back to article Cold War spy aircraft CRASHED Los Angeles' air traffic control

The Federal Aviation Administration has claimed a major glitch that grounded dozens of flights last week was caused by a Cold War-vintage reconnaissance aircraft. It claimed that a U-2 "Dragon Lady" flew into airspace controlled by the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, which uses a system called En …

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  1. ukgnome

    They have 6 weeks and 1 day.......

    .....to sort out that sh1t

    or I'm.......actually I want to visit the states, so I had better not finish that sentence

    #Spartacus

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: They have 6 weeks and 1 day.......

      or you're gonna be quaking in your boots (or seat).

      FTFY. HTH. HAND

  2. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    I read a report on this elsewhere, and that seemed to suggest that the "spooks" did file an accurate flight plan. It suggested that the problem was that the ATC system "forgot"hat airspace is 3D and that the plane woukd therefore overfly everything, with no need to re-route anything.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You are quite correct...although you don't have to mention you read it elsewhere, the Reg article had that exact same information in it.

      "The U-2 filed all the proper flight plan paperwork and was conducting its operation in accordance with those filings."

      "Try filing an accurate flight plan next time, spooks"

      Try reading the article that you are supposed to be writing sub headlines for next time, ElReg.

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        "Try reading the article that you are supposed to be writing sub headlines for next time, ElReg."

        I see the joke went, er, right over your head.

    2. GumboKing
      Coat

      'forgot that airspace is 3D'

      KAAAAAAHHHHN!!!

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: 'forgot that airspace is 3D'

        Its actually "KHHHAAAANNNN!!!!!", unless Madeline Kahn was also pissing off James T. Kirk during the 80s.

        1. Euripides Pants Silver badge

          Re: 'forgot that airspace is 3D'

          "unless Madeline Kahn was also pissing off James T. Kirk..."

          He never got over her stealing the role of Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles from him.

          1. Charles Osborne
            Angel

            Re: 'forgot that airspace is 3D'

            It's twooo, it's TWOOO!

        2. Tom 13

          Re: 'forgot that airspace is 3D'

          It might have been written that way in the script, but I think GumboKing wrote it the way Shatner delivered it.

        3. aqk
          Alien

          Re: 'forgot that SideKick?' - It's Philippe.

          Alas, Madeline Kahn has been dead for more that 10 years. (My how time flies!)

          It was actually Philippe Kahn and his sidekick, in the LA control tower, demo'ing a new version of his Turbo Pascal to them.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      I don't think that it was "it forgot".... it's more of a case of conflicting rules. The U2 was a 60,000 feet and flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). VFR rules in the program state flights have to be lower for that. So, it was trying to get all the other flights out of the way for this bird to drop down to 10,000 feet and amount of that overloaded the system. Change one flight path in that crowded environment and there's a ripple effect that hits one hell of a lot of flights. More than the system could handle at one time.

      I suppose the fix was to write something similar to "VFR is 10000 feet except U2's flying at 60000 feet".

      1. mr.K
        WTF?

        This isn't a problem I have dealt much with, but I imagine that such programming problems as this routing is fairly hard to predict and thus a cascading complexity of routing can easily occur when it is met with extreme cases. So far so good, or rather bad, but moving on. But am I correct in my assessment* that good programming practice for such a critical system as this would not to be, reboot and try over, but rather to track the individual rerouting problems and count how many steps they would invoke. Then have a break at n steps for then to simply flag it for a human controller to deal with.

        It seems rather alarming that such a critical system can cause itself to crash just because it is met with a task that it is too hard for it solve. The system thinking that it needed to be routed down to 10 000 feet is a simple goof. It not being able to solve it is a flaw. That error causing the whole system to go down sounds like a critical system failure. Worsen by the fact that it was not actually solved by the reboot. It could have easily been stuck in the mode as long as the U2 was overhead.

