Aviation Archive


Guest Post: On the possible interpretation of abnormal BFO values

Oleksandr fig 2

By Oleksandr N.

[Note: Oleksandr originally posted a link to this intriguing paper in the comments section, where it has generated a considerable amount of discussion. Oleksandr has developed one of the most intriguing hypotheses about the Inmarsat data to emerge in a long time. In a nutshell, he suggests that data that has long been viewed as spurious might in fact be an important clue as to what the plane was doing during two crucial and as-yet poorly understood periods of its final flight. — JW]



There are two obviously abnormal BFO values of 273 Hz (18:25:34.461 UTC) and -2 Hz (00:19:37.443 UTC) recorded by Inmarsat. The first of them is inconsistent with the other BFO records in the same cluster of BFOs 18:25 – 18:27, and it is also inconsistent with the known heading and speed of the aircraft by 18:22.
The second abnormal BFO value of -2 Hz considerably differs from the BFO value of 182 Hz just 8 seconds earlier. Should this value be correct, it would imply an extreme descent rate (~15,000 ft /min).
While attempts took place to explain the BFO of 273 Hz as a result of some maneuver, such as a lateral offset, the second anomalous value of -2 Hz is widely believed to be erroneous.
This technical note provides an alternative view, suggesting that both the anomalous BTO values are valid, but they are the results of the inability of AES to apply Doppler compensation due to missing position/velocity data.

You can find the whole paper here.


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Guest Editorial: Why This Plague of False Information?

By Victor Iannello

Don’t be fooled by claims of the red tape causing the delay in the determination of the provenance of the flaperon.

Boeing and the NTSB were parties to the investigation when the flaperon was first brought to Toulouse. It is very unlikely that the Spanish subcontractor ADS-SAU did not immediately turn over all documentation when requested by Boeing. The investigators had to know soon after the start of the investigation what the provenance of the part is, whether or not that determination was made public.

I have said before and continue to believe that there was an attempt to delay the release of the results of the investigation in parallel with planting a seed of doubt regarding the provenance of the part. Just look at the series of events this week. First the claim that Spanish vacation schedules have delayed the identification of the part. Then the claim that the identification was not possible. This was followed by the claim that the flaperon was certainly from MH370.

The pattern of leaking contradictory or false information to the media from off-the-record sources continued in full force this week. I believe this is a story in its own right that should be getting a lot of attention. Perhaps when enough journalists are made to look foolish by reporting contradicting statements, their “reputation instincts” will kick in and compel them to dig deeper.

We who are following this incident should demand that more facts be fully disclosed. Technical reports should be released so that we are not parsing statements from a judge-prosecutor to understand the true meaning of what was written. And journalists should not blindly report statements without attribution.

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Text of French President’s Announcement

Thanks to @HippyGirl for turning me onto this official announcement:

Le président de la République a reçu les familles des quatre passagers français qui se trouvaient à bord du vol MH370 de la compagnie Malaysia Airlines disparu le 8 mars 2014.

Le chef de l’Etat a exprimé le soutien de la Nation dans la douloureuse épreuve des familles de victimes qui restent dans l’incertitude sur les circonstances précises de cette disparition.

Au lendemain de la confirmation que le fragment d’aile découvert à la Réunion le 29 juillet dernier correspond à celui du vol MH370, il a fait avec les familles un point sur les recherches entreprises.

Il les a assurées de la mobilisation des services de l’Etat en appui des procédures judiciaires en cours en France comme à l’étranger pour permettre de faire toute la lumière sur cette catastrophe aérienne.

Les efforts de notre diplomatie seront poursuivis pour que la mobilisation et la coopération de toutes les parties prenantes permettent d’assurer le plus rapidement possible les progrès de l’enquête.

Translation after the jump. As ever, corrections appreciated.

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Text of French Prosecutor’s Announcement Confirming Flaperon Link to MH370

Florence de Changy has provided me with the text of the announcement released today, September 3, 2015:

Dans le cadre de l’information judiciaire relative à la disparition du vol MH 370 de la Malaysia Airlines le 8 mars 2014, les opérations d’expertises initiées le 5 août 2015, suite à la découverte du flaperon à La Réunion le 29 juillet 2015, ont permis de relever -au moyen d’un endoscope- trois numéros à l’intérieur du flaperon.

Il est apparu que ces trois numéros pouvaient correspondre à la référence de la fabrication de pièces confiée en sous-traitance par la société Boeing à la société Airbus Defense and Space (ADS-SAU), sise à Séville (ESPAGNE).

Ce jour, sur commission rogatoire internationale auprès des autorités judiciaires espagnoles, le magistrat instructeur -assisté de l’expert en aéronautique missionné-, s’estrendu à Séville aux fins de recueillir toutes données utiles.

La communication immédiate des données relatives aux commandes et fabrication des pièces de l’aéronef, explicitée par l’audition d’un technicien de la société ADS-SAU, permet d’associer formellement l’un des trois numéros relevés à l’intérieur du flaperon au numéro de série du flaperon du boeing 777 du vol MH 370.

