New Questions about remote control and 9-11

By Jerry Russell

British aeronautical engineer Joe Vialls claims that all 757 and 767 aircraft are equipped with computerized remote flight control systems for the purposes of rescuing the planes from attempted hijackings.  If this were true, it would raise some very interesting questions.  On the one hand, if the systems were used to control the aircraft and pilot them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then who was at the controls?  How did they get access to the secret codes?

But on the other hand: if these systems were on the aircraft, and they were not compromised by some enemy trick of espionage, then why weren't they used on September 11 to save the four ill-fated flights?

Let me quote from Vialls, who posted in October 2001:

In the mid-seventies America faced a new and escalating crisis, with US commercial jets being hijacked for geopolitical purposes. Determined to gain the upper hand in this new form of aerial warfare, two American multinationals collaborated with the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) on a project designed to facilitate the remote recovery of hijacked American aircraft. Brilliant both in concept and operation, “Home Run” [not its real code name] allowed specialist ground controllers to listen in to cockpit conversations on the target aircraft, then take absolute control of its computerized flight control system by remote means.
      From that point onwards, regardless of the wishes of the hijackers or flight deck crew, the hijacked aircraft could be recovered and landed automatically at an airport of choice, with no more difficulty than flying a radio-controlled model plane. The engineers had no idea that almost thirty years after its initial design, Home Run’s top secret computer codes would be broken, and the system used to facilitate direct ground control of the four aircraft used in the high-profile attacks on New York and Washington on 11th September 2001.

 The following information was added to the Vialls web site, January 20, 2002:

Former German Minister Von Buelow Already Knew About Remote Control

      In his interview with the German daily "Tagesspiegel" on January 13th, former German Secretary of Defence Andreas Von Buelow made the following statement:-
     "There is also the theory of one British flight engineer: according to this, the steering of the planes was perhaps taken out of the pilots' hands, from outside. The Americans had developed a method in the 1970s, whereby they could rescue hijacked planes by intervening into the computer piloting [automatic pilot system]. This theory says, this technique was abused in this case..."
      Not quite so much a theory as might first appear. When I released the above report about "Home Run" remote control in October 2001, I mentioned that one European flag carrier was aware of the technology, though at that precise point in time I thought it prudent not to name the actual airline:-
      "As long ago as the early nineties, a major European flag carrier acquired the information and was seriously alarmed that one of its own aircraft might be "rescued" by the Americans without its authority. Accordingly, this flag carrier completely stripped the American flight control computers out of its entire fleet, and replaced them with a home grown version. These aircraft are now effectively impregnable to penetration by Home Run, but that is more than can be said for the American aircraft fleet..."
      The European flag carrier which completely stripped the American flight computers out of its aircraft was Lufthansa, the German national airline. Bearing in mind his former posts as Secretary of Defence and Minister of Science and Technology, Herr Von Buelow would have known all about this mammoth but secretive task.
      How very clever (and discreet) of Von Buelow to sort of "drop the information" into the middle of an interview about the 9/11 attacks!

Finally, in February 2002, Vialls provided the following:

     There have also been claims that I have refused to reveal “sources” or “proof” of the classified Home Run system, which is not true. In my first report I carefully stated that “two American multinationals collaborated with the Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) on a project designed to facilitate the remote recovery of hijacked American aircraft.” This should have acted like a homing beacon for any serious researcher. DARPA has a web site that can be accessed by anyone on the Internet, and within that web site is a search engine. A judicious advanced search of the DARPA web site should yield, as they say, “something of interest”.
          Finally, there is former German Defense Minister Andreas Von Buelow, who is frequently available for questions at meetings around Germany. Because of national security Von Buelow is most unlikely to comment directly, but he might respond to the following question: “Can you deny that during the mid-nineties, Lufthansa removed and replaced the flight control computers on certain American aircraft in its fleet for security reasons?”

Now, I have no inside knowledge, but as an engineer, Vialls' story rings true.  I believe that "hijack recovery" would have been a very obvious feature to incorporate into a computerized aircraft control system, and also that European customers of Boeing aircraft would find this a very troublesome and controversial feature.

On the other hand, Joe Vialls goes on to make some very absurd claims about this "Home Run" system.  For example, that the system would require the Cockpit Voice Recorder to go blank.  What kind of idiotic engineering team would design a system that would require the voice recorder go silent during the critical moments following a hijack attempt?

Furthermore, the idea that it would be necessary to "remove and replace the flight computers" doesn't make sense.  Why not just change the software?  One could imagine that the Americans could encrypt and encapsulate the computer so thoroughly that it could not be reverse engineered and the offending codes removed; but in that case, it would not be a matter of just replacing the computers, but also redesigning the entire flight control system from the ground up and completely testing it.  This would be such a huge expense that it would be impossible to hide in the German budget.  Anybody who takes Vialls' advice and asks this silly question to Von Buelow, is revealed as a fool.

 A more thorough debunking of Vialls' writing is found at Eric Hufschmid's website, linked below.

The "no suicide pilots" theory was taken up by antiwar activist Carol Valentine, but she couldn't buy into Vialls' theory that the controls were hijacked by a ragtag crew of Islamic fundamentalists.  She argued that the system must have been operated by someone with deep connections within the US government.  Meanwhile, stories started to circulate that the Pentagon was struck by a cruise missile or a bomb, not by an airliner.  This argument was generically known as "Hunt the Boeing" because of a French website by that title, but the thesis was decisively discredited by Mike Rivero of  For some reason, Carol Valentine adopted a variant of the "Hunt the Boeing" thesis, and  wandered off into her strange "Bumble Planes" snake pit, which I have analyzed in detail elsewhere on this website.

