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The Solid Steel Cockpit Door

By EdFox in Op-Ed
Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 10:51:26 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

After the tragedies of September 11th, all eyes focused on a problem that had worried airline pilots in the backs of their minds for decades: cockpit security. Calls for a solid wall between the cockpit and the passenger cabin have been heard from the media and from the public by the thousands.

However, there are some major problems with such a scheme.
Second in an (unintentional) series. Please see part one, here.

The cockpit door of a modern airliner is there to keep the pax from seeing into the cockpit and becoming alarmed by the many warning lights that come on during a perfectly normal flight. While somewhat cynical, this statement is mostly true. By Federal Aviation Regulation [FAR] a cockpit door must be weak enough to be kicked open by a normal person in the event of an emergency. It must also have allowances to open by itself in the event of a depressurization.

Despite media reports to the contrary, there are airline aircraft currently flying that have no door at all. Small, 19-seat commuter aircraft typically have nothing more than a curtain to keep the pax from seeing the aforementioned lights. In these tiny planes, which also lack a Flight Attendant, a galley, and a bathroom, there is room for little else. I should know, I used to fly one...

FAR requires that aircraft with 20 passenger seats or more have a Flight Attendant. The regs also mandate a solid cockpit door that can be locked. The door used to remain unlocked and in some cases open, dependant on the whim of the Captain. These were the days when kids could come up and visit with the pilots while enroute and curious adult passengers could be treated to a brief lecture on the miracle of modern aviation and make some small talk with the guys up front.

The rash of non-terrorist hijackings in the late 70's by disgruntled office workers, tax protesters, and the like put an end to all that. By FAR, the cockpit door must be closed and locked prior to takeoff and remain so thorough the flight, unless it was opened so a FA could provide food service to the pilots, or if one of the pilots had to leave the cockpit for physiological reasons. However, the security was mostly a ruse. The door remained weak but it was assumed--in some cases correctly--that a nonprofessional hijacker could be convinced that there was no way into the cockpit and therefore kept out.

The door also remained weak as it was thought--also correctly--that pilots or rescue personnel might need to kick the door open to evacuate in an emergency. During an emergency landing deformation of the doorframe could make opening the door by normal means impossible so the pilot would be required to simply force his way out. There are other ways out. The cockpit windows of all modern transport category aircraft can be either pulled out and removed or cranked far enough back to allow a pilot to crawl out. Escape ropes are provided for the pilots to use to shimmy down to the ground and in some cases (Airbus) the ropes are even equipped with inertia reels so the pilots can execute spectacular bungee-jump style rappels where they just grab the end of the rope and leap. (Yes, there have been cases where pilots tried this on aircraft not so equipped by mistake, with spectacularly painful results...) Of course, the main problem with all of this is that it requires your average out of shape and slightly rotund airline Captain like me to stuff himself through a window roughly 2' by 3'. If the flames were rising, I have no doubt that I could accomplish this feat, but throughout the airline world the window exits are regarded as tools of ultimate last resort.

In addition, the cockpit door is not secure because it must allow for a rapid depressurization. Most depressurizations, despite the movies, are not violent events where hapless passengers are sucked out through gaping holes. Yes, there have been spectacular cases, such as the United over Hawaii, but most are more annoying than dangerous. In a depressurization, the pressure in the entire cabin must equalize with the lower atmospheric pressure. Cockpit doors are designed to open completely or have pressure fuses (small doors built into the main door) that will open to allow the pressure to equalize. If the door did not, 12 psi of pressure would quickly cause the bulkhead the door was mounted in to fail.

However, in light of recent events, it is imperative that something be done to increase the security of the flight deck. There are several possible strategies to accomplish this, each with some attendant problems.


It has been widely suggested to just seal the cockpit completely, removing the door and replacing it with a solid bulkhead. This would make hijacker access totally impossible but has a host of problems.

Any pressure relief fuse in the cockpit/cabin bulkhead would render it non-secure so it would have to be designed to withstand the pressure of a decompression. If it did not, than the cabin/cockpit bulkhead would fail, possibly crushing the pilots, severing control cables, or deforming the fuselage to such a degree that it would fail. This would require the instillation of a pressure bulkhead and the division of the aircraft into two separate pressurized compartments. This would require total rebuilding of the aircraft and in many cases would be simply impossible.

Modern transport aircraft have maximum pressure differentials ranging up to 12 psi. The fuselage is designed to support this pressure and to withstand thousands of cycles, which is defined as one takeoff and one landing, without failure. The best possible shape for the fuselage would therefore be a sphere, which is the strongest possible shape. However, there are *problems* with a spherical airliner such as an awful coefficient of drag, a tendency to be highly unstable in crosswind landings and ground maneuvering, and the fact that it would be damn ugly. The cigar shape of an airliner is a good compromise that allows for an aerodynamic shape with a low center of gravity that still has spherical end caps.

With this in mind, it is easy to see the difficulties of installing a pressure bulkhead between the cockpit and the passenger cabin. This bulkhead would require spherical, or at least partially spherical, pressure walls. The sacrifice of precious internal volume would be exacerbated by the massive void space between the opposing spherical end caps. In addition, the fuselage structure is not designed to support these two additional pressure walls and would have to massively strengthened. Even more structural mass would be required as the aircraft must be designed to not fail even with one of the pressure vessels depressurized and the other at maximum differential. This is even more complex than it seems because a pressure vessel expands when pressurized. Having one "blown up" and the other at unpressurized size would generate massive forces on the structure.

This is all quite possible with modern construction techniques, however, the addition of such massive structure would completely destroy the weight distribution of the aircraft, rendering it unable to fly. To rebalance, weight would have to be added to the tail. This would add even more weight to the airframe. This weight would require a stronger wing box (the fuselage/wing root complex that supports the weight of the aircraft inflight) and stronger landing gear which would also add weight. Every extra pound of fuselage and internal structure means one less pound of fuel and revenue cargo that can be carried. It is quite possible that the installation of the pressure bulkhead and the tail ballast to rebalance would completely displace the useful load of the aircraft, making it unable to fly with any passengers at all.

