Research Material

EXPERIMENTS REVEAL THAT
CELL PHONES COULD NOT
HAVE BEEN USED FROM AIRCRAFT
ON SEPTEMBER 11TH

Project Achilles
Part Two - February 25 2003

Equipment:
Diamond Katana four-seater (Empire Aviation)

cellphones:

    1. Telus Mike/TELUS IDEN C1
    2. BM Analog cellphone/Bell Mobility C2
    3. Audiovox PCS (CDMA)/TELUS C3
    4. Nokia GSM/ROGERS AT&T C4

Personnel:
    Corey Barrington (pilot)
    Darren Spicknell (operator - technician for Wireless Concepts, Inc)
    Kee Dewdney (director)
    Pat Dewdney (ground recorder)

Weather: unlimited ceiling, light scattered cloud at 3,000 and 25,000 feet, visibility 15 miles, wind 5 knots from NW, air temperature -12 C.

For this experiment, we flew a circular route, instead of the elongated oval. The circle centred on the downtown core and took us over most of the city suburbs. All locations below are referred to the city centre and are always about three miles distant from it.

Protocol:

At times specified by the director, the operator made a call to a specified number, stating the code number of the cellphone (1 to 4) and the altitude. The receiver recorded whatever was heard and the time the call was received.

At the first three altitudes of 2000, 4000, and 6000 feet abga each cellphone was used once. At 8000 feet abga, only C2 and C3 were tried, C1 and C4 now being hors de combat.

Results with timeline:

time (pm)

call no.

C#

loc.

operator

recorder

 

 

 

 

 

 

5:05

started taxi to runway

 

 

 

 

5:12

takeoff

 

 

 

 

5:14

at 2000 feet (above-ground altitude)

 

 

 

 

5:15

Call #1

C1

N

good

not very clear

5:17

Call #2

C2

W

good/unclear

not very clear

5:19

Call #3

C3

SW

no good

 

5:21

Call #4

C4

S

good

breaking up

5:24

climbed to 4000 feet abga

 

 

 

 

5:25

Call #5

C1

NE

no good

 

5:26

Call #6

C2

N

good

clear

5:27

Call #7

C3

NW

no good

 

5:29

Call #8

C4

W

no good

 

5:33

climbed to 6000 feet abga

 

 

 

 

5:34

Call #9

C1

SE

no good

 

5:36

Call #10

C2

E

no service

 

5:37

Call #11

C3

NE

³searching²no good

 

5:38

Call #12

C4

N

no service

 

5:39

Call #13

C1

NW

no service

 

5:40

Call #14

C2

SW

good/barely

clear

5:42

Call #15

C3

S

service - then lost

 

5:43

Call #16

C4

SE

no service

 

5:44

Call #17

C1

E

no service

 

5:45

Call #18

C2

NE

no service

 

5:45

Call #19

C3

NE

good/static

breaking up

5:46

Call #20

C4

N

no service

 

5:49

begin climb to 8000 feet abga (cellphones 2 and 3 only)

 

 

 

 

5:50

Call #21

C2

W

no service

 

5:50

Call #22

C3

SW

³searching²

 

5:51

Call #23

C2

S

good but static

buzzy

5:53

completed climb to 8000 feet abga

 

 

 

 

5:58

Call #24

C3

SE

wonıt call out

 

5:58

Call #25

C2

E

wonıt call out

 

5:58

Call #26

C3

E

no service

 

5:59

Call #27

C2

NE

good - then dead

 

6:00

Call #28

C3

N

no service

 

6:01

Call #29

C1

N

no service

 

6:01

Call #30

C2

NW

good - then dead

 

6:02

Call #31

C3

NW

no good

 

6:02

Call #32

C4

NW

no good

 

6:15

landed at airport

 

 

 

 

Conclusions: To the extent that the cellphones used in this experiment represent types in general use, it may be concluded that from this particular type of aircraft, cellphones become useless very quickly with increasing altitude. In particular, two of the cellphone types, the Mike and the Nokia, became useless above 2000 feet. Of the remaining two, the Audiovox worked intermittently up to 6000 feet but failed thereafter, while the BM analog cellphone worked once just over 7000 feet but failed consistently thereafter. We therefore conclude that ordinary cellphones, digital or analog, will fail to get through at or above 8000 feet abga.

In particular, the cellphone that worked best was the older, analog technology. the operator explained, however, that it operates a lower frequency which has slightly greater penetrating power.

Summary table

Altitude

calls tried

calls successful

percent success

 

 

 

 

2000

4

3

75%

4000

4

1

25%

6000

12

2

17%

8000

12*

1

8%

* includes three calls made while climbing; last successful call was made from just over 7000 feet.

The four cellphones operated via four different cellular networks (cellsites). Because calls were made from a variety of positions for each network, it cannot be said that failures were the fault of cellsite placement. the london, Ontario, region is richly supplied with cellsites belonging to five separate networks.

It may be noted in passing that this experiment was also conducted in a radio-transparent aircraft with carbon-fibre composite construction. Failure to make a call from such an aircraft with any particular brand of cellphone spells automatic failure for the same cellphone from a metal-clad aircraft flying at the same altitude. A metal skin attenuates all cellphone signals to a significant degree. It may safely be concluded that the operational ceiling for cellphones in aluminum skin aircraft (most passenger liners, for example) would be significantly lower than the ones reported here.

It may therefore safely be concluded that cellphone calls from passenger aircraft are physically impossible above 8000 feet abga and statistically unlikely below it.

A. K. Dewdney
February 25/03


"The chessboard is the world,
the pieces are the phenomena of the universe,
the rules of the game are the laws of nature.
The player on the other side is hidden from us."
-- Thomas Henry Huxley


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