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
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"
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
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
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
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
"The technology is available," Cassidy
said. "We use it every day."
.There are other qualified opinions here (in the
RoboLander Concept Discussion)