The Russian Ministery of Defense presented at a pressconference a couple of “evidences” which should proof that MH17 took a detour the the north. It also showed on radar that an aircraft was close to MH17 at the time it crashed.
This post will explain in detail that what the Russians told are simply impossible.
- According Russia the fighter aircraft of Ukraine airforce showed up on radar after MH17 was hit
- the fighter aircraft must have been at 5000 meters or lower when it shot at MH17. The cannon onboard a SU-25 does not have a range to hit an aircraft that far
- the radar did not show the strange detour towards the north as explained in the same pressconference.
- in fact what the Russians make us believe is a fighter aircraft is actually falling debris.
- you will notice the small dots on the radar screen hardly move from their position. If thise would be an aircraft you would see movements. Oekraine does not have aircraft which are able to hover like a Harrier.
I am not the only one convinced convinced that the dots are in fact falling debris. At Pprune.org, a forum for aviation specialists like pilot and air traffic controllers, someone explains that this “does appear to show the appearance of debris from the break up”
Introduction to radar
Lets have a look at radar first. Air Traffic Control uses two types of radar. A primary surveillance radar and secondary surveillance radar.
Primary radar is based on an antenna which transmits radio signals into the air. Objects will reflect those signals and the antenna picks it up. The system then shows a dot on a radarscreen. The system can determine speed and course, sometimes the heigth of the object. However flightnumber and type of aircraft is not detected by primary radar.
Primary radar is expensive to maintain and old technology.
Secondary radar uses a different signal to detect and get information from flying objects. Each aircraft equipped with a transponder is detectable by a secondary radar. The radar will interrogate the transponder and this will sent information like speed, heading, callsign to the radar. Any object in the air without carrying a tranponder used in civil aviation will not be detected by secondary radar.
Civil aircraft doing passenger services all have a transponder. Some of the smaller light aviation as well. Even some gliders are equipped with a transpodner. Military aircraft do have a transponder but that is used for identification for friend of foo (IFF).
So the Russian explanation of the dots on radar being a military jet could be correct. However read on.
The radar screen as shown in the Russian MoD presentation is a combination of primary and secondary radar. As soon as MH17 has been hit the transponder does not operate anymore. The altitude information disappears and what is left are dots on the screen.
However, what the radar detects and shows are debris. We know the cockpit separated from the fuselage. As the transponder was not working anymore this is shown as a dot. The other dots are debris and a large part of the fuselage which continued for a few kilometers. These parts were found 8,5 km from the last recorded FDR position.
What you see is three commercial aircraft. MH17 is the one with the box around it and flightcode MAC17. That is MAS17 in Russian language. The current position of all three aircraft is represented by a small square. On the radarscreen it is hard to see. At a certain moment the square changes into a circle.
An extrapolation of the route is show as a line which runs ahead of the aircraft. That helps the air traffic controller to predict the route of the aircraft in the next couple of minutes. The route back in time(route taken) is show by the dots behind the aircraft.
This post has a great explanation about radar. For some reason it has been deleted at the original site but Webarchive still has a snapshot of it.
The radar screen and why dots is not a military aircraft
Now lets us have a closer look at the radar screen and what the Russians presented. The Russian Ministery of Defense press conference is here. They show the route MH17 had taken. This was proven to be wrong. See my post here titled ‘ Moscow lies about MH17 route‘
This is the same video but showing more details.
And this video shows a closeup of the same radar screen zoomed in to MH17
Then they showed a recording of the radar screen. Coincidently the Russian started the video a few moments before MH17 dissapprears from the radar screen. Strangely enhough they do not show that strange curve MH17 made. If the Russians were confident about their statement, why not show it.
Next they claim that immediatelty after the aircraft was loosing speed, another aircraft appeared on the radarscreen. The Russians say aircraft flying below 5000 meters cannot be detected on radar.
So if MH17 was hit by an aircraft the aircraft must have fired at MH17 from an altitude below 5000 meters. MH17 was flying at flightlevel 330 which is 33.000 feet which is 10058 meters.
Around 21:31 in the video the translator explains that the aircraft was initially flying lower than 5000 meters. It is also said that a Ukraine Air Force aircraft appears on the radar at 17 hour 21 minuts 35 seconds. That is 1 minute,32 seconds after the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder stopped working according the Dutch Safety Board report.
The radar shows that around 13:20:29 the speed of MH17 drops very fast. This is the moment the aircraft was hit. The time is shown in the righthand side of the screen. The recording of the radar continues till 13:24:58. Then the radar screen freezes while the video continues.
So for 4 minutes and 39 seconds the radar shows dots on the screen in the neigborhood of where MH17 was last seen on the radar. Now we learned at radar shows the position of an aircraft back in time. I am not sure for how long but I guess for about 15 seconds.
So the radar has spotted debris in the air for about 4 min 39 minus 15 seconds = 4 min 26 seconds.
This post shows another analysis of the radar screen.
The image below shows the track of MH17 as displayed in the Russian radar. The track is the orange line. The purple lines are other other two passenger aircraft near MH17.
The red line is the radar plot after MH17 lost altitude and speed as seen on the radar. This are the debris falling. Also the main part of the fuselage minus forward section and cockpit. This came down at the end of the red line.
The blue dots are places were debris were found.
As you can see the plots of radar are very close to the dots were debris were found. It is also impossible a fighter aircraft flew near that red line and then went below radar again. It is just too short distance.
And this blogpost explains what you see on the radar screen. It explains primary radar and secondary radar.
A Russian blog also has some Google/ Yandex maps with a plot of the Rostov radar. The images below both indicate:
- the radar plots are exactly over the area where the debris fell.