Therefore, walling off the cockpit could require the replacing the entire commercial aviation fleet with new designs. This is simply unacceptable. Transport aircraft have a design and certification cycle of at least five years and the cost would be almost unimaginable. In the United States alone it would require a government subsidy of some 2-3 trillion--yes, with a T--dollars, which is a substantial percentage of the gross domestic product.

Of course, there are other problems with a solid cockpit/cabin bulkhead, such as egress in an emergency, pilot incapacitation, and most importantly, the fact that pilots are people too and need to occasionally use the restroom. These difficulties, while important, however pale in comparison to the necessity to replace the aircraft.


A much more workable solution would be to armor the cockpit door yet still allow pressure relief. Such schemes are already underway. The aim in this case is not to totally deny cockpit access to a terrorist or unbalanced passenger but to delay it.

While it would be possible to break into a cockpit secured with locking bars and/or massive deadbolts, such an effort would generate a great deal of noise and take a while. During this time, the pilots could alert ATC and/or violently maneuver the aircraft to make the terrorist's task more difficult if not impossible. After the events of September 11th, many passengers could also be convinced to rise up and attack those trying to gain access to the cockpit. The pilots would also have time to draw and prepare any weapons they may have.

This is by far the better method to secure a cockpit.

I will not go into great detail on strategies to armor the cockpit door, as it could pose a security risk and I implore commenters and other posters to do likewise.

Thank you.

-- EdFox


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o here
o Federal Aviation Regulation
o United over Hawaii
o widely suggested
o Such schemes are already underway.
o Also by EdFox

Display: Sort:
The Solid Steel Cockpit Door | 60 comments (54 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Correction (3.75 / 4) (#1)
by GreenCrackBaby on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 02:32:08 PM EST

It has been widely suggested to just seal the cockpit completely, removing the door and replacing it with a solid bulkhead. This would make hijacker access totally impossible but has a host of problems.

This would not, in fact, block hijacker access. It would stop passengers from entering the cockpit, but would do nothing to prevent a looney or terrorist who is the pilot from doing the same thing as in the WTC attacks. In fact, what this would do is ensure that the passengers would be helpless sheep, unable to stop (or help) the pilot if needed.

Were they? (3.50 / 2) (#2)
by Smirks on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 02:36:15 PM EST

That is assuming the pilot is the terrorist, though. In the case of the WTC/Pentagon/PA crashes were the pilots the terrorists, or did the terrorists break through the cockpit door and overthrow the real pilots?

[ Music Rules ]
[ Parent ]
Not Released (4.60 / 5) (#3)
by Osiris on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 02:45:59 PM EST

If the investigators know the answer to how the hijackers gained cockpit access, they haven't released this information to my knowledge. A theory I've seen put forth by the media revolves around the practice of letting certified pilots, even those of other airlines, who happen to be on board ride in the "jump seat", basically a spare seat in the cockpit. This was connected to reports of people being arrested with phony pilots documents, or that kind of thing being discovered by investigators. How accurate this is, I don't know, the media has been rumor-mongering like hell for the past few weeks, but it seems at least plausible.

[ Parent ]
Egypt Air (5.00 / 2) (#18)
by kmself on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 11:44:06 PM EST

The Egypt Air Flight 990 incident of November, 1999, involved, if not a primary pilot, a relief or off-duty pilot. Crew-initiated actions cannot be discounted.

Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

InTune (none / 0) (#56)
by Refrag on Mon Oct 08, 2001 at 10:38:01 AM EST

Is InTune going to be down indefinately?


Kuro5hin: ...and culture, from the trenches
[ Parent ]

No (none / 0) (#57)
by Smirks on Mon Oct 08, 2001 at 11:35:38 AM EST

Down due to the WTC attacks. It'll be back up eventually, I have no ETA, though..... Sorry. :(

[ Music Rules ]
[ Parent ]
No problem. (none / 0) (#58)
by Refrag on Mon Oct 08, 2001 at 03:39:59 PM EST

I just hate to see it down. It was gaining steam there for a bit, but these unfortunate setbacks lately have hurt.

Once it does come back up, have you though about adding a small video section to the site?


Kuro5hin: ...and culture, from the trenches
[ Parent ]

-1 - Too much knocking down a strawman (3.42 / 7) (#4)
by DrHow on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 02:47:44 PM EST

I do not believe that the engineering problems of a secure barrier/bulkhead which admits pressure relief are so insurmountable.

For future use... (none / 0) (#21)
by Elendale on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 01:52:38 AM EST

This probably should have been an editorial comment.
If you aren't quite sure what i mean, please read this. Now that i think about it, read it anyway :)


When free speech is outlawed, only criminals will complain.

[ Parent ]
Judgement call (none / 0) (#59)
by DrHow on Fri Oct 12, 2001 at 03:45:11 PM EST

I had read the FAQ. In this regard, it says:
Basically topical comments are about stuff that is in the article, while editorial comments are suggestions and comments about HOW the article is written (or why it is badly written). Use your judgement as to which type of comment it is.
It was my judgement that I was disagreeing with the content in the article and not commenting on the form of its presentation. Am I missing something?

Actually, one thing I know I am missing is where to find the indication of whether the commenter regards the comment as editorial or topical.

[ Parent ]

Side note on decompression. (4.40 / 5) (#5)
by Hillgiant on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 02:50:32 PM EST

If you are interested in violent decompression of commercial airlines, a better example would be Aloha Airlines 243. Fatigue cracks near the rivets holding two sheets of the skin together let go, unzipping 1/3 of the fuselage.

"It is impossible to say what I mean." -johnny

Pressure considerations are irrelevant (4.46 / 13) (#6)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 02:55:53 PM EST

"Any pressure relief fuse in the cockpit/cabin bulkhead would render it non-secure..."

You have about four paragraphs that hinge on this one statement. Which is false. If you have a number of smallish holes it is still secure but pressure is now irrelevant (exact hole size number and placement varies with pressure and area). If you fear terrorists using sleeping gas, remember that a) they still can't pilot the plane once the pilots are knocked unconscious so all they've done is crash it and b) you can over-pressurize the cockpit to keep any gas out.