Ainsi, il est aujourd’hui possible d’affirmer avec certitude que le flaperon découvert à La Réunion le 29 juillet 2015 correspond à celui du vol MH 370.

Translation after the jump. Thanks to @Ghysbreght for the translation help.

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Translation: “Simulations Call MH370 Search Strategy Into Question” (Der Spiegel)

[Note: the following is a translation from an article published by Spiegel Online on Friday. Thanks to @littlefoot (Sabine Lechtenfeld) for her assistance.]

by Christoph Seidler

What happened to the missing Boeing 777 of flight MH370? The aircraft with 239 people on board has been missing since March 8, 2014. As the end of July, a piece of wreckage washed up on the French island of La vunion, giving investigators that the wing flap might help solve the riddle–among other things, because it could show how the piece of debris made its way across the Indian Ocean.  And that, in turn, should provide a clue to at least the general area that the plane went down.

Now computer calculations by German oceanographer suggest that perhaps the search for the Malaysia Airlines aircraft has been carried out in the wrong area. Until now, says Andreas Villwock of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, it’s been assumed that MH370 had crashed far south of the equator at 35 degrees latitude. Computer models by his colleagues show, however, that the debris  “probably comes from the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean,” far from the nothern end of the current search area.

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The Growth of Sea Life on Indian Ocean Flotsam


After eight months adrift in the southern Indian Ocean. Click to enlarge

To understand what the barnacles growing on the Reunion flaperon can tell us about its history in the ocean, it’s important to have other pieces of flotsam to compare it with. Earlier, I posted a picture of a boat that had drifted across the north Pacific for about the same length of time as has elapsed since the disappearance of MH370. The density of sea life was far higher. But perhaps that’s due to the fact that it was immersed in relatively nutrient-rich waters. A more useful comparison might be to debris that has drifted in the Indian Ocean.

In May of 2013 a LeisureCat Sportsfisher motorboat capsized in a storm off the northwestern coast of Australia and drifted out to sea. (Many thanks to @Matty for bringing this up in the comments section.) Eight months later, it washed up on the shores of Mayotte Island, off the coast of Madagascar, as seen above. To put it in context, it started drifting 1700 nautical miles northeast of the current search area, and wound up 800 nautical miles northwest of Reunion.

One striking difference with the Reunion flaperon is the presence of an obvious waterline, above which no marine growth is present. You can see the barnacles and algae more clearly in the picture below:

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New York: The Strange Saga of the Plane Part That Was Supposed to Solve the MH370 Mystery — UPDATED

UPDATED 9/3/15: France has announced that a serial number found within the flaperon has been matched to records kept by the Spanish subcontractor who built the part, and that there is now no longer any doubt that the flaperon found on La Réunion is, in fact, from MH370. Media reports suggesting that investigators would conclude otherwise — the basis for the article below — appear to have been mistaken. Questions about how the flaperon arrived at La Réunion remain, for the time being, open.

Tomorrow marks one month since a piece of a Boeing 777 washed up on the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, but French investigators are no closer to confirming that the part came from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. In fact, leaks from within the investigation suggest that the the part might not have come from the plane at all.

Such a conclusion, if confirmed, would constitute a shocking reversal. At the time of the discovery, it was generally accepted that the wing segment, a so-called “flaperon,” could only come from MH370: Boeing engineers confirmed that the part was from a 777, and MH370 was the only 777 to have gone missing. Aviation experts declared that serial numbers on the flaperon would allow it to be definitively linked to the missing plane within 24 hours. When that deadline past, news outlets told readers that the ID should be nailed down within a few days. Then, by the following week.

What was holding things up, it turned out, was that the ID plate that should have been attached to the inboard edge of the flaperon was missing. And that was not the only problem.

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What Are the Discrepancies in the Reunion Flaperon? — UPDATED

According to the New York Times, shortly after the discovery of the 777 flaperon on Reunion Island, Boeing and the NTSB found discrepancies between the part and details recorded in Malaysia Airlines’ maintenance data. This claim was reinforced by an article published by Le Monde on Wednesday, which reported that “maintenance work that Malaysia Airlines has indicated it carried out on the flaperon does not exactly match that observed on the discovered piece.”

I’m somewhat puzzled by this language. What does it mean to “not exactly match”? Airplane parts are engineered pretty precisely, if a part should have eight holes and it has nine, it doesn’t just “not match exactly,” it doesn’t match.

At any rate, it seems to me that just by looking at photographs available on line we can discern some oddities about the Reunion flaperon that have perhaps given investigators pause.

UPDATED: Well, that didn’t take long. Readers @GuardedDon and @Beinahu wrote in and told me that I was mistaken: “the widget” that I write about after the jump most likely does not represent a basic difference between the Reunion flaperon and the reconditioned 777-200ER one. Rather, the two black rectangles visible on the reconditioned flaperon are holes to which a bracket fitting is attached in both the Reunion and India Airlines flaperon. Someone told me weeks ago that the two black rectangles were “rub plates” and I’d assumed that ever since. So there’s one idea I can throw out the window.