- there is hardly any horizontal movement of this plots in the time. As Ukraine does not have Harriers or gunship helicopters able to operate at 10KM the SU-25 story is nonsense
You will also notice some radar plots continueing towards the south east. That is most likely due to the extrapolation of the radar. The computer which filters the radar signal continues to predict the course of MH17 even when it does not fly anymore.
Someone made a vidoe showing Rostov Radar displayed over a Google map. The video was published by the Bellingcat research team.
The weapon debunked
A military aircraft can destroy another aircraft using two types of weapons:
- a cannon
- an air to air missile
Russia suggested a Su-25 was used to shot down MH17. What kind of weapons does this fighter jet carries? By the way the Su-25 is designed to destroy tanks and thus flies at low altitudes. It has a service level of 7000 meters according the website of Sukhoi. It is unable to reach 33.000 feet.
Air to air missiles have infrared guidance. This means the missile seeks for heat exhaust of its target. That is typically the engine(s). So the missile will head for the engine exhaust. Most have a proximity fuse. At a certain distance to its target it will exlode.
A likely candidate for a SU-25 figher jet is the R-60 missile. It has a 3 kg warhead. That is far less than the 70 kg warhead of the BUK M1. So the R-60 is a relative light weapon. If it hit one of the engines of MH17, the flight data recorder would record a failure of the engines. Pilots would have noticed and would have talke about it. This would be recorded on the cockpit voice recorder. We know from the Dutch Safety Board report both CVR and FDR stopped all of a sudden. No strange situation was recorded.
The R-60 missile is a so called continuous rod warhead. This means it spreads small strips of metals in a specific pattern so that when it explodes it spreads into a large circle that cuts the target. A bit like a chainsaw pattern. This photo show the typical damage of a continious rod warhead:
Other air to air missiles the Su-25 can carry are K-13 (AA-2) and Vympel R-73 . The R-73 has a continuous-rod warhead as well.
Other missiles use a fragmentation warhead. An overview can be found here.
The GSh-30-2 30 mm Cannon used in a Su-25 has an effective range of 1220 meters. Other sources like this man on a Russia Today documentary mention a range of 300-2000 meters. Imagine shooting a cannon in a fast moving Su-25 towards an even more faster moving aircraft at a distance of 5000 meters!
Besides the cannon cannot reach MH17, it is physically impossible. The Su-25 had to fly at a certain angle to shoot at MH17. That angle would have caused the Su-25 to stall. Remember the Su-25 was designed as an aircraft to attack tanks on the ground.
A third reason MH17 cannot be hit from a cannon is that it would be impossibe for the Su-25 pilot to even see MH17. It was very cloudy at the time MH17 was shot down. So when flying 5000 meters or more below MH17 there would be a lot of clouds between Su-25 and Boeing 777.
At August 6 1988 a Botswana Air Force Hs-125 was hit by a R-60 missle shot by an Angola Air Force fighter. The Hs-125 lost an engine and the cabine was decompressed but the aircraft could land safe and was later repaired. The Hs-125 is a small business jet. You can imagine a Boeing 777 would not immediately crash if hit by a R-60.
This is the damage done to the Botswana HS-125. Some background information on this incident here.
See also the Korean Air Lines B707 which was hit by a R-60 missile. Its wing was damaged but the aircraft continued to fly and make a landing at a frozen lake in the former Sovjet Union.
The supposed aircraft then seems to hover over the spot where MH17 crashed. The radar screen does not show any movement at all of the dots. A Su-25 cannot hover like a Harrier aircraft so that is impossible as well.
The dots on the radar screen are falling debris. Now some people might object to that saying it is impossible for debris to take that long to fall. Remember the aircraft flew at 33.000 feet. Terminal velocity is the maximum speed a falling object will reach. The terminal velocity for a human body is around 200 km/h. That means if a body drops from the altitude MH17 was flying it will take 3 minutes to reach the ground.
That is a falling body. Mind the cockpit and forward fuselage section separated from the aircraft. Then other parts well off. A main part of the fuselage , the middle, continued a foreward movement. It slowly decended and hit the ground about 8 to 10 km from where the cockpit hit the ground.
The prove for the dots on the radar screen are falling debris is also provided by the Russian Rostov airtraffic controller. He clearly states that the aircraft is falling apart. This is a screenshot from the Russia today documentary titled “MH17: the untold truth”
So it very likely that parts of the fuselage will require 4 min 26 seconds before hitting the ground.
However, one of the wings of the PanAm Boeing 747 which exploded at 31.000 feet above Lockerbie took 46,5 seconds to reach the ground. (Source pag 53)
Now remember the Russian lady doing the translation. She said Rostov radar does not cover aircraft flying lower than 5000 meters at the range MH17 was flying. I do not think that is correct.
I think Rostov primary radar reach of detection of aircraft is much lower than 5000 meters. I do not think debris can take 4 minutes and 26 seconds for a decend from 10.000 meter to 5000 meters.
So this even more debunks the story of aircraft flying under the radar of Rostov and showing up all of a sudden. But as said, even when coverage is 5000 meter or higher there is no way any fighter aircraft could have destroyed MH17.
Large debris will have a lot of wind resistence hence the fall will likely last longer than a human body.
Air France 447 crashed into the Ocean when flying at cruise level. It was flying 6000 feet higher than MH17. The aircraft was intact when it hit the water. Still it needed 3 minutes and 30 seconds to hit the water. See wikipedia.
During its descent, the aircraft had turned more than 180 degrees to the right to a compass heading of 270 degrees. The aircraft remained stalled during its entire 3 minute 30 second descent from 38,000 feet