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FAA: Data from U-2 spy plane caused computer issue

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The primary air traffic control system around Los Angeles shut down last week because data from the a U-2 spy plane's flight plan confused software that helps track and route aircraft around the region, the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday.

When the system failed Wednesday, a backup helped safely guide flights already in the air, but hundreds of planes across the nation headed for Southern California were ordered not to take off as an air traffic control facility about 40 miles north of Los Angeles effectively rebooted.

The problem had nothing to do with spy-related signals sent by the Cold War-era plane.

The plane flies at around 60,000 feet under "visual flight rules." According to the FAA, a computer perceived a conflict between the altitude and the use of visual flight rules, and began trying to route the plane to 10,000 feet. The number of adjustments that would need to be made to routes of other planes throughout the area overwhelmed the software.

"The extensive number of routings that would have been required to deconflict the aircraft with lower-altitude flights used a large amount of available memory and interrupted the computer's other flight-processing functions," the FAA said in a statement.

The Pentagon confirmed Monday that an Air Force U-2 spy plane was conducting training operations in the area. It is not unusual for a U-2 to operate in the region, and the necessary flight plan had been submitted for the high-flying plane, Col. Steve Warren said.

The connection between the U-2 and the outage was first reported by NBC News.

Since the incident, the FAA has been analyzing what went wrong with its En Route Automation Modernization system. The computer system, known as ERAM, allows air traffic controllers at several dozen "en route centers" around the country to identify and direct planes at high altitudes.

The Los Angeles en route center controls high altitude air traffic over southern and central California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and western Arizona - except airspace designated for military use.

In its statement, the FAA said it has adjusted ERAM to require altitude details for flight plans.

"The FAA is confident these steps will prevent a reoccurrence of this specific problem and other potential similar issues going forward," the agency said.

When the system failed, air traffic controllers in Southern California had to call their counterparts at neighboring centers to update them on each plane's flight plan, according to Nate Pair, the president for Los Angeles Center of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. While that was more onerous than normal operations - when computers automatically pass along updates - the system still worked, Pair said.

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onionson May 06 2014 at 2:40 PM

Hmmm, nice to know they have the same problem as some poor folk. Need more RAM in their computers.

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Randy May 06 2014 at 9:24 AM

Let me guess.... the same brainiacs who wrote the code for the failed obamacare website were also the programmers for the obama FAA's traffic control program.... thwarted by 1950's technology.... sounds about right for the liberal lunatics in the most inept administration in the history of the nation.

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1 reply
Mike Randy May 06 2014 at 10:44 AM

And once again blame the guy in charge "now" for a system that's been in use for decades. Grow up, putting blame on the current admin. shows you really don't understand how big a mess the federal gov is really in. Do you also blame the WWI on Obama ????

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abstracter May 06 2014 at 9:48 AM

Everyone buying this story? Seems more likeley that the U2 spy plane was usinging some active array system (spying on We The People) and shut down when it beamed the info to spook central. They just said F&%K and scanned the local area and burned something out. What I do not know. But I would believe that first. Than Oh we had a software conflct Why is this flying over Friendly airspace anyway!!

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6 replies
vanclaybor May 06 2014 at 10:04 AM

A U-2 can fly very high, but they arent very manuverable. why do they even train with it? sattelites do a better job.

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2 replies
sschultz8 vanclaybor May 06 2014 at 10:14 AM

For that matter the SR-71 is a far superior aircraft that has never been shot down

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1 reply
kkarsted sschultz8 May 06 2014 at 11:56 AM

The SR-71 has been retired from service.

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Ron Matthews vanclaybor May 06 2014 at 11:58 AM

The U-2 can be dfeployed anywhere anytime to get data some sat can only photograph once a week and if weather blocks it you wait another week the cameras are not wide angle verry narowaeras that only overlap a tiny bit.

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harold May 06 2014 at 10:07 AM

I makes you wonder what the Feds are up to.

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1 reply
M harold May 06 2014 at 11:59 AM

Two obvious examples come to mind... Wildfire survey and tracking, and drought/crop surveys.
The first has the potential to save lives and property, and the second may be used by the Agriculture Department for forecasting crops, factoring in drought effects.

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1 reply
llhuberarchitect M May 06 2014 at 1:55 PM

I vote crops, need to make sure enough medical marijuana is being produced to support the potheads in this country.

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1 May 06 2014 at 10:46 AM

I believe the Government is just simply lying to the American people, especially the FAA. This is one of worsts angencyies in out Government. This agency has well over 30 billion since Apr 30, 2011 ... Mike Dyment, General Partner, NextGen Equipage Fund LLC ... which has past the U.S. Senate and House passed. and yet they want to spend more of the Tax payers money. The whole idea here was to slow down the process by the FAA, so they can force the Senate and the House to spend even more of your tax dollars on what..... So as soon as these Corrupt FAA people get closer to retirement; the ones who are in the drivers seat who push for this crap will have jobs waiting for them in the civil world. Look at Airnations. com to review. "American wake up"

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Larry May 06 2014 at 11:04 AM

Inconceivable that the people in charge of the U2 flight path wouldn't have communication with air traffic control to avoid this problem.

But then, they are both government, so...

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sljdrigdon May 06 2014 at 11:20 AM

I worked on the U2 for 7 years and you are all wrong. Not 60000, (Add abut three miles), no shutdown to take pictures all b..s....

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1 reply
kkarsted sljdrigdon May 06 2014 at 11:46 AM

Where did you hear anything about a "shutdown to take pictures"? First time I've come across that.

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rvppfs May 06 2014 at 11:26 AM

Nothing the U-2 did was unusual. The problem was that the programers failed to anticipate the needs of ultra high altitude flights and provide the capibility to track/control those flights.

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Josey May 06 2014 at 11:50 AM

Lots of errors in the above story. First of all, the USAF doesn't have any operational U2's in its inventory. NASA has the only flying U2 and it's not used for spying. It's used for weather data gathering. Sorry. You all will have to find someting else to whine about.

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1 reply
ramjetcal Josey May 06 2014 at 3:01 PM

The Air Force still maintains and flys the U-2 from Beale AFB in Marysville,CA,the U-2 demise is incorrect.

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