        *I am assume here that somewhere there has been a simple filing error. Either by somebody punching in the numbers or an automated form or something. That the flight should never been marked VFR and thus the system should not try to route it accordingly. (Or something similar to this)

        1. tfewster Silver badge
          Terminator

          Emergencies? @ mr.K

          Easy to imagine an emergency situation in a normal airliner where a rapid descent is needed from 35,000 feet through multiple layers - Decompression, fire, multiple engine failures etc. Is ERAM going to go on strike EVERY time it's really needed?

          ROTM icon - because it might be more sinister than just bad programming ;-)

          1. mr.K

            Re: Emergencies? @ mr.K

            A little late, but in case you read it.

            Emergencies should be handled by an operator regardless, and I imagine if it had been flagged as an emergency the system would cope as it would widen the rules for rerouting other planes in the sky.

            I did not say it should go on strike, I said it should hand over things it can't handle to an operator, which is more or less the whole point of a air controller system. I prefer that do rebooting in what could easily end up in a perpetual loop of reboots until the sky is clear of planes since they have fallen down.

            Sidenote: Not that I read the report all that thorough, but the system is actually producing false emergency flags for operators to handle. Four way collision alerts on what turns out to be two planes and at completely different altitudes. So if they cut down on the false ones, I am sure the operator can handle a once in a blue moon occurrence where it is unable to cope.

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge
        Joke

        Hmm... downvotes.. Cool. From FAA programmers I guess.

        1. Roo

          "Hmm... downvotes.. Cool. From FAA programmers I guess."

          I got one too, they seem to be allergic to references to PDP-11s and PFYs, wonder why.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Hmm... downvotes.. Cool. From FAA programmers I guess.

          The actions of the Anonymous Downvoting Squad are ineffable. There are some things posters are not meant to understand.

    4. big_D Silver badge
      Pint

      My guess, it was actually either over 65536 feet...

  3. Ian Emery Silver badge

    "ERAM is a $2.1bn scheme to overhaul the systems which help air traffic controllers manage high altitude flights. It started in 2002 and was supposed to be installed in 20 "en route" facilities by 2010. However, software problems were identified [PDF] and this goal was not met."

    It is not being done under a UK PFI deal by any chance???

    1. Roo
      Facepalm

      Hmm, >60K feet interpreted as 10K feet, I hope that isn't the stench of 16bit arithmetic overflow... Did they let the PFYs hack on the -11s ? :)

      1. Buzzword

        Yep, must have been flying at 65,536 feet :)

        1. aqk
          Facepalm

          You mean 65,535 feet?

          Oh, wait! You mean it OVERFLEWED!

      2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Simple explanation

        They are still using the DOOM engine. The long-awaited upgrade will move it to QUAKE...

      3. channel extended
        Happy

        50K limit

        Most likely the programmers set a 50,000ft limit in thier definition of a "plane" object constructor saying "Nobody flies that high". This could be an error checking fail. They asked FAA what is the altitude limit and someone said 45,000ft for a Boeing 777 was typical, soooo.....

      4. itzman

        not arithmetic overflow..

        "60K feet interpreted as 10K feet, I hope that isn't the stench of 16bit arithmetic overflow.."

        The algorithms necessary to turn a mess of echoes from many objects via vertically and horizontally rotating pulsed radar beams requires that certain assumptions are made as to what is, and what is not, a likley position and speed for an aircraft to be.

        The faster you pulse the radars the better bearing and azimuth resolutions you get, but the more narrow becomes the range a that you can reliably detect before pulses start to 'overlap' and you have the possibility that your return echo could be off a target in more than one location.

        Software disentangles that by indicating the more likely position...possibly helped by assuming things about pre filed flight plans.

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: not arithmetic overflow..

          Good job the shuttle didnt pass overhead then. Or a meteor. Or Ming the Merciless. Im sure that the software would have been better served sounding a klaxon and having a human clarify an "anomaly" before it had to reroute hundreds of flights.

    2. Myvekk

      Was it contracted out to the same company that did the website for Obamacare?

      1. Apollo-Soyuz 1975
        Holmes

        Nope, but it WAS contracted out to the company that fucked up the Mars Climate Orbiter mission!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flight Plan?

