Copyright © 2001 by Hugo S. Cunningham
1. According to news reports, investigators are hoping to get clues from the "black boxes" of the two jetliners that were crashed into the World Trade Center. But will they have survived the intense heat of the fire? A. Problems like this can be avoided by exploiting new communications technology. (1) The most important "Black box" information should not only be stored; it should also be instantaneously transmitted to ground control. Normally it could be erased without processing once the plane lands. (2) Video images (from hidden cameras) of the pilot's compartment and the passenger compartment should be added to the "Black box" mix, and also transmitted to ground control. Normally, these images would be ignored, but if a pilot, crew member, or certain passengers hit a "panic button," a distress call would alert ground control to start monitoring that aircraft's video. Unless and until such technology becomes cheap and redundant, however, there should be harsh penalties for falsely tripping the "panic button." Ground control could assume control of the video, eg to get a closeup of a suspect's face. They could also make the decision whether the pilot compartment door should remain blocked (to keep out terrorists and nuts) or burst open (if the pilot himself is the nut, as with Egypt Air 990 on 31 Oct 1999). (Fail-safe technology, eg the dual-key system, could provide against the possibility that ground-control was infiltrated by a terrorist.) If we had such technology in place on 31 Oct 1999, we would have had conclusive proof, whether Egypt Air 990 was downed by a rogue co-pilot (the conclusion of US safety investigators), or whether there was some undetected equipment malfunction (Egypt's view). It would not have mattered that Egypt Air 990's remains (and black box) were scattered miles beneath the ocean. If we had such technology today, we would have many more clues about the terrorists' identity, and their mode of operation. (And, if the pilot's door had been solidly barricaded, terrorist control of the passenger compartment would not have mattered. The pilot compartment should have a separate sanitary facility and food supply.) 2. Passengers should be encouraged to bring cell phones. They have provided much of our information, how the terrorists captured the planes.From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Hugo S. Cunningham)
Design Goal: Keeping Jets From Misuse as Missiles
By KENNETH CHANG
"In the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, aviation
experts have begun considering changes in aircraft design that would
help prevent terrorists from turning passenger airplanes into kamikaze
[rest of article deleted]
Experts advocated "broadband" communications between pilot and ground control (including the capabilities I suggested above), and said the technology was readily available.
They also noted new anti-collision technology that could be adapted to anti-terrorist purposes. The military have already been testing an automated pilot system to prevent high-performance fighters from flying into mountains; it could just as easily steer jetliners away from buildings.
GPS navigation technology could be used to create, in the airplane's navigation software, a "bubble" that blocks steering into a prohibited area, eg Manhattan.
Over the longer run, it should be possible for ground control to cut off the pilot/hijacker's controls entirely and land a plane safely from the ground. [Note: my fellow Usenet poster "Bloody Viking" pointed out that this, if not handled correctly, could create openings for ground-based terrorists to interfere with an airplane.]