Boeing 777 Could Have Been Reprogrammed From the Ground

Boeing 777The Boeing 777 could have been reprogrammed from the ground, according to whispers overheard on military channels, increasing speculation that the missing aircraft was taken for a future terrorist mission. Chatter in security circles is focused on the role of the autopilot controls in the diversion of the aircraft from its original flight plan.

The continuing mystery concerning the whereabouts of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has triggered intense conversations in certain circles about whether the Boeing aircraft could have been taken over from the ground. The Boeing 777 is a “fly-by-wire” aircraft, which means that all of the aeronautical functions of the plane are controlled through digital electronics, rather than hydraulic controls.

Evidence that the aircraft could have been controlled remotely are self-evident. The United States has deployed drone aircraft all over the world to perform both surveillance and fire missions controlled by pilots half a world away from the targets being surveilled and attacked by their drones.Drones are designed from the ground up to be controlled remotely and so, it turns out, is the Boeing 777, which is equipped with an emergency intervention system that would allow a remote operator to land the aircraft from the ground simply by manipulating the autopilot. This has never been done, according to aviation experts, but it is within the realm of possibility.

According to the information that was initially released by investigators, Flight 370 climbed to 45,000 feet and stayed there briefly before descending to 25,000 feet. The service ceiling for this aircraft is 43,100 feet. One of the theories about the odd behavior of the aircraft was that someone climbed to 45,000 to trigger cabin decompression and render the passengers of the aircraft unconscious…or dead. The problem with that theory is that the cockpit does not have a separate air flow system from the rest of the aircraft so that rendering the passengers and crew unconscious would also render the pilots unconscious as well.

The fact that the aircraft then descended to 25,000 seemed to indicate that there was someone on board who was still in control of the aircraft, but that may not be the case if the aircraft was being controlled remotely. The technology clearly exists to permit someone to fly the Boeing remotely. The key question, which engineers are now researching, is whether it might be possible for someone on the ground to gain control of the aircraft through one of the 14 sensor contact points on the aircraft to reprogram the autopilot.

Some security analysts are shocked that this possibility has never been considered before in security assessments after 9/11. In particular, security analysts are dismayed that, even after the 9/11 hijackers turned off the transponders to prevent air traffic controllers from identifying the erratic behavior of the aircraft, no steps were taken to make it impossible for anyone on board to turn the transponders off. That remains the case today.

Much of the speculation about the present whereabouts of the aircraft is focused on the empty reaches of the Indian Ocean, based upon indications that the aircraft turned in that direction, where there are very few places for a 777 to land. There have been reports that the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, researched remote landing fields capable of handling a Boeing 777 and had a list of six remote airfields where Fight 370 could have landed. Experts identified more than 600 potential landing fields within the aircraft’s range.  

To  build a runway for this aircraft, all it takes is a mile long strip of land.  Level off 4,000 feet of  that strip  with a bulldozer, and put down some gravel. That is all it takes. Officially, Boeing states that the 777-200ER needs 11,100 feet to take off, but Boeing does not stipulate the minimum landing distance, for legal reasons. (If Boeing stipulates a minimum landing distance and someone crashes attempting to land in that distance, lawsuits will ensue.) An unsigned report in FlightGlobal.com on a test flight of a Boeing 777-300ER, which is a bigger, heavier aircraft than Flight 370, took off in 3,280 feet.

Most people are not aware of this, but the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, used by hundreds of millions of Americans every day, was specifically designed to provide two-mile long straightaways where heavy military aircraft could land upon returning from strike missions over the U.S.S.R. The rationale for this was that military planners feared that U.S. landing fields would have been destroyed by Russian counter strikes, leaving American B-52 bombers nowhere else to land. No B-52 bomber has ever landed on an Interstate, but quite a few civilian aircraft have.

What this makes clear is that there would have been no problems landing the aircraft or taking off again, even from a short airfield. The problem is to find a place to land the aircraft where the local authorities would not arrest the pilot once the plane was on the ground. This scenario may seem far-fetched, but it is now being discussed on CNN, MSNBC and Fox. Planes like the Boeing 777 are equipped with two-way radio devices connecting the aircraft to various resources on the ground.  These devices are wired into the same systems that the autopilot is wired into because some of them report on the status of the autopilot system. One source claims that you can actually “call” this aircraft with a cell phone and exchange information with the on-board computer systems.  These systems are used to conduct remote diagnostics and update the software on the airplane.

At this point, as brutal as it sounds, investigators want to find the wreckage of a crashed aircraft because, if they don’t, there is increasing concern that the plane may show up again someday as a guided missile. If this Boeing 777 could have been reprogrammed from the ground, any other “fly-by-wire” aircraft could also be reprogrammed and flown from wherever the remote  hijackers happened to be.  If that proves true, then there are more important things to worry about than the whereabouts of Flight 370.

