Tag Archives: MH370


If it was a rocket fairing, why didn’t it burn up on re-entry?

H2As soon as my last article was put online, someone asked me, “If it’s space debris, surely it would have burnt up upon re-entry. I mean it’s a payload fairing right?”

People’s perception of atmospheric re-entry involves a lot of heat, such as this rendition of an Apollo capsule enduring a hot re-entry. (Source: NASA)

Yes, it’s a payload fairing, and it’s designed to protect the payload (satellites, etc) on their way up through the atmosphere. Now we’ve know all about heat upon re-entry, so why didn’t it burn up? The simpe answer is:


Orbital vehicles travel at enormous speeds. They do this in order to stay in orbit and use their momentum to not be pulled back down to earth by gravity. The International Space Station is at a low earth orbit of 400 kilometers (above earth surface) and travelling at about 7.66 kilometers per second (or 27,700 kilometers/hour). At geostationary orbits (at 35,786 kilometers above earth surface), satellites travel at around  3.1 km/s. The H2 rocket payload fairings come off at about 201 kilometers above the earth’s surface, just after it escapes the atmosphere. Orbital speed at around 200 kilometers is just under 7.8 km/s.

The usual H2 rocket trajecotry and stages. (Source: JAXA)

The rocket’s speed at 201km is very much less than the orbital speed, when the payload fairings come off. Why do the payload fairings come off so early? You don’t want to carry any weight you don’t need! Orbital launchers are expensive business. The payload fairings’ sole purpose is to protect the payload from the atmosphere. Once you’re out of the atmosphere, you don’t need the fairing anymore and, poof, bye-bye fairing.

The fairing is ejected at very low orbital speed, and the fairing would simply fall back to earth. Given it’s very low speed, it won’t have the super hot plasma-inducing friction heat like we see on common orbital re-entry. The fairings themselves would simply create drag by it’s own shape keeping its speed slow as they come down. There would still be damage from sonic shockwaves (speed of sound is very slow up there), and eventually aerodynamic stress joins the fray and break the fairing into several pieces.

Given the H2 rocket launch trajectory above, the location of the fairing ejection would stiill be very close to Japan. From there, it’s a matter of where it landed precisely and what were the predominant oceanic currents head.

There seems to be quite a bit of payload fairings found from various rockets over the years. A lot of the Arianne rocket payload fairings have been found drifting in the Atlantic, or even landing in the jungle.

Here’s one example:

Payload fairing of the Arianne Alphasat launch found in the Brazilian jungle. (Source: AFP/BBC)

There has a lot of these being reported over the years. If you’re interested to find out more on these, I strongly suggest you read Paul D. Maley’s Space Debris page (click to go there). I was amazed at how much have come down and reported from these launches over the years. I’m glad someone kept track of some if not all of them.


OK, it’s not MH370, or part of a ship but maybe the H-IIA or H-IIB rocket instead

I wrote earlier about the piece of debris found off Thailand that was suspected to being a part of MH370 and how I think of it’s unlikelihood. I also wrote that I’d love to be wrong about it, and I am extremely happy to say that I’m wrong. It doesn’t seem to be a part of a ship’s superstructure as I mentioned in that article.

As I went to bed last night, others were tweeting away about other alternatives. If MH370 is like the past haunting me, this episode is no exception.

Jon Ostrower of WSJ tweeted:

Now, several years ago at one of my previous employer, we were looking to launch a satellite (the project has been cancelled since though). We entered into discussions with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and was offered to launch our satellite using the H-IIA/B which I will refer to as H2A and H2B instead) family rocket. That, like Inmarsat, was in my past, but MH370 seems to keep haunting me with my past, but that’s a story for another time.

While Jon pointed out the debris is from the H-IIA (H2A) rocket, I would like to point out a key dissimilarity.

The H2A shown by Jon has a straight cylindrical fairing:

Cylindrical payload fairing typical that of the H2A rocket

The debris found on the coast, is not a straight cylinder:

Debris found on the Thai coast

You can immediately see that the radius of the curved rim on top is NOT the same as the one at the bottom. The radius on the top is larger than the one at the bottom!

But WAIT! Before you dismiss this as “not from the H2A rocket”, I want you to have a look at the H2A and H2B rocket family, to see what variants are available:

H-II, H-IIA, H-IIB family rockets. (Source: Ofuku)

As we can see, there are some fairings available that can be larger than the neck of the rocket, and that is not limited to the H2B. The H2A variant shown above is the H2A202. Have a look at the H2A204 below:

The various versions of H2A rocket on offer to the market. (Source: Ofuku)

The H2A204 is a 2-stage  rocket that weighs 445 tons, and is able to carry a 6 ton payload to the Geostationary Transfer Orbit and is offered with the flush 4/4D-LC payload fairing, or the 5S payload fairing. The H2B is a 2-stage rocket that weighs 531 tons, and is able to carry an 8 ton payload to the Geostationary Transfer Orbit and usually uses a 5S-H fairing which is longer than the 5S.

Both the H2A and the H2B can carry the wide payload fairing, which is made by Kawasaki:

Available payload fairings for the H2A and H2B made by Kawasaki. (Source: Kawasaki)

So, it seems that it’s one of the 5S fairings from either an H2A204 or H2B.

Some of those who read my previous article would probably now like to ask some questions:

1 – What about the wires seen on the debris?


Well, we can see here:

5S-H fairing prior to final assembly. (Source: JAXA)

You can see the cable there at the bottom, and see that there are not that many pieces of wiring on the fairing.

2 – What about protrusions you mentioned?


These protrusions can be found on the latches used on the H2 5S series fairings. Zoom on the photo below to see:

Fully assembled S5-H fairing prior to mating with the rest of the rocket. (Source: JAXA)

3 – What the panels numbered 307 and 308 each with the 6 bolts, and the other numbers?

Panels 307 and 308 and other station numbers, along with the big protrusions

We can see that panels 307 and 308 are located quite close to a doubler with fasteners. We can see a similar arrangement of the panels, writings and protrusions here below:

The completed S5-H fairing mated with the rocket. (Source: JAXA)

The photo from the debris found above is likely to come from the other side of the circle from the photo above. See the photo of the fairing prior to the assembly, and the arrangement of the 2 round panels along with the fairing edge and protrusions.

How I see this is that it is pretty conclusive that the debris found is not from MH370, although we can’t say which rocket it came from, that’s for the Japanese to decide.

Now, I guess some of you will be asking, “Hang on, the Japanese don’t launch rockets often!” Well, Mitsubishi has been actively marketing the H2 family rocket since 2012, trying to capitalize on some of the failed launches of the Russian Proton launchers. They’ve grabbed one pure commercial launche since then in addition to the Japanese’s own and international space programs. Here’s a list of H2A launches since March 2014:

  • F24 – H2A202: 24 May 2014, multiple small Japanese satellites
  • F25 – H2A202: 07 Oct 2014, Himawari 8 weather satellite
  • F26 – H2A202: 03 Dec 2014, multiple small Japanese satellites
  • F27 – H2A202: 01 Feb 2015, intelligence payload
  • F28 – H2A202: 26 Mar 2015, intelligence payload
  • F29 – H2A204: 24 Nov 2015, Telstar 12 Vantage (Telesat)

For H2B launches since March 2014:

F05 – H2B: 19 Aug 2015, Cubesats & H2 ISS Transfer Vehicle

Back to the original point again, I’m very happy that I was wrong in guessing that this piece is from a ship’s superstructure, because it is more likely to have come from either H2A-F29 or H2B-F05 rockets. Now this could explain why there are less barnacles attached to it than people expected. But one thing is for sure, this is NOT from MH370!

If you’re curious on why the payload fairing didn’t burn up upon re-entry, read my next article (click here).


Debris found in Thai coast unlikely to be from MH370

As the mystery of MH370 approaches it’s 2nd anniversary, a video has come up of debris suspected by some to be from the missing MH370, found off the Gulf of Thailand. I noticed this when fellow “crypto-analyst” Jeff Wise put a photo on his blog. Jeff himself thought it unlikely for it to have been from MH370, and played the possibility for it to have come from another crash.

Debris suspected by some to be from MH370

However, as a discussion forms over Twitter, I was given the link to the video showing the debris found on the coast. Fortunately, it had some details that would otherwise not be seen in the photo above.

Several things was immediately apparent:

  1. The debris found cannot be an aircraft engine cowling, it’s too thick.
  2. The debris found cannot be from an aircraft skin panel that is not a door or panel. The reason for this is the lack of attached rib structure that’s normally found on airplanes.
  3. The debris found cannot be from MH370’s cargo doors. It’s the wrong colour.
  4. The debris found appears to be a carbon fibre material with few steel skeletons, unlikely to be an airplane part.
  5. There appears to be no rivets on the panel but unflush fasteners instead.
  6. There appears to be something that really does not belong to an airplane structure:

    These potrusions, make it unlikely to be an airplane part/panel/door/cowling.

