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Automagic No-Fly-Zone Enforcement 536

Posted by michael
from the also-works-to-keep-dogs-out-of-your-yard dept.
An anonymous reader writes "SoftWalls is the name of an aviation project at UC-Berkeley that's developing a system for commercial airliners that establishes and enforces no-fly zones. Basically, through GPS, if a plane begins to enter a no-fly zone (eg, around a mountain, or over Lower Manhattan), an alarm goes off in the cockpit. If ignored, the system actively removes control of the plane away from the pilot and co-pilot to steer the plane out of the no-fly zone. The technology is intended as both an accident prevention technique and a deterrent to terrorists planning to ram a building. ABCNews recently profiled the project (with video) and also rode along with a working prototype built by Honeywell that successfully kept a Beechcraft from hitting a mountain."
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Automagic No-Fly-Zone Enforcement

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  • by Aliencow (653119) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:35PM (#7869143) Homepage Journal
    When you can find a way to do it remotely !
    • by bigjocker (113512) * on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:37PM (#7869158) Homepage
      Why wasn't this been implemented before? I don't care a rat arse about terrorists this and terrorists that, but I have lost a few friends in airplane crashes. With these technologies available at least a decade ago (this project is an implementation of a few old technologies) why isn't this a major requirement for all new planes?

      A lot of lives would have been saved if a plane would have at least a small database of known mountains in the flight path. Why don't our planes avoid mountains automatically?
      • No the REAL question is how much mana does it take to get a "*Automagic* No-Fly-Zone Enforcement" going.

      • by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:49PM (#7869252) Homepage
        The military has been using TCAS for years, although it does not automatically remove pilot control. TCAS is designed to "see" the traffic situation in the vicinity of the aircraft, but similar technology works with large land masses also.

        The core technologies have been around awhile but I think it's important to remember that GPS technology and fast small CPUs are just now becoming "mature", so it's not out of line that these systems are still in the testing phase. Sure, ten years ago maybe you could build such systems with half of the first class section stuffed with hardware...

      • Umm, yeah. And maybe the super duper computer will make sure that you fill up the gas tanks before you leave and keep the engine from malfunctioning. Stupidity will find a way. It always does.
      • I may be wrong, but I thought that accurate GPS was run over two channels, and that the non-military one was sometimes scrambled to throw off the signal. What happens when the pilot tries to get into an airport and the plane suddenly steers away based on a scrambled GPS report?
      • by thrillseeker (518224) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:59PM (#7869341)
        Why wasn't this been implemented before?...Why don't our planes avoid mountains automatically?

        Because it's a stupid idea.

        A computer can't know the myriad of decision factors that the pilot does. There's a lot more to safe flight operations, especially during an emergency, than simply pointing the airplane in the right direction. There's considerations of how bad the weather may be in one direction, which engine may have failed causing difficulty in turning in one direction, which heading the aircraft needs to be on after completing a turn to line up with the desired runway so as to make a landing the first time (because there might not be a second time), how critical is it to get to a certain altitude rapidly, and hundreds of other factors that might (or might not) be important. The pilot is the one best to rapidly rank order what's important and what's not given the particular situation he's found himself and those several hundred passengers in.

        Just what computer program could decide that it's a better decision to allow the plane to fly close to a mountain (how close? 1000 feet? 2000 feet? 50 feet?) in order to meet some criteria the pilot (you know, the person deemed competent to make such decisions) has decided is most critical.

        Aids that assist in flying are wonderful - keep bureauacracy and "for the children" politics out of the cockpit though.

        • by Leeji (521631) <slashdot@leeholmes . c om> on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:37PM (#7869552) Homepage

          You make a good point, but I think you (and others) might be polarizing the issue more than necessary.

          I can imagine this being implemented as a restriction of options rather than prescriptive flight path. As you mention, pilots already deal with a myriad of decision factors, and this would act as another. If you need to put your 747 into an Immelmann or Split-S, just make sure you're not doing it into a mountain -- because the computer won't let you. The computer won't dictate what you have to do, just what you can't.

          We see these restrictions all around us. Water drums near highway barriers. Curbs on sidewalks. Large rocks surrounding bridge supports. Pilots are just beginning to benefit from the fact that these influences can be virtual.

          • If you need to put your 747 into an Immelmann or Split-S, just make sure you're not doing it into a mountain -- because the computer won't let you.

            Fly by wire already does this. The aircraft is actually controlled by the computer. The pilot says 'turn left 10 deg'. The computer actually figures out how far to move the control surfaces, depending on alt, weight, speed, etc. It will not send the a/c into an Immelman.

            Fighter aircraft are limited by the FCC in the same way. Limited to a specific turn or G
        • by ipjohnson (580042) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @08:20PM (#7869778)
          How this got modded to insightful is beyond me because you know nothing about commercial aviation. I'll try and speak to a few of your points.