Put a bathroom in there (on a 747 this could be done by building the wall aft of the existing forward bathroom) and you lose another objection. Make it out of aluminum and lose the front row or two of seating and you remove the weight problem.

Pilot incapacitation is a problem I suppose. But then again, how often does it happen (remember that all flights have at least two pilots)? And when it does, how often does a passenger solve the problem?

The only real issue here is redesign. And with a simplified design as detailed above, I think a retrofit would be easily possible. It certainly wouldn't cost even $1 trillion.

Play 囲碁
I remember... (3.00 / 3) (#10)
by rebelcool on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 04:09:44 PM EST

When I was a little kid (around 5 years old) they let me into the cockpit and look around. The captain told me some of the dozens of buttons were for pacman (I think he was just joking), but it was definately something cool for a youngin :)

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

With the recent concerns about safety (3.25 / 4) (#13)
by Wing Envy on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 05:12:49 PM EST

Both in airplanes and buses (yesterday there was an attack on a greyhound bus-driver in Memphis, Tennesee that at last count killed 6 people- the driver lost control and the bus overturned) I'm sure cabbies around NY and other cities are thinking "Thank god we have bullet proof glass between us and the passengers."

You don't get to steal all the deficiency. I want some to.
Seems odd doesn't it? (4.50 / 2) (#39)
by sonovel on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:28:46 PM EST

It does seem odd that a plane cockpit is pretty much open, yet cabbies are sealed off.

Of course, many, many, more cabbies have been robbed/assaulted/killed than aircraft have been hijacked.


I'm curious about the low (2) rating by raaymoose. He didn't respond so we don't know what problem he has with your post. Too bad. I would like to know why he thinks this is a bad post.

[ Parent ]
The Aerosphere! (2.50 / 4) (#14)
by delmoi on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 05:18:26 PM EST

The best possible shape for the fuselage would therefore be a sphere, which is the strongest possible shape. However, there are *problems* with a spherical airliner such as an awful coefficient of drag, a tendency to be highly unstable in crosswind landings and ground maneuvering, and the fact that it would be damn ugly.

Ugly? What are you talking about? That would kick ass. Modern jumbo jets are ugly anyways.
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
Question (4.88 / 9) (#16)
by Simon Kinahan on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 06:15:39 PM EST

Why does the bulkhead between the passenger cabin and the cockpit have to be airtight ? It would be quite possible to allow the pressure of the two cabins to equalise in the event of a depressurisation, but still make the barrier impenetrable to passengers in the main cabin.


If you disagree, post, don't moderate
Pressure containment (4.00 / 2) (#17)
by sigwinch on Fri Oct 05, 2001 at 06:24:16 PM EST

This (editorial) comment says: It is obvious to me that you know very little about pressure vessels. Keep in mind that 12psi is not an especially high pressure differential in engineering terms.
Approximating the surface to be sealed as a 8 foot by 8 foot square (9 216 square inches) gives a total force of 110 000 pounds. By comparison, the Pratt and Whitney PW4098 engine -- the most powerful commercial engine in use -- produces 98 000 pounds of thrust.

While a tank or pipe for 12 psi is a modest engineering challenge, retrofitting a containment wall into a space less than an inch thick would be a considerable effort, and probably not worth it. You are also overlooking the fact that the cargo hold often extends under the cockpit and is held to the same pressure as the passenger cabin. Therefore the cockpit floor would also have to withstand tremendous forces.

Moreover, any containment retrofit would have to be extremely light. A big part of aeronautics design is shaving away unnecessary material. A pressure wall on the ground is permitted to be made of 1 cm steel, but to coin a phrase, that type of design won't fly.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.

Double Steel Cage (3.00 / 2) (#19)
by kref1 on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 01:40:06 AM EST

Why not install a double steel cage in front of the cockpit door. For some one to enter the cockpit the outer door would have to be closed and the pilot would be able to see if the person in the cage should be let in, if so the inner door would be opened, otherwise the attacker would be trapped in the cage. I would only take up 3 feet, which is just some closet space on any large passanger aircraft.

One-track mind (4.00 / 7) (#20)
by Kasreyn on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 01:46:06 AM EST

As before, I bring up the same issue. People looking at this thing are thinking too single-mindedly, forgetting that the pilots are not robotic plane-flying machines, but real people. The terrorists have shown an ability to "think outside the box" (we certainly weren't expecting them to use commuter planes as flying bombs, now were we?), so we have to learn to think equally creatively to defend against them.

If the hijackers commandeer a stewardesses' walkie-talkie or whatever is used to communicate with the cockpit, then they can still fulfill many of their goals. They can make their demands known, they can make threats, and they can terrorize others into obeying them. Imagine you the pilot hear a male voice coming over the stewardesses' walkie-talkie, informing you that the rest of the plane has been hijacked and unless you do thus-and-such they will begin executing one passenger every minute. What could you do about it? How would you feel, knowing some random innocent middle-aged woman, mother of two and devoted wife let's say, would get her throat slit in the next 60 seconds if you don't obey? Sure, they can't get you, but they can terrorize, they can threaten, they can make demands, and they can be effective in many of the goals of terrorism.

I think all these discussions of armed guards and impenetrable bulkheads are ridiculous. The passengers on the plane are breathing in a controlled atmosphere, oxygen carefully pressurize to keep them from dying rather gruesomely of the "bends". The airplane is in control of the atmosphere. What in the world prevents us from installing sleeping gas or some such into the air circulators, to be released at the push of a button in the (reinforced) cockpit? Knock them all out and sort it out on the ground.

And what could be the counter to this? Boxcutters can be smuggled aboard, but can gas masks? Can anyone see a flaw in this? Because I can't.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
I see a flaw. (none / 0) (#22)
by fury on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:11:31 AM EST

"What in the world prevents us from installing sleeping gas or some such into the air circulators, to be released at the push of a button in the (reinforced) cockpit? Knock them all out and sort it out on the ground.

And what could be the counter to this? Boxcutters can be smuggled aboard, but can gas masks? Can anyone see a flaw in this? Because I can't."

Hand grenades, or bombs with grip detonators.