UPDATE #2: On 9/3/2015, Nicola Clark of the International New York Times (@_NicolaClark) tweeted to me the following explanation of the discrepancies that the paper reported: “Sources told us wing part showed evidence of expected modifications (reinforcement plate) to the flaperon but the number and placement of screw holes did not precisely match what would have normally been expected.” Given that the identity of the flaperon has since been confirmed, this would seem to imply non-standard maintenance practices or record-keeping by Malaysian Airlines.

Anyway, I’m leaving up the rest of the post after the jump, so people can see what I’m admitting to being wrong about.

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How Did the Reunion Flaperon Float?

inboard end

Inboard end of flaperon, top. Click to expand.

One of the many important details yet to emerge publicly about the Reunion flaperon is how it floated in the water. Presumably, French investigators have immersed it in saltwater to see how it settles. Since the results of that test haven’t been released, the only clue available to us is the the sea life visible in photographs. As I’ve written, the flaperon is liberally encrusted with goose barnacles. These animals are a type of crustacean that attaches while young to a floating object and spends its entire adult life affixed to the same spot. Since they obviously can only survive underwater, every part upon which they were growing must have been well submerged for a considerable period of time.

Above, the inboard end of the flaperon, as seen from the top looking down. This is where the ID plate should have been attached. Barnacles are growing all around the rim of this end, and to my eye extend beyond the plane of both the upper and the lower surface, so this entire end appears to have been submerged.

More pics after the jump.

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French Report: Investigators Can’t Link Reunion Flaperon to MH370

I am grateful to reader @AM2, who early this morning alerted us to a report in the French website LaDepeche.fr stating that investigors who have been examining the flaperon found on Reunion have been unable to find any evidence linking it to MH370. Soon after, reader @Jay provided the translation below, which I’ve tweaked and edited using my high-school French and some online dictionaries. Thanks to both of you (and to Brock for his translation help)! Any corrections or suggestions from people who actually know the language would be very gratefully received.

MH370: At Balma, the Technical Investigation is Complete 

The Toulouse experts of the Directorate General of Armaments have finished the survey of the flaperon found on Reunion. Nothing permits it to be 100% certified as belonging to MH370!

In Balma, near Toulouse, technical analysis of of the wing flaperon believed to belong to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing has ended. The Toulouse engineers have submitted their findings to the Paris Prosecutor’s Office, which is in charge of the judicial inquiry. At the moment none of their observations have been leaked. “The investigation team headed by the French to consider the flaperon concluded the first phase of its inspection work,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) announced in Sydney.

Circumstantial evidence

“French authorities will, in consultation with Malaysia, report on progress in due course,” added the ATSB. Indeed, the judicial authorities remain silent and refuse to comment. According to our information, the experts have found no compelling technical element that would certify 100% that this piece belongs to flight MH370. “The expert conclusions are only the technical part of the criminal investigation, which is still going on,” so the case cannot be considered closed. For now all that is certain is that the flaperon, which was transferred from the island of Reunion to Toulouse on August 5, corresponds to a moving part of a wing of the Boeing 777. A representative of the American manufacturer Boeing quickly confirmed that after arriving at the site of the DGA Aeronautical Technical Center in Balma. If the deputy prosecutor of the Republic of Paris has stated that there was a “very strong supposition” that the piece belonged to the plane of flight MH370, which disappeared 18 months ago, that is based on circumstantial evidence.

First, the piece belongs to the aircraft model corresponding to that of Malaysia Airlines, a Boeing 777. In addition, no other aircraft of this type except that of the Malaysian company were reported missing.

Also, the trajectory of the wing piece that ran aground on a beach in Reunion matches the sea currents that link the search area of ​​the wreckage of the plane to the French overseas department. Finally, the shells found attached to the flaperon belong to a species endemic to the southern Indian Ocean where the unit is believed to have disappeared.

According to a Toulouse aeronautics expert who requested anonymity, the element of the wing would not have floated for several months at the water’s surface but would have drifted underwater a few meters deep. According to Jean-Paul Troadec, former chairman of the Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA), the state of flaperon, even if it is not intact, indicates that there was no violent impact with the ocean surface. “If this had been the case with the MH370, one would expect much smaller debris than a flaperon,” said the expert.


A couple of observations from me, JW:

  1. I find it odd that a piece of random debris would happen to have exactly neutral buoyancy, as floating for months just below the ocean surface would require. Unless it was tethered…
  2. Reader @Jay raises the question: “What about the maintenance seal that Malaysia claimed 100% linked the part to MH370?” Likewise, no mention is made of the discrepencies that Boeing and NTSB officials reportedly found between the flaperon and Malaysia Airlines maintenance records, according to the New York Times.  Hopefully the French will soon issue a report clearing up these issues.



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