          There's considerations of how bad the weather may be in one direction

          How do you think the pilot knows of bad weather ... oh thats right he gets ground reports through his computer ... (and if it comes from ATC it can be hand entered into the computer.

          which engine may have failed causing difficulty in turning in one direction,

          Currently all the new aircrafts coming out are fly-by-wire (777,A320,A380) so the computer has to handle this already. Further more how do you know which engine is out without the computer (the insturments are run by one of the myriad of computers on board).

          which heading the aircraft needs to be on after completing a turn to line up with the desired runway so as to make a landing the first time

          First of how do you think it work now 99% of the time you are in the air the FMC is guiding the plane including *gasp* your headings out of turns towards your runway (yes I know the FCC is where the real control logic for the autopilot is but it tries to fly to what the FMC is telling it).

          how critical is it to get to a certain altitude rapidly

          You know what the FMC is going to be able to calculate out how fast you can and can't climb a hell of alot better than any human (yes I know you can do a general calc of how fast you can climb based on your gross weight / alt / airspeed / and your possible thrust but you can't do it nearly as accurate or quick so would you really want to?)

          Now mind you I dont like the idea of taking away control from a human because computers can fail (I know there are 3 FMC (well the new 777 is actually a different cabinet setup but you get the idea)) and I want a human watching. They get paid rediculous money so let them do their jobs.

          So next time before you do some arm chair piloting get your facts straight.
          • by thrillseeker (518224) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @09:05PM (#7869969)
            So next time before you do some arm chair piloting get your facts straight.

            Yeah, I guess 3000 hours of flight time with 500 hours in combat including more emergencies from engine failures due to fire to hydraulic failures to electrical failures to lightning strikes to ... than I can count doesn't mean shit on slashdot.

            How do you think the pilot knows of bad weather ... oh thats right he gets ground reports through his computer

            Well, he could always look out the window ... perhaps a difficult concept to comprehend for those that believe that the pilot should only do what's been preallowed by some programmer who is completely unaware of the particulars of the situation that may occur.

            Further more how do you know which engine is out without the computer

            There's a significant change in thrust from one side of the aircraft when an engine has failed. Turning into a dead engine, especially with a heavy fuel load, is usually not the smart thing to do because of the greater difficulty of turning back - but if the pilot makes a concious decision to turn in a particular direction then a computer should not attempt to override it for reasons that are less critical than safety of flight (such as some BS no-fly zone).

            99% of the time you are in the air the FMC is guiding the plane including *gasp* your headings out of turns

            Sigh. An autopilot system is an aid for the pilot - it's not a substitute. A system that calculates the headings and lead points is fine for rolling out on a certain course, but is irrelevant to the situation of a pilot flying the aircraft where he wants it to be, vice some erroneous decision made by software.

            FMC is going to be able to calculate out how fast you can and can't climb a hell of alot better than any human

            No it can't. It can calulate the optimum climb rate to get to some altitude using the least fuel or least time or least distance - but that is not definitely better - the system doesn't know what may be most important at any given moment. That's the job of the pilot. People that advocate being able to hinder the pilot's options are doing no favors to either the pilots or the passengers they are responsible for.

            Responsibility for the lives of hundreds of others is a big deal. Maybe you've never been there.

            • by ipjohnson (580042) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @09:34PM (#7870113)
              Maybe I was a little harsh but the points I made are still valid. How many hours have you logged in a modern day commercial airliner 777 , A320 (We are talking about commercial fly-by-wire systems).

              As for the weather I full understand looking out the window is very important. but can you really tell that much about which way the wind is going when your 200 miles off? If your in a bad weather cell that different. (but at no point in my post did I say the pilot should not be able to fly his plane)

              As for the signifacant changes due to an engine lose ... well i've been down in the code for an FMC dealing specifily for those type of situations ... so yeah I truly understand your aero dynamics and flight capability changes but ... it still doesn't change the fact that its a fly-by-wire system most of those things are handle for you by the FCC and FMC (we are not talking about a piston driven AC but rather a 777).

              See I understand in emeregence situations autopilot is not a substitute for a pilot. At the bottom of my post I said I hate the idea of taking the control out of the pilots hands. I also freely admit computers are not perfect and that why pilots routinely change setting in the FMC to make it do what the pilot wants

              I will give you the point that the computer may not make the right descion and there should be a way to take control away from the computer. You also have to admit that there are times where the pilot wont make the best descion (see the crash in swiss airspace where the pilot went against his TCAS and people died because of it).

              I ask you to find one thing in my post where I said the pilot should not have the ability to break away. Hell I know computers aren't perfect and I agree a 100% that taking control away is a bad idea. I just disagreed with your reasons because they weren't applicable to current commercial jetliners.

              As for responsibility of hundreds of lifes, your right I have not been up there with the lives in my hands but before my current job I used to write ATC systems which are mission critical (in production in germany) so I do full understand its not kids play and that when things malfunction you put lives in danger.