    So, nothing wrong with the spooks flight planning, just ("ERAM is a $2.1bn scheme to overhaul the systems which help air traffic controllers manage high altitude flights") a crap bit of programming in the ATC software that couldn't tell the difference between 10,000ft and 60,000ft.

    Don't you guys actually READ the content of the article before writing the subheading?

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Flight Plan?

      "mistook 60000 feet for 10000"... Well that's their excuse.

      I bet someone just asked the computer to make them a cup of tea.

  5. Arachnoid

    Given its a stealth designed aircraft

    It sounds like the system misinterpreted the feedback provided from external sensors which is exactly what the plane is designed to do.Maybe they forgot to add the "Its just a Spyplane" plug in to deal with such circumstance.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Given its a stealth designed aircraft

      The U2 was never really a 'stealth' plane. When it was designed, it's main benefits were it's high operational altitude (higher than the Russians Surface-to-Air missiles or fighters), which lulled the Americans into a false idea of it's safety, and the high endurance that allowed it to overfly most of the Soviet Union. In the years before surveillance satellites, this was the main method of identifying what the Russians were doing.

      That's why Gary Powers being shot down was such a shock!

      The SR71 added some stealth features, along with very high speed, which enabled the Americans to continue surveillance operations.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Given its a stealth designed aircraft

        The SR71 also added the feature of never overflying enemy territory - at least not of any enemy with an airforce.

        Over-fligths were banned after the U2 and because of a danger that somebody with an itchy button finger might mistake the SR71 for something a little more explosive

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: Given its a stealth designed aircraft

          The SR-71 did overfly enemy territories with an air force and an air defense - otherwise it would have been just a nice exercise of high-speed flights. It was its speed and altitude that made it impossible to be intercepted - the reaction time was not enough for a plane - even the MiG 31 - to take off and climb enough to get into a fire position, nor for a AA missile to reach it - and it was too fast to be a cruise missile, and to slow to be a ballistic one.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Given its a stealth designed aircraft

            The MG-25 could in theory intercept the SR, as it would be rare for the SR to being flown at full speed for long, and certainly armed with a AA-6 Acrid missile, it could take out a 71. Only problem is the Foxbat may be completely knackered afterwards.

            All theory of course....

            1. Danny 14 Silver badge

              Re: Given its a stealth designed aircraft

              The SR-71 flew many times over enemy territory. Quite a distinguished career. According to wiki, a fifth of its flight time was spent at Mach 3 which goes to say something. There arent many vehicles spending a fifth of their time at the red line so that says something about the engineering. Also not a single one was shot down so the concept worked, noone could catch it simply because you would never be able to accelerate fast enough to get to it, unless you knew the flight plan beforehand and were loitering.

              If it had a data link then it would have been even more useful.

            2. LDS Silver badge

              Re: Given its a stealth designed aircraft

              The SR-71 was designed to fly at its highest speeds for most of its flight. When cold, on ground, it even leaked fuel from the tanks because the airframe was designed to "seal" only when the high temperatures reached during flight expanded the metals. Speed and altitude were its only defensive weapons, and that means the plane should have been already at its planned speed well before entering the enemy territory, and start to slow down only after it left it well behind, to ensure the air defense had no enough time to react to the approaching or leaving plane.

              Sure, a fast plane like the MiG-25 could have tried to intercept the SR-71, but not if he had to scramble from ground and reach an altitude where it could fire its missiles. The MiG-31 is even more capable, but yet it needs to be already in flight and in a good position to have a chance to intercept an SR-71.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Given its a stealth designed aircraft

        Powers being shot down wasn't a shock. They knew it would happen sooner or later.

        If a missile didn't hit the thing, simply evading it could rip the wings off (they fly in what's known as "coffin corner" where cruise speed, stall speed and VNE (Velocity to Never Exeed) are all within a couple of knots of each other. (It's basically a starfighter with extremely long wings)

        The real shock was that the integrated destruct system didn't work (and that the pilot survived/didn't use his suicide pill). The aircraft was rigged with high explosives along its entire length for just such an event, to ensure the Eviiiil Russkies didn't get their hands on a complete example, but the G forces Powers was subjected to left him unable to hit the switch before he bailed out.

