EXPERTS CONFIRM: THE PILOTS WERE FOOLED BY THE RADIO BEACON
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Leszek Misiak, Grzegorz Wierzchołowski, Gazeta Polska 12 January 2011 Nr 2 (910) Index: 320919 page : 8-9
Our article, “Seremet may contest the conclusions of the Russians” [Andrzej Seremet is Poland's Public Prosecutor General, i.e. head of State Prosecution] published on 29 December 2010 containing an analysis, whether the Polish Tu-154M was tricked by a false radio beacon resulted in a lively debate amongst people actively interested in the events in Smolensk. Bloggers, many of whom are experts on airplane guidance, pilots or connected to aviation, presented further evidence and broadened the analysis supporting this.
According to the flight register CVR stenographs published by MAK the signal from the closer NDB radio beacon lasted 2.1 seconds. This means, according to the specifications of the radio beacon system in the airdrome’s charts and the TU-154’s manual, that the airplane was at the time at a height of 80-100m. The MAK however, claims that at the time the plane was at 8m next to the closer NDB. These two facts contradict each other. If in reality it was as MAK claims then the plane could not receive the signal from this radio beacon for as long as 2.1s. “That would be impossible” – Gazeta Polska was told by K.M. (name and surname known to the editor) a member of the army involved in radar control of the airspace, currently living abroad from Poland and an expert of Antoni Macierewicz’s [Polish MP] parliamentary group devoted to explaining the Smolensk catastrophe.
K.M. presented his expert analysis of the final minutes of the flight at the European Parliament in Brussels. One can conclude from his words that the Polish Tu-154 was guided towards a nonexistent virtual landing strip.
One has to remember that the landing of our airplane was performed according to the procedures of the Smolensk airdrome, homing of the plane based on two NDBs, a further one (according to the approach charts 6.1km from the runway’s threshold) and a closer one (1.1km from the runway’s threshold) setup below the approach path in the runway’s center line. In this system the traffic control has an auxiliary function but can have a significant influence on the crew’s behaviour. The traffic control has a radar system, observes the approach and its commands and information are treated by the crew as fully reliable. The message “on course, on glide path” was a confirmation
of the correct approach of the aircraft, without any doubt they meant that the ATC had a radar which captured the planes height (in Russian terminology RSP type, in English PAR type) as the term on “on glide path” is a concrete parameter connected to height in the airdrome’s approach charts.
This parameter depends on the distance from the airdrome. In the situation of the plane deviating from its course or glide path it was the obligation of the ATC to call the go around and explain the reason for the machine being off the glide path or descent course.
> Investigative journalists are keeping quiet
While the majority of investigative journalists (“Misja specjalna” TVP is a notable exception) are being strangely silent and mainly presenting the Russian and government [Polish] views on the matter, a large number of bloggers from the first moments after the tragedy are supporting Gazeta Polska and Nasz Dziennik [Polish daily newspaper] in their strive to find the causes of the crash. Without the bloggers help we would be much further from the truth today. Rexturbo, NDB2010, Sceptyczny Wierzyciel [Sceptical Believer], Manek, Ostateczne Rozwiazanie Kwestii Smolenskiej [Definitive Resolution of the Smolensk Case], Eye of the Beholder, Free your Mind, Rolex – they are the most important (but not the only) authors of the analysis concerning the malfunctioning of Smolensk airdrome’s navigational equipment.
“The first hypothesis of a malfunctioning NDB was given by Jan Cwiecek in the Salon24 portal in the entry of 16 April 2010, “Zabawa z NDB przyczyna katastrofy” [Fooling around with the NDB caused the crash]” – Gazeta Polska is told by blogger NDB2010.
In his entry on Salon24.pl commenting on our text the blogger Rexturbo, who already in April was writing about the hypothesis of a malfunctioning radio beacon, wrote “According to the stenographs the final descent began about 2km before the threshold instead of 1km. Why? Because there, about 2km from the threshold of the landing strip was a false mobile BNDB and its signal lasting 2.1s was put in the stenograph in the place where the machine was meant to receive the signal of the true BNDB, silent at the time.” Rexturbo also confirmed our findings : “Proving wrong guiding of the aircraft by a false beacon is not difficult, one does not need to interrogate anyone. The FDR, which registers the flight’s parameters, takes note of the moment the machine flies over the beacon independently of the CVR (cockpit voice recorder). Comparing these two records will explain everything. All the Polish media should be screaming : “Komorowski [Polish president], Tusk [Polish Prime Minister], Seremet: demand the return of Polish possessions – the original recordings from the plane, why is the return date not set yet? The Russians have finished their investigations, why are you not demanding that Polish specialists can perform their own studies on the original material – even in Russia?”
