Space rays threaten airliners

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The Independent Online
COSMIC RAYS could damage autopilots or cause them to fail, according to government scientists. Experiments on aircraft, including Concorde, which flies twice as high as normal airliners, show that the high-energy particles can damage the microscopic circuits in aircraft avionics.

In one case, an autopilot is thought to have disconnected because of cosmic rays. In another, a cockpit computer used to monitor aircraft performance stopped working properly after repeated flights.

Cosmic rays are atomic nuclei stripped of their electrons and moving at nearly the speed of light. Their ability to damage advanced avionics makes them a growing threat to airliners.

"Anything that depends more on computers will be prone to it. It is an increasing concern," said Professor Clive Dyer, of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, who led the research team.