Boeing’s 747-400 aircraft, first introduced in 1988, is still receiving critical software updates through 3.5-inch floppy disks. The Register reports that security researchers at Pen Test Partners recently got access to a British Airways 747, after the airline decided to retire its fleet following a plummet in travel during the coronavirus pandemic. The team was able to inspect the full avionics bay beneath the passenger deck, with its data center-like racks of modular black boxes that perform different functions for the plane.
Pen Test Partners discovered a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive in the cockpit, which is used to load important navigation databases. It’s a database that has to be updated every 28 days, and an engineer visits each month with the latest updates.
While it might sound surprising that 3.5-inch floppy disks are still in use on airplanes today, many of Boeing’s 737s have also been using floppy disks to load avionics software for years. The databases housed on these floppy discs are increasingly getting bigger, according to a 2015 report from Aviation Today. Some airlines have been moving away from the use of floppy discs, but others are stuck with engineers visiting each month to sit and load eight floppies with updates to airports, flight paths, runways, and more.
The 10-minute video tour of the 747 (above) is a fascinating insight into the parts of the plane you never get to see, particularly on a decades-old airliner. The tour is part of this year’s virtual Def Con conference, the US’ largest hacker conference. As modern planes rely upon ever more sophisticated technology, security researchers are increasingly interested in how planes prevent passengers from interfering with flights.