Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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A professor at Berkeley has an idea for keeping planes out of no-fly zones.
Since the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, anti-aircraft missile batteries have been installed to protect buildings in Washington DC and other US cities. Less drastic solutions have also been suggested. Aerospace company Northrop Grumman, for instance, has proposed installing the electronics from its Global Hawk pilotless plane in passenger aircraft to allow ground control to take over a hijacked plane and land it remotely. Others say automatic landing systems could steer planes to safety without human intervention.
All these solutions have disadvantages, says Edward Lee at the University of California in Berkeley. They require radio links between the plane and air traffic control, and these can be jammed, or hacked into. They could even allow planes to be hijacked from the ground if terrorists managed to take over air-traffic control sites.
Lee and his colleagues have an alternative. They propose modifying the avionics in aircraft so that the plane would fight any efforts by the pilot to fly into restricted airspace. So if a plane was flying with a no-fly-zone to the left, and the pilot started banking left to enter the zone, the avionics would counter by banking right. Lee's system, called "soft walls", would first gently resist the pilot, and then become increasingly forceful until it prevailed.
To the pilot, it would feel like fighting an external force, such as a strong wind. "When you reach a certain critical point, the pilot is banking as hard to the left as the aircraft will go- as far as he can tell- and that is only just cancelling the force, so the aircraft is still going straight," says Lee.
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