              I think you had the right idea your reason just where off. And I'm sorry if I offended I was probably a little harsh but I didn't agree ande I need to post on it.
                • (but at no point in my post did I say the pilot should not be able to fly his plane)

                No you didn't, in those words. But yes, you did, by supporting the idea put forward in the main article. Any system that purposely puts active control of the aircraft into the "hands" of someone who is not in the cockpit of a manned aircraft (I am not talking about RPVs here) is interfering with the pilot's ability to fly his plane. Period. No amount of argumentation you will put forward about safety factors, commercial v

              • see the crash in swiss airspace where the pilot went against his TCAS and people died because of it

                He did not go against his TCAS out of his own volition. He obeyed orders given by a dimwit dumbfuck from the ground. Which the Swiss air control tried to hide and blame on the pilot. Just as they usually do. They are the second most famous after the French in Europe about it. Ever heard of a crash in Swiss air space when the pilot is not guilty? Even if he is given instructions to try to land from the hill

          • AI's are dumb, this isn't like we're playing a videogame. Most of these people are air force piolets or reservists; they've got their shit together and they know what they're doing when they fly. Many have hundreds of flights under their belt, and thousands of people have trusted them with their lives.

            A piolet has to take in a lot of data all at once and put out a lot of data, something a computer isn't complicated enough to do yet. Piolets can feel the plane, the controls have 60+ years of customizat
      • One word: Bugs (Score:5, Informative)

        by Kjella (173770) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:01PM (#7869356) Homepage
        Why wasn't this been implemented before? I don't care a rat arse about terrorists this and terrorists that, but I have lost a few friends in airplane crashes. With these technologies available at least a decade ago (this project is an implementation of a few old technologies) why isn't this a major requirement for all new planes?

        See, if a computer program somehow fucks this up, and ends up flying right towards the mountain instead of away from it, the pilots would realize that this *can't* be right but a computer wouldn't. I'm sure they have lots of *warning* systems, but up until now I don't think anyone has thought that overriding the pilot was a good idea, since up until Sept 11th noone thought anyone would *willingly* crash the plane. Maybe it'd save lives if the pilot had a heart attack and collapsed in his seat, but it's a stretch.

        And another thing - sabotage. If you can compromise this program, you suddenly have the power to crash *every* plane in the air - complete with uber-searched passengers, armed guards and top security clearance pilots. While it is a lot less likely, the consequences would almost be far more catastrophic.

        And face it - hi-jackers in control of a plane can crash it where it does a *lot* of damage anyway - even if it's not dead-center in the Pentagon. If nothing else, fly as close as you can, cut power to the engines and drop like a living dumbfire fuel bomb. How far could you get on a 30,000 feet drop? I'm guessing quite a bit into the "no-fly" zone...

        Kjella
      • by jjo (62046) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:03PM (#7869370) Homepage
        Such a thing has already been implemented. 'Controlled Flight into Terrain' (CFIT) has been a known human-factors problem for some time. In direct response to CFIT accidents, the GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) was developed and is now widely deployed in airliners. It incorporates just such a database as you describe. However, all it does is warn the pilot (loudly and irritatingly) that the plane is about to run into the ground. The GPWS does not take over the plane.

        The system being discussed here would take ultimate control of the plane away from the pilot. In the century of powered flight we have just completed, such ideas have have always turned out to be the Wrong Thing.

        If we could always trust the flight computers and control systems, we wouldn't even need pilots: today's jetliners are smart enough to fly themselves. The problem is that the systems are just not reliable enough, and the system designers are not prescient enough, to handle every eventuality.

        For ages, the question has been
        '
        Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' (Who will watch the watchers?)
        A modern corollary might be:
        'Who will control the control systems?'

    • by yintercept (517362)
      Right now, terrorism of the skies is pretty much restricted to those groups that have a ready supply of people willing to kill themselves for their cause. Remote control airplanes will open the terrorist industry to technical savvy terrorist groups who like to work safely from the ground.

      Best of all, remote control airplanes would allow terrorist groups to work in larger numbers. Right now, terrorist groups are pushed to their limits to take over 4 airplanes. In this new system, a terrorist group that hac
    • by G4from128k (686170) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @08:13PM (#7869745)
      What's to stop terrorists for distorting the GPS signals and making the plane think that a mountain isn't where the mountain is? And if the terrorist can broadcast multiple spoof signals (spoofing a constellation), they could steer a plane to any location by simply moving the no-fly barrier to herd the plane to the desired (but undesirable) location.
  • Situation... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by skermit (451840) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:35PM (#7869148) Homepage
    "Turn 50 degrees east-north-east... you're about to hit another plane!"
    "...I can't"
    "Sure you can, just turn!"
    "NO... I physically CAN'T, the plane won't let me."

    BAM.

    Taking the control out of the pilots hands is a bad thing.
    • Re:Situation... (Score:3, Informative)

      by mgs1000 (583340)
      You just described the Airbus A300. (Except it had the altitude wrong)
      • Interesting, I never thought about altitude restrictions, do you have a link? I hadn't heard about this.
        • Here. [airdisaster.com] I actually meant that, in this incident, the Airbus got confused about it's altitude and crashed into the ground.
          • Thanks.
          • Re:Situation... (Score:3, Insightful)

            As I read it, the aircraft did not get its altitude wrong (yes I did read that site, and there are various things posted on there that are wrong) but that the computer was set into one operational mode, and the pilot did not alter the mode of operation.

