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Guest Bill Webster

Receivers on Airplanes Thing of the Past?

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Guest Bill Webster

rom the New York Times

September 29, 2001


F.B.I. Focuses on Navigational Device



FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Sept. 28 ? In the days since the terrorist attacks, investigators have been trying to determine how hijackers with limited piloting experience, who had apparently never flown jumbo jets, managed to navigate the airliners with enough precision to change course abruptly and strike the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.


The answer is still unknown, but last week, federal agents in South Florida questioned employees of pilot supply stores about their sales of a black, rectangular device that is small enough to be confused with a portable computer game.


The device is a hand-held Global Positioning System, better known by its initials, G.P.S., and it is used as a directional tool to help pilots of small planes fly from one point to another. Similar devices are installed in some automobiles to provide computerized maps and directions.


A spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation refused to explain the agency's interest in the device or whether such portable aeronautical tools were used by the hijackers.


But federal agents have subpoenaed confidential sales records from a leading manufacturer of the devices. They have also canvassed several aviation stores, checking the names of customers who bought a G.P.S. in the last year against a list of people with Middle Eastern names.


Jerry Carbone, owner of Tropical Aero, an aviation supply dealer, said a federal agent matched three customers from his store to names on the list. He said that the agent had asked about a specific device, the popular Garmin GPS III Pilot, which sells for $475, and that all three customers had bought that particular model in the last 10 months.


Mr. Carbone said the names were not those of any of the 19 suspected hijackers; the agent, he added, would not say if the customers were among the others under investigation in the case.


"There's a reason they are asking for this one, so they must know something," said Mr. Carbone, who said the F.B.I. asked him not to identify the three clients. "This makes navigating anywhere in the world very easy."


As many as a dozen suspected hijackers lived in South Florida in the months before the attacks, residing in hotels and apartments and, in some cases, making practice flights. It appears likely that they shopped in the local aviation stores. Mr. Carbone said federal agents told him that a man who bought a set of pilot's headphones from his store about 10 months ago and who signed his receipt "M. Ahmed" might have been one of the hijackers.


Less than a mile away at another store, Aviation Parts Mart, employees have identified two customers on Aug. 27 as Mohamed Atta and one other suspected hijacker. The manager, Jim Torrey, said he believed that the men bought maps, but he said federal agents also took copies of invoices to determine if any hijackers or others on the list of potential suspects might have bought G.P.S. devices.


Employees at several other aviation supply stores in the area confirmed that they, too, had been queried by agents about the Garmin devices.


"They said they were interested in hand-held G.P.S, especially Garmin units," Mr. Torrey said.


The question of how the hijackers navigated and controlled the 757 and 767 airliners they took over has been the subject of much discussion among pilots and aviation experts. Several suspected hijackers had pilot licenses and had trained on Cessnas and other small planes; at least two, Mr. Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, had limited training on a 727 flight simulator. But none had apparently ever actually piloted a jumbo passenger airliner.


Henry George, a retired Eastern Airlines pilot who unwittingly trained Mr. Atta and Mr. Shehhi in two lessons on the simulator, has said that even with their limited experience, the two suspected hijackers would probably have had enough skill to steer and maneuver a 757 or a 767. Other pilots have agreed that the steering skills required are fairly rudimentary.


Whether the hijackers would have been trained well enough to reprogram the flight management systems inside the hijacked airliners to reroute the jets toward their targets, though, is less certain. "Navigation would be the challenging thing," a federal official said. "Flying it would be the easy part."


Ron Lovas, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association in Washington, said that if the hijackers were unfamiliar with the onboard flight management system, they could have charted the route with maps, compasses and protractors, a cruder method known as "dead reckoning navigation." On a clear day like Sept. 11, he said, distinguishing cities, shorelines and other visual guides would be simple.


But Mr. Lovas and others agreed that a G.P.S. unit might also have allowed the hijackers to navigate the jets, even though the devices are intended for use by smaller planes.


Its small antenna sends signals to a satellite, which automatically determines the coordinates of an airplane in flight. Mr. Lovas said that the windshield of a jumbo jet could potentially interfere with the satellite signal but that the antenna could simply be moved to another window.


Mr. Carbone, the store owner, said that the hijackers could have programmed the coordinates of their targets into the device ? or the coordinates of a nearby airport ? and it would have provided the navigational bearings needed to redirect the planes. With these bearings, the hijackers would have had the information needed to reroute the jets. Nor is it likely that the device would have been confiscated at security; Mr. Carbone said he had carried one aboard passenger flights to monitor the plane's progress, like a video game.


For now, federal agents are not saying why they are interested in the G.P.S. units and what, if any, significance they might have to the terrorist attacks.


Pete Brumbaugh, a spokesman for Garmin International Inc., the company that manufactured the devices, confirmed that F.B.I. agents had contacted the company on Sept. 17. He said Garmin was served a subpoena the same day seeking confidential sales information as well as a list of retailers across the country that sell the devices. The company, he added, is cooperating fully with the F.B.I.

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Guest Mike_Teague

"Its small antenna sends signals to a satellite, which automatically determines the coordinates of an airplane in flight. Mr. Lovas said that the windshield of a jumbo jet could potentially interfere with the satellite signal but that the antenna could simply be moved to another window."


With that nonsense, who knows...

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Guest embi

Its small antenna sends signals to a satellite


WOW didnt realise my little unit was so powerful! NOT. mad.gif


Isnt that annoying!



It's out there...let's go get it!

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Guest Iron Chef

just there to look pretty. Grief. This is just more proof that american media is getting stretched thin for stuff to report on the 24/7 news channels. What this country needs is a good old fashioned sex scandel to rock some high level of government. That'll get us back into the swing of things.



-Iron Chef

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

agefive.com/geocache/ ~ Fe-26

Lets Drive Fast and Eat Cheese!

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Guest Kerry

The Media probably now more than never before is going to be the unknown enemy. Never know whose side there on? apart from their own.


Cheers, Kerry.


[This message has been edited by Kerry (edited 01 October 2001).]

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