Pentagon Looking To Invent "Kill Switch" For Airplanes

It has been nearly 7 years since 9/11 and the government is still pulling ideas out of its ass to help keep us safe. Wired reports that in a request for proposals issued this week, the Pentagon announced that they are looking for ways to “safely divert an aircraft in the air or stop and/or disable an aircraft on the ground,” i.e., a kill switch. More, inside…

The kill switch guidelines:

The primary focus of the “divert an aircraft” task is to control the airspace and enforce no-fly or restricted flight zones. Effects should be focused on the aircraft, not the pilot or other personnel on board. The capability should enable the enforcement of flight restriction zones (e.g., metropolitan Washington, D.C.), protection of critical infrastructure and other high value assets from a possible aerial threat.

For aircraft on the ground, “stop” requires the aircraft to come to 0 mph at some point between when it starts to taxi and when it reaches abort speed. The requirement to “disable” includes actions to render inoperable, deny use, and/or deny access to an aircraft on the ground. Successful accomplishment of either objective results in keeping the targeted aircraft from becoming airborne.

So far, nobody is quite sure how to design and implement such a device. Additionally, the government would like to see this magical device on boats too. They wish to have a device that could, from 100 meters, “safely stop or significantly impede the movement” of vessels up to 40 feet long, with “minimal collateral damage.”

Even if such a device could be properly engineered and implemented, would you be at ease with flying on an airplane that had a government-controlled kill switch which could suddenly take control the aircraft at a moment’s notice? Instead of preventing harm, it seems to us, that such a device would only create another avenue for terrorists who could exploit such a device to their advantage. Furthermore, it seems reasonable to believe, like any piece of technology, that this device could malfunction and potentially activate itself. Do you think a kill switch on airplanes is a good idea? How would you go about inventing such a thing?

Pentagon Wants Kill Switch for Planes
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. LetMeGetTheManager says:

    This ranks up their with the installation of screen doors on submarines…

  2. Grabraham says:

    ” American Airlines introduces a 15 dollar gate fee for kill switch “

  3. Laser beam from outer space?

  4. ffmariners says:

    I am sure access will be totally secure. Totally.

  5. Mrmateo says:

    ARD….Airplane Remote Desktop

  6. crabbyman6 says:

    Wow, what a bad idea. Knowing how the government runs the odds that someone accidentally pushes the switch at some point is probably pretty high. Not to mention the security problem of making sure that only “authorized” users can activate the switch and would every plane/boat have different authorized users with different authentication methods? Seems silly to me.

  7. MJPByron says:

    Laputan machine?

    Flatlander woman?

  8. jst07 says:

    Or perhaps deploy fighter jets to enforce airspace security ON TIME instead of like 45 mins late?

  9. Juggernaut says:

    They should invent new screeners that allow them to graphically see your genitalia…

  10. Deivion says:

    Flight Simulator with the ability to control real airplanes?

  11. Nogard13 says:

    There is no need to install a “Kill Switch.” All they’d really need is an override mechanism that would allow them to disable all the controls on a plane and allow for them to control them remotely. They could have several military UAV pilots on standby at airports to fly the planes safely to the ground in such a case. I mean, the technology exists so why not use it?

  12. savvy999 says:

    Doesn’t the Pentagon already have air-to-air missiles for stopping it in-flight?

  13. WaywardSoul says:

    The boat idea is idiocy at it’s peak. Who are they going to stop, criminals, drug runners, terrorists? No, not one chance it h-e double hocky sticks, because those people are going to immediately disable any such device on any boat they get their hands on. It’s only going to be used/misused on law abiding citizens.

  14. Ein2015 says:

    @scottieb3: Hahaha my thoughts exactly.

    The bad idea light is burning brightly on this one.

  15. Bagels says:

    @crabbyman6: “It’s like a submarine. You both have to turn your keys”

  16. mantari says:

    Somehow, the idea of a “kill switch” does not invoke the images of safety that they want me to have. Perhaps it should be called a “remote safety enhancer”? :)

  17. InThrees says:

    If this thing is developed I give it 18 hours before schematics to build your own “Aircraft disabler, works from 500 yards away!” are on the internet.

    How about we live with the fact that yes, Virginia, there are people who want to kill us, and no, Virginia – we can’t be 100% safe 100% of the time. Life just doesn’t work that way. You can take prudent steps to increase vigilance and safety, and I support steps so long as they don’t subvert the values of freedom and security this country were founded on.

    And by ‘values of security’ I certainly do not mean having to surrender the digital contents of any electronic device I have at a border.

  18. chrisjames says:

    @Nogard13: The technology doesn’t exist to do such a thing. Modern UAVs are highly specialized craft mostly because of flight issues, not mission issues. Perhaps soon, though.

    I’d like to see the old farts in the military get shot down big time on this one. A signal that can stop a plane? I can see planes dropping out of the sky because I unlocked my car with my key fob.

