Is it possible for jets to just go missing?
There are all sorts of eyes, ears, tracking equipment, radar, etc. on each and every flight!
1) Radar – Air Traffic Control has very sophisticated radar systems in place to track and guide us. There are primary and secondary systems that give off radar returns as well as keep tags on us for speed, direction, and altitude. They see us on their scopes with these tags and identifications. In some areas of the world, this type of radar coverage is not available. We make position reports to ATC at various and route specific “checkpoints” called fixes while we fly along airways sometimes called tracks which are like highways in the sky. Our airline dispatchers can see our locations and also help with decisions and safety.
2) Satellites – There are many satellites hovering above us at any given time and position. Many of these are for various different reasons including communications, observations, navigations, weather, and research. They are both for civilian and military purposes. Are all jets tracked from some satellites? Yes, they may be tracked directly or indirectly. This does not mean we can access that data especially if the information is on a military satellite intended for intelligence that may not belong to our country.
3) Transponders – Most passenger jets have transponders on board that act as a reporting system. Bigger aircraft usually have two onboard (one for backup). These systems work with ATC radar systems. When the ground station send signals out, the transponder system on the jet returns back the transponder code that was assigned to us back on the ground and our altitude. As the jet system “talks” back and forth to the ground station, the controllers can keep an eye on our trends, directions, speeds, locations and help guide us. The more advanced systems actually can “talk” back and forth with other jets in order to help prevent a collision. We call them “fish finders” and we can actually see the other aircraft, their trends and altitudes as well. If we get too close to each other, the systems will give audible and visual warnings in order for us to take evasive action if we need to.
4) Communications – We have VHF and HF (very high frequency and high frequency) communications on board. Sometimes we even have Sat Com (Satellite) in the jets. Usually VHF is used domestically and if we cross out of radar coverage, we use HF and SAT COM since it is not line of sight limited.
If something goes wrong, we are ALL trained from the beginning to first “AVIATE” (fly the jet and make sure it is safe, responsive, and functional), “NAVIGATE” (get the jet going in the direction we want such as away from any terrain or toward a diversionary airport close by), then “COMMUNICATE” (talk to air traffic control, dispatch, maintenance, medical, flight attendants, passengers, etc.).
I hope this has helped shed some light on concerns you may have! I wish you Blue Skies and smooth flights! Z 6