      3. Dave Stevens

        Re: never really a 'stealth' plane

        Back in the 50s the USSR has better radars than the USA. The U2 was designed under the assumption that it would escape detection by flying at 60 000 feet. They realized the error when they saw all the pictures taken were full of MIGs following the U2.

        They tried to increase the altitude, but quickly gave up.

  6. Elmer Phud

    Sulk?

    "However, ERAM incorrectly assessed the altitude of the U-2, which was flying at 60,000 feet, and decided to shut itself down."

    "Glad to be of Service"

    1. heyrick Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Sulk?

      A lovely piece of fail-safe coding for a life-critical application, don't you think?

      1. Tom 35 Silver badge

        Re: Sulk?

        I'm confused, think I'll go take a nap.

  7. Steve Graham

    Interesting. I did my flying training in the 1990s at Long Beach, just a short distance from LAX, and a fellow student claimed to have heard the following exchange over the radio (with civilian ATC).

    Pilot: Air Force XYZ requesting flight level 600.

    ATC: Man, if you can get up there, it's yours.

    Pilot: Air Force XYZ currently *descending* though flight level 870.

    I never knew whether to to believe the guy or not. FL 600 (i.e. 60,000 feet) and above would be Class E airspace, not requiring explicit permission to fly in it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      also, high Mach numbers

      Which enable to you to exit controlled airspace before the ACT can key the mike.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      There is a similar story in one of the SR71 pilots biographies.

      They are flying around Cuba at 80,000 in their space age spyplane wearing space suits when they are asked to move out of the way by ATC. So a Concorde can go past with a bunch of people in shirts drinking champagne

      1. billat29

        Concorde at FL80?

        I doubt it. Max height was 60,000 feet and normal cruising was at 55,000.

        1. JLH

          Re: Concorde at FL80?

          That episode is in (I think) Francis Spuffords book 'Back Room Boys'.

          the SR71 pilots tell of how they are indeed at 80000 feet over Cuba, wearing pressure suits.

          They look down on a Concorde below and reflect that the Brits/French have engineerd an aircraft which can fly up there with them, at high Mach, with people inside in shirtsleeves drinking Champagne.

          http://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/aug/14/featuresreviews.guardianreview12

          Oh, and if you haven't read it, Ben Richs book 'Skinkworks' is fantastic

          http://www.amazon.co.uk/Skunk-Works-Leo-Janos/dp/0751515035

          The U2 is indeed a Starfighter body with long, thin wings.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      Sometimes it's the other way round, there's an aviation tale that goes along these lines:

      Cessna 152: "Flight Level Three Thousand, Seven Hundred"

      Controller: "Roger, contact Houston Space Centre"

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That sounds like one of the 'Aurora' conversations. Several conversations between unidentified aircraft and ATC along those lines i.e. pilots alerting ATC that they were _descending_ to a Flight Level way above the capability of known aircraft have been reported by various plane spotters and cited as evidence for the Aurora spy plane. Other variations include F-4/F-15 jocks reporting ascending to FL600+ to ATC in a boastful sort of way only to be 'trumped' by an Aurora pilot reporting that he's descending to an even higher FL.

      None of these conversations can be verified though, so they don't really count for anything.

      On the other hand, there has been some pretty good evidence for an Aurora type aircraft. Amongst the best evidence is a sighting over the North Sea by someone who had been in the Royal Observer Corps International Aircraft Recognition Team. Also, a series of sonic booms recorded by the USGS seismic sensor array in Southern California which, when analysed, indicated an aircraft, smaller than the Shuttle, flying overhead at ~90,000ft @ Mach 4-5. Then there was a photo taken by a geosynchronous weather satellite that appeared to show a very high-altitude, high-speed contrail starting at Groom Lake and extending directly East across the Atlantic Ocean (it had to be created very quickly, i.e. by a very high-speed aircraft, otherwise it would have started to disperse at the start of the contrail). Not sure if this photo was ever verified though. Most of this evidence dates from the late '80s, through the '90s to the early '00s. However, there have been some reports of more recent sightings over Kansas and Texas, with photographs, earlier this year, in February and March, which might tie in with Aurora missions associated with the on-going Ukraine/Crimea situation.