I’d love to be wrong on this for the sake of the missing and their loved ones, but my conclusion is that this panel found fits more of a part of a ship’s superstructure than it is an airplane.

Unfortunately, as we approach MH370’s 2nd anniversary, something I call “Sasquatch Syndrome” takes over, that is the desire to make things fit into a story, makes common sense hard to be adhered. On the other hand, there will be those who, despite the evidence, will refuse to believe that this is not a part of MH370. And of course, there are those who just muddy the waters into endless obfuscation, disinformation, propaganda, etc.

AFTER EDIT: Please read the next article for better information as recent information points out the debris panel is likely to have come from a rocket and NOT a ship and (still) NOT MH370.


Seberapa sering pesawat besar hilang selama lebih dari 50 tahun ?

MH370 sudah hampir 1 tahun hilang dan diluar perkembangan area pencarian kita tidak begitu banyak mendengar perkembangan² sejak bulan pertama kejadian. Mulai banyak pihak yang menginginkan aircraft tracking dan juga ada yang menginginkan agar isi flight data recorder bisa dikirim melalui satelit begitu ada tanda² kemungkinan akan terjadinya kecelakaan. Diantara ketakutan dan keresahan yang dibuat-buat, ada baiknya kita bertanya, seberapa seringkah pesawat besar (saya menggunakan ‘membawa lebih dari 100 orang’ sebagai batasan) bisa hilang? Jawabannya adalah:

Setiap 52 (limapuluh dua) tahun!

Misteri Flying Tiger Line 739

Persis 2712 minggu sebelum MH370 yang diterbangi pesawat 9M-MRO lepas landas dari Kuala Lumpur terakhir kalinya, sebuah pesawat L-1049 Constellation beregistrasi N6921C milik Flying Tiger Lines lepas landas dari Pangkalan Udara Andersen di Guam menuju ke Pangkalan Udara Clark di Filipina dan kemudian lenyap tanpa jejak. Pesawat membawa 96 penumpang dan 11 awak hilang hingga saat ini dan diasumsi telah meninggal. Penerbangan ini merupakan kejadian pertama dan satu-satunya dalam sejarah dimana pesawat membawa lebih dari 100 orang hilang tanpa jejak, sebelum kejadian MH370. Meskipun penumpangnya adalah anggota militer, penerbangan tersebut adalah penerbangan sipil.

Pesawat L-1049 Flying Tiger beregistrasi N6918C mirip dengan yang hilang, terlihat di bandara Gatwick London. (Sumber: RuthAS (cc))

Rute penerbangan FT739 berawal dari Pangkalan Udara Travis di Kalifornia dan berakhir di Saigon, Vietnam Selatan. Penerbangan ini singgal di Honolulu, Wake Island, LanUd Andersen (Guam) dan LanUd Clark (Filipina). Didalam pesawat terdapat 107 orang terdiri dari 11 awak kokpit dan kabin, dan 86 penumpang (83 anggota militer Amerika dan 3 anggota militer Vietnam Selatan). Pesawat lepas landas pada pukul 1257UTC dan diperkirakan akan mendarat di Clark pada pukul 1916UTC. Pesawat membawa bahan bakar yang cukup untuk 9 jam.

Rute penerbangan FT739. (Sumber: GCmap)

8 menit setelah lepas landas, awak pesawat mengirim laporan posisi sekitar 280 mil di barat Guam pada pukul 1422UTC, dan memperikarakan akan memberi informasi berikutnya pada pukul 1530UTC. Pihak Guam Flight Service Station mengalami gangguan komunikasi hingga pukul 1539UTC, dimana mereka mencoba menghubungi pesawat namun tidak ada jawaban.

Hilangnya pesawat ini diikuti oleh salah satu operasi pencarian terbesar yang pernah dilakukan oleh militer Amerika Serikat. Setelah 8 hari dan mencari di area seluas 520,000 km², pencarian dihentikan sehingga membuat kasus ini merupakan kejadian pertama pesawat membawa lebih dari 100 orang hilang dan tidak pernah ditemukan.

Sebuah kapal tanker melaporkan melihat cahaya terang di langit seputar estimasi posisi pesawat 90 menit setelah posisi kontak terakhir, diikuti dengan 2 cahaya merah yang jatuh ke laut. Kapal tersebut menuju ke area jatuhnya 2 cahaya tersebut dan melakukan pencarian selama 6 jam namun tidak menemukan apa². Investigasi kecelakaan dilakukan oleh Civil Aeronautics Board (pada tahun tersebut belum ada NTSB) sempat menyimpulkan bahwa awak kapal tanker mungkin melihat pesawat meledak, dan pihak Flying Tigers mendukung hipotesa tersebut. Namun diluar keterangan awak kapal tanker tersebut, tidak ada puing pesawat yang ditemukan dan investigasi kecelakaan diselesaikan tanpa menyebutkan penyebab.

Kesimpulan dari faktor yang relevan cenderung menunjukkan bahwa pesawat itu hancur diudara. Namun , karena tidak adanya alat bukti yang mendukung dapat memastikan hal tersebut, Dewan tidak dapat menyatakan penyebab dengan tingkat kepastian yang cukup mengenai kejadian N6921C .

Civil Aeronautics Board, File No. 1-002

N6921C terlihat di bandara Burbank dengan warna Lufthansa. (Sumber: N6921C.com)
Bukti nihil, spekulasi dan teori konspirasi

Dengan tidak adanya kesimpulan yang memuaskan mengenai kasus N6921C, spekulasipun mulai timbul. Walau awak kapal tanker yakin bahwa mereka melihat pesawat N6921C, mereka juga yakin bahwa mereka menyaksikan latihan militer yang gagal dimana pesawat tersebut ditembak jatuh. Kecurigaan mereka ini menguat dengan tidak ada stasiun radio pihak militer Amerika Serikat seputar posisi mereka yang mau menerima panggilan mereka. Teori² lainnya termasuk buruknya keamanan bandara di wilayah AS diluar negeri (eg: Guam) yang memungkinan sebuah pesawat tidak dijaga yang memungkinkan terjadinya aksi sabotase.

Kumpulan cerita² yang terdengar oleh pemilik situs web yang mengenang N6921C memperlihatkan teori² konspirasi yang biasa timbul seputar sebuah misteri. Coba lihat berapa yang mirip dengan apa yang kita pernah lihat/dengar seputar MH370:

“Pilot Angkatan Laut AS menembak jatuh pesawat tersebut. Arming switch persejataanya tidak sengaja berada di posisi “ON” selama latihan – selagi menggunakan pesawat sipil sebagai “Sasaran Latihan”.”

Cukup mirip dengan teori “ditembak jatuh dekat Diego Garcia” bukan?

“Pesawat diambil alih dan dibawa ke Cina oleh oknum agen rahasia di pesawat. Awaknya diinterogasi, disiksa, lalu dibunuh.”

Yang ini mirip dengan teori “diculik lalu dibawa ke Diego Garcia” atau teori “diambil alih dan dibawa ke Baikonur lalu diterbangkan ke tempat lain” milik Jeff yang dia tulis di blognya dan di majalah New York Magazine, dan yang saya kembangkan dalam artikel “apa yang kita bisa pelajari dari teori konspirasi.” Dan yang dibawah ini, ya, ini juga mirip dengan apa yang kita pernah dengar mengenai MH370:

(Seseorang memiliki) “…bukti bahwa pesawat mendarat dengan selamat. Semuanya masih hidup — namun semua diberikan identitas baru.”

Kemungkinan penerbangan anda hilang dan tidak akan pernah ditemukan

MH370 telah mendorong permintaan agar pesawat diharuskan memiliki alat tracking. Kekhawatiran saya dari segi keselamatan bukannya di pesawat² menghilang, tetapi bagaimana lebih mudah mencari pesawat² yang jatuh di tengah laut atau daratan yang jauh dari peradaban. Saya selalu mendorong untuk menggunakan sistem² yang tidak hanya murah tetapi juga efektif, namun dengan dorongan untuk ICAO mengharuskan adanya tracking, saya khawatir dengan ulah mereka² yang menginginkan sistem² yang besar dan canggih (namun kurang aman karena mudah diakses) untuk digunakan untuk layanan tracking ini agar bisa melebihi dari sekedar tracking seperti mengirim isi Flight Data Recorder lewat satelit begitu ada tanda² bahaya di pesawat, namun sepertinya mereka² enggan menjawab pertanyaan bagaimana data bisa dikirim ketika pesawat sedang jungkir balik karena saya yakin tidak ada yang mau investasi antena satelit di sisi bawah perut pesawat. Sistem² yang murah sudah ada yang dijual dimana sistem bisa terus menyala selama sistem power supply pesawat (DC system) menyala, tanpa membutuhkan saklar atau sekring di kokpit atau lokasi lainnya yang bisa diakses selama persawat mengudara, karena sistem² menggunakan daya listrik yang sangat rendah.

