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Software Bug Halts F-22 Flight 579

Posted by kdawson
from the dare-you-to-cross-this-line dept.
mgh02114 writes "The new US stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor, was deployed for the first time to Asia earlier this month. On Feb. 11, twelve Raptors flying from Hawaii to Japan were forced to turn back when a software glitch crashed all of the F-22s' on-board computers as they crossed the international date line. The delay in arrival in Japan was previously reported, with rumors of problems with the software. CNN television, however, this morning reported that every fighter completely lost all navigation and communications when they crossed the international date line. They reportedly had to turn around and follow their tankers by visual contact back to Hawaii. According to the CNN story, if they had not been with their tankers, or the weather had been bad, this would have been serious. CNN has not put up anything on their website yet." The Peoples Daily of China reported on Feb. 17 that two Raptors had landed on Okinawa.
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Software Bug Halts F-22 Flight

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  • Real redundancy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chriss (26574) * <chriss@memomo.net> on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:41PM (#18146946) Homepage
    As far as I remember the Space Shuttle not only has redundant computer systems, but also redundant software, i.e. the software has been developed twice to ensure that software bugs don't cause a catastrophe. I'd prefer to know that systems capable of carrying weapons which can kill hundreds of thousands of people were designed with the same safety in mind.
    • by omeomi (675045)
      I'd prefer to know that systems capable of carrying weapons which can kill hundreds of thousands of people were designed with the same safety in mind.

      nope!
    • What you're talking about is called N-version programming. It's no guarantee of reliability, unfortunately. Often, the "bug" is related to mistakes in the program specification, not the implementation of that specification. Therefore, the same bug gets faithfully and correctly implemented twice.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Airbus has taken that to the extreme - their first fly-by-wire aircraft, the A320 has eight independently developed software and hardware systems which must agree. If any one of them computes a different result than the others it is restarted once and disabled if it happens again (and obviously the incident is recorded for maintenance to report). They increased the number to 32 in the A380.

      And just to preemptively debunk bullshit that is always brought up when someone mentions Airbus and computers on slas
      • by Anonymous Coward
        What you state about Airbus is absolutely correct but FADEC stands for Full Authority Digital Electronics Control but many seem to remember it as E = Engine, like you do. As far as the fly-by-wire system is concerned, I might add that it has already saved at least 300+ lives - an Emirates A340 attempted to rotate with insufficient airspeed at takeoff (but past V1 so they couldn't stop either) and the FBW system stepped in and throttled up (fortunately autothrottle was on so it was permitted to do so) and ro
    • Re:Real redundancy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by spagetti_code (773137) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @08:18PM (#18147276)
      Actually, the space shuttle is not a good example.

      NASA do not fly the space shuttle during 31 Dec -> 1 Jan [newscientist.com] as
      they are not confident of what would happen. Better just
      to avoid the problem.

      That was one of the pressures to getting the Dec 2k6 flight off the ground.

  • by User 956 (568564) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:43PM (#18146982) Homepage
    CNN television, however, this morning reported that every fighter completely lost all navigation and communications when they crossed the international date line.

    I've heard of a software glitch causing a crash before, but this is ridiculous.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ColaMan (37550)
      I've heard of a software glitch causing a crash before, but this is ridiculous.

      Not really - read the Risks-Forum Digest [ncl.ac.uk], especially the earlier years, and you'll find that software quite often causes physical harm.
  • I find it hard to believe that they would have lost all communication from a software glitch like this. Things like radios, compasses, radars, etc surely still worked. Hopefully this just crashed a navigation system and left the pilots able to fly the plane using conventional navigation techniques. If it brought down everything else, that's a serious design flaw, not just a bug.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by daeg (828071)
      I really doubt such an advanced (and stealth) aircraft would have any "traditional" radio capabilities that could easily be intercepted. If the encryption is written such that the position of an aircraft matters, they may have no communication channel at all.

      That said, I'm not sure how this bug would have escaped QA. I mean, it's an airplane. Hundreds of commercial jets fly over that line day in and day out, as do other American military planes. I wonder if the bug also exists at the Prime Meridian?