Vialls and Valentine both seem to be insane.  But perhaps there is a method to their madness.  If by some chance they are government propagandists, then perhaps we can discover the truth by looking at what it is they are trying to hide, and how, and why.  (If you think that I have just demonstrated conclusively that I myself am  insane to even suggest that they might be government agents, you might want to try a Google search on the keyword "Cointelpro", or check the links at my media page.  But stay with me for a moment...)

In this case, Vialls has told us himself that he is an insider, a British aeronautical engineer with links to DARPA as well as the German airline Lufthansa.  This means he would have signed non-disclosure agreements, and could not release classified information without approval, or face ruinous legal consequences.  Thus, if his information is true, the leak must be officially approved.  Former German Defense Minister Von Buelow picked up the leak and confirmed it, thereby adding German support to the British allegation.  

So the only question is whether both Vialls and Von Buelow are both courageous whistle blowers who have torn apart all ties with their former employers, or whether they are still insiders.

Carol Valentine has recently charged that both Justin Raimondo of and Michael Rivero of are "members of the fake opposition", so it seems only fair to test her] by the same standards which she applies to others.  See my media page for further information.

Suppose that there was a remote control system available on the aircraft.  The engineers and operations people who knew about it, would immediately start to raise questions.  According to Vialls, now the system has been compromised and all flights everywhere would be at risk.  This would represent a powerful incentive for those good-hearted engineers and scientists to keep quiet.  Otherwise there would be obvious security risks in terms of the possibility that still more hijackers could figure out how to operate the controls; as well as the risk of a panic as passengers everywhere refused to ride these airplanes.

If Joe Vialls is a propagandist, then his job is to do damage control among those engineers who designed the "Home Run" system, and among anyone else who knows about it.  It's very important to keep them quiet.  

He also works hard to discredit the arguments posed by Jared Israel as to why the Air Force did not scramble to meet the challenge of the hijackers.  He writes:

This is peacetime, when most home-based western combat aircraft normally carry only “drill” (dummy) missiles on their wing pylons, and have no live cannon shells in the ammo trays. Damn, we just bumped into our first irritating time delay! Though unarmed interceptors can quickly be used to check out the status of off-course aircraft like Payne Stewart’s Lear Jet, they are effectively useless against hostile targets. We keep them unarmed for a very good reason. On a scale of one to ten, listing the types of accidents all air forces try to avoid, jettisoning live Sidewinder missiles down the chimney of City Hall probably rates as number one or two.
          Each western country keeps a handful of interceptors armed in case of a surprise attack, and bases them at the outer extremities of its national sovereign territory, from where the attack will come. Though the Official Secrets Act prohibits me from stating exactly how many armed aircraft are available in Britain or America in peacetime, rest assured the figure is exceedingly small. Any reasonable and intelligent person can deduce from this, that aircraft based close to major cities like London and Washington, DC, will not be armed at all in peacetime.

Again, I have no inside knowledge but I sure hope this isn't true, otherwise the US is pretty much defenseless.

Valentine's job, similarly, could be to do damage control among antiwar activists, by advocating an obviously wrong, virtually impossible remote control theory. Valentine's readers are sent along to Vialls' site where they can readily see that he makes strange and inexplicable arguments.  Now it seems clear that everybody who is advocating the remote control theory is either crazy or a liar. The whole theory is discredited as a hopeless mess.  Meanwhile, the key concept  that the necessary remote controls were built right into every 757 and 767 is lost in the shuffle.

Furthermore, Valentine's followers also see Vialls' attacks on Jared Israel and his argument that jets should have scrambled on 9/11, so he is discredited as well, even if only subliminally. And worst of all, any ordinary citizens of this United States Republic, who happen to encounter the wreckage of "Hunt the Boeing" and the "Bumble Planes", will quickly turn aside.

"Those aren't the droids you're looking for.  Keep moving along..."

Here are links:

Eric Hufschmid

Bumble Planes

Joe Vialls

Hunt the Boeing

Von Buelow interview

posted March 24, 2002 by Jerry Russell; updated March 25, 2002

NEW March 28, 2002:

Joe Vialls is reported to be a SAS (British intelligence agency) operative!!

Joe states he is a former British SAS Officer but fails to tell us the SAS is integrally linked to intelligence and law enforcement organizations like MI6 and the Special Branch - of whom have been caught out fabricating evidence and other forms of unacceptable behaviour in the past.

*NEW* April 14, 2002:

Regarding combat readiness of American forces, compare Vialls' argument to this statement in the Boston Globe:

Marine Corps Major Mike Snyder, a spokesman for NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.... said its fighters routinely intercept aircraft.  When planes are intercepted, they typically are handled with a graduated response. The approaching fighter may rock its wingtips to attract the pilot's attention, or make a pass in front of the aircraft. Eventually, it can fire tracer rounds in the airplane's path, or, under certain circumstances, down it with a missile.

*NEW* May 26, 2002:

Reader Doug Herrick took exception to my statement that it would be "idiotic" to disable the cockpit flight voice recorder during a hijacking.  As Herrick points out, in an article titled "When is an autopilot not an autopilot", Guy Dunphy argued exactly the opposite, that this would be a desirable security feature:

There is one other channel via which the secret might leak out - the cockpit voice recorder. Supposing the plane crashed, and accident investigators played it back. Or even if it was just played back after the landing. Much better if the record was just an unexplained blank.

So, another design feature of our anti-hijack system would be that it must shut off all cockpit voice signals to the recorder. Let it continue recording silence, overwiting its entire loop with nothing. Maybe also shut off or spoof data to the blackboxes as well.

I suppose that this goes to show that when it comes to speculation, there is always room for more than one opinion.