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Comment Re:Flight recorder (Score 3, Informative) 491

The Indian ocean is very deep, it is a remote location and two weeks have passed already. This black box will be harder to find than that of the Air France flight which got lost over the Atlantic. Back then they said that the sender of the black box will run for a month. I don't believe that they will find it this time.

There's no doubt that they'll find it, the question is when. As we speak, the remains of MH 370 are sitting on the bottom of the ocean, under 5,000 meters of water, and they're not going anywhere. Nothing is disturbing the wreckage, so it will just sit there for months, years, or decades until someone comes along. The Titanic sat on the seafloor for 73 years until new technologies made it possible to locate the wreckage, and yet it was remarkably well-preserved given how long it had been underwater. I doubt it will take 73 years- technology has advanced a lot, and continues to advance- but even if it does, the plane will be waiting.

Whether anything useful comes out of the flight data recorders or not is another issue. After 2 years, the data recorders from the Air France flight still worked, I don't know if anyone really knows how long the data would still be good. Solid state memory is pretty indestructible, so if the chips can survive being immersed in saltwater, maybe a long time. The bigger issue is whether the pilot shut down the recorders as well. In the SilkAir crash, the pilot or copilot shut down the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder before deliberately putting the plane into a dive. Whoever hijacked this plane seems to have wanted its fate to be a mystery, so there is a real possibility that he shut off the recorders as well. If so, we may find the crashed plane, but if so, we'll never know anything more than what we know now.

Comment Re:Evidence that media cycle is useless (Score 1) 103

We're talking about a vast search area, maybe the size of Texas or larger, depending on how generous you want to be in drawing the boundaries. What are the odds that you cover an area that large with satellites and don't find *something* floating? Whether it's from the plane seems less likely. What are the odds that over two weeks after the plane crashes into the ocean, wreckage is still afloat? In rough water, it will tend to break up, fill with water, and sink. There's also the possibility that the pilot put the plane into a power dive like in the SilkAir murder-suicide. In that case the plane would be broken up into thousands of fragments. Some of the pieces would probably float, but they'd be so small you'd never be able to spot them.

There are plenty of likely scenarios where we never find a scrap of the flight, or maybe an isolated scrap drifts up months or years later and two thousand miles away. And every day without recovery of wreckage, those scenarios become more likely.

Comment Re:Great Headline (Score 2) 103

We're fixated on the technological fixes- emergency locator beacons, satellite tracking devices. So why are so few people talking about the obvious: the psychology of the crew? Whoever hijacked this airplane was familiar with piloting a 777 and familiar with the route, which points to the pilot or the copilot stealing their own plane, then deliberately crashing it in the Indian Ocean.

This would not be the first pilot suicide, either; EgyptAir Flight 990 and SilkAir 185 are both believed to be pilot suicide. In the EgyptAir crash, the First Officer shut down the engines and the plane went into a dive. In the SilkAir crash, the plane went into a power dive and descended so steeply and rapidly it actually broke the sound barrier and disintegrated the plane on impact— they didn't even get a single complete body.

Since 9/11 all the effort has been devoted to protecting the pilots from the passengers, but what about protecting passengers from the pilots? The SilkAir crash killed 114 people, the EgyptAir crash killed 217 people, and MH killed 239 people. That's 3 planes and 570 people taken out by pilots- versus 2 planes and 227 civilians taken out by terrorists in the same timespan. These numbers suggest that you're more likely to be killed by your pilot than your fellow passengers. The message seems to be clear: the most dangerous person on any flight isn't the dude with the turban, it's the guy with the captain's hat.

Incidentally, there's a really disturbing parallel between the SilkAir murder-suicide and MH 370- safety systems designed to monitor the flight, in the case of the SilkAir flight, the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, were both manually shut down. That raises a disturbing possibility- unless they've changed things since the SilkAir crash, the person piloting MH 370 would have been able to shut down both the flight data recorder and voice recorder. That means that even if we find the black boxes, they may contain no useful information.

Comment Re:Correct me if I'm wrong... (Score 2) 298

Moral of the story, though... the people who mocked the F22 as the boondoggle to the F35 should have been fired from the DoD and run out of Congress. The F22 ended up being cheaper and still better (IIRC). There's no excuse for being naive enough to believe "oh yeah, we'll be much cheaper" when building something like the F35.

The F-22 IS a huge waste of money, it's only when you put it next to the fiasco of the F-35 program that it doesn't look so bad. The fact that one is a disaster doesn't make the other one a success. That's like arguing that Hitler was a good guy because he killed fewer people than Stalin.

Both programs are relics of the Cold War era, which have persisted only because they fill the need of congressmen to deliver pork to their states, and because the former fighter pilots who run the US Air Force are unwilling to admit that the era of manned fighters is coming to an end. The smart move would be to ditch the F-35 and the F-22, focus on upgrading the F-15, F-16 and F-18 to maintain air superiority for the next ten years, while developing UCAVs to fill the air superiority, attack, and carrier-based attack roles currently filled by those planes. We're witnessing the end of an era. Guns made knights and castles obsolete; internal combustion engines made cavalry obsolete; carriers made battleships obsolete... the same thing is happening here. If we refuse to admit it because Air Force generals are sentimental about the role of pilots, because congressmen want to steer money to their district, or because the public thought "Top Gun" was an awesome movie, then we stand to waste billions of dollars and lose our technological lead.

Comment Re:The most plausible theory - written by a pilot (Score 3, Interesting) 227

I believe something like that happened. Occam's razor and so on...

The fact that the pilot had built his own simulator also has a mundane reason that somebody on pprune had tracked down: He assisted with giving a real pilot's feedback to a third-party developer of aircraft for flight simulators (X-Plane IIRC).

