programs sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - one for the U.S. Air Force, the other for the U.S. Navy. Boeing is also pursuing an unmanned concept based on canard rotor wing technology.
Heinz's group will also manage the pursuit of future opportunities for applications of unmanned technologies. "Our goal is to develop a large business out of unmanned systems," Heinz said. "We're now somewhat of a niche player. We want this to be a major Boeing business."
Heinz has worked at Boeing for 34 years, most recently as vice president and deputy program manager of the Joint Strike Fighter program. Positions he held prior to that included vice president and general manager of system assessment and planning, vice president and general manager of the Harpoon/Standoff Land Attack Missile program, and engineering manager of proprietary programs.
Heinz earned his bachelor's degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Notre Dame and his master's degree in aeronautical engineering from Stanford University. He also holds a master's degree in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis.

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