By Alan M. Milner

Sources:
CNN
Flightglobal.com
PhilipGreenspunWeblog

9 Responses to "Boeing 777 Could Have Been Reprogrammed From the Ground"

  1. Alan Milner   June 27, 2014 at 8:55 am

    SDCAUSA, You could land on a gravel strip since any gravel sucked into the engires would only get sucked in during the last few seconds. You might not want to ever take off again in that aircradt until after the engines had been serviced or replaced but that wouild not stop a determined pilot from landing on such a field. And, since we are dealing with insane people in this scenario, I think we can rest assured there are plenty of people who are capable of flying this plane, crazy enough to steal one, and desperate enough to land on such a field, especially if they are in the process of forfeitting their lives in the first place.

    Reply
  2. Alan Milner   June 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Dave, no, I think that CNN’s report that MH370 may have been abducted by aliens was a bridge too far; other speculations might be far-fetched, but so are most of the official explanations for things like why the searchers stubbornly resisted expanding the search in other directions.

    Reply
  3. Alan Milner   June 27, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Jerry, my information on this aspect came from a retired Marine Corp general with a double PhD in computer science and physics, and it was verified by a retired airline pilot and sometimes it seems that all of my contacts are retired now, which should make me more skeptical about their input. Idle hands and the devil’s playground.

    The speculation was intended to impart a more skeptical attitude toward the entire subject. I’ve actually embargoed this subject entirely until such time as hard evidence of the plane’s fate has been found and verified, but stories keep sneaking in through other sections that I don’t control. Information about the aircraft’s ability to land and take off from rough surfaces was conjecture, but the landing and take off distances were verified from Boeing’s own documentation, and the somewhat contradicting testimony of an airline test pilot who actual flew the plane in and out of fields that were much shorter than Boening’s published data suggests. Marsden Matting landing sites still exist, abandoned, on a number of Pacific islands, left over from World War II, that may still be usable because the high manganese content of the steel used for the matts is highly resistant to corrosion. There were also some Marsden Matts that were made of aluminum rather than steel. My father was on a team that built several Marsden fields in the Middle East during World War II, which is how I first heard about them. They had a technique for doubling up on the matts to accommodate heavier aircraft. They also used the matts to improve the road surface of the roads from the coast of Persia to the transhipping point where Lend Lease supplies and equipment were humped overland to Russia. The matts were also used during the Berlin Airlift to build the landing fields at Tempelhof, landing heavily loaded DC54s on them. The DC54 had a take off weight of 315,000 pounds. The Boeing 777 has a take off weight of 545,000 to 666,000 pounds, depending on the configuration. I wouldn’t want to land a 777 on a Marsden Matt, but I’m not crazy enough to steal one in the first place.

    So, your conclusion is that it would not be possible for someone to cross link the fly by wire control system with the airnet communications system, leaving only pilot error or malfeasance as the actual cause of the plane’s disappearance? I understand that planes don’t come equipped that way, but would it be possible for someone on the ground during maintenance to splice some wires together and make it so? After all, that gives us a choice between malfeasance of the crew in the air or malfeasance of the ground support crew who might who find it eaiser to fly under the radar than the flight crews would?

    Reply
  4. Jerry   June 26, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    I have been aircraft maintenance for many years including avionics. I have been around the B-777 since it was introduced into service while I was a Foreman at UAL. I currently Audit/Inspect aircraft and records as a consultant for a major leasing company which has B-777’s in their inventory. I have never heard of a modification to the B-777 which would allow it to be flown remotely by ground based controllers. It does have as you said a system whereby the parameters of the operating systems can be monitored, but not reprogrammed. The fly-by-wire system uses shielded twisted pair wiring which controls the hydraulic servos that move the control surfaces, but not remotely. The signals to move the control surfaces comes from the Flight Control Computer and the input to the FCC come from the manual input of the pilot or autopilot/flight management computer.

    Based on the data known at this time all the movements of this aircraft had to be human inputs and/or programming of the FMC (Flight Management Computer) by someone on board this aircraft.

    With the weight of this aircraft it can not be operated from or onto unprepared surfaces at a minimum it maybe landed on the portable metal runway strips used by the military.

    Reply
  5. ANTHONY JOHN KENNISH   May 19, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    Has it entered anyones head that the computer can be turned of and the plane flown manualy as in most aircraft landings, so no remote takeover….

    Reply
  6. Dave   March 31, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    “This scenario may seem far-fetched, but it is now being discussed on CNN, MSNBC and Fox”

    You may be the only person that thinks that somehow this adds credibility.

    Reply
  7. Benzer   March 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Years ago, maybe ten to 15 years ago, I heard the news that Boeing had successfully flown a 737 by remote control from Seattle to New Zealand or was it Australia. But I can’t find it on the internet anywhere.

    Reply
  8. SDCAUSA   March 27, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    A dirt landing strip covered with gravel isn’t going to handle a 777, look up FOD. Or foreign object destruction. Gravel + jet engine = BAD IDEA!!

    Reply
  9. Alan Milner   March 19, 2014 at 6:56 am

    There are two reported instances in which 777s have landed in LESS than 3,000 feet. In both cases, they actually dismantled the aircraft, moved it to a regular airfield, re-assembled the aircraft, and flew it back to Boeing for refitting. With a JATO (jet assisted take off) booster strapped onto the aircraft it could easily take off within its landing distance in the hands of a skilled pilot.

    Reply

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