This blogger also wrote: “The very fact of setting up a trap at the airdrome is a crime which was unknown to the civilized world until now. The words of the former vice head of the Air Defense Forces gen. Jan Baraniecki on the “work” of the ATC are worth considering. There, in control tower in Smolensk there was not even the slightest hint of the will to help and cooperate, instead we had the exact opposite of what an ATC should be, because the airfield is something that a person, be he aviator or passenger, always completely trusts. In the air he is in enemy territory that of technology and nature. The airfield is a home and a friend – these are the thoughts of every aviator and passenger. Such an attitude and rules cause that during an approach one does not question the reliability of an airfields navigational system, there is no reason nor time. This causes an ideal setup for an attack. Fog and simple technical means are sufficient, APM lights and false radio beacons in the wrong place. This equipment available to the military is mounted on trucks.”
> The truth is in the recordings
The blogger Sceptyczny Wierzyciel emphasizes that the Smolensk ATC probably intentionally misled the crew. He wrote, “There are of course minimal conditions that give the crew a chance to pull themselves out of a tight spot, e.g. a deviation from the course and glide path caused by a mistake or wrong assessment of the situation by the crew, during the descent. However in the situation of an intentional sabotage of the airdrome’s navigational equipment to err by 1km, nothing can help. The increase in the risk of a catastrophe occurring is giganteus.”
Another expert by the nick Manek emphasized, “The NDB approach assistance system at Severnyj is a guidance system sufficiently precise enough to allow for a successful landing even with hampered visibility. During such an approach the role of the ATC is very big. He informs the plane whether the distance from the landing strip is correct and whether it is on course and glide path. All, even the slightest deviations, should result in the go around command. According to the stenographs the tower misled the crew about their distance, course and glide path four times.
The blogger Elena, in her entry commenting Gazeta Polska’s article underlined, “The gist of Gazeta Polska’s article is very sensible and points to facts which according to my pilot friends confirm the possibility or even certainty of an assassination. After the catastrophe the first expert explanation I came across for such improbable “behaviour” by the airplane was that with false radio beacons. I got it from an acquaintance, an experienced military pilot, a few hours after the catastrophe. For experienced aviators this and all the facts later provided by journalists of Gazeta Polska and Nasz Dziennik draws the brutal picture that this could have been an assassination. (…) The truth is written in the recordings to which we do not have access to. The journalists of Gazeta Polska and Nasz Dziennik deserve respect for their work. My pilot friends who read the articles in Gazeta Polska, sometimes notice inaccuracies, especially in terminology but that is not the main point. For laymen, and this means nearly all the Poles because how many of us are pilots, technicians or flight engineers, logical conclusions are the most important, not terminology.”
> How a NDB works
The were a large number of comments concerning whether the TU-154 could have picked up the signal of the true radio beacon marker. Sceptyczny Wierzyciel underlines,
for the marker’s signal to be picked up it must have a field strength above a certain level.
“Puristically speaking, it concerns the power density of the beam which is related to the square of the field strength in a simple manner. The antennas of the NDB markers are built in such a way so that the beam will have a large power density in a narrow cone in the vertical direction but not to the sides nor along the ground”, wrote Sceptyczny Wierzyciel.
This is continued by Rexturbo, “The quality of the marker’s signal is important, it is recognized by the airplane’s receiver and signifies the correct location. To justify that the plane could not have had picked up the right marker signal of the closer NDB, when it was 40-50m away skimming the bushes one has to know that the signal is a 75MHz UKF, vertically directed one and the plane has to pass directly above it. The receiver of the plane which is low down at the side could only have received a weak side lobe of the transmitter. To pick up the strongest directed signal two conditions, about which anyone who has installed e.g. a TV and antenna knows, have to be met – the direction of the aerial and tuning of the receiver have to be appropriate. In order for the receiver of the marker’s signal not to “buzz” or show the responses of other instruments it blocks noise. The signal is shown only then when its power in the receiver is above the setup noise level and not shown at all when the receiver (its directional aerial) picks up signals with power below the threshold. This is very precisely tuned. The power and sensitivity of the
on-board receiver are chosen so that they will confirm of the the plane’s correct location with respect to the NDB. For example if the plane is too high or too low with respect to the beacon or heeling too much the signal will be too weak to cause a correct receive of it.”