  19. Jbball says:

    No no no no no no nonononononononono!!!!

    Again, this story makes me want to never fly again.

  20. Xmar says:

    The security for implementing/activating an airplane killswitch would have to be extraordinary. Due to the way the airline industry is setup, I don’t think this is possible.

  21. lalaland13 says:

    If people would just turn off their planes when they aren’t using them, the government would save millions of dollars a year.

  22. quagmire0 says:

    Seriously, the airlines can’t even afford peanuts. How are they going to afford sophisticated equipement like that without charging $1,000 for the first checked bag? :)

    The best way to combat terrorism is to really have air marshalls and for everyone on that hijacked plane to bum rush the terrorists and subdue them. If the terrorist has a bomb, what good will the kill switch do? He’ll also have the chance to kill everyone on board before the plane lands.

  23. jamesdenver says:

    Don’t people get it? 9/11 will never happen the SAME way it happened before, because any passengers on board won’t let it. It took all of three hours for people to figure this out the morning of 9/11.

    Pilot unions and organizations will never let this happen.

  24. quagmire0 says:

    Here’s the grand conspiracy: The terrorist nations, who also own most of the oil, are jacking up the price of oil so that politicians in America will push to go to Nuclear energy. Once those nuclear plants are in place, the terrorists have now, indirectly, planted nuclear bombs throughout the country and will work relentlessly to attack them and stir up terror.

    Man, I think I just wrote the plot to the next Bourne movie – or James Bond. :P

  25. Paul D says:

    ‘cuz the bad guys will never figure out how to hack that system.

    Nothing to see here…

  26. reykjavik says:

    How would this stop someone from blowing up a plane 30,000 feet above the atlantic? No terrorist in his right mind would try to hijack a plane these days, its only something you can do once – now that everyone knows you’re going to kill them, everyone will try to thwart you. Thats why the shoe bomber was a “bomber” and not a “hijacker.” Its explosives one really has to worry about.

  27. arras says:

    the very notion that our government/military wants a kill switch or the ability to remotely control an airplane makes me not want to fly ever again.
    I can see the benefit of such a capability on paper – but remember, this is the US government we’re talking about here. The contract will go to the lowest bidder or be given to KBR in a sweetheart deal and they’ll just slap something together at the last minute.

    Either way, I envision planes dropping out of the sky. This would probably only apply to American-owned airlines anyways. Would you, as a sovereign nation, really want the US military to have access to a kill switch on planes owned by your country?


  28. InThrees says:

    I can just see it now…

    Lowest Bidder Design Team: “Hey, there are no garage doors at airports or 20,000 feet in the air, right? Let’s go to Sears.”

  29. Squeegoth says:

    I’d like a kill switch on U.S. politicians, personally.

  30. DrGirlfriend says:

    “How would you go about inventing such a thing?”

    I wouldn’t. Some things, like the cartoon pr0n I accidentally stumbled across yesterday while doing a Google Images search on Futurama, are better left uninvented.

  31. Joafu says:

    “Instead of preventing harm, it seems to us, that such a device would only create another avenue for terrorists who could exploit such a device to their advantage.” As I was reading the article, this is what I was thinking of. Add this to the list of extremely stupid ideas that are supposed to protect Americans.

  32. mac-phisto says:

    @chrisjames: really? my uncle is a captain on wide-bodies & i’m pretty sure i remember a lengthy conversation about technology for remote operation, ohhh, about 5 years ago.

    maybe i’m wrong, but i could’ve sworn he said something along the lines of “they can land a triple 7 from the tower if they need to…” & the rest of the discussion seemed to indicate that most (if not all) operations could be carried out from the ground, should something go awry.

    perhaps i misunderstood the conversation…i dunno.

    regardless, i could see the purpose of a killswitch (anyone ever see that crapass movie “executive decision?), but i think a much better idea would be to implement a set of common sense emergency directives instead.

  33. tripnman says:

    New at “” – Keyfob sized Aircraft Remote, kill any aircraft from across the tarmac. Comes preinstalled with 100’s of common manufacturer codes.

    I’ll buy two.

  34. parad0x360 says:

    They should put in a device that lets the planes be controlled via the internets just like that fun christmas light websites…except now we get to land planes instead of flick lights!

  35. Trai_Dep says:

    Considering your average jet has over one hundred people on board, it shouldn’t be called Kill Switch, but Slaughter Switch.
    I’ll bet the person who came up with the proposal thinks the airline will simply park, mid-stop, in the air until the police can scurry up and secure it.
    And, who would one sue when these are misused or hijacked? The gov’t for forcing implementation, the airline mfr for allowing/implementing it, the carrier for allowing the signal, the TSA doofus for screwing up? The mind reels…

  36. Trai_Dep says:

    A better idea: install one on Air Force One, and if, at any time, over 50% of the voting public vote yes, then Hail to the (New) Chief!

