Boeing 747 aircraft continue to use PC floppy disks

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We are in 2020, beginning the third decade of the 21st century -which has not started exactly well … Today, saving data in the Cloud and streaming services is what takes, demonstrating how, more and more, physical storage devices they will have less space in our daily lives, because a Netflix or an Xbox XCloud are much more comfortable.

Floppy disk

Therefore, those computers, networks, systems or infrastructures with software and design that continue to use DVDs or even 700MB CDs to update and continue to work sound old, not very secure and terribly out of date. But what if we told you that there are still systems that use 3 1/2 floppy disks to work? Exactly, prehistoric from the Stone Age. But even better: What if it is not the equipment of a company or study that has not wanted to invest in updates, but the Boeing 747 in which you traveled before starting this pandemic?

The Diskette, Diskette, Floppy Disk or Flexible Disk is a magnetic type data storage medium, formed by a thin circular sheet (disk) of magnetizable and flexible material that was used in computers and personal computers, for example: for disk startup, to move data and information from one PC to another, or simply to store files.

Born in 1971 and the King of Storage until CD drives and USB keys began to arrive, since 2010 the floppy disk is considered an obsolete medium, a relic of the past. The same that the multinational BOEING still uses in its planes.

Boeing 747 aircraft powered by Diskettes

As we read on the Gizmodo website, the cybersecurity firm Pen Test Partners showed a video at DEF CON 2020 – a kind of global seminar for hackers held in Las Vegas and this year it was virtual – about an airline Boeing 747 British Airways, which has withdrawn its entire fleet due to the current pandemic. The video is like a tour of those areas of the plane that we can never see as passengers, for example the Avionics department or the cockpit. And this is where the guys at Pen Test were amazed to discover a floppy drive to read 3 1/2 floppy disks.

Why the hell does a sophisticated device like a huge passenger plane need a computer element from 50 years ago, which has also been obsolete for a decade? The floppy drive appears to be the 747’s navigation database loader and needs to be updated every 28 days. This means that an engineer must visit every 747-400 and manually upload updates, or else the planes would not be able to fly. And it’s not just the 747.

According to The Verge website, most Boeing 737s are also updated via floppy disks. The operators of these aircraft, according to a 2014 Aviation Today report, have binders full of floppy disks for “all the avionics they might need.” That includes important information like:

– Airports

– Runways

– Flight routes

– Reference points used by pilots to make flight plans.

Several companies continue to use them

And just like in the old days when you had to install a very large game or a new version of Windows, some systems on Boeing aircraft may require only one update diskette – which means that all the information you need takes up to 1.44 megabytes-, while others need up to 8 floppy disks.

The Aviation Today report came out in 2014, and it surprised many people, who suddenly felt unsafe flying in a floppy-disk aircraft. But the most curious thing is to see how in these 6 years nobody has done anything to fix the situation, and a report by Aviation Today indicates that even in 2020, “a significant number of airlines continue to use floppy disks to load pieces of software.”


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