Sekarang ada lebih dari 3 milyar orang yang terbang setahun, dengan 37.4 juta penerbangan yang dijadwalkan setiap tahun. Kalau kita menggunakan angka 1 pesawat besar yang hilang setiap 52 tahun, maka kemungkinan penerbangan berjadwal ada bisa lenyap begitu saja adalah sekitar 1 per 9 milyar. Mari kita kembalikan akal sehat ke bagaimana kita berbelanja dan berinvestasi untuk solusi ² aircraft tracking (ya, saya setuju kalau tracking diharuskan) untuk mencegah terulangnya MH370 dan FT739. Tapi ingat…

1 per 9 milyar penerbangan.


MH370: Saya benci teori konspirasi tapi… apa yang kita bisa pelajari dari mereka?

Saya sebenernya bukan penggemar teori konspirasi dan saya biasa mengabaikannya ketika mulai dibahas terkait kecelakaan pesawat, atau dalam hal ini, pesawat yang hilang. Namun dengan MH370 hilang selama hampir 1 tahun dan tidak ada satu apa² dari pesawat tersebut yang ditemukan dan selagi kita hanya bisa menunggu hasil pencarian yang sedang berlangsung, dengan kurangnya bukti baru yang ditemukan, mungkin sudah saatnya untuk kita melihat teori² alternatif.

Sudut pandang saya mengenai MH370 sederhana: jika pesawat tersebut terbang ke arah selatan, saya masih tidak begitu yakin bahwa ini adalah kasus pembajakan atau pengambilalihan paksa dalam bentuk lain. Teori pembajakan terlalu bergantung dengan kerja sama Kapten yang dikena sebagai simpatisan oposisi Malaysia dan bukti² mendukung teori ini tidak ada yang merupakan bukti langsung. Terjadinya log-on oleh sistim komunikasi satelit (satcom) pada pukul 1825UTC menurut pendapat saya, membuat teori pengambilalihan oleh kapten tidak masuk akal. Tidak masuk akal bila kapten mematikan satcom setelah mengambilalih kuasa pesawat sepenuhnya, kemudian menyalakannya kembali, bila ia berniat untuk menghilangkan pesawat tersebut ditengah laut. Dengan pendapat inilah saya tinggalkan kasus MH370 tahun kemarin.

Saya, Jeff, Kamera TV, MH370 dan “Crypto-Investigations”
Saya dan Jeff masing-masing sering menjadi narasumber media TV internasional di tahun 2014. (Sumber: Dokumentasi pribadi)

Sayapun juga tidak mau terlalu banyak memikirkan teori² konspirasi, namun setelah kejadian Indonesia Air Asia QZ8501, saya mulai dihubungi oleh beberapa anggota dari “Independent Group” (IG), sekumpulan beberapa pakar yang saya sebut sebagai “crypto-investigators” berdasarkan ketekunan mereka dalam menelaah data² dan informasi² mengenai kasus MH370. Salah satu anggota mereka pada saat itu adalah Jeff Wise yang merupakan pakar dan narasumber langganan untuk CNN mengenai MH370. Karena sedikitnya barang² bukti dan informasi² yang tersedia pada beberapa hari pertama kejadian QZ8501, sayapun mulai membahas kejadian ini dengan Jeff Wise dan anggota² IG lainnya. Disitulah saya melihat diskusi dan tingkat keahlian mereka dalam “crypto-investigation” untuk kasus MH370. Tidak lama kemudian, sayapun mulai terlibat dalam diskusi mereka.

Persamaan antara saya dan Jeff awalnya hanyalah karena kita berdua merupakan “pakar” yang belum gugur dalam menjawab pertanyaan² media mengenai MH370. Pada bulan pertama kejadian, Jeff banyak menghabiskan waktunya dengan CNN sedangkan saya dengan Agence France Presse (AFP). Dari daftar 600 pakar penerbangan yang dimiliki AFP (dimana saya tadinya berada di urutan yang cukup jauh dibawah), ketika informasi mengenai komunikasi satelit MH370 diumumkan, tiba² saya menjadi satu²nya orang yang masih bisa dijadikan narasumber menggabungkan pengetahuan komunikasi satelit untuk penerbangan dan kinerja operasi penerbangan. Jeff pun juga menjadi salah satu pakar terakhir untuk CNN di kombinasi kedua ilmu ini. Disinilah rasa hormat satu sama lain diantara kami berdua dimulai (dan makin meningkat di setiap pembahasan kami di IG mengenai QZ8501).

Selagi Jeff tayang “6 kali sehari dalam liputan nonstop”, dan “menghabiskan waktu 18 jam sehari untuk tayang 6 menit didepan kamera” selama sebulan penuh dengan sedikit variasi dalam pengisian “irama obrolan abadi” mengenai MH370, sayapun juga kecipratan jatah “omongan 6 menit” di media internasional dan beberapa kali juga media lokal. Namun 9 bulan kemudian situasinya menjadi kebalik dengan kejadian QZ8501, dimana Jeff melakukan apa yang saya lakukan untuk MH370, sedangkan saya sendiri menghabiskan 3 minggu tanpa ada satu hari dimana saya tidak melihat kamera, dan mungkin sempat menjadi orang paling terkenal di Indonesia yang bukan berstatus politisi, pejabat, olahragawan atau selebriti. Rekor tayang yang paling panjang adalah 5 jam sehari di 4 stasiun TV mengisi “tayangan obrolan abadi” dalam kedok “breaking news” di musim libur akhir tahun yang sepi akan berita² lainnya. Tentu saja ini membuat saya mudah mengerti Jeff dengan cara yang unik.

Namun kembali ke MH370, saya sangat kaget ketika membaca apa yang ditulis Jeff pada tanggal 23 Februari di situsnya dan di New York Magazine… Sepertinya Jeff mengalah melawan teori² konspirasi dan mulai berkhotbah seperti pendakwah teori konspirasi!

Montase di artikel Jeff di New York Magazine (Sumber: New York Magazine)

Sayapun ternganga… “Oh tidak! Jeff sudah gila!” Namun, respect saya terhadap Jeff membawa saya untuk membaca artikel² tersebut.

Konsisten dengan gaya “crypto-investigation”, konspirasi tersebut, walau sedikit gila, tetap tertulis dengan alur struktur yang rapih. Dari semua teori² konspirasi yang saya lihat mengenai MH370, inilah yang paling bagus menurut pendapat saya… karena Jeff sendiri masih cukup skeptis terhadap teori konspirasinya.

Saya ingat pada hari sabtu 14 Maret 2014 dimana saya tergesa-gesa jalan menuju ke studio Al-Jazeera untuk wawancara live selama 2 menit mengenai MH370 (setelah beberapa kali dijadwal ulang oleh pihak mereka), dan setelah selesai saya pindah lantai ke kantor AFP Jakarta untuk wawancara dan makan siang dengan teman saya dan wartawan AFP, Angela Dewan (yang sejak itu sudah pindah ke biro lain dan kota lain), dan kita bersama menonton pengumuman oleh Perdana Menteri Malaysia, Najib, bahwa sinyal alat komunikasi satelit dari pesawat dideteksi hingga jam 0820 waktu Malaysia pada tanggal 8 Maret 2014.

Informasi “Ping Ring” yang diumumkan PM Najib pada tanggal 14th March 2014.

Salah satu pertanyaan dari Angela hari itu yang saya ingat hingga hari ini adalah, “jika pesawatnya melanjutkan penerbangannya ke utara, kira² mendarat dimana?” Ironisnya, jawaban yang keluar dari benak pikiran saya adalah, “Baikonur… itu tempat cukup sepi dan jauh dari mana-mana.” Namun saya maupun Angela, atau wartawan² lainnya tidak terlalu memikirkan rute utara ini karena kalau memang pesawatnya terban ke arah itu tentunya akan timbul pertanyaan, “bagaimana pesawat bisa melalui semua itu,” yang juga merupakan jawaban yang dikutip oleh AFP mengenai kemungkinan rute utara. Beberapa hari setelah itu, informasi mengenai analisa Burst Frequency Offset (BFO) menyimpulkan bahwa pesawat MH370 terbang ke arah selatan. Dengan kesimpulan tersebut, teori² mengenai rute arah utara untuk MH370, otomatis terkubur.

Jadi apa yang menarik mengenai “teori gila” Jeff?

Untuk orang seperti Jeff mengutarakan teori semacam itu membutuhkan banyak keberanian, dan saya harus membacanya meskipun hanya sedikit-sedikit, setidaknya untuk menyegarkan pikiran kita dari rasa frustrasi kurangnya informasi dan data yang konkrit. Sayapun segera meng-email dia setelah membaca artikel dia di New York Magazine dan saya menyampaikan bahwa pernah ada orang yang menyampaikan teori yang mirip dengan teorinya . Kalimat pertama dalam jawabannya adalah :

“Thanks very much, it means a lot coming from you.”