            On the early Airbus flight computers, you selected which mode the computer was to be in at any one time, ie cruise, takeoff, landing, manual operation, generic flight. If the computer was in the wrong mode to what you actually were doing, it would react di
      • Re:Situation... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Brahmastra (685988) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:39PM (#7869181)
        You mean Airbus A-320/330/340? They were the first fly-by-wire passenger aircraft and there were various problems with pilots not getting control initially. In one case, a computer malfunction made the plane pitch up continuously to the point of a stall and the pilot couldn't use the controls to lower the nose
    • Re:Situation... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Farrax (83670)
      Situation: non-issue.

      The pilot has time to respond to the warning. During this time, he is fully in control of the plane. If he heads back out, he maintains control of the plane. If he does not head out, he is assumed to be incapable of operating the plane and is relieved of duty by the automation software.

      Just like with any security issue, assuming that the end-user is in complete control of the machine at every time is a mistake. Grandma is not in control of her new Windows XP box. Joe P. Capitain
      • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:56PM (#7869309)
        Grandma is not in control of her new Windows XP box

        Hell, Windows XP isn't fully in control of the box itself ...

        I find it amusing that you illustrate your point about security with a Windows example :-)
      • Re:Situation... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by thrillseeker (518224)
        assuming that the end-user is in complete control of the machine at every time is a mistake. Grandma is not in control of her new Windows XP box. Joe P. Capitain is not in control of his plane when there is a gun to his head.

        Wrong. This is not a situation where a BSOD is acceptable. Grandma might be appreciative of Clippy helping her out, but the last thing a pilot in an airline full of passengers needs is some "oops" in the programming preventing him from turning when he wants because it might overfly

      • The pilot has time to respond to the warning. During this time, he is fully in control of the plane. If he heads back out, he maintains control of the plane. If he does not head out, he is assumed to be incapable of operating the plane and is relieved of duty by the automation software.

        You are missing the point... What if he responds by continuing to fly into the "mountains"? Just a nice little (false) GPS signal from someone malicious, telling it there are mountains everywhere... except where the real m

    • You're assuming we don't already hand our lives over to technology in planes. Last I checked if the hydraulics [sp?] fail you're pretty fucked since huge aircraft are not fly by pully as per the 1940s circa planes...

      Tom
      • They use the RAT (Score:5, Informative)

        by ashitaka (27544) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:05PM (#7869384) Homepage
        The RAT is the Ram Air Turbine, a propeller driven hydraulic pump tucked under the belly of the 767. The RAT can supply just enough hydraulic pressure to move the control surfaces and enable a dead-stick landing. The loss of both engines caused the RAT to automatically drop into the airstream and begin supplying hydraulic pressure.

        The Gimli Glider [wadenelson.com] used this to survive the loss of both engines.
        • If that's true that's fairly kickass.

          The point though is all the marvelous engineering aside you're still climbing in a 30 or so tonne mechanical device where the simplest of things goes wrong [re: nasa disasters] you die.

          I'm not saying airtravel is not safe. By all means I think it's safer than cars [though not buses]. The point is in the grand scheme of things one more system is not likely to make you that insecure [provided it's not trivially unsafe]

          Tom
    • Any fix for this is going to open up other problems. But the question that needs to be asked is "will this avoid more crashes than it creates?" To me it is a no-brainer. This sort of technology will save far more lives -- maybe from terrorism, but mostly from simple pilot error -- than it will kill.
    • Taking the control out of the pilots hands is a bad thing.

      Yes, but your example is a poor one. Pilots have a multitude of options at their disposal for avoiding collisions. Altitude changes(up OR down! Wow!), heading changes(left OR right!) and speed changes(faster OR slower!)

      The real problem is that in almost every plane with an autopilot, there's a Big Red Switch the pilot can press. When I saw this in action, it was on a small(4 seater) single, and pressing the switch caused about 2-3 switches to

  • As I recall... The /. groupthink was mostly in agreement that it's a bad idea to take away control of the aircraft from the trained pilot who has cognative reasoning.

    Good idea, maybe a different implementation would work...
    • Some even earlier think from my fortune file. Odd that this should come up today!:

      Earl Wiener, 55, a University of Miami professor of management science, telling the Airline Pilots Association (in jest) about 21st century aircraft:
      "The crew will consist of one pilot and a dog. The pilot will nurture and feed the dog. The dog will be there to bite the pilot if he touches anything.

      -- Fortune, Sept. 26, 1988 [the *magazine*, silly!]

      Not so funny now, huh?
  • Except removing control of the plane from the pilot is probably not the way to do it.