      I hate t
    • by abradsn (542213)
      Dude, those planes carry full on CRAY (or other brand) super computers in them. They need them for communication, weapons, enemy identification, and geographic location. That's their purpose. Communications aren't done through simple radio communication. It's encrypted and probably bounces off of satellites. Also, I bet those buggers are slighly harder to fly with no computers working onboard.

      Not to worry though, they likely have the best pilots in the world flying billion dollar planes. Pilots like t
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by theEteam (1064762)
      In most modern aircraft, control for all avionics equipment is done through a central mission computer. If that computer crashes(usually there are two but they have identical software), all avionics will be unavailable. This includes radar, navigation, most radios, etc. Usually there is a backup RCU(remote control unit) for one of the radios and of course you can still steer, but that is about it.
  • Don't worry (Score:5, Funny)

    by Realistic_Dragon (655151) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:49PM (#18147036) Homepage
    We will happily sell y'all Eurofighters. Half the price, twice the bombs... and who the hell do you need stealth to fight anyway? Expecting the France to try and invasion any day now or something?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MSFanBoi2 (930319)
      Actually not really. The Eurofighters have very limited air to ground functionality at least until Block 5 hits sometime in late 2007. It was expected in 2005 but per usual, was very behind. The F-22 can carry two 1000 lb JDAM internally (or 8 GBU-39s) for a total of 2000 lbs of internal weapons and up to 5000 lbs of external weapons on four (two per wing) removable hard points (two of which are plumbed for fuel).

      We won't even go into the fact that the F-22 is faster with a full weapons load and much faster
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stevew (4845)
        You forgot one major issue with the F22 versus the Eurofighter. The Eurofighter & every other modern fighter in the world for that matter can't see the F22 on their radars. F22 is full-up stealth (assuming no external stores).

        In wargames held in the US with 1 F-22 versus 5 F-15's. 5-0. The F-15 pilots never saw the F-22. Not a fair fight - but then that's the idea.
        • Re:Don't worry (Score:5, Interesting)

          by MSFanBoi2 (930319) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @09:17PM (#18147750)
          Actually the whole story is a lot more exciting that 5 on 1...

          The 27th Fighter Squadron (8 F-22s) at Langley AFB, Virginia fought against 33 F-15Cs and didn't suffer a single loss. The F-15's again didn't even detect the F-22's until they were all locked and targeted.

          Then some months later during Exercise Northern Edge F-22's reached a 144-to-zero kill-to-loss ratio against F-15s, F-16s and F/A-18s. Only 12 of the F-22's accounted for nearly 50% of all kills for the Exercise.
  • by alexhs (877055) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:49PM (#18147042) Homepage Journal
    That's the real reason why they don't want to give source code to foreign armies... They don't want to be covered in shame :)
  • UTC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Excelcia (906188) <kfitzner@excelcia.ca> on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:50PM (#18147052) Homepage Journal
    The answer to all these problems is very simple. For any mission critical application, use UTC and only UTC. No time zones, no date line, no converting. If the software isn't even aware of the concept of date/time localization, then it's not going to run into problems.

    Oh, and while they're at it, standardize on metric too. Maybe we can save our interstellar probes at the same time we are saving our warplanes.
    • Re:UTC (Score:5, Informative)

      by Chmcginn (201645) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:57PM (#18147112) Journal
      They probably already do... When I was spending time in uniform, all our (non-workstation) computers did all their work in GMT, anyway. And considering it was the navigation systems that crashed, I think the "international date line" thing is spurious - the problem was more likely going from W to E, not today to yesterday.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dun Malg (230075)
      As others have noted, this is less likely to have been an issue of the time/date than it is of transitioning from 179.9degW longitude to 180E longitude. You're just assuming it's a date/time issue because we call it the International Date Line. Note how none of the sources have details.
  • by blind biker (1066130) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:50PM (#18147054) Journal
    The Bismarck battleship had a bug also: when the main turrets would fire, the aiming radars would be disabled. That's no joke when you're in the midst of a battle and everyone of those large caliber shells counts. As I understand, the radars would be disabled by the vibrations of the turret cannons firing. Not a software bug, but bug nonetheless, and you do wonder how did this battleship pass testing.
  • by TigerNut (718742) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:51PM (#18147076) Homepage Journal
    When I worked at a high end civilian GPS equipment manufacturer, we had a test department where, among other things, a complete list of "special" dates and locations were kept on file. Any new position solution software release was regression tested against all previously known and guessed potential date/time rollovers, as well as making sure that motion across geographic coordinate boundaries didn't cause erratic behavior. Obviously whoever supplied the inertial navigation solution for the F22 hasn't quite gotten there yet... Testing in the lab is cheap. Burning a couple of tons of Jet-A and putting a bunch of people at risk is not.
  • by CardinalPilot (1057108) * on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:52PM (#18147078)
    The F-22 has a fly-by-wire control system. If there really were a crash of ALL on-board computer systems, communication and navigation would not have been the most immediate concerns!
  • by the_skywise (189793) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:55PM (#18147092)
    Assuming it WAS a time issue upon crossing the International Dateline...

