Stealing and stashing a Boeing 777?

Friends have been asking me, usually prefaced with “I’m not typically prone to conspiracy theory,” about the difficulty of stealing and hiding a Boeing 777. I’m hoping this is because of my experience as an airline pilot and not because they think that I am an expert on stealing and hiding things…

Anyway, one question that they seem to have is how big an airport one needs for such an airplane. If you want to land in bad weather, with lots of safety margin, and have a nice terminal for passengers, the number of places where a B777 could be landed is pretty small. FAR 121.195 requires that a turbojet be able to land in 60 percent of the available runway. You need to assume that the thrust reversers have failed and the plane can be stopped only with brakes (plus spoilers that pop out of the wings, typically, to destroy lift and make the brakes more effective). Pilots don’t even try to land on the first 1000′, since a wind variation or pilot error might result in landing a bit short. Thus if one is going to land and roll 5000′ one needs a 10,000′ runway to be legal. (See this posting about my LaGuardia landing for why this FAA rule is prudent.) For departure you need to be able to accelerate to about 180 mph, lose an engine, think for one second, hit the brakes, and stop without running off the runway (or a special overrun area beyond). Alternatively you must be able to accelerate to about 180 mph, lose an engine (i.e., half of your power), and continue the takeoff with that one engine, clearing whatever obstacles are beyond the runway.

What if you are willing to assume that you’ll make a reasonably competent landing and that the thrust reversers will function normally? Certainly a B777 could be landed in 5000′ of runway (less than one mile). See this article on how a Boeing 747 was landed at a ridiculously small airport in South Africa. The calculated landing roll, without reverse thrust, was 3000′ (the article says “landing distance” so this might actually be 1000′ of flying and then 2000′ of rolling). An Air Canada crew managed land a Boeing 767 at an abandoned airport that originally had a 6800′ runway (Wikipedia) despite a lack of engine power that limited their use of flight controls and therefore necessitated a higher-than-normal approach speed.

Could you take off again from a short runway? Sure. In this test flight, a journalist reports lifting off in a 777 about 3300′ down the runway. A Southwest Airlines B737 joined the Cessna crowd at an airport with a 3700′ runway and took off again without incident (story).

I don’t have any special knowledge about Malaysia 370, but it would definitely be possible to land such a plane at an out-of-the-way or decommissioned airport, refuel it, and take off again.

What could a person do with a stolen Boeing 777? The parts don’t have as much commercial value as one might think, due to the fact that operators in most countries need to comply with a lot of regulations regarding the serial numbers and provenance of all of the parts that are placed onto a certified aircraft, particularly one of “transport class.” Countries that the U.S. government doesn’t like, such as Iran, have trouble operating Boeing airplanes because we make it tough for them to get spare parts (see Wikipedia story on Iran Air).

Those are the answers that I’ve given to friends. I’m about as confused by the situation as anyone else, however. Certainly my personal hope is that the plane is parked under a tarp somewhere and the passengers will eventually return home.

6 Comments

  1. louie wear

    March 16, 2014 @ 2:44 pm

    1

    i belive the 777 lost cabin pressure for some reason and the piolet didn’t get a chance to compleat his turn and the plane when on Auto till it ran out of fuel …was something like this happin to the Burino famility years aago

  2. Steven

    March 16, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

    2

    Over at my table we’re discussing why the plane rose to 45000 feet. Easier to kill the passengers by releasing cabin pressure, some say. Then the living pilots or hijackers could have traveled north by misidentifying itself to ATC as another plane. Bound for Uzbekistan/Iran or whereever the hijackers wanted the plane and the cargo.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/malaysia/10700790/Malaysian-Airlines-MH370-how-much-do-we-really-know.html
    http://www.policymic.com/articles/85395/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-missing-malaysia-plane-as-we-enter-week-two
    If we suspect foul play, and we do, who’d be behind the foul play to obtain what?

  3. Steve

    March 17, 2014 @ 2:49 am

    3

    What could a person do with a stolen Boeing 777? We could ask the vicious human beings that flew a pair of 767′s into a well known pair of buildings in New York one fine September morning not all that long ago, but fortunately, they were the first to meet their maker that day.

    I sure hope that the NSA, the CIA, the FBI or whomever has got a bead on this, and that any great big freakin’ unknown blips heading into US territorial airspace are intercepted with all due diligence. To quote Han Solo (and a score of others) ….”I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

  4. frank

    March 18, 2014 @ 7:01 pm

    4

    I am wondering if the on board computers,were tampered with.If was flown some were else I would look at secondary air fields,or abandon air fields in a 6 hour radius. another possibility. what has happen as in trans Canada air,flight that dispersed over Vancouver in the late 1940′s was not found until 50 years later this not unusal.IT happens all over the world.I believe what has most people concern is how something that big can just vanish.

  5. swen

    March 19, 2014 @ 10:08 am

    5

    How difficult would it be to land a 777 on a grass, dirt, or unpaved landing strip? You know, making a short-field soft-field landing? I realize that this is a heavy and fully loaded plane. I looked on google map, and there are many small islands in that area. If this was a preplanned incident that’s where I would be looking.

  6. Misterwriter

    March 22, 2014 @ 12:36 am

    6

    Agreed – except I believe it was taken to reuse. On my blog at http://www.misterwriter.info I have a scenario for one possible use that I believe is feasible and somewhat easy if the plane was taken. See what you think.

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