Occam's Razor isn't the simplest explanation, it's the simplest explanation that fits all the facts. And this is definitely not that. According to the fire scenario, there's a fire and so they shut down the electrical systems, set in a new course on autopilot, and after the crew succumbs, the plane keeps going in a straight line... the problem with this scenario is that the plane DOES NOT follow a straight line.

According to the military radar the plane turns west, climbs to 45,000 feet, then descends to 23,000 feet, turns again, climbs, and flies towards the Indian Ocean- and then the satellite pings suggest it turns again, either north or more likely south, towards the Indian Ocean. All facts suggest that the plane is being actively piloted, and not towards safety but deliberately away from it, in such a way that finding the plane, let alone rescuing the victims, will be impossible.

The reason that the fire scenario is popular is not because of Occam's Razor, but because it appeals to what we want to believe about human nature, and about the people flying our planes. We'd like to believe that whatever happened, the pilots did their best until the very last, and were heroes trying to save everyone. The alternative is that the person piloting the plane- most likely the pilot or copilot- was a deeply disturbed human being, someone who not only decided to kill everyone on board, people who had entrusted their safety to him, but to do so in a way that would torment their relatives and capture international media attention. It's also unlikely that it would be possible to convince the other pilot to go along with this plan, so they would have to be killed or incapacitated before shutting down the transponders and changing course. Maybe that's not what happened, but that's the simplest explanation that fits all the facts... and it does not point to a hero.

Comment Re:Black box radio beacon ? (Score 3, Interesting) 227

It would seem like there should be a number of options for tracking planes. For $150 and $100 annual service charge, you can buy a SPOT personal GPS tracking device that will broadcast your position every five minutes. It needs an unobstructed view of the sky to work. In other words, stick it up on the dash of the airplane.

FLYHT Aerospace from Calgary sells a satellite tracking system that sends routine updates on position, heading, altitude, and airspeed via satellite. It is also designed to be able to function as a black box. It's too expensive to be continuously transmitting the data, but it's set up so that during certain circumstances the device will trigger, and then transmit flight data in real time. The system is already in use by a number of companies, including Netjets, but hasn't been widely adopted by larger aircraft. If the system had been installed on the Air France flight, they would not have had to wait two years for the black box data. If it had been installed here, it could have tracked the plane or, if the pilot turned it off, they would have immediately known that there was a problem. This is the one that costs $100,000 but you're talking about a plane that can cost $260,000,000; requiring that companies install satellite tracking is not going to radically change the price of the aircraft, and presumably as technology improves the price will come down.

And of course what a lot of people in the media seem to be missing is that the plane in question already had satellite communications, it just wasn't using them. The engines were designed to talk to a satellite; it should have been possible to use that system to routinely send position data. Many planes have internet in flight. If the planes are already capable of using satellite internet, then it's just an issue of being able to send position/speed/heading data over the plane's wifi network. It just strikes me as amazing that after all the security theater following 9/11, we have a system that carefully controls how much shampoo you can bring in your carry-on luggage, yet is completely incapable of responding if someone steals an entire aircraft.

Comment Re:Not new information (Score 5, Interesting) 227

I think that we are going to be in for a very, very long wait before we find out what happened— we're not talking about weeks or months, but many years. When Air France 447 went down, debris and an oil slick was spotted within 24 hours of the plane's loss. Even with that lead, it took almost two years, including the use of towed sonar arrays, nuclear and robotic submarines, and autonomous robotic underwater vehicles, to finally located the wreckage and salvage the plane and black boxes.

Here, the situation is vastly more challenging. Locating the wreckage of Air France 447 quickly, before it had time to drift far, meant that it was possible to narrow down the search area considerably; the initial search area was around 2400 square miles- a 50 mile by 50 mile area. Here, the search area is almost a hundred times that- the area the Australians have been searching is something like 230,000 square miles. That's roughly the size of Texas. It's also in the middle of nowhere- between Australia and the Kerguelen islands, putting it about 1500 miles away from land. That's making it difficult to do aerial searches- the planes burn most of their fuel getting there and back, so there's little time for searches. It sounds like the weather isn't fantastic either, so visibility is limited, and satellite photos of the suspected wreckage show a lot of white, which I assume is whitecaps from heavy seas. That's going to make it difficult or impossible to spot wreckage on radar- the waves are going to be reflecting back a lot of signal, creating a lot of noise- or visually. The heavy wave action could also cause floating sections of wing or tail to fill up with water more quickly and sink. Finally, the plane went down two weeks ago, so if any wreckage is recovered, it could be hundreds of miles from the crash site.

At this point, I'm going to guess that no wreckage will be found, or it will be found too late to provide any useful information about the location of the plane beyond confirming that it's in the southern Indian Ocean. Given that, we are talking about an underwater search using sonar that is going to cover hundreds of thousands of square miles, in waters up to 16,000 feet deep. That would require either years of effort, or a small fleet of underwater vehicles scanning the seafloor. This assumes that the deductions made from the satellite data are even correct. It's not impossible, but it is very, very difficult. My guess is that new technologies- making it possible for robotic vehicles to scan larger areas of seafloor, in higher resolution than ever before- may be necessary.

Comment Re:NASA already has plenty of Robots (Score 1) 22

This project is the type of thing that makes people who are interested in science and exploration stop and think, "Hm, International Space Station? Do we still have one, and we're still sending people there?"

The thing cost $150 billion dollars, and in terms of research it's produced... what, exactly? For that, we could have doubled the National Science Foundation's funding levels for ten years, and created 30 robotic probes like the Mars Curiosity mission, and done some real science. The sooner we kill of the manned space program in favor of real science, the better. The ISS is just welfare for aerospace companies, and they get plenty of money already for defense contracts.

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