  37. AtariJedi says:

    Instead of a kill switch, how about a switch that disables all control from inside the aircraft, and automatically sets the autopilot/autolanding to the nearest airport large enough to handle the aircraft. The airport is also notified so it can clear a runway.

  38. NotATool says:

    Right, all fun and games until the terrorist hack into the airplane control system. Now they won’t even have to make martyrs of themselves to fight their Jihad. In fact, they can do it all remotely and completely anonymously.

    Oh, but this system will be secure, I’m sure.

    Great idea, dumbasses.

  39. NotATool says:

    @jamesdenver: 9/11 won’t happen the same way ever again — you are right. Passengers won’t let it happen. Pilots won’t let it happen. The FAA got rid of their asinine policy of handing over the controls to the hijackers.

    However, if you let the hijackers take over the controls remotely, well, they could fly that plane just about anywhere. Hit any building they want to.

    This kill switch/remote control idea IS 9/11 waiting to happen all over again.

  40. SinisterMatt says:


    That’d get my vote, if I had one, that is. If I recall correctly (correct me if I am wrong), NASA can bring the Space Shuttle down from orbit on autopilot, why not do something similar?


  41. Tmoney02 says:

    @mac-phisto: Well the autopilot on the new planes like the 777 can land the plane itself. Such a kill switch could lockout the pilots and turn on the autopilot.

  42. OwenCatherwood says:

    @SinisterMatt: The course reversals during reentry are driven by autopilot (to prevent pilots from over/under turning), but the final approach itself is done by hand by the pilot or commander.

  43. Trai_Dep says:

    @AtariJedi: Dude, you’ve got to get out more. Autopilots don’t work like that. Except in cartoons.

  44. CyberSkull says:

    The solution is simple. Buy it from Tony Stark. He puts kill switches in everything he makes, from cell phones to munitions. He’s bound to have worked out all the bugs.

  45. mac-phisto says:

    @Tmoney02: that’s pretty much what i thought. there seems to be two differing opinions on whether that’s true or not & to be perfectly honest, i’m not sure either way. perhaps an industry expert would like to pipe up (or perhaps you are that expert)…

  46. ywgflyer says:

    Sure, go ahead and electronically disable my aircraft as I’m nearing V1 on an icy runway in the winter, because of some perceived “security threat”. You might have to use the Jaws of Life to extract my foot from your ass later, but go ahead and try it anyways.

    Seriously, I can’t wait for this one to hit PPRuNe.

    @AtariJedi: Ever had an autopilot completely pooch on you and start doing all kinds of stupid shit, to the point where you had to pull the circuit breaker to keep control of the airplane? I have. It wasn’t pretty. This pilot isn’t setting foot near an aircraft with this all-knowing, all-seeing, pilot-overriding, infalliable-under-all-situations autopilot, if one could ever be designed.

  47. ageshin says:

    I would imagine that an effective kill switch, one that is cheep and rather easy to make, would, when activated fill the plane with a deadly gas thus killing everyone on board including the crew. This would solve the hostage problem as well. I might point out that airline highjackers usually wait until the plane takes off, before acting making a kill switch useless. Of course, if you don’t mind some collateral damage, then….

  48. SayAhh says:

    Ahh, so it’s NOT a kill switch for pilots. LOL! Now if only the Pentagon can invent a switch that will stop airplanes in mid-air then we’d be in business. Instead of JetBlue, you’d have UFOBlue.

    @ywgflyer: “This pilot isn’t setting foot near an aircraft with this all-knowing, all-seeing, pilot-overriding, infalliable-under-all-situations autopilot, if one could ever be designed.” Conspiracy spoiler (official story readers need not apply): ever heard the theory that the planes were switched when FAA towers lost track of planes or were told it was just a simulation? Meaning the planes that crashed were remote controlled by someone, perhaps terrorists, with heavy funding? I hope the CIA doesn’t come after me for knowing (or rather, stupidly guessing) too much… Remote Controlled Boeings.

    Here’s a question: what if the “kill switch” is activated, then the control room’s power gets knocked out by an earthquake, flood, or an employee lounge microwave oven overload?

  49. Vanguarde says:

    Hell, put these in ALL vehicles so COPS can press a button to tap into your car as your pathetic ass is trying to outrun them!

    No, not joking. It is in the works.

    Soon, if a cop puts his lights on, just sit back, relax as he taps into your car and pulls it over FOR YOU.

    USA! USA! USA, land of the free!

  50. If it wasn’t so frighteningly stupid and unworkable, it’d be a bit police state-y. And then there’s the General Ripper angle…

    You people realise that the money that the US spends on absurd things like this is the money that other countries spend on education and health care and other fripperies, right?

    On the subject, there exists a patent which would allow the pilot to push a button to ‘disable’ a passenger in a given seat, generally with a tranquilliser or poison. “Will all naughty terrorists please sit down now.”

  51. Rusted says:

    @Nogard13: Heck no. Think I’ll fly low at eight inches off the ground.