      Probably the best evidence against an Aurora type aircraft is that if it does exist then it won't be entirely unknown to the military forces of the rest of the world, even if they don't know its full capabilities, and the only people to whom it's existance is actually being kept secret are the general public, who don't really count, so what's the point in keeping its existance secret from the public when the rest of the world's military know about it?

      1. oolor

        >However, there have been some reports of more recent sightings over Kansas and Texas

        This is believed to be a B-2 successor/big brother. There also appears to have been a laser test of significant magnitude. The tie-in to Crimea/Ukraine would be that this 'unveiling' and 'light show' was a warning that though the US doesn't want a war, it could certainly win it.

        >so what's the point in keeping its existance secret from the public when the rest of the world's military know about it?

        Keeps the other side guessing as to the true capabilities. The deterrent value may be greater than its battlefield worth. Revealing it quietly is sure to get China and Russia's rapt attention.

        1. JLH

          This week's Aviation Week and Space Technology has a shot of a high altitude blended body aircraft, said to be larger than a B2.

    5. Malmesbury

      http://gizmodo.com/5511236/the-thrill-of-flying-the-sr-71-blackbird

      The pertinent bit

      "One day, high above Arizona , we were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. 'Ninety knots,' ATC replied. A twin Bonanza soon made the same request. 'One-twenty on the ground,' was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was 'Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,' ATC responded. The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walter's mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walter startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, ' Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.' We did not hear another transmis sion on that frequency all the way to the coast."

    6. Shred

      The (fascinating) book "SR-71 Blackbird: Stories, Tales, and Legends" by Rich Graham documents an exchange similar to the one you describe. The air traffic controller was reported to have replied by saying something like: "How exactly do you intend to get to 60,000 feet?", to which the pilot responded: "Actually, I wish to descend".

  8. Johan Bastiaansen

    Civilian radar tracking a military plane?

    Only if they were squawking loud and clear.

    Did they ever think they had found that missing Boeing?

  9. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Vintage planes

    If the USAF can still fly U-2s when they're nearly 60 years old, why can't the RAF still fly Vulcans and Harriers? They're wonderful machines, and still potentially very useful.

    1. Not That Andrew

      Re: Vintage planes

      Because we sold all our Harriers to the Septics because they understand their worth.

    2. 4ecks
      Unhappy

      Re: Vintage planes

      Probably for the same reasons the RAF isn't flying TSR2's -

      politics, stupidity and money troubles.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Vintage planes

      >why can't the RAF still fly Vulcans

      There is a market for electronic spy data over regions of interest at short notice.

      There is less demand for suicide missions to attempt to drop nukes on Moscow

      1. theModge

        Re: Vintage planes

        "There is less demand for suicide missions to attempt to drop nukes on Moscow"

        Give it a month at the current rate...

    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Vintage planes

      Because U2s are fundamentally a very simple airplane evolved from a very well proven design, whilst Vulcans/Harriers are hideously complex things (not that I agree with retiring the Harriers, but Vulcans really had reached their enf of airframe life.)

    5. Steve Todd

      Re: Vintage planes

      They aren't flying Vulcans because they are made from a magnesium alloy. It rots and limits the life of the airframe. They'd become too expensive and require too much maintenance to keep flying, plus the engines are no longer in manufacture so spare parts would become an issue also.

    6. Dave Stevens

      Re: Vintage planes

      The U2s are being used for things like spotting IEDs along roads in Afghanistan.