Sure, it's easy to reply: "We can be certain that those aren't on board." but try telling that to a pilot who has just been told that there's a bomb from a hijacker he can't see, and confirmed by a trusted flight attendant being coerced by a knife at her throat and her dead friend at her feet.

I think pilots need to be given psychological training far more than they need to be given arms, be they guns or knockout gas.

Kevin Fox - fury.com
[ Parent ]

Ok, I a fewflaws, but not insurmountable ones... (none / 0) (#23)
by Kasreyn on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:11:37 AM EST

#1, if they break one of the windows in the passenger cabin, they might be able to get enough fresh air to avoid being knocked out, plus this might dissipate the gas until the plane was out of gas and then they'd have free action. I'm uncertain of the physics of whether this could be done without drastic depressurization of the cabin, and whether they could smuggle anything onboard, or use anything alrady there, that is strong enough to smash out a window. Of course, the emergency exit doors under a couple of the windows might do... And drastic depressurization could result in a crash, which they might WANT. Remember, we're dealing with an enemy whose plans, even if they "fail", can still succeed. In tricky dealings with metal cylinders falling horizontally through the air at 30,000 feet, almost any drastic change in affairs can be bad. We need to prevent our own security measures being turned into methods of crashing the plane, because we need to remember their goal might be nothing more than crashing the plane, anywhere, anytime.

#2, perhaps they can hold their breath long enough to do something nasty. Hopefully not. Maybe the gas could be mixed with some derivative of pepper spray, the idea being the stinging would make you gasp...? Or perhaps a skin-contact agent rather than an inhaled chemical? I'm just throwing out ideas here.

#3, this is all for naught if the pilots are exposed to the gas as well! The cockpit would have to be airtight and sealed off from the cabin. This would help, but what if the hijackers came prepared with some way to compromise that seal? Perhaps they could hold their breath long enough to find a way to introduce the gas into the cockpit, in which case, we all crash and we all die - perhaps their goal in the first place!

#4, they might find a way to use the plane's ordinary oxygen masks. This would seem the least likely of the possibilities to me. The cords to those masks are of limited length, and the housing they are in could perhaps be designed to be secure against tampering or intrusion. Either way, the sleeping gas could easily be rigged to also dispense via the oxygen masks, so this is unimportant.

So, there are 4 possible flaws. Anyone else have any ideas, or any additional outside-the-box thinking to add?


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Before or after 9-11? (5.00 / 1) (#25)
by John Miles on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:53:59 AM EST

How would you feel, knowing some random innocent middle-aged woman, mother of two and devoted wife let's say, would get her throat slit in the next 60 seconds if you don't obey? Before 9-11: "OK, you're the boss. Tell me where you'd like to land. There's no need to harm your hostage; everything's going to be fine and we're going to get you what you want."

After 9-11: "Go for it, dude, but try not to get too much of her blood on the seat cushion. It's hard to wash out, and I'm responsible for all damage to the aircraft."

No pilot in his/her right mind would allow hijackers access to the flight deck after the events of the 11th, regardless of how many passengers the hijackers threaten or kill. No. Fucking. Way. It's that simple.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Perfectly logical... (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by Kasreyn on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 03:32:25 AM EST

But you forget, few people are ever in their right mind. And humans are subject to emotion, such as pity, fear, and shame. (Pity for the sobbing middle-aged woman, fear of the terrorist claiming he has a bomb anyway, shame at the thought of being lambasted in the newspapers as "Pilot Lets Passengers Be Slain")

Normal people don't balance things this coldly and rationally. As another respondant mentioned, psychological training for pilots would definitely be in order. I agree with you, that it's most rational, most logical, to let them do as they please and pray the reinforced doors (or doorless bulkhead) will hold, notify the ground and try to land where the cops can storm onto the plane (and pray the badguys don't pull a D. B. Cooper on the way there). After all, there might be other attempts by this group or copycat attempts. And it's a balance of a couple hundred lives at most against thousands at worst.

But your average flying bus driver is, at the moment, not able to reliably make that sort of decision. Regardless of the saving of human lives, it takes mental toughness to listen to people screaming and dying and remain unmoved. I think additional measures are needed.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Passing the buck. (3.00 / 1) (#31)
by squigly on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 09:20:26 AM EST

Perhaps, but ATC are in a much more suitable position for responding calmly, and the pilot would probably be quite willing to listen to anyone who prevented him from having to make such a decision. It probably wouldn't take long to find an expert to tell the pilot exactly what to do.

[ Parent ]
"flying bus driver" (5.00 / 2) (#37)
by sonovel on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:12:22 PM EST

Many of the "flying bus drivers" are former military jocks. I suspect they might be a little tough to intimidate this way.

Heck, this statement is even insulting to bus drivers. Look at the recent attack on one. Even after _he had his throat cut_ and the bus crashed, he went off for help.

Sorry, but the idea that it is easy to coerce someone into crashing a plane is beyond stupid.

It is like saying "If you don't kill yourself and all the people on board, I might kill them!".

Would _you_ crash your plane in that situation?

Do you really think pilots are that irrational? If so, do you _ever_ fly?

If I distrusted people as much as you seem to, I would never fly.

We already trust the pilot with hundreds of lives at a time. I think we can trust them not to take an order to commit mass murder and suicide.


I'm just curious, where do you see yourself on the political spectrum? I suspect I know but would love confirmation.

[ Parent ]
You make little sense. (none / 0) (#48)
by Kasreyn on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 11:06:26 PM EST

Even terrorists aren't mad enough to say "Ok, I have a little request for you, mr. pilot man. Crash this plane!" At least, not mad enough to expect that to work.

There are other demands that they could make that would be effective. Such as, "radio thus and such message to the ground in its entirety" and then provide a list of demands. Not EVERY attack from here on in is going to be a crash attempt, you doof! Ordinary hijacks like we've long been used to will still occur, with hijackers demanding freedom for imprisoned friends etc. It's just that we can no longer assume they will be such, we must treat them all as worst case WTC-style attempts.

Or say the terrorists DO have a bomb, but are over farmland. They order the pilot to fly to a certain airport, knowing they will pass over a certain city on the way. The explode the bomb when they see they're over the city. Their manipulation of the pilot, who thinks everything is OK, has succeeded. They might accomplish this manipulation if they can terrorize or otherwise manipulate the pilot, perhaps by threatening to slit the middle aged woman's throat as before.