The issue of side lobes, weak signal of the NDB aerial, is continued by a blogger with a very long nick “
> Malfunctioning radio beacons are not enough
According to the bloggers, that the Russians setup malfunctioning radio beacons is today easy to prove but with only this any potential assassins would be unable to achieve the expected result. When talking to G.P. experts in the field confirmed that after being misled the pilots must have seen the lights of the APMs to descend in the fog to decision height and below it.
APMs are auxiliary elements of the guiding system – it is a gate made up of two strong spotlights mounted on trucks which defines the beginning of the touchdown zone. They were said to stand next to the runway, 200m from its threshold. “In the weather conditions at Smolensk these lights should certainly have been visible to the crew” said K.M.
“In Smolensk they must have been seen from the plane even with 400m visibility (that is what the ATC lied as it really was 800m)”, wrote Rexturbo.
Sceptyczny Wierzyciel takes note that a professionally setup trap could also include some mechanism of disrupting the GPS signal. Meaconing could have been used, which is recording the satellites signal and then replaying it (with a slight shift in time and greater power) on the same frequency in order to fool the crew. Even though GPS is not part of the landing system in Smolensk there is a tendency today for it to be used to facilitate with such manoeuvres.
To those that are wondering why the pilot of the Polish Yak behaved differently from the Tupolev’s one when he realized that the closer beacon was being disrupted Rexturbo says, “In reality the Yak-40 was contriving an intermediate course from the NDB and GPS. This was not according to the book but understandable – they had better visibility, a smaller, slower plane and more confidence that they can correct if needed. They experimented a bit.”
“The GPS is not a tool to calculate the final landing parameters – the course and glide path for two reasons – it is too inaccurate and can be easily disrupted. Maybe one day there will be better ones but not today. A light aircraft or private jet can use it at an own risk but not serious aviation. There are strict landing procedures dependent on the airfield and airplane. The GPS is mainly used for navigating between airports – e.g. defining the course, estimating the speed with respect to the ground or finding an airfield.”, emphasized Rexturbo.
Sceptyczny Wierzyciel ponders on another issue: “The TAWS, the system of automatic warning about ground proximity, uses the GPS signal – so the navigator should notice the discrepancy between the GPS’ reading and the location of the marker of the false closer NDB. The GPS in this case was used as a control of location just as the readings of the radar altimeter.”
“It is of course theoretically possible that the navigator would have noticed the discrepancy in the locations, but practically impossible – the location of the plane according to the GPS is presented as a number which is rapidly changing and the pilot does not have a constantly shown location according to the NDB for comparison because during the descent one does not verify the reliability of the navigation systems of the airdrome. There is no need nor time for this”, explains Rexturbo.
> The tower is responsible for the wrong location of the Tu-154
An expert of Antoni Macierewicz’s commission, K. M. sheds a lot of light on the matter of guiding a plane and the role of the pilots. He operated a flight radar monitoring a large part of Poland’s airspace. He led planes in transit and coming onto the glide path of three Polish airports. He therefore has substantial knowledge and expertise.
According to K.M. in good weather conditions the roles of the ATC, flight and airdrome instruments can be down played. But not in adverse conditions. On an airdrome as poorly equipped as the one in Smolensk one should expect great diligence and commitment from the tower in guiding the plane down.
“An example of inconceivable sloppiness from the ATC’s side, most probably intentional and planned, was that at the further NDB our plane according to the charts should have been at the height of 300-340m but instead was at 420m, 100m too high. In spite of this the crew heard “on course, on glide path”. There are doubts as to the location of the plane at the start of the glide path – 10.4km from the runway’s threshold at a height of 500m. There the crew initiates a constant angle of descent. It gave the Tu-154 a vertical speed of 3.0-3.5m/s so that it would have the correct height at the further NDB. What had happened that the Polish plane was at nearly every point of its descent path at a different location than it should have been? Why was there no reaction from the ATC?”
The blogger society partially answered these questions but the explanation of all of the circumstances is up the Polish state agencies. Assuming of course they take their jobs and citizens seriously.
Written in cooperation with K.M., Rexturbo