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Engine Data Reveals That Flight 370 Flew On For Hours After It "Disappeared" 382

Posted by samzenpus
from the nailing-dow-the-time dept.
Advocatus Diaboli writes "Aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for a total of five hours based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing Co. 777's engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program. As part of its maintenance agreements, Malaysia Airlines transmits its engine data live to Rolls-Royce for analysis. The system compiles data from inside the 777's two Trent 800 engines and transmits snapshots of performance, as well as the altitude and speed of the jet. Those snippets are compiled and transmitted in 30-minute increments, said one person familiar with the system." Update: 03/14 11:41 GMT by S : The WSJ has since updated its report to say the data was from the plane's satellite-communication system. However, Malaysian authorities have denied both scenarios, saying neither Boeing nor Rolls-Royce received data past 1:07am (the flight initially disappeared off radar at 1:30am).
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Engine Data Reveals That Flight 370 Flew On For Hours After It "Disappeared"

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  • Already denied (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @07:39PM (#46478667)

    ... by malaysian officials: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/13/malaysian-officials-deny-flight-mh370-missing-plane-flew-hours

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And the story has since been updated. There were no new ACARS messages with engine data, so that is consistent with the malaysian officials.

      However, what the article now says it that the airplanes satellite link was trying to connect to the satellite, it just wasn't sending any data.

      • Re:Already denied (Score:4, Informative)

        by nojayuk (567177) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:03PM (#46479199)

        The Malaysian Airlines 777 in question didn't have satellite ACARS capability, only VHF (and maybe HF too) radios carrying ACARS data. I'm not even sure it had any SATCOM equipment fitted at all. There was a recent airworthiness directive for 777-series aircraft about hull skin problems where SATCOM antennas are mounted on the top of the fuselage but it didn't apply to the Malaysian Airlines 777s since apparently they didn't have those antennas fitted.

        If the HF and VHF radios on board were shut down for any reason then there would be no more ACARS data received by ground stations.

        • Re:Already denied (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:44PM (#46479387)

          Well, apparently the source of this information was credible enough that the United States Navy, on its own initiative, is sending a ship to the Indian Ocean.

          There's clearly a ton of misinformation out there. But which is more likely--you're misinformed, or the U.S. Navy is misinformed?

          • Re:Already denied (Score:5, Insightful)

            by nobuddy (952985) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:36PM (#46479613) Homepage Journal

            Having dealt with the Navy for a decade..... I'd say it's 50-50

        • Re:Already denied (Score:5, Informative)

          by icebike (68054) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:45PM (#46479649)

          Actually, I'd like to know where you got the information on the exact equipment on board this plane?

          What is being denied is that Malaysian Airlines subscribed to this monitoring program, not that it was not so equipped (*).
          The latest reports [go.com] is that the radios are there and ping the satellites even when they are not going to transmit data.

          U.S. officials said earlier that they have an "indication" the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner may have crashed in the Indian Ocean and is moving the USS Kidd to the area to begin searching.
          It's not clear what the indication was, but senior administration officials told ABC News the missing Malaysian flight continued to "ping" a satellite on an hourly basis after it lost contact with radar. The Boeing 777 jetliners are equipped with what is called the Airplane Health Management system in which they ping a satellite every hour. The number of pings would indicate how long the plane stayed aloft.

          (Sort of like a cell phone with an expired sim still talks to the towers).

          This is coming from the white house.
          You will remember YEARS AGO when the Russians shot down a commercial airliner [wikipedia.org], that the NSA pulled recorded conversations between the Russian pilots and their base, WEEKS after the incident, embarrassing the Russians.
          The US probably has more data on this indecent than they are willing to reveal at this time.

          *This makes sense, because the airlines can turn the feature on by simple writing a check.
          Boeing builds it into the fleet on the hopes of selling the service.

           

          • by MouseR (3264) on Friday March 14, 2014 @12:28AM (#46480009) Homepage

            Speaking of which, Malaysia simply needs to request #NSA for the black box backup.

            • Re:Already denied (Score:5, Insightful)

              by flyingsquid (813711) on Friday March 14, 2014 @05:51AM (#46480915)
              The big question is, how the HELL is it possible to lose an entire commercial aircraft in 2014? I've seen some articles to the effect that it's difficult to cover the entire earth with enough radars to track planes over the ocean. OK, sure, but that's the obsolete ACARS system. That's why we have satellite communications. For $150 you can buy a portable GPS beacon from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Spot-Sat... [amazon.com] and then there's a subscription fee which is maybe $100/year. Basically, for $250 your kayak trip sends GPS updates every 5 minutes so it can't be lost at sea, it just seems bizarre that a commercial aircraft carrying 200 people wouldn't have even that minimal sort of tracking ability. And there are companies building similar technology for aircraft- basically, streaming the black-box data in real time over satellite networks. It would be expensive to implement, but how many millions of dollars have been spent on ships and helicopters for the rescue effort?
              • by RoboJ1M (992925)

                IMO It's not done because unless you legislate this stuff private companies are not going to something that doesn't have a reasonable return on investment.