I'm not stupid enough, as you seem to think, to imagine the terrorists will ever or DID ever order the pilots to crash the plane. They crashed into the WTC themselves, after the pilots yielded control. And it's likely no pilot will yield control to a terrorist again. Likely, NOT CERTAIN! I don't care how you disagree, in a panicked, terrifying situation, with murders real and threatened occuring and the very real fear of death, people break. And not even ex- "military jocks" are immune. And a pilot breaking may very well yield control of the plane to the hijacker.

As to the political spectrum, I don't see how you could imagine you can guess my politics from my above post, since this is an apolitical issue. FYI, I'm fairly leftist and heavily libertarian/anti-authoritarian.


P.S. the line about "flying bus driver" was not intended to mock or attack commercial pilots, but to point out that they're selected for a SKILL, not for toughness of mind or combat ability. I personally respect and EXPECT great skill in a flying or ground bus driver, since they take my life in their hands!

"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Funny (none / 0) (#53)
by sonovel on Sun Oct 07, 2001 at 02:23:16 AM EST

I make little sense?

That's a pretty funny statement from someone who believes in a mythical "sleeping gas" as an answer to terrorism. Just one of a least two factual innacuracies in your plan with which you see 'few flaws'.

It is also pretty funny from someone who claims not to be insulting pilots by calling them "flying bus drivers". What connotation did you expect someone to get from that comment?



One the political philosphy thing, I had you pegged as being on the left.

I have noticed many on the left _claim_ to trust and believe in people.

But when it comes right down to it, they trust the government far more than individual people.

They often also claim to "love humanity" but really don't like people.

I don't know if you fit into this catagory, but from your writing I suspected you did.

Of course this doesn't match with your claim of being a libertarian so make of this what you will.

[ Parent ]
That's why... (5.00 / 1) (#40)
by physicsgod on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:34:23 PM EST

There's talk of total seperation between the flight deck and the rest of the plane. If that were the case there would be no way for the pilot to allow the terrorist onto the flight deck, no matter how much he wanted to. The pilot would have to say "look, I can't let you in, no matter how many people you kill, there's a solid wall here. What can I do to keep you from killing people?" At which point the hijackers can still get to Cuba, or make a policial statement, but they aren't going to crash the plane into anything.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
I can see lawyers making money on this (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by wortelslaai3434 on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 03:09:14 AM EST

And what if some old lady with a weak heart never wakes up after this sleeping gas experience? Is this collateral damage?

[ Parent ]
sleeping gas/terrorizing pilots (none / 0) (#36)
by sonovel on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 01:54:55 PM EST

There is no such thing as sleeping gas. So any antiterrorist plan based on it is fantasy.

Unmonitored administration of anesthetics strong enough to knock out everyone on a plane will kill some people.

When someone goes under general anesthetic for surgery there is commonly a full time specialist monitoring the process. Even with this there is a fairly substantial chance of death.

Common anaesthetics are, IIRC, very flammable. Releasing flammable gas on a plane gives anyone with a lighter the ability to blow up the plane. Not smart.

Oh, the pilots also breath the same air. I prefer my pilots conscious when they fly my plane.

So yes, it is pretty easy to see a flaw in this idea.

I also don't agree that a terrorist could get all his demands met by killing passengers or stewards and stewardesses.

What pilot could be coerced this way into deliberately crashing his plane?

The demand "crash this plane into that building or I'll kill people" is ridiculous and innefective. The recent attacks would never have worked without terrorists being in direct physical control of the plane's controls.

[ Parent ]
security rant (4.85 / 7) (#24)
by davepease on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:18:35 AM EST

It is important to understand what the crew of the aircraft has to deal with as far as the terrorists go. Let's take any of the September 11th hijack crews as an example: 3-6 very lightly armed individuals (boxcutter knives aren't very good weapons if the target is at all coherent and defending themselves; I'd take a Samsonite briefcase anytime) and a box that they say is a bomb. This is versus 3 pilots with a crash axe and a locked (if flimsy) cabin door.

I'm not sure there need to be any changes to any policies or procedures at all except for the severity of the hijackees' reactions. Can a crew with an axe hold off four guys with ultra-short-bladed knives? I don't see why not. Maybe throw in some Tasers to really level the playing field.

The important thing is that the pilots cannot surrender control of the plane for any reason.

Terrorist: "we have the cabin under control. We will begin killing people at random until you put down your weapons and let us in."

Pilot: "Killing anyone will increase the chances that you are capitally punished once we get to the nearest airport."

Terrorist: "we have a bomb. Let us in or we'll blow up the plane."

Pilot: "You might as well set that bomb off because there's no $#%(*&ing way you're getting in here."

The fact is, some really-deep-cover wackos could, given enough time and patience, probably get a flight crew into service with an airline. What happens when the armored door is locked for the last time as the crazy bastards in the cockpit fly the plane into a 60000 seat stadium filled to capacity?

Building stronger walls and such isn't the point. The point is, you've got around 100 or more passengers on each flight, many of them able-bodied men. Getting these people the information they need to make informed decisions will nullify any hostage situation much more effectively than sealing off the cockpit or controlling planes from a central location. Wire the passenger cabin as well as the cockpit to transmit and recieve audio from the control tower, and keep people informed. Cheap, and if we can condition ourselves to do the right thing for others in an extreme situation, effective as well.

To answer your question (3.00 / 1) (#41)
by physicsgod on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:39:28 PM EST

What happens when the armored door is locked for the last time as the crazy bastards in the cockpit fly the plane into a 60000 seat stadium filled to capacity?
As soon as the plane leaves its flight plan heading toward a stadium (or anything else) the ATC and F-16s are going to get interested, if the path takes the plane toward something big and populated it's going to be shot down.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Sure... (none / 0) (#49)
by asiufy on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 11:32:26 PM EST

Yes, shoot the plane down... And guess where it's going to end up, burning in flames.... Most probably somewhere in the city...