    Setting up some form of fine system would achieve the desired effect without endangering the lives of thousands or millions of people.
  • Please (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:37PM (#7869166)
    >>The technology is intended as both an accident prevention technique and a deterrent to terrorists planning to ram a building

    Why do people seem to think that terrorists are just dumb camel jockeys from the middle of the desert who are easily impressed by internal plumbing? If an al Qaeda operative wants to smash a plane into a building, he'll figure out a way to disable such a system.
  • by swb (14022) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:38PM (#7869170)
    What happens if I'm on a flight that for whatever the reason HAS to land at La Guardia (low fuel) and cannot navigate AROUND lower Manhattan, but instead wants to go over it. And this system won't let the pilot do that, and by steering around, runs the plane out of fuel and crashes it.

    So someone says "Oh, there will be an override for situations like that" -- well, why won't that override get used when someone is bound and detmined to fly a 757 into a tall building? At that point its just another warning system, which is fine, but the computer control part scares me. I like pilots in control when necessary.

    • And people tell me that there are no advantages to living in the Bronx.
    • I think the whole terrorism use is just a strawman. I can't see it actually being used as a viable way to stop a hijacking in progress as there will have to be an override switch. However, that doesn't prevent it from being lauded as a deterrent to would-be terrorists. The idea is to create enough perceived obstacles so as to make anyone planning a hijacking think that it will be unlikely to succeed.

      The real purpose of the system is to prevent crashes into mountains, which are referred to by the euphemism

    • Wouldn't that be mitigated by combining altitide limits and walls? I know of CNC machines that do this.
    • Manhattan is what, 12 miles long from poitn to point. If it's coming from below, it can easily skirt manhatatn. If it was coming from the west and needed to go 6 miles up and then 6 miles down it shouldn't be a problem, considering newark and JFK are near by also.
    • i'll assume your situation works perfectly as you describe it. . .

      if they can control where the plan IS, don't you think they'd be able to see the same information as the pilot? at least as far as gauges go. I mean come on.

  • by PaK_Phoenix (445224) <darin3 AT cox DOT net> on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:38PM (#7869175)
    Would a catastrophic loss of the GPS system, render these planes unusable? Also, depending on the accuracy of the system(remember they 'skew' the signal for civilian recievers), it could make the planes a bigger target, for the possibly more accurate GPS recievers on them.
  • Car implications (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the man with the pla (710711) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:41PM (#7869195)
    Everybody's thought about automobile systems that drive for you, and I think most of us suspect it will simply be a matter of time before it happens.

    Think about it: Doing a similar system in the air is a great place to learn about how to do this with cars...since asside from takeoff and landing, there's a much bigger tollerance for error in the wide blue skys.

    --
    Written in the name of sacred jihad [anti-slash.org]
    • as airspace is already heavily regulated and there are relatively few aircraft in the skies at any one point which are usually piloted by far more competant people. (compared to say, rushhour where tens of millions of cars are on the road and driven by people of often dubious skills)

      There are also generally only a few flight corridors that get alot of use due to popular routes, the earth's curvature and weather patterns, unlike road systems.

  • by zakezuke (229119) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:42PM (#7869200)
    Terrorists cause planes to crash due to bogus information sent to the GPS, simulating a no fly zone situation, and causing them to crash into buildings.

    The FAA has been reported as saying "Yep, it's doing it's job, we couldn't see such a useful feature being exploited".

    The FAA is also considering trained monkeies to replace the crew. Passangers, who will be given shock buttons, seems to enjoy this idea... far too much.
  • shot down? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by killthiskid (197397) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:42PM (#7869204) Homepage Journal

    From the FAQ [berkeley.edu] (warning, PDF).

    A New York Times article in April of 2002 examined this issue [9]:

    "A Boeing 737 pilot for a major airline recalled approaching Reagan National Airport from the south a few years ago and facing a microburst, a rainstorm that includes sudden changes in wind direction. Such a condition can lead to a crash if a plane is at low altitude and low air speed, as it is on approach. He broke off the approach and turned east. ''It was the only way to go,'' he said.

    However, if he had been a little deeper into the approach, he said, ''I'd be flying right toward the protected area,'' the forbidden zone that includes the White House. A system that prevented him from turning that way would be unsafe, said the pilot, whose airline, like most, has been reluctant to discuss security changes."

    Today, that plane would be shot down. So this pilot was wrong. The absence of the system is far more unsafe. No microburst is as dangerous as a modern surface-to-air missile. With Soft Walls, this pilot would have maximum maneuverability, and there would be no need to shoot down the plane (assuming that the military has confidence in the system).

    I hate cutting and pasting from PDF files.

    Anyway, the statement Today, that plane would be shot down. to me is a bit absolute... is this really true? IF a pilot had problems, called in said problems to the tower and acted according instructions or his own judgement, would he really get shot down? Additionally, I have a problem accepting that jets would scramble fast enough to be able to do so...

