East Texas veteran pilot weighs in on Malaysia plane mystery

East Texas veteran pilot weighs in on Malaysia plane mystery

LONGVIEW (KYTX) - The world is watching as investigators continue to uncover more about the missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777.

One of the most recent discoveries is that a radar transponder was turned off on the plane right before it went missing.

Pilots and professors at LeTourneau University's Abbott Aviation Center are helping us break that down.

To LeTourneau aviation professor Phil Rispin, planes are more than a passion. They're his life.

"Oh gosh, I started flying when I was 14," he says.

As a pilot, he's riveted by recent clues as to what might have happened to a missing Malaysian Boeing 777, mainly the ones concerning disabled transponders. 

There are two kinds - primary and secondary transponders. The primary system is mainly used by the military, and cannot be turned off while in the air. 

The latest clue has to do with a disabled secondary transponder. 

"The secondary system is used by civil aviation to tell aircraft where to go how to get there and how to stay safe," Rispin says.

On the missing flight, we know the secondary transponder was switched off at 1:20 a.m.
All civilian radar lost contact with the plane around 1:30 a.m. Military radar last detected the plane at 2:15 a.m. off Malaysia's west coast, hundreds of miles off course. Then the plane went out of range. 

So the big question is, why would someone purposely disable a secondary responder mid-flight?

"I can't think of any good reason other than air traffic control asks you to and that would be a very rare thing," Rispin says.

Rispin says in a Boeing 777, turning off the transponder is somewhat difficult to do.

"This system in this Cessna 172 is set up similarly to the Boeing 777. The engine controls, flight controls, the communication and navigation systems are all integrated, and within that we have the transponder that allows the radar operator to identify this aircraft," Rispin says.

"So consequently there probably would have been checklists and a number of other things they would have had to go through involving pulling breakers."

That means only an expert could disable a transponder in a huge plane like the Boeing 777.

"You'd have to be familiar with the systems in the aircraft," Rispin says.

International investigators say this is one reason why they are not ruling out terrorism or a hijacking.

That is all still speculation. All we know is it's extremely rare for a transponder to be turned off while in the air. 

We also know detectives are investigating the Malaysian flight's pilot. They recently found a flight simulator in his home. We asked Professor Rispin about this, and he said it's common for pilots to have simulators, and that he does not personally find this suspicious. 



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