                Basically there's no money in it.
                And I bet the airline isn't paying for squat when it comes to search & rescue fees, that'll all be coming out of the taxpayer's pocket I bet.

                woo capitalism. .

                I bet if you enforced a €10,000,000 daily file for every day the plane's not found, then you'd see so many tracking equipment blisters and antenna spikes on

          • by cyn1c77 (928549)

            Actually, I'd like to know where you got the information on the exact equipment on board this plane?

            Uh, duh!

            He is obviously the one who has the plane hidden somewhere!

    • Re:Already denied (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Cimexus (1355033) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:30PM (#46478993)

      Frankly, with the amount of conflicting and inaccurate information/speculation coming from all corners about this matter, I'm just tuning out for a week or two until something more concrete is discovered.

    • by Soulskill (1459) Works for Slashdot

      I've updated the summary to reflect this.

  • Napkin time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @07:46PM (#46478709)

    ~500 mph * 5 hours = 2500 mile radius = 19.6 million square miles.

    That's about 10% of the surface of the planet. They're going to need some sort of heading information; you can permanently hide a 777 in that much ocean/mountain/jungle/etc.

    Anyone know if the radar hits were meaningful yet?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think you need a new napkin. It's fair to think they flew in a reasonably straight line, so you don't have a circle of area, you have a donut. The width of the donut is the % deviation from "straight line" that you think is fair.

      • The straighter the line the bigger the circle....

        • The straighter the line the bigger the circle....

          Yes, and no. If the engines ran for 4-5 hours and they flew in a straight line, then you can rule out anything inside the 4 hour circle. It will be in the ring between 5 hours out, and 4 hours out.

          • by scsirob (246572)

            Not true. If they circled around, or flew 2 hours one direction and 2 hours back again, they'd be right where they started. Strait line seems logical, but if they planned it through knowing that telemetry data would still be sent then that would make it harder to find them.

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @07:48PM (#46478743) Homepage Journal

    You could fly from San Francisco (SFO) to Orlando (MCO) That's a pretty big search radius, if this story is true.

  • by gnunick (701343) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @07:48PM (#46478749) Homepage
    (From TFA):

    Corrections & Amplifications

    U.S. investigators suspect Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 flew for hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, based on an analysis of signals sent through the plane's satellite-communication link designed to automatically transmit the status of onboard systems, according to people familiar with the matter. An earlier version of this article and an accompanying graphic incorrectly said investigators based their suspicions on signals from monitoring systems embedded in the plane's Rolls-Royce PLC engines and described that process.

  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @07:53PM (#46478771)
    It was the SATCOM system of the plane itself, which has the capability of transmitting health and positional data of the entire plane's system for analysis by third-party service and maintenance providers. Airliners have the option to purchase service plans for that but Malaysia Airlines chose to only purchase a separate plane related to data the engine's themselves can transmit (from Rolls Royce, the engine's manufacturer).

    Even though Malaysian Airlines didn't have an online service monitoring plan for this specific plane, the plane still performs periodic searches/connections to satellite data communication providers - akin to an unregistered cell phone searching and connecting to a cell tower but without licensed service. This periodic connection occurs approx once every hour on the plane, and by counting the number of attempts (4), authorities believe the plane was either flying or in-tact for at least 4 hours from the last secondary radar ping.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      Great explanation.

      It sounds more like like the fuselage floating with battery power available for 4 hours, but time will tell on that one.

      • by InvalidError (771317) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:48PM (#46479127)

        I would be a little surprised if the engine monitoring and satellite link circuitry would be on battery backup since it is unlikely engines and passengers would have much use for satellite link after the plane hits water. For the satellite link to work, the antenna would also need to remain above water since submersion adds horrible attenuation to radio signals. Additionally, cabin electronics aren't water-tight so submersion in ocean water would ruin them in fairly short order.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @09:03PM (#46479195)

          The on board engine monitoring module is only *ON* when the engine is turned on.

          When the engine is off, the transmission module goes to sleeping mode, relies on it's tiny battery backup on keeping the date/time current.

          Saying that the module keeps on transmitting AFTER the plane has broken up is not only inaccurate, it's downright irresponsible !

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:31PM (#46479583)

        The 777's two NiCad batteries have enough juice to power the essentials for about a maximum of 5 minutes in a complete electrical failure, which is simply unheard of on the 777. If you need the ship's batteries, you are far beyond being well and truly fucked. The airplane has 7 sources of electrical power. These include two engine driven 120KVA alternators, one 90KVA APU alternator, two 20KVA engine driven backup generators, an pnuematically driven generator, and a ram air turbine. There are also a permanent magnet alternator on each engine to power the FADECs. In addition, each flight control actuator has its own battery pack.