    • by EvilSporkMan (648878) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:49PM (#7869251)
      Additionally, I have a problem accepting that jets would scramble fast enough to be able to do so...
      No jets need to be scrambled to launch a surface-to-air missile - it's launched from the surface, and it goes to the air.
    • Re:shot down? (Score:3, Interesting)

      Additionally, I have a problem accepting that jets would scramble fast enough to be able to do so...

      You'd be surprised, then, at how quickly on-the-ground alert aircraft can be scrambled. Perhaps more to the point, however, is that according to CNN and other public news sources many of the no-fly zones in the US now have random aircraft patrolling. A 767 might be capable of just-subsonic flight, but has no chance to get from the edge of a nfz to an interesting target against an F-15E that's already in
    • I don't think jets would be necessary. The type of weaponry protecting the White House is classified but AFIAK, it is there.
    • for shooting down an airliner at low speed, low altitude you don't need much. a shoulder mounted surface to air missile should do the job and the time to make operate it would be in the tens of seconds range(if unprepared).

      btw, shooting it down just like that would probably result in a really big mess by itself too and I kinda think that it would be taken into consideration when doing a very hasty decision on whether to shoot it down or not and what's the situation and why is the plane moving that way, if
    • Shot down WHERE? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TinheadNed (142620) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:43PM (#7869585) Homepage
      I agree with the others replying to this post in that there would be no doubt that the plane could be destroyed if desired, and little doubt that it would.

      However, something I'd like to check - I Am Not An American - isn't the White House kinda surrounded by Washington and lots of people (in a general kind of way). Where do you shoot it down that doesn't do more damage to the surrounding populace? Not all plane crashes end like Con Air.
    • Re:shot down? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by OverCode@work (196386)
      The pilot was not wrong. The presence of a system that would shoot down passenger aircraft facing a legitimate emergency is absolutely intolerable. Any large aircraft flying near that protected area is on radar with a uniquely identifiable transponder code and a filed flight plan.

      Pilots *have* to be able to make arbitrary decisions in the interest of safety at the last minute without fear of being second guessed by anyone. (Of course the FAA might ask for an explanation on the ground.) One several instance
  • sounds neat but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by segment (695309) <sil AT politrix DOT org> on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:43PM (#7869206) Homepage Journal
    Based on GPS? Correct me if I'm wrong here but couldn't a GPS jammer [qsl.net] render this useless? (More on GPS jamming [computerweekly.com])

    That is unless I guess commercial airlines transmit on L1 & L2 frequencies. Provided of course the military sees fit to allow commercial airlines to use that frequency. Which makes me wonder about what juridstiction the United States would have if say a Japan Airlines plane was using that frequency when it pulled in our airspace... Oh well back to work

    • GPS is a receive only system. The GPS satellites should be the only things transmitting on the L1 and L2 frequencies. There is no reason for an aircraft to transmit on those frequencies.

      Jamming is a possible problem. Military GPS receivers have anti-jam features that are not available on civilian GPS receivers. The receiver needs a crypto module and a current set of crypto keys to have full functionality.

      Spoofing would be more dangerous. A clever adversary could simulate a number of GPS satellites and b

      • counterspoofing (Score:3, Informative)

        by segment (695309)
        Extract: Civilian Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers are vulnerable to attacks such as blocking, jamming, and spoofing. The goal of such attacks is either to prevent a position lock (blocking and jamming) or to feed the receiver false information so that it computes an erroneous time or location (spoofing). GPS receivers are generally aware of when blocking or jamming is occurring because they have a loss of signal. Spoofing, however, is a surreptitious attack. Currently, no countermeasures are in us
  • by Quarters (18322) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:44PM (#7869215)
    The Bush administration is mad with power when it comes to Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs). They enact them with practically no warning and then leave them up well after the reason for their creation is over (e.g. the President goes to city X and 3 weeks later the TFR is still active).

    Currently there are ten (10) TFRs around the US that were enacted soon after 9/11 and/or right before the opening of hostilities against Iraq. There is no need for these TFRs any more, yet the Administration will not instruct the FAA to remove them. The Aircraft Owner's and Pilots Association (AOPA) spends most of their time and money these days fighting the TFRs and ensuring that they are announced with enough lead time so pilots can plan around them and that they are removed in a timely manner. You can read more about it at the AOPA website [aopa.org].

    This Administration does not need a technology that would enhance the annoyance they are causing priviate pilots!

  • A) take gun from air-marshal.
    B) kill air-marshal.
    C) threaten passengers.
    D) enter cockpit.
    NEW: E) Disable softwall-thingy
    F) take plane wherever I please.

    • I suspect that A is easier said than done. Assuming the air marshal is a trained law enforcement officer, he's not going to be afraid of some terrorist with a box-cutter. He'll just shoot the bastard. (With his fuselage-safe gun).
    • The hope of the lock on the cockpit door is that the pilots will have enough time to realize something is going seriously wrong in passenger-land and land the plane at the nearest airport. Once the plane is on the ground, it's a whole lot easier to keep under control.
  • A high power transmitter system that blankets a plane's GPS receiver with pre-calculated gps data.