Membaca jawabannya, saya berpikir, kita semua sudah muak dengan rasa terjebak di perangkap black hole informasi dengan tidak adanya perkembangan dalam 6 bulan terakhir, dan untuk mengisi waktu kita, beberapa dari kita lebih baik melihat beberapa teori² alternatif meskipun kadang kedengaran gila.

Tujuan dari kegiaan ini adalah untuk menjaga agar pikiran kita tetap tajam, dan menguji imajinasi kita yang sangat penting dalam melakukan “crypto-investigation“.

Dasar dari teorinya Jeff (Sumber: New York Magazine)

Data BFO yang dipalsukan:

Dinyalakannya sistim komunikasi satelit pesawat bisa menjadi bagian dari upaya tipu muslihat canggih di mana data BFO itu palsu.

Meskipun data mengenai BTO (ping), yaitu jarak antara satelit dengan pesawat, tidak disangkal, data mengenai Burst Frequency Offset (BFO) yang menjadi dasar kesimpulan pesawat terbang kearah selatan setelah menghilang dari radar militer Malaysia, meskipun dibilang akurat oleh Inmarsat, tetap bisa dipalsukan. Ini merupakan dasar dari teori Jeff.

Ketika saya membaca artikel New York Magazine, sayapun berpikir, ” Halah, ini palingan Jeff lagi iseng² saja.” Entah itu, atau dia memang sudah gila. Bagaimana dia bisa berharap kita percaya bahwa bidang tanah yang di buldozer seukuran pesawat Boeing 777 di sisi utara pangkalan udara tersebut diisi oleh pesawat? Ayolah Jeff, sudah pasti sulit sekali untuk menarik pesawat seukuran 777 dari LanUd kesitu tanpa menyenggol bangunan atau roda tersangkut di tanah karena keluar aspal. Lalu saya ingat pembicaraan saya dengan Angela, dan saya tiba² agak mengalah dan berpikir “Kalau mereka sampai bisa mendarat di pangkalan udara tersebut, pastinya pesawatnya sudah cepat² diisi bahan bakar lagi dan terbang ke tempat lain karena bodoh sekali kalau pesawatnya dikubur disana.”

Tetapi untuk mencapai Baikonur, data BFO-nya harus dipalsukan, dan ini tidak mudah. Namun, ketika Jeff mulai menulis mengenai 3 orang keturunan Rusia yang ada di pesawat, dengan satu dari Irtkusk dan 2 dari Odessa di Ukraina, sayapun mulai berpikir… Mungkin…


Penumpang yang dari Rusia (kiri) dan 2 penumpang Ukraina berketurunan Rusia dari Odessa yang naik MH370. (Sumber: Jeff Wise)

Jeff-pun mulai iseng dengan pertanyaannya:

Saya bertanya-tanya, mungkinkah orang² ini adalah agen rahasia atau anggota pasukan khusus? Ketika saya melihat foto² mereka yang tersedia di internet, saya menyimpulkan bahwa mereka² ini tipe yang mungkin bisa berantem melawan Liam Neeson di pesawat dalam sebuah film!

Awalnya saya mau tertawa terbahak-bahak, lalu Jeff menulis dimana kedua orang Ukraina tersebut duduk di pesawat:

B: Tempat duduk si Rusia dari Irtkutsk sat. C & D: Tempat duduk ke-2 Ukraina. (Sumber: Jeff Wise)

Sirene alarm tiba² menyala keras didalam kepala saya. Kedua penumpang Ukraina tersebut duduk dibawah antena komunikasi satelit (satcom) pesawat, dan di sisi kiri dimana processor-processor pengendalinya terletak (diatas gang sisi kiri pesawat dibelakang pesawat). Karena Jeff mengakhiri artikelnya dengan membahas sekilas ketiga orang ini, saya langsung menghubungi Jeff.

Saya bilang ke Jeff bahwa kebanyakan dari mereka yang berteori adanya penipuan menggunakan informasi satcom pesawat, mengklaim bahwa BTO dan Aircraft Earth Station (AES, sistim satcom pesawat) dipalsukan, dan menurut saya ini terlalu sulit dan fantastis. Namun, meskipun sulit, memalsukan BFO akan jauh lebih mudah.

  • 3 penumpang yang kita curigai, semuanya memiliki hubungan dengan kayu dalam pekerjaan mereka. Si Rusia memiliki perusahaan kayu dan kedua orang Ukraina tersebut merupakan pemilik perusahaan furniture… Kok kebetulan sekali yah?
  • Si Rusia duduk dekat E/E Bay (ruangan avionik dibawah lantai penumpang dibelakang kokpit), namun saya beritahu Jeff bahwa sebenernya untuk “operasi” ini tidak ada yang perlu masuk ke E/E Bay paling tidak untuk tahap awal.
  • Ke-2 penumpang Ukraina yang dimaksud duduk dibawah dan sedikit didepan panel akses ke Satellite Data Unit (Unit pengendali utama sistim satcom pesawat), diatas plafon kabin pesawat.

Tentunya, Jeff langsung kecanduan dengan hal ini dan langsung berdiskusi dengan saya.

Di tahun 2011, saya memimpin bagian solusi Aerospace and Defence di salah satu perusahaan penjual jasa Inmarsat di Indonesia. Saya beritahu Jeff bahwa saat itu saya mendengar 2 orang Indonesia yang berhasil menipu koreksi Doppler selagi bekerja di Inmarsat melakukan integrity testing sistim Inmarsat-3. Dan di beberapa rapat mengenai hal² seputar industri pertahanan di 2011, saya juga sempat diberi tahu bahwa ada beberapa negara lain yang telah berhasil untuk menipu koreksi Doppler (baik secara remote atau melalui terminal satcom yang digunakan) termasuk Israel (dengan engineer imigran dari Rusia), Cina (menggunakan tenaga Israel), dan Rusia, namun tentunya sumber saya tidak mau membuka lebih banyak informasi mengenai ini. Informasi menarik lainnya adalah sekarang Israel sudah bisa melakukan beberapa “inovasi” untuk satcom Inmarsat, melalui salah satu Distribution Partner Inmarsat, jadi tentunya, kenapa mesti kaget kalau ada yang bisa menipu informasi BFO dari transmisi?

Bagaimana cara menipu BFO?

BFO adalah selisih antara koreksi Doppler pergerakan antara pesawat dan satelit. Koreksi Doppler berasumsi bahwa satelit tidak bergerak di orbit geo-stasionernya, padahal satelitnya sebenarnya bergerak dalam orbit elips kecil mengelilingi posisi titik statis geo-stasionernya, dan inilah yang menyebabkan adanya BFO. Sistim navigasi pesawat memberikan informasi posisi, kecepatan dan orientasi ke sistim satcom sehingga SDU bisa mengatur perubahan² frekwensi transmisi yang dibutuhkan, serta mengatur pengarahan sinyal pengiriman dari antena satkom.

Contoh halaman Log-On Satcom di FMC Boeing 777 dimana terlihat koreksi frekwensi pengiriman satcom dibawah bagian “DOPPLER”. (Sumber: Boeing)

Tentunya saya tidak bisa membahas banyak masalah ini karena terikat perjanjian² kerahasiaan dari sewaktu saya kerja di perusahaan komunikasi satelit tersebut dan juga demi menjaga keamanan serta keselamatan penerbangan, namun, saya bisa membahas bahwa sumber data dari sistim navigasi pesawat ke SDU bisa diganti. Data dari Inertial Reference System (IRS) diberikan ke SDU melalui jalur jaringan ARINC (standar perangkat lunak dan keras), namun bisa diganti dengan Satellite Reference Unit (SDU) yang independen yang merupakan IRS mini. Menurut salah satu pabrik sistim komunikasi satelit Inmarsat untuk pesawat, selain SRU atau IRS, SDU juga bisa menerima data dari emulator SRU atau IRS dan emulator ini bisa dijalanan dari laptop biasa (asalkan perangkat sambungannya ada). Inilah yang membuat mata saya melek begitu membaca informasi mengenai kedua penumpang Ukraina tersebut duduk dibawah lokasi sistim komunikasi satelit pesawat.

Jadi, ambil alih pesawat, lalu matikan transponder, matikan Left Main AC Bus atau tarik circuit breaker untuk satcom di E/E Bay, lalu buka plafon kabin pesawat, lepaskan kabel ARINC feed ke SDU, sambungkan alat Spoofer-nya , lalu nyalakan kembali ketika diperlukan. Beberapa SDU juga diprogram untuk mengirimkan sinyal ketika pesawat melewati ketinggian 10,000 kaki, tanpa harus ada intervensi dari kokpit atau E/E bay.