[ Parent ]
Yes, but. (none / 0) (#54)
by physicsgod on Sun Oct 07, 2001 at 04:00:41 AM EST

The casualties from shooting a plane down over a populated area(270 over Lockerbie) are going to be much less than that plane crashing into a large building(5000+ in WTC).

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Here's one solution (3.25 / 4) (#28)
by Tau on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 07:38:29 AM EST

How's about this. Every cockpit has a panic button of sorts. Hit this, and an armoured box embedded into the fuselage will boot up, commandeer all flight controls (it's all fly-by-wire these days right?) then start broadcasting an SOS message like crazy and attempt to land at the nearest airport. Even given some nasty weather I doubt there's anything computationally unfeasible about landing an aircraft, particularly given a totally cleared airspace as a result of the distress beacon.

Basically the idea is that after that button is hit there should be no way at all for any human being to regain control of the plane (or even external computer system for that matter). A hijacker could kill everyone in the plane for all the system would care, it would still land the aircraft and thus make it for all intents and purposes impossible to turn the aircraft into a flying battering ram. Given a good implementation, it'll make it ludicrously difficult to get control of the plane again (like, patch your own flight computer into the control circuits difficult). Widely publicize this fact and you'll have a lot of terrorists scratching their beards on how to get round this one ;)

Of course there could be some serious problems if, as others have suggested, the cabin crew all happen to be terrorists but in such a scenario there really is very little one can do, especially if there's also terrorist engineers about however you have to wonder if there's easier ways of getting the job done if they're going to go to such extremes. (That and the panic system could be remote-triggered or something but that's probably going to be very hard to implement securely)

Amazingly little is fly by wire these days (4.00 / 1) (#33)
by garbanzo on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 01:13:39 PM EST

I believe Airbus is the only truly fly-by-wire aircraft in commercial aviation today. I could be wrong about some of the more recent Boeing aircraft, someone correct me if I am.

To be clear: fly-by-wire means that controls in the cockpit (yoke, joystick, rudder pedals, whatever) are connected only by electronic controls to the actual mechanics that move the control surfaces. Most, if not all, commercial aircraft have computerized systems that can drive the aircraft, but that is not the same thing. Not everyone in aviation (where new technology is not always embraced with open arms, because Shit Happens) is a fan of fly-by-wire. A lot of the digital controls that modern aircraft do have (e.g. digital engine controls) can fail into a manual mode. So if your digital engine control fails, your throttles connect by cable to the fuel supply. Even though many flight control surfaces are hydraulically assisted in larger aircraft, they are mechanically controlled--a truly analog system. Although it is difficult with larger aircraft to move flight control surfaces by brute strength alone, I suppose having some physical connection to the cables, cams, and pushrods would be some comfort if Shit Happens (loss of electrical and/or hydraulics, for example). Certainly, in smaller aircraft, you could at least move ailerons and rudder by brute strength and that could mean the difference between "crash" and "land."

Fly by wire is much more popular in aircraft where human hands and feet on the controls are not fast or steady enough--high performance military fighters come to mind.

Retrofitting aircraft to be fly by wire would be pretty expensive. Many aircraft with lots of service left on them would be probably be written off. There are a lot of old airplanes still in the fleet right now--I see B727s in the sky over the airport all the time, although I think they are mostly flying domestic commuter routes and freight.

Implementing the magic button would be the end of a lot of airplanes and pretty expensive--the airplane has to be capable of landing itself and most aircraft are only capable of taking the pilot to the threshold, so to speak. Converting the fleet and the runway systems to be Category 3-capable (able to land without pilot assistance) is what we are talking about. This would be a lot more expensive, and possibly less reliable in the end, than proper airport security.

sure, it's all fun and games--until someone puts an eye out

[ Parent ]
Re: Here's one solution (none / 0) (#50)
by mrwalrus on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 11:45:02 PM EST

>Every cockpit has a panic button of sorts. Hit this, and an armoured box
>embedded into the fuselage will boot up...

it may be possible to prevent the pilot from reaching button. it would be
better designed as a 'deadman switch'. if a code is failed to be entered
every NN minutes, it just takes over.

once taken over, it cannot be taken back by just the crew alone, but
must have a *second* code as well from air traffic control or something.
ie: cannot force/threaten pilot to enter code easily without involving

[ Parent ]
Cryptogram newsletter (4.00 / 2) (#29)
by pointwood on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 08:30:36 AM EST

Bruce Schneier (Founder and CTO of Counterpane Internet Security, Inc.) is the creator of a monthly newsletter about security and he has created a special issue about the terrorist attacks.

He has some (IMHO) insightful comments about airline security.

You can find the newsletter here: Cryptogram newsletter.

Pointwood - Folding for the Cause!

Some planes let kids into the cockpit.... (4.00 / 4) (#30)
by WhizzKidd on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 09:04:04 AM EST

I remember when I was about 9 or 10 (which would make the year something like 91/92) and a flight attendant offered my sister and I a view of the cockpit. We only got to view it for a few minutes, I think the pilot was dealing with some turbulance or something (and probably a hangover from the Guinness, it was Aer Lingus =) ). Then again, this was an Irish plane and I think we were in international airspace at the time ('twas my first transatlantic flight I think) so I dont think FAR apply.

BTW, great couple of articles. They make for very interesting reading. As for asking people to not go into detail about strategies to armour cockpit doors, well, I think anyone who sits down and plans a hijacking can probably come up with all the same ideas and then some as we can talking out of our arses here. Just a thought...

It all makes sense. Ish.

Re: Some planes let kids into the cockpit.... (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by ry2me on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:19:28 PM EST

I remember when I was on my way out of a plane I took when I was about 10 (early ninteies as well), and the pilot asked if my brother and I would like to see what flying a plane was all about. We were the last passengers off the plane then, and apparently he didn't have anything better to do for a few minutes. I have to say that I was struck by how complicated it seemed. I have been interested in airplane aerodynamics and the electronics involved more or less since then, and I can't help but wonder if my interest was inspired by that little visit.

Not to sound like a doom & gloomer, but I think its such a shame that we must bar so many people from our airplane's cockpits and the people who run them when only 10 years or so ago, the pilots were letting little kids in to check out the equipment.

