Airliners may turn to drones

Its now almost certain that the Malaysian airliner was either seized or flown by one or more of the pilots aboard to its destination, currently unknown.

Most likely the Indian Ocean, where it may have settled in one of the large trenches that are more than 4000m deep and therefore, virtually invisible.

While we grapple with the mystery and motive for this act,  if indeed it has ended up in the ocean,  there are realities about flying in the future that should be considered.  The first is the likelihood of some kind of autonomous aircraft being used as pilots who fly these planes full of pax show signs of psychological disturbance which apparently cannot be properly monitored.

Every human has his or her cracking point.  That’s well known.  But the main issue is most people don’t see it coming,  and friends of the afflicted don’t recognize it when it does.  All signs now point to the Chief pilot,  53 year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, as experiencing one of those moments.

Zaharie Ahmed Shah on the right, Fariq Hamid his number two on the left.
Zaharie Ahmed Shah on the right, Fariq Hamid his number two on the left.

Before fingering the Malaysian traffic authorities for poor handing of the situation and Malaysian Airlines for being so paranoid it refused to purchase the Boeing ACARS tracking system,  let’s take a good look at the Chief pilot.

He had 18240 hours in the logbook,  a flight Sim at home, and someone he admired politically had just been sent down for what looks like a trumped-up case of sodomy by the state.


His wife left him the previous week.  So he sits at home for a few days and then an opportunity arises.  He discovers he’s flying a major overnighter to Beijing,  full of Chinese nationals.

So what better way to truly shatter Chinese/Malay relations than to disappear a flight with 150 Chinese aboard?  And then show up what he knows about the Malaysians – they’ll have no clue about what to do about it.  Further,  the motive becomes more clear when you consider the “saving face” culture which boils down to flat lying about something rather than looking a twit.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim - Zaharie's friend.
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim – Zaharie’s friend.

If you were in a highly agitated state and decided to call it quits, and you have a few insurance premiums bound up with the premise that they don’t pay out on suicide,  how would you cover your tracks as a pilot of a 777-200 with 238 other people on board?

You would :

– take control of the aircraft by switching off compression and thus sending passengers to sleep, then death (at 35000 feet) through asphyxia.

– you would have dealt with your fellow crew in the same way,  but waiting until they had a toilet break or similar.  At that Altitude it would be a matter of a few minutes before anyone would collapse.  And while they did that to ensure they didn’t make it back in you conduct a high stress manoever on the plane so that the G-force would keep the crew member incapacitated and unable to move.

– Having achieved the two aims above,  you would drop the plane to a level which puts it out of sight of ground-based radar, then employ territory hugging flying in an area with a slightly lower mountain base (eg, north east Malaysia).

– You would aim at the aircraft at an area of weakest radar signal,  and then into an arc where the military radar systems as well as civilian have gaps.

– Following this,  a long flight on autopilot into the deep Indian Ocean, where you would put the aircraft down on the surface as smoothly as possible,  ensuring very little breaks off to form a clear pile of debris.


Picture 11

-Plane sinks to 4000m+ and no-one is any the wiser. Its likely the purpetrator died in the final crash, unlikely they jumped in a raft.

Insurance must pay out as per agreement, Malaysia looks stupid,  goal achieved.

Now the only way to really avoid this scenario is to have a drone filled plane.  The two pilots flying the plane are on the ground and monitored much more closely by super-computers and cannot do things like switch off the transponder,  or ACARS without severe and sudden action by a monitoring system.

As a pilot I would hate this option.  But we had Silk Air where the pilot speared his plane into a river,  and Egypt Air, where the pilot plunged into the Atlantic,  both cases were suicide.

Is this another, must much cleverer having learnt from the other two?

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