    • by Above (100351) on Friday March 14, 2014 @11:20AM (#46483093)

      OP has it right, but we can add more information. I've been following the discussion over at www.airliners.net [airliners.net] where some people know more about this plane's electronics.

      First some back story. The SATCOM system is sort of like your cable modem, or more accurately a cell data stick for a laptop. It's a sort of modem that knows how to connect to the satellites. Like a unprovisioned cell phone it still reaches out and says "can I have service", and then gets no answer. ACARS is an application that runs on another computer in the plane. It's sort of like a "twitter feed" for a plane. Short messages can be placed on it and routed off to other places. Boeing offers a service where the plane reports its health back to boeing using this application. Rolls Royce offers a service where the engines report back to them using this service. Pilots can even send short text messages over the service back to their HQ. The GPS system can send a message with its position. ACARS knows how to transmit over HF, VHF, and SATCOM. It also goes through a cleaning house (think twitter again) who routes the individual messages to the right party.

      Mayalsia Airlines apparently bought the "limited" package of monitoring. As such ACARS was programmed to send no information to Boeing, and only limited information to Rolls Royce. Compare with the Air France crash in the Atlantic where they subscribed to the "full" suite of monitoring and 29 messages were generated. Further, Mayalsia apparently didn't pay for SATCOM airtime, instead letting it report over HF and VHF. If it was far enough out over water these methods would not be within reach of the radios.

      However, the plane still had a SATCOM system on it (comes standard), and it was still like an unprovisioned cell phone saying "can I have service", apparently once per hour. Further the satellites in orbit have directional antennas that cover a particular section of the ground. It appears in this case ACARS was disabled (either intentionally, a small switch in the cockpit) or via failure (fire, or whatever).

      The key detail is that while ACARS and many other functions can be turned off from the cockpit, the only circuit breaker for the SATCOM systems are NOT in the cockpit according to experts. It would require going to the electronics room on the plane which is not easy to reach in flight, and more importantly would not be possible to reach if a individual had taken over the plane.

      So the stories line up. Boeing received no messages as the plane was not programmed to send them any. Rolls Royce received two during the normal part of flight, and then nothing as the system was turned off or disabled. However that SATCOM modem apparently continued, once per hour, to look for service. I guess the US authorities were able to talk to the satellite provider and get logs of it making those requests, and perhaps even narrowing it down to a specific antenna on the satellite.

      On power; the experts say the plane has ~30 minutes of battery in the case of total electrical failure. In flight it also has a ram air turbine (think mini-windmill) that can generate enough power. If it did a "miracle on the hudson" style landing in water and it somehow stayed afloat (being under water even 1' makes the sat signal too week) batteries would only last ~30 minutes.

      One of the most bizarre incidents ever recorded. The outcome of this is going to be very interesting.

  • A satellite transmitter on the plane was active for about five hours, indicating the plane was operational after its transponder shut down less than an hour after takeoff, said three U.S. government officials. The 777 can cruise at 500 miles (805 kilometers) an hour or more, meaning it may have flown for as far as 2,500 miles beyond its last point of contact if it was intact and had enough fuel. Link (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-13/missing-malaysian-jet-said-to-have-flown-with-beacon-off.html)
  • What about radar? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Brainguy (12519) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:07PM (#46478859)

    Something I don't understand is how the plane disappeared from radar yet kept flying. Switching off a transponder does not make a plane disappear from radar, it just means there is a blip on the radar without the data a transponder provides. The fact that no one is bringing this up leads me to believe I'm missing something big here, because as far as I know the only way that plane could have disappeared completely from radar was if it disintegrated.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Something I don't understand is how the plane disappeared from radar yet kept flying. Switching off a transponder does not make a plane disappear from radar, it just means there is a blip on the radar without the data a transponder provides. The fact that no one is bringing this up leads me to believe I'm missing something big here, because as far as I know the only way that plane could have disappeared completely from radar was if it disintegrated.