Data IRS untuk posisi dan orientasi dibutuhkan oleh SDU. (Sumber: Boeing)

Beberapa SDU bisa diprogram untuk mengirim posisi ketika pesawat melewati ketinggian tertentu (ketinggian barometrik atau GPS tergantung kebutuhan melalui ARINC feed). Logon atau ping pada ketinggian 10,000 kaki bisa diprogram ke SDU bilamana diinginkan, dan anda bisa mematikan sistim melalui SDU menggunakan emulator-nya bila anda mau. Metode yang sedikit lebih rumit bisa dilakukan untuk memanipulasi Doppler correction dengan mengambil informasi kecepatan dan posisi dari ARINC feed, lalu di offset melalui sebuah processor, untuk dilanjutkan ke SDU.

Semua ini tentunya JAUH LEBIH MUDAH dibanding mencoba untuki memalsukan identifikasi AES (seperti memalsukan SIM card) seperti yang diutarakan oleh beberapa pencetus teori² “data satcom palsu.” Jeff tentunya kaget mendengan informasi ini.

Ini benar² mengagumkan! Saya Aku tidak tahu anda pernah memikirkan hal ini sendiri – dan bahkan melebihi apa yang saya capai. Dapatkah anda mengakses SDU dari plafon kabin pesawat? Saya selama ini selalu pikir mereka memasukan data IRS yang dipalsukan dari E / E bay sebelum dikirim melalui kabel ARINC-nya. Tapi jelas benar² aneh bagi saya bahwa kedua orang Ukraina tersebut duduk di bawah AES.

Tentunya saya beri tahu Jeff bahwa meskipun informasi ini saya dapatkan di tahun 2011 dan saya benar² lupa mengenai semua ini hingga membaca artikel Jeff mengenai spoofing. Baru setelah membaca dimana kedua penumpang Ukraina tersebut duduk saya ingat mengenai semua ini!

Dalam salah satu diskusi dengan salah satu pembuat alat satcom untuk pesawat, salah satu hal yang saya temukan yang tidak banyak orang tahu adalah informasi IRS dapat diganti dengan sebuah SRU atau sebuah emulator menggantikan informasi ARINC dan SRU. SDUnya harus terletak tidak jauh dari High Power Amplifier (HPA) dan Low Noise Amplifier (DLNA), jadi seringkali mereka diletakkan diatas plafon kabin dekat dengan antena. Apakah mereka bisa diakses dari kabin pesawat? TENTU SAJA!

Rak komponen-komponen pengendali SATCOM terletak diatas gang sebelah kiri pesawat dibelakang sayap untuk pesawat Boeing 777. (Sumber: Boeing)
Antena High Gain yang biasa ditemukan di Boeing 777. 9M-MRO memilii antena yang berbeda namun lokasinya tidak jauh dari yang digambarkan disini. (Sumber: Boeing)

Saya pernah terlibat dalam salah satu proyek pemasangan sistim satcom untuk pesawat A330 yang biasa digunakan oleh salah satu kepala negara, dan masalah keamanan sistim satcom merupakan hal yang dikhawatirkan semua pihak yang terlibat dimana setup-nya akhirnya membutuhkan seseorang untuk duduk dekat dan dibawah AESnya (terutama, SDU) untuk mengaktifasi serta mengamankan sistimnya ketika dioperasikan. OK, kalau kita balik alurnya, dan menemukan 2 orang yang dicurigai duduk di lokasi yang mirip maka…

Tentunya kedua penumpang Ukraina tersebut tidak duduk langsung dibawah tetapi cukup dekat dengan lokasi rak SDU. Dan ingat, dalam situasi² seperti pembajakan, pelakunya juga tidak harus membawa senjata api tetapi dengan alat² lain yang bisa dijadikan senjata. Menakutkan? Tentu saja! Reaksinya Jeff menurut saya sangatlah jelas!

Holy crap!

Kalau ini memang benar, lalu apa yang terjadi?

Kalau memang skenario ini terjadi, urutan kejadian versi saya masih berbeda dengan Jeff. Untuk masalah kapan pelaku harus mulai beraksi menurut saya cukup mudah. Cukup dengan menggunakan airband receiver diamana transmisi dari pesawat ke ATC masih bisa terdengr, dan untuk mendapatkan posisi pesawat, anda bisa menggunakan GPS portable seperti yang terlihat dibawah:

2 antena GPS yang digunakan kawan saya untuk merekam jejak penerbangan dia sebagia penumpang. (Sumber: “M.S.” LatLon)

Sambung GPS-nya ke display unit atau ke komputer dan anda bisa mengetahui posisi pesawat dan dengan software yang sesuai, di airway mana anda berada, jadi di kombinasikan dengan airband radio, bisa digunakan untuk mengentahui kapan pelaku harus menyerang kokpit pada saat terjadinya ATC hand-off. Tentunya, bagaimana bisa masuk atau menyerang kokpit pesawat adalah urusan lain dan kalau saya tahu caranya saya tidak mungkin menceritakannya disini.

Setelah mengambil alih pesawat, pelaku memiliki sekitar 1 jam untuk menyambungkan alat Spoofer-nya. Kalau kita memang sedang membahas pengambil-alihan yang didukung oleh oknum² Rusia, pelaku tidak akan sulit mendapatkan pelatihan mengenai sistim satcom dan 777 di Rusia (Aeroflot dan Transaero mengoperasikan Boeing 777 yang dilengkapi dengan sistim satelit Inmarsat-3), dan jangan lupa, saya saja bisa mendapatkan informasi² ini. OK, kembali ke aksi ambil alihnya. Setelah pesawat diambil alih, anda harus mematikan satcom-nya dulu dan ada 2 cara:

Alternatif 1: Masuk ke E/E Bay (yang sudah diketahui bisa diakses dari kabin pesawat dan merupakan sebuah resiko ancaman keamanan), dan menarik circuit breaker yang tepat.

777 Satcom power schematics (Sumber: Boeing)

Alternatif 2: Mematikan daya ke Left Main AC Bus yang akan mematikan TCAS dan sebagian dari pencahayaan kabin, selain mematikan sistim satkom. Hal ini bisa dilakukan dengan mengisolasikan Left Main Bus Tie dan mematikan generator mesin kiri.

777 Backup AC Electrical System dan bagaimana bisa digunakan untuk mematikan sistim Satcom (Sumber: Boeing)

Setelah sistim satcom telah dimatikan, aksi usil dan jahat ini bisa dimulai. Ambil kabel ARINC feed yang tersambung ke SDU dan pindahkan ke processor gadungan yang disambungkan kembali ke SDU; atau, gantikan ARINC feed dengan sambungan data terproses, menggunakan SRU dan GPS, melalui sebuah laptop. Salah satu dari kedua metode ini atau metode lainnya, akan memungkinkan anda untuk memanipulasi Doppler correction yang dikendalikan SDU untuk menghasilkan BFO yang tidak akurat atau menipu.

Tentunya, persiapan diatas membutuhkan waktu dan apakah waktu 1 jam itu cukup atau tidak, saya sendiri tidak tahu, tetapi bilamana berhasil, maka sistim akan bisa log-off dan log-on kapan saja yang akan direkam oleh sistim jaringan Inmarsat di darat dan membingunkan kita dan bertanya-tanya, “Kenapa?”

Cukup mengenai wiring, apakah satcom rentan resiko?

Industri penerbangan makin tergantung dengan satkom dengan bandwidth yang tinggi dan sistim Inmarsat merupakan sistim yang paling banyak dipasang armada pesawat berbadan lebar di dunia. Sekilas memang teori bahwa seseorang dapat membuka panel plafon kabin pesawat dan mengutak-utik SDU atau modul² jaringan satcom lainnya terlihat konyol, tetapi coba lihat setup sistim satcom yang dipasang di sebuah pesawat lain beregistrasi bendera Malaysia… Untuk mengutak-utik yang ini malah anda tidak harus membuka panel plafon kabin!

Anyone who thinks this set up is secure from manipulation needs to have his/her head checked!

Pasti akan banyak yang bertanya-tanya apa maksud dari artikel ini karena jelas bahwa saya menulis arikel ini bukan untuk mengajak para pembaca untuk mempercayai teori konspirasi ini maupun teori² konspirasi lainnya, dan saya juga yakin Jeff tidak menulis artikelnya agar orang mempercayai teori konspirasinya. Namun saya yakin bahwa artikel² yang saya tulis atau yang Jeff tulis, ditujuan agar kita sadar akan resiko² keselamatan dan keamanan penerbangan yang harus kita hadapi.

