NYT: Critical Turn Away From Beijing Was Pre-Programmed Into Missing Flight’s Computer
The New York Times is reporting that the first critical turn that missing Flight 370 took away from Beijing was pre-programmed into the plane’s computer.
New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt says the turn taken off of its path was done by a computer system on the plane rather than being done manually by a pilot.
Essentially, the plane turned itself, but the plane only could have moved off path if somebody pre-programmed it. That means that whoever caused the turn had to program it while on the plane or before it took off.
Watch Schmidt’s interview above.
Read more below, via NYTimes.com:
Instead of manually operating the plane’s controls, whoever altered Flight 370’s path typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer on a knee-high pedestal between the captain and the first officer, according to officials. The Flight Management System, as the computer is known, directs the plane from point to point specified in the flight plan submitted before each flight. It is not clear whether the plane’s path was reprogrammed before or after it took off.
The fact that the turn away from Beijing was programmed into the computer has reinforced the belief of investigators — first voiced by Malaysian officials — that the plane was deliberately diverted and that foul play was involved. It has also increased their focus on the plane’s captain and first officer.
According to investigators, it appears that a waypoint was added to the planned route. Pilots do that in the ordinary course of flying if air traffic controllers tell them to take a different route, to avoid weather or traffic. But in this case, the waypoint was far off the path to Beijing.
Whoever changed the plane’s course would have had to be familiar with Boeing aircraft, though not necessarily the 777 — the type of plane that disappeared. American officials and aviation experts said it was far-fetched to believe that a passenger could have reprogrammed the Flight Management System.
Normal procedure is to key in a five-letter code — gibberish to non-aviators — that is the name of a waypoint. A normal flight plan consists of a series of such waypoints, ending in the destination airport. For an ordinary flight, waypoints can be entered manually or uploaded into the F.M.S. by the airline.
One of the pilots keys in a waypoint on a separate screen known as a scratchpad, and after confirming that it has no typographical errors, pushes another button to move it into the sequence already in the flight plan. Normal practice is to orally confirm the waypoint with the other pilot, then push another button to instruct the airplane to go there. With the change in course, the plane would bank at a comfortable angle, around 20 degrees, and make the turn. Passengers would not feel anything unusual.
Read more on missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: