Bomb protection devised for jets

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The Independent Online
A NEW British-made aircraft cargo container that would prevent another Lockerbie disaster was put on show at Heathrow airport yesterday.

The so-called protective cargo container was manufactured by Royal Ordnance, the British Aerospace subsidiary, whose engineers designed it after their investigations into the explosion that ripped apart Pan Am flight 103 over the town in southern Scotland in December 1988, killing 283 people.

The new container weighs the same as those now in use but will be more expensive. But a Royal Ordnance spokesman said it believed that the additional cost could be recovered through lower hull-insurance premiums.

Using knowledge gained in the production of weapon propellants and tank armour, the company's engineers devised a secret new material that can absorb a bomb blast. Exterior netting straps hold the container's eight panels in place if they deform due to blast pressure.

In recent tests, the company detonated a bomb - identical in size to that which brought down the Pan Am jet - inside a loaded LD3 container, as used by many airlines, which had been placed alongside a section of jumbo jet fuselage. The resulting star-shaped hole almost exactly matched that in the reconstructed Lockerbie Boeing 747.

When a similar device, under similar conditions, was placed inside the protective cargo container, just two rows of rivets were 'popped' - which would not have been disastrous for the plane and its passengers.

Royal Ordnance engineers say the new design will not protect an aircraft against much larger bombs than that used in Lockerbie, the exact details of which are kept secret for security reasons.

'You cannot protect anything against a really determined terrorist, nor could this container stop a much larger device destroying an aircraft,' one engineer admitted. 'But at least airport security authorities should be able to detect bigger bombs than that used over Lockerbie.'