    7. NogginTheNog

      Re: Vintage planes

      Because the fat-cat robbing bastards at BAE, Lockheed et al can milk many more billions out of our stupid leaders flogging them new, unbuilt, untested, incomplete, kit.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ...

    "The extensive number of routings that would have been required to de-conflict the aircraft with lower-altitude flights used a large amount of available memory and interrupted the computer’s other flight-processing functions”

    What are they using to run their system, a ZX Spectrum?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: ...

      No, it was an iPad.

    2. DropBear Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: ...

      What are they using to run their system, a ZX Spectrum?

      Nah, I have a hunch it was a "tried and tested" recycled Apollo LM navigation and guidance computer - I guess they just kept getting 1202 errors, huh?

  11. Steve Evans

    Unsigned 16bit fail?

    I told them not to fly above 65535 feet!

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Unsigned 16bit fail?

      And I hear MH370's flight computer used signed integers, and as soon as it hit 32768 feet, decided its height should suddenly be very negative.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No wonder all those UFOs dont show up on radar, or show data that it went from 10000 to 50000 feet in less than a second.

    1. Don Jefe

      Perhaps it's not a glitch at all! The discrimination algorithms would normally shunt the U-2 flight into the UFO traffic control system. However, because the U-2 had correctly filed a flight plan with a military designation the UFO traffic control system kept kicking it back to the regular traffic control system that looped it back to the UFO system.

  13. TRT Silver badge

    A U-2 you say?

    Did they find what they were looking for?

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: A U-2 you say?

      Still haven't ....

      I'll get me coat

    2. Aremmes

      Re: A U-2 you say?

      Only on a beautiful day, when they're not skipping from three all the way to fourteen.

  14. ecofeco Silver badge

    If you only knew how old that gear is

    The entire US ground control computer system is so old it's beyond scary.

    Some third world countries have better systems.

    How scary is THAT?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some third world countries have better systems.

      Yes, but are they still working?

      Not a criticism of third world operational and maintenance staff but a comment on the lack of funding for spares once the initial contract has been completed.

    2. Javapapa

      Re: If you only knew how old that gear is

      What's wrong with relocatable aluminum strips with paper inserts? Glitch proof, needs no batteries (except flashlight to see them at night).

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: If you only knew how old that gear is

        The system of strips might be glitchproof in its deisgn but the wetware handling it is slow and occasionally misprocesses data.

        1. rh587 Silver badge

          Re: If you only knew how old that gear is

          Talking to a controller at NATS a few years back when they were introducing their electronic system, I gathered it also made the handling of a lot of the US-bound transit traffic from Eurocontrol through to the Atlantic a lot simpler as that traffic was already at cruising altitude and didn't usually need a lot doing to it, so the system could accept the "digital strips", effectively doing the paperwork and just let the controller keep an eye on it, focussing on sorting out those flights that actually needed at ascend/descend from/to airports or lower flight levels.

          As he said though, it's nice, but when you have a problem, like an erroneous number on a strip, you can't physically throw it at an ATC assistant and have them figure it out, you've got to work out what's wrong, and manually correct it yourself, which distracts you from the rest of your airspace.

          That said, errors shouldn't occur (as often) because the data transfer is automated, so no mistaking what the lovely Belgian controller said through their accent, and there were obviously failsafes that flagged for attention if you were asking an aircraft to achieve orbit or go Mach 7.

  15. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge
    FAIL

    What kind of idiot programmers did they hire?

    It perplexes me that they wouldn't have written in exceptions into the code for cases like this. Such an application should be able to detect the amount of resources a calculation is taking and kill it if it gets to a certain point and informing a human that that particular aircraft needs to handled manually, with the option of completely ignoring it. Failing like it did is completely unacceptable, even for the most basic of commercial application let alone something with safety risks.

    But I wonder, what other bugs are still in the system? What will happen if a transponder malfunctioned and started pushing out false data? Would it crash again if SpaceShipOne/Two were to fly overhead? What kind of testing was actually performed?

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: What kind of idiot programmers did they hire?