I don't know if there is a solution to the airplane security dillema, nor do I know what to do about terrorism. But I would really like it if everyone took a step back and looked at where we're going. Will the day ever come when we're flying as straitjacket-ed passengers in shackles? Obviously a bit extreme, but what will happen next?

[ Parent ]
The best solution ever. (2.25 / 8) (#32)
by Desterado on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 12:55:15 PM EST

Dont fly in a fucking plane. If you dont fly in an airplane, you cant crash as a passenger. Take the boat. Then again, Busses are slow as hell, so I dont know.

You've got the flag, I've got your back.
Yeah, (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by kwsNI on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 01:17:48 PM EST

Tell that to the people in the WTC.

I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it. -Jack Handy
[ Parent ]
Pfft (4.50 / 2) (#44)
by DJBongHit on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 04:00:53 PM EST

Dont fly in a fucking plane. If you dont fly in an airplane, you cant crash as a passenger. Take the boat. Then again, Busses are slow as hell, so I dont know.

Bah. It was that reasoning that landed me on a Greyhound bus Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. And if you weren't paying attention, some dumbfuck attacked a driver, slit his throat, and the bus crashed, killing 6 people and injuring 30-some others. I wasn't on that bus, but regardless Greyhound stopped all service and I was stranded in Bumfuck, TN for 6 hours, after being on a bus that smelled like a septic tank for 10 hours before that.

There's simply no safe way to travel. The farther (and faster) you want to go, the more dangerous it becomes. But fuck it, I'm not going to live my life in fear. If I die, so be it.


GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

[ Parent ]
decompression (4.00 / 3) (#35)
by Signal 11 on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 01:41:43 PM EST

If all that is necessary is that the pressures on each side of the bulkhead be equal, why not have a way to vent to the atmosphere on both sides, and some electronics to control the valves on each side to keep them within tolerances?

I mean, is it really absolutely necessary to use such sophisticated measures when something simple will do?

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Not even that complicated. (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by physicsgod on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 02:43:37 PM EST

Just put a hole(s) shaped like a drain trap (the bendy thing under sinks) through the wall. Air travels freely, bullets do not.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Everyone is fixated on "safety on airplanes&q (4.85 / 7) (#43)
by vanbo on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 03:09:48 PM EST

Here is a quick thought that no one seems to have stated

"What happened on Sept. 11 of using a plane as a flying bomb, will never again happen regardless of any changes we do or do NOT make..."

Think about what happened plane with over 60+ people were over taken by a few with only very small knives. It's pretty easy to see how this happened, you make all 60+ people completely defenseless by disarming any weapons they could have had to defend themselves and then blame the hijacking on the terrorists or "lack of security"

If you were on the ground and 3 guys were attacking some person and there was 60 people around them, I think the 3 guys would be taken care of pretty quick.

What if the passengers had knives? Sure maybe someone could get on the plane with one and the intent to take it over, but if the plane also had that guy over numbered by 30:1 I don't think he will be successful. Even if the passengers are still not allowed to carry weapons at this point they are going to try to retake the plane! No hijacker is going to try this again unless they can be sure that they can instantly disable the whole aircraft.

They are done with planes as bombs. Any good general knows you don't use the same attack plane twice, and since we taught these "terrorists" with our military I feel pretty confident in knowing they have already started working on the next attack.

The point is you are giving up your rights to the terrorists. You are letting your politicians give away your rights for the guise of security. If you really think that any of these laws they are writing are going to make you safe you are just nieve.

You can throw all the money you want at the problem and it won't be fixed. If you did fix "airtravel" then they will find some other way to attack us. Giving up your rights won't stop someone who doesn't care about US laws.

The french built a huge and impressive defense that should have stop any German advances, but in the end German took over a weaker nation and went around it. Same deal here, spend as much as you want on securing X and the attackers will just find another way to attack you. In the mean time you have spent tons of money and given up your freedoms for no real benifits.

Ben Franklin said it best:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Terrorism is about forcing one to change the way they live by instilling fear. Sounds like they did a good job. I am sickened by how much this country fears death.

I also don't think of what the terrorists did as "cowardly" They have just attacked the greatest military power on earth. Muggers are cowards. They want to scare you into you giving them the money. I have been mugged twice. The first time was a single guy and after I kicked the crap out of him, he ran away. The second time I was out numbered 3:1. After I kicked the crap out of the first guy the other to ran. Why? They had me out numbered? The reason is they were cowards, and not prepared to fight. These "terrorists" are prepared to fight to their own death for what they value. Kind of sounds like some of the people that started this nation. Remember one country's terrorist is another's "freedom fighter".

We are no longer the land of the free, but the land of the "please don't kill me, I'll give you all my rights"

By the way I have written all my representatives TWICE telling them what I think about them "making me safe" I encourage you to write yours and tell them that the way to make America safe is to stop picking fights with others. If we are the land of the free, why are we pushing our beliefs on others? Why are we supporting Isreal when they are commiting such acts of violence? Some say we have the right to be the "world police" but I ask do we have the right to write the "world's laws" as well?

</end rant> (And hopefully some of it made sense...)

Thank you (none / 0) (#60)
by QuantumG on Sat Oct 20, 2001 at 06:20:44 PM EST

An intelligent response at last.

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
[ Parent ]
Remove the pilots completely? (4.50 / 2) (#45)
by Brett Viren on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 04:39:54 PM EST

Serious question. Would be technically possible today to have a fully automated airliner? What about one controlled from the ground?

Short answer: Yes (none / 0) (#47)
by marimba on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 08:21:34 PM EST

It is possible to have a fully automated airliner operating to and from airfields that are cleared for full instrument landings, and it's pretty trivial to control them from the ground, given current technology. There are, however, two problems that occur to me immediately. One, what if something goes wrong? Several planes in the past have had mechanical failures that required manual intervention to correct or mitigate. A controller (or computer) on the ground would probably not have adequate 'feel' of the aircraft to safely correct the problem. Two, what about hacking? If a plane can be controlled from the ground, it can be hijacked from the ground.