    You could effectively take over a plane from the ground by feeding this automated system incorrect coordinates. The irony would be felt by the pilots would be unable to over-ride the system, becuase it has to be terrorist proof....

    -Chris
    • "A high power transmitter system that blankets a plane's GPS receiver with pre-calculated gps data."

      Admittedly, I don't know a whole lot about GPS, but wouldn't they need a satellite in the right place in orbit to do this?

      Clarification, please.
  • ATM project (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ipjohnson (580042) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:50PM (#7869260)
    I actually currently work on another NASA research project that is taking a slightly different approach. Our model is to not only avoid no-fly-zones but other aircraft (using ADSB reports) as well as bad weather (this relies on weather reports from ground stations.)

    The big difference between the 2 projects is that ours only gives possible solution to the pilot and then he has to accept the route deviation rather than removing control from the pilot.

    I mean realisticly these solution are bleeding edge and wont make it into service for 20 years. Personally I'd like to see more of a grouund based solution but that probably because my background is ATC systems.
  • Air disasters secondary to software features are well documented [berkeley.edu].

    I guess, as always, someone is trying to make some dough off this silly scheme, hoping to prey on our "terrorism" fears.

    And yes, I know the linked article ultimatley states that the end result of human error, it illustrates a very important point: Either have only the highly trained pilot fly the craft, or have a very thoroughly tested computer fly the craft.

    I don't think the 2 mix very well at this point in time.

    --
  • PIlot discretion (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Alex Reynolds (102024)
    To put this into perspective, it used to be that landing at an airport was a pilot's discretion. That is, an air traffic controller could *advise* the pilot not to land, but it was a decision ultimately up to the pilot to make.

    I think there are simply too many "what-if" situations that require a pilot have control over the aircraft to allow such critical remote control. What if the jet runs out of fuel? What if the no-flyover beacon directs the jet into other air traffic or really bad weather.

    Moreover, wh
  • It always comes back to the Lone Gunmen pilot (oh! pun!) episode doesn't it?

    For those who don't remember: Evil government people used a remote controll device to bypass the pilots and steer a 747 into the World Trade Center...

    So, they're going to use it to steer away now?
    • Re:Lone Gunmen (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thing 1 (178996) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:10PM (#7869416) Journal
      I think it's both hilarious and sad that we're still focusing on terrorists wrt airplanes. They had their chance, and they used it to their great advantage. They'll come at us from a different angle now, knowing that they'll never again surprise us in that particular way.

      I'm all for a plane avoiding mountains, and taking over when the pilot is incapacitated so the plane doesn't crash -- but I hate seeing articles about new technology being promoted with "it'll stop those nasty terrorists! Woohoo!"

      I'm sure the (surviving) terrorists are ROFL at us scrambling to prevent them repeating something they know they'll never repeat. We need to harden our other systems -- water/electric supplies, who's driving the oil/gas tankers/trucks, etc.

      • Re:Lone Gunmen (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Alrescha (50745) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:23PM (#7869480)
        "I think it's both hilarious and sad that we're still focusing on terrorists wrt airplanes. They had their chance, and they used it to their great advantage. They'll come at us from a different angle now, knowing that they'll never again surprise us in that particular way."

        First sane thought I've seen in this thread.

        Over many years we had trained ourselves to cooperate with airplane hijackers and wait to see what they wanted. The 9/11 terrorists knew this and used it against us.

        They won't do it again, because they know that every person on the plane will try and rip their throats out.

        They'll watch, see what we aren't paying attention to, and use that next time. Bad news for us - we cannot pay attention to everything.

        A.
  • What if the terrorists stole some of the transponders and set them up near an airport?

  • by fm6 (162816)
    I believe Michael chose the story title just to piss me off [slashdot.org]!
  • by DJStealth (103231) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:01PM (#7869352)
    Not to be a troll but does anyone else in here hate words like "Automagic"
  • by SJS (1851)
    The ACM RISKS group have touched on this subject ( http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/22.79.html#subj3 [ncl.ac.uk] and http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/22.80.html#subj17 [ncl.ac.uk] ).

    When you get right down to it, this idea has some fundamental problems. Would I fly on such a a plane equipped with a system that could over-ride the pilot no matter what? Probably not.

    In fact, once you have something like this, why bother with pilots at all? Obviously, the've been declared redundant and useless.

  • SoftWalls was mentioned back in July [slashdot.org]. I won't cry "dupe", though, since I haven't read this article and it sounds like there's more happening with it now.
  • by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate.gmail@com> on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:11PM (#7869418)
    And I don't think it will work. This is the kind of system you'd see on an airbus, and probably not a boeing- unless it could be defeated easily, like all the autopilot-type systems boeing installs.

    Many others have posted great reasons why taking control away from a pilot is a bad thing, so you can read them- but if it's terrorists you're worried about, they now have much more to fear from the passengers than from a computer system. The stakes couldn't be higher now for airline hijackings, and knowing the stakes, no US group of passengers will allow any hijackers to carry out their mission. (Flight 93) This, incidentally, is a social solution to a social problem.