    Design problem? Why should navigation software require "local time"? They knew they were crossing the international dateline, so they must be linked to GPS timing systems... why not just use GPS' universal time? (Sure, you want local time eventually for your displays but that's a "view" calculation, not one intrinsic to the navigation software)

    Bug tracking problem? Did the testers not think of testing about a time zone change? Did they assume the above that everything would be on a universal time and therefore didn't see the need for crossing time zones?

    Why wasn't this a stock reusable code module in Lockheed Martin's labs?!?

    (And for a media look at this issue, check out the anime Geneshaft or the movie The Pentagon Wars)
  • by pestilence669 (823950) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:56PM (#18147106)
    I just want to know if this is in any way connected to the nuclear subs that lost navigation after they switched to Microsoft Windows based software. Generally, when this kind of thing happens, some external vendor is to blame.
  • Ironically (Score:5, Funny)

    by mbrod (19122) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @07:57PM (#18147114) Homepage Journal
    A few days ago reading up on good C++ coding techniques I came across Stroustrup's (creator of C++) page citing the coding rules used [att.com] when working on the Joint Strike Fighter [wikipedia.org]. Reading through the various rules used, this one caught my attention:

    AV Rule 25 (MISRA Rule 127)
    The time handling functions of library <time.h> shall not be used.

    I got to thinking if we had any decent alternatives (at least in C++). And yes there are alternatives and all of them looked equally bad to me. Looks like the F22 guys might have had the same problem finding and using a robust fault tolerant time library.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      With the inertial navigation systems I work with, time stamping of data is very important. Clocks that are accurate down to nanoseconds aren't uncommon, synching with GPS 1-PPS signals (1 pulse per second) to determine and correct clock drift per inertial sensor read cycle, etc. Timing systems are usually custom built for the product in question as part of the design.
    • Re:Ironically (Score:4, Informative)

      by julesh (229690) on Monday February 26, 2007 @07:38AM (#18151240)
      A few days ago reading up on good C++ coding techniques I came across Stroustrup's (creator of C++) page citing the coding rules used when working on the Joint Strike Fighter. Reading through the various rules used, this one caught my attention:

              AV Rule 25 (MISRA Rule 127)
              The time handling functions of library shall not be used.

      I got to thinking if we had any decent alternatives (at least in C++). And yes there are alternatives and all of them looked equally bad to me. Looks like the F22 guys might have had the same problem finding and using a robust fault tolerant time library.


      Why would you need to use a library? The only format you're likely to need in such software is milliseconds offset from some suitable epoch. As long as your hardware can produce such a time value, you're fine.
  • but it is a nice story anyway.
  • Er what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chanrobi (944359) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @08:05PM (#18147170)
    Are you telling me that the F-22 has no analog backup flight system? For gosh sakes even the F-16 has a similar system. A cursory google search that the F-22 is equipped with an "LN-100G Inertial Navigation System with Embedded GPS". It sounds incredible that the summary implies that the only way they would've made it home was via formation flying with a tanker? Can anyone with more detailed information on the F-22 clarify?
    • Re:Er what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jerf (17166) on Monday February 26, 2007 @12:55AM (#18149172) Journal
      Before you go ballistic, bear in mind that unless you've got data sources beyond those cited in the Slashdot blurb, the most technical details come from CNN, which is about one step from priding itself on its ignorance of military matters, and has a less-than-distinguished history on the technical details front as well. Put the two together and the odds are low that you've got anything like an accurate view, let alone a complete one.

