Life in TransitA Digital Nomad in Asia

How did #MH370 vanish from radar?

via Wikimedia by Laurent ERRERA from L'Union, France

If you have landed on this page, you, probably like me, have been gripped with intriguing regarding the circumstances involving the ill fated Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

There are many theories, speculation, facts that have been given, then revised, downplayed or retracted. Sure we won’t really know what happened to flight MH370 until the plane is found and black box retrieved.

What has troubled me about this investigation so far is that the plane’s flight trajectory is unknown.

I did some prototyping of situational display interfaces for a company contracted by the military. And knowing what would have appeared on those displays – presumably what radars can track – has me puzzled about why the path of MH370 is unknown.

Why are we asking “which side of the peninsula should we search” instead of “where along this known trajectory did MH370 end up”?

Active vs Passive Radar

The commonly held belief is that the transponders were turned off and thus the plane was undetectable.

It may be true that commercial radar cannot track the plane once it’s transponders are turned off, but it would be undetectable only by passive radar.

Active radar – the kind used by the military – on the other hand, would be able to detect it and at long ranges.

You need time to scramble your military aircraft and take to the air to counter fast moving military fighter or bomber aircraft before they arrive above you after all. So you need to be able to detect fast moving tiny aircraft at long ranges.

A slow moving large aircraft would not be hard to find.

Radar Cross Section

Stealth technology is supposed to reduce the radar cross sections of a plane so that active radar renders it no larger than a bird or maybe even not at all for a low resolution radar.

However, the huge cross section of a Boeing 777 would be easily detectable.

Flight Corridors

Airlines flying through flight corridors in the air. It’s a highway of sorts in the sky and the aircraft has to reach those way points at a specific time and altitude. This prevents mid air collisions by regulating traffic.
Any commercial aircraft flying outside of a flight corridor would be deemed cause for concern.

The Military Radars

So if the 777 was a huge radar blip, all military radars would have detected it. That it is a huge blip and flying not within a known corridor, with a transponder off and not identifying itself, would be a cause for concern to identify and track this thing.

South China Sea Route

The US 7th fleet is based right now in the South China Sea. With it being a volatile region, and countries can detect flights all the way out to the uninhabited islands in dispute, surely they would have tracked this aircraft over the South China Sea and know approximately the path flight MH370 took before it vanished.

Maybe they can’t pinpoint the final location but surely they will know the trajectory it took.

The Western Route

This would have taken the plane within radar range of Myanmar, Thailand or Indonesia in addition to the report by the Malaysian Military that it might have crossed the peninsula. Again, maybe they can’t tell what happened to the plane eventually, but at the very least known it flew through its airspace.

Again big aircraft, not flying in a registered flight path and possibly not in a flight corridor, no transponder to identify it, and flying through or near your airspace, would have been cause for concern for the military.

Know its Trajectory

So based on the above, even if you don’t know where it ended up, a collection of military radar information would have been able to give some clue as to where it was going.

Even on Air France 447’s ill fated voyage, according to this article, the traffic controllers from Senegal managed to know it flew by and what path it took.

If it was lost in the middle of the Pacific or Atlantic, far from shore, I would understand as radar might not reach the distance.

However we are talking about not knowing where the plane went not too far away from shore, where they could have been picked up by the US 7th fleet, or various other nations whose air space this aircraft would have approached.

This complete disappearance of MH370, with no idea as to its flight trajectory, thus bothers me.

Why are we asking “which side of the peninsula should we search” instead of “where along this known trajectory did MH370 end up”?


  1. According to this post, military radar did spot an “unidentified aircraft” near Phuket. The military took a while I guess, but if this report turns out to be true, I think it validated my point that the Boeing 777 couldn’t just disappear.

  2. This new post says now that the 777 was flying through the appropriate flight corridors though not on their original flight plan.



The way points that MH370 supposedly flew through.

If you know more about how military radar works, please share your thoughts about how the 777 can disappear from active radar.

Please share your answer in the comments below
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