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The PJ Tatler

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

March 13, 2014 - 8:47 am

The case of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet gets even more confounding as the Wall Street Journal reported that the engine of the Boeing 777 transmitted data back to its manufacturer for hours after the plane’s transponder was turned off.

From the WSJ:

U.S. investigators suspect that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to two people familiar with the details, raising the possibility that the plane could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky.

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.

…The huge uncertainty about where the plane was headed, and why it apparently continued flying so long without working transponders, has raised theories among investigators that the aircraft may have been commandeered for a reason that appears unclear to U.S. authorities. Some of those theories have been laid out to national security officials and senior personnel from various U.S. agencies, according to one person familiar with the matter.

At one briefing, according to this person, officials were told investigators are actively pursuing the notion that the plane was diverted “with the intention of using it later for another purpose.”

…The engines’ onboard monitoring system is provided by their manufacturer, Rolls-Royce PLC, and it periodically sends bursts of data about engine health, operations and aircraft movements to facilities on the ground.

“We continue to monitor the situation and to offer Malaysia Airlines our support,” a Rolls-Royce representative said Wednesday, declining further comment.

The Malaysian government, which is being accused of bungling the search and giving mixed messages including a report that the plane was spotted on military radar doubling back over the Malaysian peninsula, rejected the WSJ report, according to CNN.

China yesterday released a trio of satellite images taken March 9 that appeared to show debris in the water in the South China Sea. Vietnamese military did a flyover of the coordinates at first light and reported finding no debris. Authorities then said the images were mistakenly released.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said this morning the U.S. is “doing everything we’re asked to do” to assist in the search.

“I know the NTSB is involved. The FAA is involved. Our intelligence agencies are certainly working around the clock on this trying to find any type of terror connection or terror nexus that can be found,” he told CNN. “And basically we are willing to do whatever we’re asked to do. And because there’s American citizens involved, we do have a responsibility here.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said at yesterday’s briefing that “the Malaysian government, of course, has the lead in this investigation.”

“The Malaysian government is investigating a number of possible scenarios for what happened to the flight. Conclusions cannot be drawn at this time, in our view. And we continue to participate actively in the search as well as assist the Malaysian government in the investigation,” Carney said.

“I can remind you, if you need to know, of the assets that we’ve sent to the region, including aircraft and helicopters and two destroyers that are part of the effort, the search under way. But when it comes to conclusions from that investigation, it’s too early to draw any, in our view.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
If Iran can't build an ICBM, then maybe they steal a plane to deliver their nuclear payload. Expect this to show up on somebody's radar very soon under somebody elses other transponder code. "Bravo Omega Mike Bravo to New York Center"...
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
No need for location data in a FADEC. The data in question is to chart out engine performance. Altitude would be the only "location" information but mostly, it would be temperatures, RPM, EPR (power settings) with fuel flow and other performance info.

When NASCAR and Formula 1 techs are reading engine data, they don't care where the car is on the track.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Okay, so you can disable the transponder, but you can't disable the uplink that sends engine data to the manufacturer. However, the uplink to the manufacturer doesn't have any location data embedded in it?

Heck, it's probably easier to track a new Kenworth tractor than it is to track a quarter of a billion dollar aircraft.

What sense does that make?

31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (18)
All Comments   (18)
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Did the CIA attempt to hack the plane and land it in Diego Garcia only to lose it in the Indian Ocean???
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
some countries do not have the culture necessary to fly and maintain airlines, and thus shouldnt be flying passenger airlines- these include Russia, Ukraine (alcoholism), Egypt, Iran (religious fanaticism) and Malaysia (religious fanaticism plus a lack of attention to detail)
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
If Iran can't build an ICBM, then maybe they steal a plane to deliver their nuclear payload. Expect this to show up on somebody's radar very soon under somebody elses other transponder code. "Bravo Omega Mike Bravo to New York Center"...
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Was it Lois Lerner's plane?

If so, we'll never know what happened to it.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't help it but this reminds me of the boeing 727 that was stolen in 2003 and hasn't been seen since. But making 239 people disappear without a peep and nobody taking responsibility... heck, any out-there theory sounds plausible at this point.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Okay, so you can disable the transponder, but you can't disable the uplink that sends engine data to the manufacturer. However, the uplink to the manufacturer doesn't have any location data embedded in it?

Heck, it's probably easier to track a new Kenworth tractor than it is to track a quarter of a billion dollar aircraft.

What sense does that make?

31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
No need for location data in a FADEC. The data in question is to chart out engine performance. Altitude would be the only "location" information but mostly, it would be temperatures, RPM, EPR (power settings) with fuel flow and other performance info.

When NASCAR and Formula 1 techs are reading engine data, they don't care where the car is on the track.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Flagra, that last sentence is patently NOT accurate. As an F1 freak since the late 80s the position of the car on the track is ESSENTIAL to the proper evaluation of everything from tire (tyre? Can't the English spell?) temps to hydraulic fluid temp/use to fuel consumption.

