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Floppy disks to update planes

If you think that floppy disks are something of the past, you are mostly right. Yet, they are still in use, although not in a sector that is way behind modern technology. Remarkably, the airline industry still uses floppy disks. In 1988, Boeing introduces its 747 aircraft. It is a wide-body as planes with 2 aisles in the cabin are dubbed. But soon the plane is nicknamed Queen of the Skies due to its sheer size.

Retiring Boeing 747s

The Boeing 747 has proved to be a relatively safe aircraft. Only 2 Boeing 747s have ever been involved in passenger deaths over 8.4 million flights. However, a number of airlines are now retiring their Boeing 747s, including British Airways.

floppy disk drive

floppy disk drive

As part of the virtual DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas in August 2020, cybersecurity firm Pen Test Partners show off a video walkthrough of a British Airways Boeing 747. The 10-minute tour includes a nice glimpse into the cockpit. That is how Pen Test Partners discover the 3.5 inch floppy disk drive.

Numerous floppy disks

Boeing 747 operators have numerous floppy disks with information on airports, runways, flight paths, and waypoints (points of reference used for location and navigation). Pilots use the floppy disks to make flight plans. Some systems can require just 1 floppy disk with updates. But other systems may require up to 8 floppy disks. Boeing 747 operators have to update the database every 4 weeks. Interestingly, the majority of the smaller Boeing 737 aircraft are also updated via floppy disks.

Update process

William Cecil, director for business development and aircraft data services at Teledyne Controls

William Cecil

William Cecil predicts back in 2014 that the update process through floppy disks will soon become obsolete. He is director for business development and aircraft data services at Teledyne Controls. Although his prediction looked quite plausible, so far it has come only partly true.

According to Cecil mechanics can reach disk number 6 or 7 during the uploading process, only to find there is a bad disk. At that point they have to start over again. This can potentially lead to a flight delay if the process is occurring for an airline in between scheduled flights.

Related: Disturbing facts about Boeing

Tags: Floppy disks, updating aircraft, Boeing 747, Boeing 737

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