    Sure, this kind of thing would be great for terrain avoidance. But I wouldn't bet my life on it. Between jamming, spoofing, misplaced confidence, programming errors and the like, it can be quite problematic.

    Basically, you're swapping your trust in the pilot for your trust in the programmer. Not necessarily a good trade.
  • by tmortn (630092) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:13PM (#7869433) Homepage
    One has to ask if this idea is truly about safety or about avoiding 9/11. If you have a system in place like this It will have an overide, otherwise you wouldn't have a pilot in the first place. The overide will be easy to implement because first on the list of possible situations it will be needed will be time critical decisions thus a lengthy/dificult invovled overide process will not work.

    In the end you can't defend against human decision making unless you remove the human from the process.... which means you used canned human decision making in the form of code which to my knowledge is not and cannot ( to date ) be made self-correcting. Thus if there is an unforseen circumstance for the code to encounter you don't know what will happen. The code can't think on the fly for itself. So choose your poison. A plane that will be consistently flown even if that consistency invovles a bug that flys into the ground given the proper circumstances or a pilot that can think for itself and do unthinkable things such as fly into a huge skyscraper, or come up with an inovative way to control a plane with differential thrust due to the failure of control surface hydraulics ( actual real world example ). In fact both of those examples are being subjected to CODE fixes for making such actions easier or more difficult, this being an example of 9/11 ( or mountain ) avoidence and the new implementation of a backup directional control system utilizing dissimilar engine thrust rates. But its impossible to account for all scenarios and untill code can be sufficiently capable to deal with unforseen circumstances you have an overide. You draw your own conclusions on what a pilot will decide to trust in an odd situation when presented with loss of control of the aircraft. If your response to that is not to allow that decision then why the hell do you have a pilot in the cockpit to begin with ?
  • What about GA? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by beauzo (566782)
    This is pretty meaningless for airline since they're talking to ATC almost 100% of the time and may get warnings/updates via many other channels. Whereas a GA pilot flying a little 152--or more to the point--a Lancair PropJet [lancair-kits.com] (350+ kt cruise), may be happily flying VFR and suddenly find two F-16's on his wing because he busted a "pop-up" TFR... We need a system of communication and coordnation among ALL aircraft.
  • If only... (Score:3, Flamebait)

    by vandan (151516) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @08:30PM (#7869817) Homepage
    Imagine if you could extend this idea to the whole US industrial military complex, and prevent them from invading defenseless countries without provocation. Now that would reduce the number of terrorist attacks.
  • by noahbagels (177540) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @09:00PM (#7869949)
    I can't believe people would be soo strong to propose fully computer-controlled airplanes, without manual override, while most of our nations metro systems have drivers.

    The factors that affect flight (I'm a private pilot pp-asel) are soo diverse and include decision making far more complex than "should I turn here to avoid airspace xyz". In an emergency - say an engine failure, oil leak, etc, pilots *are* allowed to violate any airspace restriction to avoid injury / deaths. Here are the federal regulations that are pertinent:

    FAR = "federal aviation regulations" which comprise section 14 of the Federal Law Registry.

    FARs part 91 = General Operating and Flight Rules
    * general (non commercial) aviation falls under part 91.

    FAR 91.3b = "In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency".

    Far 91.141 restricts flight in the vicinity of the president and president's related parties. It is clearly in part 91, and can be deviated from in an emergency.

    My flight instructor had a partial engine failure in a twin engine aircraft during training at Oakland - and dealing with the emergency required flying below a the legal 1000' altitude above populated areas. In fact he flew at 500' in the pattern which is below the "500' from people or property rule". If the plane attempted to climb on a partially failed engine, they would have likely crashed and all (3 aboard) perished.

    There are 1000s of anecdotes, but feel free to go over to rec.aviation.piloting or r.a.student to read more. Having computers override pilots is a very bad idea - in the minds of virtually all actual pilots.

    The likelyhood of true disasters coming from airplanes that take control from pilots is pretty high in my book. The likelyhood of armed terrorists being able to disable such a system also seems pretty high... ever heard of a wire-cutter? How about a gps jammer?

    Final note: GPS is not perfect! I've flown two different C172s with Garmin 430 and 530 equipment, and both misplaced class-B (the only airspace below 18000' requiring a clearance to enter) airspaces by several nautical miles. If such gps ever misplaced a mountaintop, or the plane's position by even a couple of miles, it could forcebly cause a crash under near-ideal conditions.
  • by Tenebrious1 (530949) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @11:03PM (#7870422) Homepage
    OK, so the software can turn away a jet travelling 500 mph once it gets into a 1 mile radius of a certain metro area. Will that stop a 747 that's diving from 35000 feet at a 85 degrees down? If the pilot has final authority to push the jet into such a dive, I'm thinking there's not much the software will be able to do once it kicks in automatically. Maybe it'll attempt to pull out, which means the terrorists aim a little lower than their intended target...

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