Can't speak to (bubba can't turn right) NASCAR.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I stand by my statement. Engine data as pertains to location on the track is immaterial.

Tire info, suspension loading, etc is different and clearly, dependent upon such info.

Maybe it was an apple-to-oranges comparison. With aircraft engine performance, it is not necessary to know the geographic location of said engine. What matters in such evaluation is OAT, SAT, ISA, tropopause, TLA/power setting, EPR, N1RPM, EGT, fuel flow, fuel temp, altitude, and probably a few other things. Where it is on the globe matters not.

So I will refrain from making comparisons to HP cars. Clearly though, you missed my point, instead deciding to split hairs and broadcast your fandom of such machines. This discussion is not about that; It's about the statement tolbert made about not having location data in their engine software.

What practical use could that have vs. the cost of installing it?
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree, positioning data may not be of much use in aircraft engine analysis, unless you have been flying though a volcanic plume, but it's like when you go to In-N-Out Burger, you're going to pay the same price whether or not you order it "animal style".

If I understand correctly the data is gathered by the planes systems and is not a separate isolated system and then sent to the manufacturer via an uplink. In that case, why not have the GPS data available?

31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
" In that case, why not have the GPS data available? "

Because it ain't free.

That cost might be in real dollars, or it might be in in terms of engineering difficulty, or it might be in terms of tradeoffs with other data that is more relevant. Adding GPS data to the stream requires more throughput. There are often significant engineering challenges in increasing throughput.

Not knowing what kind of link they are using, I can't comment on specifics, but I do know know there's no such thing as a free lunch. There IS a cost, and if the information isn't relevant to the reason the link exists, it won't get a free ride on that link.

Engineers don't usually just throw things in just because they can.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
3 day old photos aren't all that helpful. Debris sinks or drifts. And it doesn't take that long to degrade the resolution of the pictures.

This story is getting curiouser and curiouser.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The engines’ onboard monitoring system is provided by their manufacturer, Rolls-Royce PLC, and it periodically sends bursts of data about engine health, operations and aircraft movements to facilities on the ground."

Well, thanks Boeing and Rolls-Royce folks! We really appreciate you making sure that all the terrorists in the world now know that disabling the transponder won't shut down all monitoring.

I'm sure they are grateful to you for making this generally known, so they can start working on ways to disable THAT piece of equipment, too.

Nice job, guys.

31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
If this aircraft was flow somewhere by terrorists or someone else, we know the score. Torture and Kill the men and rape the women.

Everyone needs to grow a pair including women.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Terrorists already have much technical information that they need. Just because YOU didn't know that doesn't mean THEY didn't. Most security procedures in the industry are a sham----eye candy for the LIV's.

The tech info is widely available online and through other sources and from people who don't realize they are giving it away.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, somebody didn't disable that data link. Occam's Razor suggests that somebody who disabled a transponder but didn't disable a telemetry link probably didn't know about it.

When the Soviet Union fell, our intel community was horrified to find out just how much detailed info the Russkies had. We had no idea we'd been so badly compromised.

When they found out HOW, they were even more horrified. MOST of it was obtained from public sources. A tiny bit of "this can't hurt" in one magazine, a little bit of "nobody will put this together so it's okay to say it" in a scholarly journal, and just like a bunch of Iranian rug weavers going to work on shredded documents, they had a very big, and very detailed picture of our defense projects including some pretty deep dark research.

All of it handed to them by people who think it's paranoid keep your mouth shut.

Loose lips may not sink only ships these days. They might sink whole nations.



31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
" somebody didn't disable that data link"
That data link can only be shut off by techs on the ground with access to the aircraft. Or, it can be selected/deselected by the FOQA receivers on the ground while the aircraft is in operation.

However, the engine data transfer is probably separate from FOQA & is most likely a co-op between the engine manufacturer and the operator and is both proprietary and unnecessary for day-to-day operations. It just helps the engine maker analyze data to make better engines and is signed onto by the carrier as part of the lease/purchase agreement(s).

As for tech details about the Russkies knowing what the US was up to, while in the USAF, even I knew that they knew. However, military members were required to remain silent about operational information (OPSEC) even though we knew it was probably in the paper somewhere. Yes, we found it ridiculous.

But we also lived in a free society. Russia did not and could (more) easily control the flow of sensitive information. Our free society was both a blessing and curse. A curse to try to keep military information from reaching the other side.

In the end, our technology was superior and our forces better-trained.

Nowadays, our hippie leftovers in government who have no understanding of, well, anything seem to think all we need to do is totally disarm and everyone will sit at the campfire with us, light a joint and sing kumbaya. They might at that, and then kill us all in our sleep.

Secrets are hard enough to keep and military secrets are the most fleeting of all.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Secrets are hard enough to keep and military secrets are the most fleeting of all. "

Yes, so all the more reason to refrain from bleating them out at every opportunity.

31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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