Siapapun yang percaya bahwa tanah yang di buldozer di Baikonur yang dimaksud di artikel Jeff adalah tempat dikuburunya pesawat MH370 sebaiknya langsung memeriksa kepalanya dan menjalani pemeriksaan kesehatan mental. Jika pesawat MH370 memang mendarat disana, yang pasti pesawat akan diisi bahan bakar secepatnya, sistim satcomnya dimatikan penuh (karena sudah tidak dibutuhkan lagi untuk menipu orang bahwa pesawat terbang ke Samudera Hindia), dan lepas landas untuk benar² menghilang. Jadi, saya dan Jeff masing² setuju bahwa pencarian MH370 di Samudra Hindia harus terus dilakukan meskipun kita telah berulah membuat teori konspirasi.

Akibat dari MH370, ICAO sekarang sedang mengajukan kebijakan bahwa pesawat penumpang harus menggunakan sistim aircraft tracking menggunakan satcom. Banyak dari yang mendukung rencana kebijakan ini mempromosikan tracking untuk melakukan peralatan² yang sudah dipasang. Namun saya pribadi berpendapat bahwa metode tersebut tidak akan memberi keamanan yang lebih karena sesuai dengan artikel ini, setup  yang ada sekarang sama sekali tidak aman. SDU dan HPA terletak diatas kabin pesawat karena memang HARUS terletak dekat antena untuk menjamin kualitas sinyal yang bagus.

Aircraft Tracking yang diharuskan, sebaiknya dilakukan menggunakan sistim yang lebih murah dan bisa diterapkan ke semua pesawat, terpisah dari sistim satcom yang digunakan untuk layanan penumpang, dan/atau tidak bisa diutak-utik selama penerbangan. Setup yang ada sekarang sama sekali tidak aman dari potensi/resiko diutak-utik oleh oknum² dengan kemampuan canggih. Jangan sampai kita mengharuskan adanya aircraft tracking tetapi ada pesawat yang di-track tetapi posisi yang dilaporkan merupakan posisi palsu dan dilakukan karena berhasil mengakses SDU atau kotak² kendali satcom lainnya, atau menghancurkan sistim satcomnya karena memang mudah diakses.

Antena sistim Inmarsat-4 (Swift Broadband) memiliki antena GPS sendiri yang dapat digunakan untuk tracking dengan mengambil data tersebut dan dikirim melalui paket data yang dibayar oleh pengguna/pelanggan, atau menggunakan paket data yang tidak merupakan bagian dari paket data yang ditagih. Metode pengiriman yang kedua saya anggap lebih aman karena bisa dilakukan tanpa menambah perangkat keras lagi untuk pesawat² yang memiliki sistim Inmarsat-4.

Artikel ini saya buat untuk meningkatkan kesadaran tidak hanya untuk keselamatan dan keamanan penerbangan tetapi untuk keamanan data yang menggunakan layanan data komunikasi air-to-ground yang sekarang mulai ditawarkan ke penumpang. Bagi pembaca yang terlibat dalam industri aircraft connectivity ini seharusnya tahu apa yang saya maksud dan kenapa informasi detil² resikonya tidak saya beberkan di artikel ini, karena akan terlalu menggiurkan untuk disalah-gunakan oleh yang berniat jahat, namun setup yang ada sangat beresiko terjadinya pembobolan privacy dan data rahasia pribadi.

Faktanya, keamanan on-board internet masihlah sangat jelek! Belum lama ini salah satu provider jasa on-board internet malah melakukan spoofing SSL security certificates, yang dapat mendapatkan dan membocorkan data² pribadi seperti password dan membobolkan e-banking security. Apabila kita ingin menggunakan setup yang sama untuk kegunaan keselamatan penerbangan, bisa² kita malah akan membuka kotak pandora yang baru.

Artikel ini memperlihatkan bahwa dari “hobby” crypto-investigation saya, Jeff, IG dan lain², menelusuri informasi, data, bukti teknis, dan lain-lain, ketika digabungkan dengan sedikit imajinasi dan pemikiran analitik, dapat membuka beraneka ragam resiko² yang kita tidak sadari sebelumnya (meskipun jelas² ada didepan mata kita).


How often do large aircraft go missing over the past 50 years?

The 1st year anniversary of MH370 is coming up fast and outside the developments of the search effort, we haven’t had much progress since the first month since the accident in finding out what happened. Calls for aircraft to have better tracking is greater than ever, and there are also calls for the flight data recorders to be able to send data during a mishap. Amidst the fear and scaremongering, just how often do large planes (my benchmark is over 100 persons onboard) go missing? The answer is:

Once every fifty (52) years!

The mystery of Flying Tiger Line Flight 739

Exactly 2712 weeks before the aircraft registered 9M-MRO took off  from Kuala Lumpur for the very last time as we know it, a Lockheed L-1049 Constellation registered N6921C flying for Flying Tiger Lines took off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam towards Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and was never seen again. With the aircraft, 96 passengers and 11 crew are missing and assumed dead. Until flight MH370, this was the last time an aircraft with more than 100 people on-board went missing. While the passengers are all military personnel, the aircraft was a civilian aircraft flying under civilian air safety regulations.

Flying Tiger’s Lockheed L-1049 registered N6918C seen at London Gatwick, similar to the aircraft that went missing as flight 739. (Source: RuthAS (cc))

Flight 739 originated in Travis Air Force base in California, destined for Saigon, then the capital of South Vietnam. The flight was to stop at Honolulu, Wake Island, Andersen Air Force Base (Guam) and Clark Air Force Base (Philippines). 107 people were on board, consisting of 11 crew members, and 86 passengers (83 American, 3 South Vietnamese). The aircraft took off at 1257UTC and was expected to arrive at Clark at 1916UTC. It carried 9 hours worth of fuel for the 8 hour flight.

Route of Flight 739. (Source: GCmap)

8 minutes after take off, the flight sent a position report 280 miles west of Guam at 1422UTC on 16 March 1962, and expected to make the next call at 1530UTC. Guam Flight Service Station had communications problem until 1539UTC, when they tried to contact the aircraft to no avail.

The disappearance prompted the US military to launch one of its biggest search and rescue operation in history. After 8 days, the search was called off after covering 520,000 km². This was the first ever case of an aircraft carrying more than 100 persons onboard disappeared and was never found.

A tanker reported seeing bright lights in the sky around the vicinity of the aircraft’s expected position 90 minutes from the last contact, followed by two red lights falling into the sea, but the ship searched the area for 6 hours afterwards and found nothing. Accident investigation conducted by the Civil Aeronautics Board (before the days of the NTSB) concluded that the tanker crew may have seen the aircraft explode, and Flying Tigers supported the idea as sabotage was suspected. Despite the testimony by the tanker crew, no pieces from the aircraft were ever found that the accident was closed without a probable cause.

A summation of all relevant factors tends to indicate that the aircraft was destroyed in flight. However, due to the lack of any substantiating evidence the Board is unable to state with any degree of certainty the exact fate of N6921C.

Civil Aeronautics Board, File No. 1-002

N6921C at Burbank Airport in Lufthansa colours. (Source: N6921C.com)
Lack of evidence, speculation and conspiracy theories

Failure to conclude the case spurred many speculations. While the crew of the tanker were sure that they saw N6921C, they were confident that they witnessed a failed military operation and that the plane was shot down. Their suspicions hardened by nobody at the naval dispatch centers nearby accepted their calls. Other theories included poor security at airports in US overseas territories, making it possible that aircraft can be left unguarded for sometime, opening the possibility of sabotage.

A quick look at the website dedicated to this flight shows the typical conspiracy theories that would come up with mysteries. See how some are similar to what we see/hear with MH370:

“A Navy pilot shot the plane down. His arming switch was mistakenly “ON” during training – while using civilian aircraft as “Target Practice”.”

Isn’t this similar to the “shot-down near Diego Garcia” theory?

“The plane was skyjacked to China by a mole on board. The crew was interrogated, tortured, then killed.”

This one is similar to the “kidnapped and taken to Diego Garcia”, or the “taken to Baikonur then flown elsewhere” theory that Jeff Wise wrote in his blog and the New York Magazine, and that I built on in “What can we learn from conspiracy theories.” And the one below, yes, we had something similar to this one for MH370 as well.

(Someone had) “…proof that the plane landed safely. All are
still alive — but have new identities.”

Likelihood of your flight going missing and never found

MH370 has created demands of better aircraft tracking be put in force. My main concerns on the safety front isn’t with airplanes going missing, but on how to find airplanes that went down over the sea or remote areas. I am always an advocate of better and cost effective systems, but as ICAO pushes for aircraft tracking, there are those who ask for large expensive (and less physically secure) systems so that it can be used for more than tracking, up to extent of streaming Flight Data Recorder contents when trouble is in sight. Let’s not forget that the streaming would be useless as soon as the aircraft goes inverted and no one would be interested in putting a satellite communications antenna on the belly of the aircraft. Cheaper systems are already out in the market that can be on as long as aircraft is moving and the essential power supply for the aircraft is on (DC system) with no need of cockpit or inflight accessable circuit breakers as the systems are very low powered.