      You can trust the what and the when; I wouldn't trust their how or why any further than I could spit.

      (This isn't anti-CNN; this is anti-almost-everything news media. Journalists aren't required to learn squat about science or technology for their degree and it tends to show up in every last article they write with even a passing connection to science or technology. Any even cursory overview of stories on any technical subject you know about will reveal this. Remember that "multi-gear rocket" atrocity from a day or two ago?)
    • by igb (28052) on Monday February 26, 2007 @03:11AM (#18149872)
      You can't fly planes like that manually, becuase they are inherently unstable. Even non-stealth aircraft have this property, in order to make them more sensitive in roll. A civilian plane will self-centre from small roll inputs, and you have to overcome that effect to actually roll. The stealth aircraft are such weird shapes, for which aerodynamics come second to radar cross-section, that the designers don't even have the choice.

      ian

  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by WaZiX (766733) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @08:08PM (#18147192)
    So, when is Service Pack 1 coming out?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 25, 2007 @08:12PM (#18147218)
    You are flying to Japan, Cancel or Allow?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 25, 2007 @08:22PM (#18147332)
    When F16s crossed the equator, the computer would roll the aircraft 180 degrees and fly inverted:

    http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/3.44.html [ncl.ac.uk]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by patio11 (857072)
      Its important to note that that bug was present *in simulation only*. My unit tests catch all sorts of nasty edge cases, including some which cause the system to drop huge chunks of the database -- that is what testing is for!
  • Microsoft? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Yvan256 (722131) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @08:29PM (#18147384) Homepage Journal

    every fighter completely lost all navigation and communications when they crossed the international date line.
    Where do you want to go today?

  • by N8F8 (4562) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @08:37PM (#18147462)
    I tried posting this on several sites but on March 11th [wikipedia.org], when the new daylight savings [wikipedia.org]regime kicks in for the first time there will probably be a lot of Java applications that will start having data issues because the latest Java version IS NOT BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE for several three character time codes that have bee removed. Several codes have been deprecated in a way that is not backwards compatible. I could be wrong about the severity, but for he last two weeks my software team has been dealing with this issue and the interaction between Oracle and Java.
  • by guruevi (827432) <(eb.ebucgnikoms) (ta) (ive)> on Sunday February 25, 2007 @08:58PM (#18147604) Homepage
    ...not to run Windows on those machines. They HAD to upgrade to Vista because of all the cool 'features' the pilots would like to see. First we had to put more ram in and an extra video card, now this... I'm telling ya, next time Microsoft gives them a better deal because they're switching to Linux, they shouldn't accept.
  • by Bobzibub (20561) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @09:34PM (#18147900)
    All complex systems have bugs that need to be ironed out....

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/IB10Ak05. html [atimes.com]
    "Keys notes, however, that the electronic spectrum around Baghdad is polluted by the myriad jamming devices that coalition forces primarily employed to thwart remote detonations of the improvised explosive devices that have inflicted 70% of all US fatalities in that war." ...
    "The potential problem was discovered when the first F-22s were operating near US Navy ships off the Atlantic coast. Navy radars overwhelmed the F-22's automated sensors. Even now, larger, multi-station, purpose-built electronic-intelligence-gathering airplanes encounter difficulties around the Iraqi capital because of the extreme density of jamming devices."

  • by jo7hs2 (884069) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @10:01PM (#18148108) Homepage
    My advice to F-22 pilots: 1) Superglue a handheld GPS into your cockpit. 2) Carry a backup radio. Superglue this to your cockpit. 3) Remove your cockpit, and superglue it onto an A-10. 4) Fly safe. Carry superglue.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dunbal (464142)
      4) Fly safe. Carry superglue.

            You know, I shudder to think about what could happen in a cockpit with an open tube of superglue at 9 G's...
  • They wouldn't have made it here. I knew there was a good reason.
  • Aero Glass (Score:3, Funny)

    by lord_sarpedon (917201) on Sunday February 25, 2007 @10:43PM (#18148430)
    What's more, one pilot tried to turn off Aero Glass -- suddenly, he lost cabin pressure.

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