MH370 pilot made many turns and speed changes new report reveals

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May 04, 2021
MH370
9M-MRO at Perth Airport in 2012. Credit: Alan Pepper

A new research paper by one of the world’s leading MH370 investigators has revealed that the pilot in command (PIC) of the Boeing 777 made many turns to avoid detection before it settled on its fatal course into the Southern Indian Ocean.

MH370 disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, taking 239 souls.

The paper, “Global Detection and Tracking of Aircraft as used in the Search for MH370,” by aerospace engineer Richard Godfrey uses a revolutionary new technology called Weak Signal Propagation (WSPR), which is a digital radio communication protocol.

WSPR was released in 2008 and developed by Prof. Joe Taylor, who is a Nobel Prize Laureate for Physics and a distinguished Professor of Physics at Princeton University.

WSPR put simply are radio tripwires and can be compared to invisible laser beams that might guard a bank vault and any one interruption would set off an alarm.

“WSPR is like a bunch of tripwires or laser beams (graphic below), but they work in every direction over the horizon to the other side of the globe,” Mr. Godfrey says.

In his first paper on the subject, published last month on Airlineratings.com, Mr. Godfrey confirmed the new technology agreed with the broad flight path of MH370 from satellite data, and its suspected location west of Perth, from drift modeling, based on the debris recovered.

This new paper examines in finer detail the turn around Indonesia before settling onto a course for the Southern Indian Ocean.

“The pilot of MH370 generally avoided official flight routes from 18:00 UTC (2 am AWST) onwards but used waypoints to navigate on unofficial flight paths in the Malacca Strait, around Sumatra and across the Southern Indian Ocean. The flight path follows the coast of Sumatra and flies close to Banda Aceh Airport,” Mr. Godfrey said.

“The pilot appears to have had knowledge of the operating hours of Sabang and Lhokseumawe radar and that on a weekend night, in times of little international tension the radar systems would not be up and running.”

My Godfrey found that “in case the aircraft was detected, the pilot also avoided giving a clear idea where he was heading by using a fight path with a number of changes of direction. These changes of track included toward the Andaman Islands, towards South Africa, towards Java, towards 2°S 92°E (where the Flight Information Regions of Jakarta, Colombo, and Melbourne meet) and towards Cocos Islands.” (Graphic Below with “tripwires” removed).

“Once out of range of all other aircraft, at 20:30 UTC (4.30 am AWST) the pilot changed track and headed due south.”

The flight path appears “carefully planned” said Mr. Godfrey.

There are over 5,000 WSPR radio stations in the world and on the night MH370 disappeared there were 518 unique transmission paths that cross the area of interest around Malaysia, the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean.

“With the WSPR data provided every two minutes and the ability to check against the satellite data every hour it is possible to detect and track MH370 from two independent sources.”

Mr. Godfrey has developed a unique software system called GDTAAA (Global Detection and Tracking any Aircraft Anywhere Anytime) to read the WSPRnet archived database every two minutes from a specified start date-time which in this case is March 7, 2014 16:40 UTC (12.40 am AWST on March 8) until a specified end date-time which is March 8, 2014, 00:40 UTC (8.40 am AWST).

Mr Godfrey explains that “global detection and tracking of any aircraft anywhere at any time is possible using multiple trip wire position indicators and single tripwire progress indicators.

“Position indicators are based on multiple tripwires crossing at a point. Progress indicators are based on a single tripwire at the position predicted by the assumed ground speed and track of MH370.”

My Godfrey found that MH370’s flight path was complicated with a number of turns and changes of speed.

“The flight path seems well planned and avoids commercial flight routes. The pilot appears not so concerned about fuel usage and much more concerned about leaving false trails.”

“The significant number of changes of track and speed suggest that there was an active pilot during the flight,” Mr. Godfrey said.

“Speed changes were beyond the level of changes expected if the aircraft was following a speed schedule such as the long-range cruise (LRC) or maximum range cruise (MRC) mode.

He adds that “the level of detail in the planning implies a mindset that would want to see this complex plan properly executed through to the end.”

However, Mr. Godfrey said all the end-of-flight analysis points to a spiral dive into the ocean.

Of particular interest Mr. Godfrey said is a more detailed analysis of the end of the flight which will be conducted soon.

This graphic shows the radio tripwires and the course of MH370 in deep red. The west coast of Australia is to the right. Source: Richard Godfrey.

“The exact position, ground speed and track of MH370 as it crosses the 6th and 7th Arcs and any anomalous WSPR position or progress indicators that reveal the flight path after fuel exhaustion and after the last Inmarsat satellite data will be a helpful indicator for any future underwater search for the MH370 wreckage.”

“The satellite data, the MH370 floating debris drift analysis, and the WSPRnet data analysis represent three independent ways of determining the crash location of MH370. When all three analyses come to the same conclusion, then the level of certainty [of the location] increases,” Mr. Godfrey said.

“Applying the WSPR technology to the search for MH370 can provide credible new evidence that was not available during the previous underwater searches by Fugro and Ocean Infinity.”