We now have over 3 billion people travelling by air every year, with 37.4 million flights scheduled every year. If we go with the rate of one large aircraft going missing every 52 years, that means the chance of you going missing on a large scheduled flight is probably somewhere in the range of 1 in 9 billion. Let us bring back common sense into how much should we spend and invest in tracking solutions (but yes, they should be mandatory), in order to prevent another MH370 and FT739. But remeber…

It’s 1 in 9 billion.


MH370: I hate conspiracy theories but… What can we learn from them?

I am no fan of conspiracy theories and I usually dismiss them when it comes to aircraft accidents, or in this case, missing aircraft. However, as we approach the 1 year mark for the MH370 case, no trace of the aircraft has ever surfaced and while we wait for the ongoing search to continue and the lack of new available evidence, perhaps it is time to, reluctantly, take a look at these.

My viewpoint on MH370 is simple: if the aircraft went south, I don’t buy the view that this was a hijack or other forms of hostile takeover. The theory relies too much on damning the Captain who was a known sympathizer of Malaysia’s opposition. The circumstantial evidence were just too convenient. The so-called satcom logon and ping at 1825, in my opinion, invalidates this theory. There is little sense for someone to switch off the satcom and then switch it back on, if someone wants to disappear into the middle of the ocean. This was where I left MH370 last year.

Me, Jeff, TV Cameras, MH370 and “Crypto-Investigations”
Both Jeff and I have covered MH370 on camera in 2014 (source: Own documentation)

I didn’t think much of the other conspiracy theories, but then after the Indonesia Air Asia QZ8501 accident, I began to be in contact with the so-called “Independent Group” (IG), a group of independent experts in what I call “crypto-investigators” due to their amount of work on MH370. One of their members was Jeff Wise, who was the expert who often appeared on CNN’s coverage on MH370. Through the lack of evidence in the initial stages of QZ8501, I began to communicate with Jeff Wise and the rest of the IG. It was then that I began to realize the level expertise that did the “crypto-investigation” into MH370, and inevitably, I too joined some of the discussions.

The similarities between me and Jeff is merely the fact that while was largely the remaining expert on MH370 for CNN, I was largely the remaining expert on MH370 for Agence France Presse (AFP), throughout the first month of the debacle. From a global list of 600 aviation expert (to which I rank very far down the list), by the time the satcom issue came out, I was virtually the last guy that can talk about the aircraft satcom and aircraft piloting at the same time, that was available to AFP. This is probably where the mutual respect between me and Jeff came from (which was boosted by our discussions on QZ8501).

While Jeff said he “was on-air up to six times a day as part of its nonstop MH370 coverage” and  he “was spending 18 hours a day doing six minutes of talking”, which went on for a month with some variety  to the “rhythm of perpetual chatter”, I spent about a month doing various interviews and did my “six minutes of talking” on international media and various 45 minute appeances on local media. 9 months later, the situation turned around with QZ8501, where Jeff did what I did for MH370, and I ended up not spending a day without seeing a camera for 3 weeks, and probably became the most Indonesian in the world aside from celebrities and politicans, with a record 5 hours of airtime on a single day feeding the perpetual chatter at one or up to 4 TV stations a day… filling up the “breaking news” during the news-less end of year season. It’s therefore easy to understand why I understand Jeff in a way.

But I can’t deny that I was shocked to see what Jeff wrote on February 23… It seemed that Jeff yielded to the conspiracy theories at his site and the New York Magazine.

Featured montage on Jeff’s article on New York Magazine (source: New York Magazine)

My jaw dropped and , I thought, “Oh no… Jeff lost it!” However, the respect I had for Jeff got me to read the articles.

In true crypto-investigation style, the conspiracy was, while outlandish, set up in a way that shows it had a systematic flow to it. Of all the conspiracies theories I’ve seen appear on MH370, this is the best one so far in my opinion… mainly because Jeff remains skeptical to his own conspiracy theory.

I remember that saturday 14th March 2014 when I was running from the house to Jakarta’s Al-Jazeera studio for a 2 minute appearance regarding MH370 (after some repetitive rescheduling on their part), and immediately after my appearance, I went to Jakarta’s AFP office for my appointment with my friend and journalist there, Angela Dewan (who has since taken up another post elsewhere), where we watched Prime Minister Najib’s announcement that the airplane was detected to be “alive” until around 8:20 am the next day.

What PM Najib announced on 14th March 2014, the last “Ping Ring”

One question Angela asked in our long conversation that day that I remember to this day, “if the airplane did go north, where would it end up?” Ironically, the destination that immediately came up in my head was, “Baikonur… it’s pretty remote.” However, neither me nor Angela, nor any other journalists that discussed this with me ever thought much of the northern path because if it it did, “how did it get through all that” was my quoted answer regarding that possibility, and that it wasn’t long before the BFO analysis concluded the aircraft went south. The northern path was then buried far down below in my list of priorities.

So what was interesting in Jeff’s “crazy theory”?

For someone like Jeff to come up with such a theory requires a lot of bravery, and needs to be looked at even for just a little bit, at least to freshen our minds. I emailed him immediately after reading the New York Magazine article, telling him that someone in the past mentioned something similar to his theory. The first sentence in his reply was:

“Thanks very much, it means a lot coming from you.”

This tells me, we’re all just so fed up of being stuck in the black hole of information with no new updates for the last 6 months, and that to fill our time, maybe it’s time to look at some alternatives, as ridiculous as they may be.

The purpose of such exercise is to keep our minds sharp, and our imagination tested, which is very important in this “crypto-investigation”.

Premise of Jeff’s theory (source: New York Magazine)

Whilst the BTO (pings) are not doubted whatsoever, the Burst Frequency Offset (BFO) which has long been the source of irrefutable evidence that the aircraft went south after it disappeared from Malaysian military radar coverage, while accurate as far as what Inmarsat received is concerned, can be forged. This is what Jeff’s theory relies upon.

As I read through the New York Magazine article, I thought, “nah, Jeff’s just having fun and pulling our legs on this one.” Either that, or he’d gone bonkers. I mean, the bulldozed patch of land north of the airfield the size of a 777? Come on Jeff, it would be damn hard to tow the aircraft there from the airfield and not knock any buildings or get the plane stuck with a wheel leaving the asphalt. I began to remember the old discussions I had with Angela and found my mind reluctantly yielding to parts of Jeff’s theory. I thought, “If they landed there, they must have flown it elsewhere instead of burying the plane there.”

But to get to Baikonur, the BFO data would have to be faked. But then Jeff started to talk about the 3 ethnic Russians onboard with 2 from from Odessa in Ukraine, and one from Irtkusk. Then my mind started thinking.

The Russian from Irtkutsk and the 2 Russo-Ukrainians from Odessa. (source: Jeff Wise)

Jeff toyed the mind with the following:

Could any of these men, I wondered, be special forces or covert operatives? As I looked at the few pictures available on the internet, they definitely struck me as the sort who might battle Liam Neeson in midair.

At first I was going to chuckle, but then Jeff mentioned where the 2 Ukrainians sat:

B: Where the Russian from Irtkutsk sat. C & D: Where the 2 Ukrainians sat. (Source: Jeff Wise)

The alarm bells in my head suddenly went off. The 2 Ukrainians sat right under where the Satcom antenna would be , and on the side where the controller boxes would be located (left aisle). As coverage of these 3 people were at the end of his article, I immediately contacted Jeff.

I told Jeff that many of those claiming ruse operations claim that the whole BTO and Aircraft Earth Station (AES, the aircraft’s satcom system) identifiers were faked which is too outlandish in my opinion. Faking the BFO however, was a lot easier.

  • The 3 people all had connections with wood. The Russian has a lumber company while the 2 Ukrainians had a furniture company. Coincidence?
  • The Russian sat near to where the E/E bay would be, but I told Jeff that there was no need for anyone to enter the E/E bay, and definitely not on the initial stages.
  • The 2 Ukrainians sat just under and in front of where the access panels to the Satellite Data Unit would be above the cabin ceiling.

Obviously, Jeff was immediately hooked on this. So a small discussion between me and Jeff ensued.

In 2011, I led the Aerospace and Defence Solutions department at one of the local Inmarsat resellers here in Indonesia. I told him that back then I have heard rumours of 2 Indonesian guys who have managed to remote spoof the Doppler while they worked for Inmarsat during integrity testings of the Inmarsat 3 system. And then in several defence related meetings in 2011, I was also told that the other guys who can spoof the Doppler (remote or through the satcom terminal) are Israelis (using Russian immigrant engineers), the Chinese (using the Israeli expertise) and the Russians too, but obviously my sources didn’t want to go into details. The other interesting thing is that the Israelis do have their own set of satcom engineers dealing with “new innovations” for Inmarsat satcom, through one of the Inmarsat Distribution Partners, so, nothing surprising there if anyone can spoof the BFO… all you need to do is spoof the Doppler

How do you spoof the BFO?