[ Parent ]
A few ideas. (3.00 / 1) (#46)
by kitten on Sat Oct 06, 2001 at 08:06:08 PM EST

A few days ago, I asked my father (has been a pilot with Delta for the past 20 years, and is now an internationally operating Captain) why cockpit doors are so flimsy. He gave the same answer you did: They're designed so that they can be kicked out if necessary. In fact, they're designed to collapse under a kick.

So, I thought about it, and I still don't see why they don't make cockpit doors more like the doors on a bank vault. The lock to this door could be an electric solenoid that remains secure as long as power flows to it. In the event of electrical loss of power to the solenoid, the lock is released.
In the event of an emergency such as depressurization, the power to the solenoid could be cut automatically (or vents on the door could open, allowing the pressure to equalize). The lock could also be killed by means of the pilot hitting a switch that disconnects the solenoid. Failing that, he could rip the fuse or circuit breaker out of the panel, breaking the circuit's continuity, and allowing the lock to disengage.

This would prevent a terrorist from just waltzing into the cockpit, and I can't see any "safety" issues with a lock that requires electrical power to be engaged. But unfortunately, it does nothing to prevent a hijacker from taking hostages and using the intercom to make his demands to the pilot: "We will begin executing one passenger a minute until you open that door."

Does anyone recall the Star Trek episode "Space Seed", where we are introduced to Khan? In this episode, we find out that the Enterprise is equipped with devices that, upon command, release some type of knockout gas into the atmosphere, rendering everybody unconcious.
I don't see why there couldn't be a similar system on board aircraft. If a hijacker starts making demands to get into the (newly secured) cockpit by threatening to kill passengers, the pilot smacks a button that floods the passenger compartment with some sort of gas (I have no idea what the technical names for knockout gases are).

I don't see any way a terrorist or hijacker (not all hijackers are terrorists, remember) could get a gas mask on board an aircraft.

On the other hand, they might find a way to circumvent even this system. What about arming the pilots? No, I'm not talking about guns per se, but how about Tasers? Stun guns? Guns that fire rubber bullets?

So - the hijacker has no access to the cockpit, can't really take hostages, and if all else fails, faces an angry crew of airline pilots armed to the teeth.

mirrorshades radio - darkwave, synthpop, industrial, futurepop.
a couple of problems (none / 0) (#55)
by el_guapo on Mon Oct 08, 2001 at 10:21:42 AM EST

OK (not being snotty here), first the knockout gas: what happens when this system deploys accidentally? Also, an amount that would incapacitate an adult male would likely kill a woman or child. Also, I believe "gas masks", per se - aren't actually gas masks. I don't believe a mechanical filter (like what everyone thinks as gas masks) would help the hijacker if there WAS a way to get this installed. As for the solenoid operated lock - again, it could fail either open or closed. (sorry, the nuke engineer in me keeps making me design things such that even if they break, things aren't bad) A simple, internally operated dead bolt would be fine IMO. If you ask me, do the following simple steps and you take care of %99.9 of conceivable hijacks: 1)put a real door on the cockpit, make pressure relief valves that are also gun slits 2)give the pilots pistols. Done.
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
Secured cockpit (4.66 / 3) (#51)
by I Robot on Sun Oct 07, 2001 at 01:48:52 AM EST

I have spent too many years as a machinist to buy into some of the "it can't be done" claims in this thread. It is a simple matter to engineer a mechanical pressure latch that would allow the plane pressure to remain stable within a very narrow range, no matter which side of the bulkhead the pressure was on. Moreover, as was previously mentioned, the pilots get the same air as everyone else. I think the pressurization matter can be solved well away from prying fingers.

Lock that bulkhead.

Allow the pilots to inject CO2 into the passenger cabin whilst dropping down oxygen masks. Terrorists can't breathe CO2 either and it isn't flammable. They would either have to put a mask on or take a nap. Combine the CO2 with a steep dive (keeping them away from the masks for a minute or two) and I think their big adventure is over. Terrorism is a tough job with only one lungfull of air to work with.

20/20 was right. More needs to be done regarding background employment checks and security training.The guys doing the screening don't know what they are looking for.The service personell aren't adequately scrutinized and existing security policies regarding badges and secured area access aren't being enforced very well. Possibly we need to look into paying a little more in wages to get people with a few more brain cells ... I dunno. A fresh ticket tax of a couple bucks per trip to pay for additional security seems reasonable. It can't be any worse than having to pay a hotel tax coming back into my home town (Detroit) of $24.

There really isn't much you can do about a renegade pilot. Or dentist. Or doctor. You just have to trust that they have family too and that they want to see them again as badly as you want to see your own family again. Only once, that I know of, has that been a losing bet in an airliner.

I used to work for the railroad and think pilots are probably a lot like railroad conductors ... they are family men who do a dangerous job extremely well. All they want is their paycheck and a chance to spend it.

"Knock-out Gas" and You - Fun Facts! (4.50 / 2) (#52)
by MightyTribble on Sun Oct 07, 2001 at 02:22:21 AM EST

There's been a lot of talk about equipping planes with sleeping gas. Guess folks have been watching too much Star Trek (TOS ep. 'Space Seed' - the one with Kahn in).

Dream on, folks. Sleeping gas don't work like that. ;-)

[Background : my SO is a doctor. So are many of my friends. We've talked about this. They laughed. A lot.]

Anesthetics work by depressing your central nervous system. If you take too much, your nervous system gets too depressed and shuts down. Then you die.

In any uncontrolled environment (say, an airline cabin with 100 passengers of different ages, weights and physiologies) for any given dosage of anesthetic administered (be it thru the vents, in the food, sprayed on the peanuts, whatever) some people will be unaffected. Some people will get drowsy. Some people will be knocked out. And some people will die. There is NO anesthetic that will knock you out but won't let you die if it keeps being administered. Drugs just don't work like that. That's why, in the medical world, you get the personal attention of an anesthesiologist to put you under, keep you under, and bring you out.

So I'm afraid knockout gas isn't the solution. Depresssurising the passenger compartment would be preferable, but that still runs the risk of killing passengers (those with heart conditions, for example).

The Solid Steel Cockpit Door | 60 comments (54 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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