      A blip is just a blip among presumably hundreds of other blips. Without a transponder, you're going to have a hell of a time identifying a particular blip as the aircarft that you're searching for.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There are a lot of reasons. Air traffic control is about 90% reliant on transponders. Without a transponder, an aircraft is just a "primary target" or blip on the scope. In most cases there is no computerized synthetic track associated with a primary target. Remember, air traffic control radars are designed to track cooperative targets, not like a military radar designed to track non-transponding, uncooperative targets. Yea, if they had an AEGIS it would be able to track the airplane exactly, but they didnt

  • The real puzzle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Advocatus Diaboli (1627651) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:10PM (#46478881)
    Evidently the aircraft had enough power to run the pinging transmitter for over 4 hours after the transponder went dead (or was turned off). This implies that the aircraft also had enough power and structural integrity for at least some of its communication systems to work. But the experienced pilots did not make even one distress call or issue a single distress code. Why not? What prevented them from doing it?
  • by panda2005 (1059940) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:10PM (#46478883)
    Come on guys, it's been DAYS already! How come aliens still not in the picture???
  • by Thanosius (3519547) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:12PM (#46478889)

    As someone else has already mentioned, this has been denied by Malaysian officials. Just like China has now said that those satellite images which were supposed to show plane debris did in fact not show debris, but indeed, said satellite images were "released by mistake". Just like that admiral of the Vietnamese Navy saying they had lost radar contact with the plain just over the Gulf of Thailand, but apparently it was just incorrect information (another mistake).

    It seems clear that no-one knows where the fuck that plane is, but due to the pressure to find something, ANYTHING to satisfy the media as well as political pressure (not to mention relatives of those missing), anything that could be seen as a clue is pushed out as something important before it's even checked or verified.

    At least it can be assumed that those on the flight must be well and truly dead by now, if only because the alternative would be more horrifying...

    • It is the media that has "the pressure to find something, ANYTHING to satisfy" themselves to fill the air time and hopefully get the "scoop". Those looking for the crash site (and I have zero doubt there is one) and the politicians do not benefit from wasting time propagating and dealing with incredible theories.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Indeed the main complaint from relatives of the plane's passengers is lack of information, and lack of updates. It's of course a tough situation - they don't really know anything, a plane disappears without distress call in good weather, and then there is no wreckage or anything to be found. So yes, the pressure is immense to come with new information. Any new information.

      It's indeed quite sure the people on board are dead. And I'm also quite sure the plane landed in the sea, not on land, as in the second c

  • Satcom (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:16PM (#46478911) Homepage Journal
    The satcom device does not have to have been on the aircraft.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:41PM (#46479075)

    Ignoring all the speculation for a bit, let me present a few completely irrefutable facts that point to a different theory of what happened to the plane.

    Fact 1: There are many active volcanoes in this region of the world.

    Fact 2: There were virgins on the airplane.

    Fact 3: The Great Old Ones have not arisen to destroy us all.

    We should thank them for ensuring the continued existence of the human race.

  • by Beeftopia (1846720) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:47PM (#46479115)

    "Two U.S. officials tell ABC News the U.S. believes that the shutdown of two communication systems happened separately on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. One source said this indicates the plane did not come out of the sky because of a catastrophic failure.

    The data reporting system, they believe, was shut down at 1:07 a.m. The transponder -- which transmits location and altitude -- shut down at 1:21 a.m."

    -- ABC News, Thursday March 13, 2014 [go.com]

    Curiouser and curiouser.

  • by hamster_nz (656572) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:51PM (#46479139)

    My money is on something like what heppend to flght ZU 522 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]

  • by khb (266593)

    Yesterday the discussion seemed to center on how bloody expensive it would be to track the planes and how special equipment and etc. would be required. Now everyone seems to understand that messages can come from the planes ... indeed, it would have been trivial (although it would have involved a fee) to record the rest of the plane sensor data.

    Instead of reinventing the wheel, and making some magical device to transmit just before an accident ... the folks who maintain the current system record the last 5

  • by kbahey (102895) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:44PM (#46479643) Homepage

    This is what we know so far [bbc.co.uk], a good summary ...

  • by sgt_doom (655561) on Friday March 14, 2014 @02:06PM (#46485093)
    Naturally, this has already been confirmed by one satellite (that 370 flew for 4 to 5 more hours and then landed, but it would take two more satellites receiving the aircraft's transmissions, at the same time, to triangulate where it landed at). Obviously, by this time even the dumbest of the dumb (that would be the typical American) should realize this was a sky heist or air heist not a hijacking, most likely involving the AC (aircraft commander) and perhaps both pilots. There was something mighty valuable aboard that bird, and since the cargo manifest included special handling instructions for a container of highly sensitive digital electronics, the rumor that a radically new chip was aboard might be true. If such a chip prototype were being transported on a passenger flight, instead of a private jet, it begs the question whether the Freescale Semiconductor engineers were taking it to China for manufacturing purposes, or to hand off to the Chinese government. We do know that Freescale Semiconductor is owned by the Blackstone Group and Carlyle Group (with investments by AIG) and whenever you have the Carlyle Group, murky things happen, and times one thousand when the Blackstone Group is involved, because, really, the Carlyle Group is simply a subset of the Blackstone Group, as anyone familiar with the two private equity/leveraged buyout firms will attest.

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