The BFO is the error of the Doppler correction between the aircraft and the satellite, with the assumption that the satellite was static in orbit, while it is in fact moving in a small elliptical orbit around it’s geo-stationary point. The aircraft feeds it’s position and orientation to the satcom system, so that the Satellite Data Unit (SDU) can determine how much frequency adjustment is needed and where to point the antenna beam.

A typical SatCom Log-On Page on the FMC. Note the “DOPPLER” entry and frequency correction. (source: Boeing)

I can not discuss this deeper in public but one can replace the data feed from the aircraft system into the SDU. The aircraft’s Inertial Reference System(IRS) data to the SDU through an ARINC feed (standard physical  and software interface), but these can be replaced by an independent Satellite Reference Unit (SRU) which is basically an IRS on an independent box. You can also have SRU or IRS feed ARINC emulators, based on discussions with some satcom systems manufacturers. These emulators can run on a laptop and that’s why my eyes jumped at the 2 Ukrainians sitting under the satcom system.

Take over the aircraft… then switch off the transponders… depower left main AC Bus, or pull the CB in the E/E bay… open the roof panel, take out the ARINC feed to the SDU, connect the spoofer, then repower when you need to. The 10,000ft logon, can be programmed into the SDU as far as I remember, so it doesn’t have to be the Satcom controller in the E/E bay or the FMC to do that.

Notice the need for IRS data for position and attitude. (Source: Boeing)

Some SDUs can be programmed to send positions as the aircraft passes certain altitudes (barometric or GPS depending on the desired source through the ARINC feed). A logon or a ping at 10,000ft can be programmed if one wants to, and that you can shut down the system through this emulator if you want. A more complex set up would be to manipulate the Doppler correction from the speed and position from the ARINC feed, then offset it through a processor, into the SDU.

All this is a LOT easier to do than to fake the unit identifier on a separate AES as what other “Fake satcom data” proponents have claimed. Jeff seemed overwhelmed in his reply.

You’re blowing my mind! I had no idea you’d gone down this path indendently — and cleary got further than I did. Can you access the SDU from the ceiling of the passenger cabin? I always figured they fed the faked IRS data from the E/E bay end of the ARINC cable. But it did seem odd to me that the Ukrainians were sitting under the AES.

I told Jeff that I got these information back in 2011 and had absolutely forgotten about them until I read his article about spoofing. It was only when I saw the 2 Ukrainians sitting below it did I remember all this!

During the discussions in great lengths with one of the satcom systems manufacturers about the various set ups, what I discovered was that many people know is the IRS data can be replaced with the SRU, or run it with a doppler correction emulator to replace the ARINC or SRU feed. The SDU has to be located near the High Power Amplifier (HPA) and Low Noise Amplifier (DLNA), so it is usually located above the cabin near the antenna. Can you access these boxes from the cabin? OF COURSE!

SATCOM control rack above the left aisle on the rear 777 cabin. (Source: Boeing)
A typical High Gain Antenna. 9M-MRO has a different set up but at the same location along the aircraft. (Source: Boeing)

I was involved with a project on this for a fleet of A330s that were normally chartered by a head of state, and SatCom security was a concern that was raised by all parties involved, as the set up was to have someone sitting near and below the AES to activate the system and it’s security. So, reverse that, and see the 2 Ukrainians sitting where they sat and…

Of course, the 2 didn’t sit exactly under where the SDU rack would be, but pretty near it. And remember that in such a scenario, to control the cabin you do not need firearms. Scary? Of course! Jeff’s reaction to this was blunt and clear.

Holy crap!

If this is true then what happened?

Assuming that something like this happened, my chain of events still differ from Jeff’s. The timing could be simple. An airband receiver can still receive what the aircraft transmitted on VHF, and you can get the aircraft’s accurate position through portable GPS, like the ones shown below:

Two GPS used by a colleague to plot his flights as a passenger (Source: “M.S.” LatLon)

Connect the GPS above to a display unit or a computer, and you can figure out where you’re at in the airspace, which airway you’re at, and therefore with an airband radio, figure out when to prepare and when to pounce at the cockpit during an ATC hand-off. Of course, how to enter the cockpit is a different story altogether and even if I know, I wouldn’t say it here.

After taking over the aircraft, the perpetrators had around 1 hour to set up the spoof. Assuming that we’re talking about a Russian backed heist, one can easily get “training” on the Satcom set up of a 777 in Russia (Aeroflot and Transaero operate 777s with fitted with the Inmarsat-3 system), and heck, even I could get some of the above information. First thing’s first, you need to switch off the satcom, and there are 2 ways of doing this.

Alternative 1: Get into the E/E Bay, or the main avionics bay below the front galley (which others have exposed the easy access as a security threat), and pull the circuit breaker on the right panel.

777 Satcom power schematics (Source: Boeing)

Alternative 2: Remove power from the Left Main AC Bus, and kill the TCAS, and most of the cabin lighting, in addition to removing power from the Satcom system. This can be done by isolating the Left Main Bus Tie and switching off the Left Generator.

777 Backup AC Electrical System and how it can deactivate the Satcom. (Source: Boeing)

After power has been removed from the Satcom system, the dirty deed could continue. Take out the feed cable, run it through a processor before re-feeding into the SDU; or, replace the whole feed with a processed feed using an SRU and a GPS, through a laptop. Either of these methods will enable you to provide various Doppler corrections in order to spoof the BFO data. One other way is just to run it through a frequency override made by let’s say the laptop, and allow the IRS feed to provide the position data.

Of course, take out the wiring etc, and then put it back on again with the hacked layout will take time. Whether 1 hour is enough or not, that’s the unknown, but if successful, one can log off and log on again at will, which can create the different log on hand shakes what has so far baffled us as to “Why?”

Wiring aside, is Satcom that vulnerable?

We rely more and more on high bandwidth satcom, and the Inmarsat system is the prevalent one out there. One can say that the idea of someone breaking into the overhead panels and fiddle with the satcom control boxes, is just ridiculous, but have a look at this set up at another Malaysian registered aircraft… you don’t need to open up cabin ceilings with this one!

Anyone who thinks this set up is secure from manipulation needs to have his/her head checked!

Many will ask what’s the point if this article because it is obvious that I write this not to make people believe in conspiracy theories, and I also doubt that Jeff wrote his to get people to believe his conspiracy theory. However, what Jeff and I wrote, should raise some alarm bells with regards to safety and security.

Anyone who’s convinced that the 777-sized bulldozed ground at Baikonur is the burial place of MH370 should get their heads checked. If the aircraft did land there, it would have just been refuelled, and the satcom deactivated, and remained off as the aircraft took off again into real oblivion with the purpose of the spoof done, that is to misguide people elsewhere (like the southern Indian Ocean). But, do I think the airplane went north? No, not really. Both Jeff and I believe that the search on the southern Indian Ocean need to continue.

Due to MH370, ICAO is now considering making aircraft tracking via satcom as mandatory. Many are proponents of getting the tracking done by existing on-board satcom systems. However, I personally think that such a method is no additional means of security as we can see in this article that the current set up is nowhere near secure. The SDU and HPAs are where they are because they physically NEED to be close to the antenna to ensure good quality signals.

Mandatory tracking should be done through a less expensive system that can be applied universally, that is separate from the passenger satcom systems and/or cannot be tampered with in flight. The current set up installed on many aircraft as shown, isn’t tamper proof. The last thing we need is for someone to be able to tamper with the tracking portion by accessing the physical boxes of the satcom controls and spoofing or hacking into the Satellite Data Unit, or even, destroying it, as gaining access to them is pretty easy.

Current Inmarsat-4 (Swift Broadband) antennas have their own embedded GPS that can be used for tracking by taking the data and transmitting it through as customer payload, or through the non-payload data packets. The latter would be more secure, so far, for those who wants to not add anymore hardware onto aircraft installed with these systems.

This article is to raise alarms beyond flight safety and security, but also touches on data security of on-board air-to-ground data communications used by the passenger. Those in the industry should know what I mean and why details aren’t divulged in this article… it would be just too damned tempting to be abused by the bad guys, but the current set up can easily result in abuses of privacy and mining of personal data.

The fact is, security wise, on-board internet security is still poor. We had a provider of on-board internet spoofing SSL security certificates recently, which can compromise private data such as access passwords and e-banking security. Wanting to use these systems as is for safety purposes, can and probably will open up a can of worms.

As this article shows, from the crypto-investigation “hobby” of me, Jeff and many others, sleuthing through technical details, evidence, etc, can, when combined with a little imagination and analytical thinking, expose various risks we didn’t see before (even if it stared us right in the face).