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August 2001: Large Passenger Jet Flown and Landed by Remote Control

A Federal Express 727 lands in New Mexico in August 2001.A Federal Express 727 lands in New Mexico in August 2001. [Source: Associated Press]US company Raytheon flies and lands a Federal Express 727 passenger jet six times on a military base in New Mexico, entirely by remote control and without a pilot on board. This is done to test equipment intended to make hijackings difficult, by allowing ground controllers to take over the flying of a hijacked plane. The Associated Press will later report, “[T]he Raytheon test used technology that provides the extremely precise navigational instructions that would be required for remote control from a secure location.” The Associated Press will observe, “Unmanned, ground controlled reconnaissance aircraft have been used by the military for missions over Iraq and Kosovo,” and will quote Thomas Cassidy, president of the California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and manufacturer of the military aircraft, as saying, “It’s a reliable system.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/28/2001]
Raytheon Employees on 9/11 Planes - Several Raytheon employees with possible ties to this remote control technology and/or Raytheon’s Global Hawk program will be reported to have been on the hijacked 9/11 flights (see September 25, 2001). Earlier in the year, a specially designed Global Hawk plane flew from the US to Australia without pilots or passengers. [ITN, 4/24/2001]
Others Say Remote Control Is Impossible - Contradicting the Associated Press report, a number of media reports after 9/11 will suggest such technology is impossible, or flatly deny its existence. For instance, The Observer will quote an expert as saying, “the technology is pretty much there,” but is still untried. [Observer, 9/16/2001] An aviation-security expert at Jane’s Defence Weekly will say this type of technology belongs “in the realms of science fiction.” [Financial Times, 9/18/2001; Economist, 9/20/2001] And in late September 2001, President Bush will give a speech in which he mentions that the government would give grants to research “new technology, probably far in the future, allowing air traffic controllers to land distressed planes by remote control.” [New York Times, 9/28/2001]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Raytheon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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