      Possibly the type that put sanity checks on numbers like altitudes, and since 60,000 feet is above what any civilian type can manage and just on the bounds of what ATC should be handling anyway, they hadn't allowed for it?

      1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

        Re: What kind of idiot programmers did they hire?

        But that is the thing, the real world is full of insane conditions and values and you must test and plan for them.

  16. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    What kind of idiot programmers did they hire?

    COG: "...an application should be able to detect the amount of resources a calculation is taking and kill it if it gets to a certain point and informing a human that that particular aircraft needs to handled manually, with the option of completely ignoring it."

    You mean like a "1202" Alarm?

    1. Herby Silver badge

      Re: What kind of idiot programmers did they hire?

      You mean like a "1202" Alarm?

      Great reference!

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: What kind of idiot programmers did they hire?

        Extra points if you can cite what caused it.

        1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

          Re: What kind of idiot programmers did they hire?

          The 1202 alarm was caused by the fact that Neil (Or was it Buzz?) had forgotten to turn off some unneeded ranging systems on approach for landing, which those active systems where interrupting the CPU too many times for it to operate in real-time and needed to drop instructions to get back to the business of planting humans on the moon.

    2. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: "You mean like a "1202" Alarm?"

      Yes, exactly. Given the nature of this application, especially since it is critical that its real-time, you should have monitoring and reporting systems to warn the user that bad things might happen so they can be prepared. In the case of the 1202, it was simple matter of toggling a few switches to get everything back to ship shape for the return flight and future landings, in this application they could have debugged it or added more resources.

  17. Jamie Jones Silver badge
    FAIL

    Shutting down because things get too hard?

    Reading this, I was reminded of the first time I gave my sister a 'driving lesson' in the front driveway.

    So she wouldn't stall, I had her over-revving the engine before slowly releasing the clutch.

    However, as soon as the car started to move, she lifted both feet up, held her hands in the air, and screamed "I want to stop". However, due to the high revs, the car didn't stall, but jumped forward until hitting a nearby wall.

    It seems that this system had a similar panic attack. But you'd expect it to react better than a 16 year old kid who's only real worry was what my dad would say when he saw the car (and the wall!)

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Shutting down because things get too hard?

      "However, as soon as the car started to move, she lifted both feet up, held her hands in the air, and screamed "I want to stop". However, due to the high revs, the car didn't stall, but jumped forward until hitting a nearby wall."

      Sorry, I hope you were both OK after that, but that made me LOL.

      1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Shutting down because things get too hard?

        "Sorry, I hope you were both OK after that, but that made me LOL."

        :-) Yeah, a slightly dented wing and a few stones knocked from the wall were the only casualties (apart from her pride!)

        It's funny - this happened about 25 years ago (showing my age!) and I haven't thought about it in years, but this story triggered the memory of someone/something throwing everything in the air and shouting "I want to stop!"

  18. Arachnoid
    Facepalm

    Didnt you get

    A High pitched collision alarm [sounds a bit like a female screaming]?

  19. Truth4u

    So did the flight controllers try and move all the other planes or what?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    so it's that easy to crash the entire network?

    I'm not buying it. Unscheduled and improper flight activity happens all the time, and is dealt with procedurally and with minimum fuss.

    the area has handled the outrageous flight performance envelope of the SR71 crossing over it's airspace without issue for decades. If something with unplanned flight path and unpredictable performance behavior were to crash the system, it would have been that. Most flight controllers can tell you stories of aircraft whose responses to orders to "make room" for emergencies, can suddenly stop pretending to be an airliner transponder and behave in ways most aircraft enthusiasts can recognize from their copy of Jane's.

    This is something else.

    Is it a coincidence this comes in at approximately the same time as reports of Russian aircraft patrolling near the California coast and requiring Air Force intercept?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: so it's that easy to crash the entire network?

      …just so you know, the ERAM system that failed in this case was deployed ~10 years after the Blackbird fleet was retired from service.

  21. cortland

    Controlled airspace ENDS at 60,000 feet, or do we route around satellites now?

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