Boeing's uninterruptible autopilot system: New technology can be activated by the pilots, government agencies, even on-board sensors; not even a tortured pilot can give up control; dedicated electrical circuits ensure the system’s total independence
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Boeing received a US patent for a system that, once activated, removes all control from pilots to automatically return a commercial airliner to a predetermined landing location.
Although airplane cockpit door locks are now standard, worries remain about terrorists taking control of a plane a la 9/11, perhaps by extorting the pilots into opening the door against their better judgement. Elsewhere in today’s issue we report on a new Raytheon contract to develop software that uses type of craft, location, and fuel capacity to determine the safest route for a hijacked or otherwise compromised aircraft. This is a great idea, one that must have Chicago, Illinois-based Boeing excited — not out of envy but because it improves the value of its recently awarded patent for a system that, once activated, takes control of the airplane away from the pilots and flies it to a predtermined landing position. Put the Raytheon and the Boeing systems together — now that’s a good idea.
Boeing’s is, of course, not the first autopilot technology in existence, but this one has been designed with counterterrorism first and foremost in mind. Not only is it “uninterruptible” — so that even a tortured pilot cannot turn it off — but it can be activated remotely via radio or satellite by government agencies. The system might even include senors on the cockpit door that activate the autopilot of a certain amount of force is used against it. “There is a need for a technique that ensures the continuation of the desired path of travel of a vehicle by removing any type of human decision process that may be influenced by the circumstances of the situation, including threats or further violence onboard the vehicle,” the patent application explains. To make it fully independent, the system also has its own power supply, independent of the aircraft’s circuit breakers.