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Neo-Pacific Flight 619 was a scheduled international passenger flight, operated by Sino-American airline Neo-Pacific, from New York to Shenzhen. On December 22, 2052, the aircraft being flown, a Mitsubishi M2051, crashed in the Bering sea, with the loss of all passengers and crew (some 311 individuals). The M2051 was an extremely technologically advanced airplane, being the first commercial jet to be powered by antimatter. The event raised concerns about the safety of positron generation in propulsion, as well as the issues with automated flight systems. The disaster was met with public outrage, and ultimately new regulations of air travel.
The M2051 Aircraft
The Mitsubishi M2051 was the most technologically sophisticated commercial aircraft ever conceived. Developed and produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, the first units were sold to Neo-Pacific Airways in 2052. The aircraft featured antimatter power, the first instance of such an energy source in commercial transportation. Additionally, extremely intelligent onboard computer systems, connected to a central digital hub, allowed the M2051 to fly autonomously, with different aircraft coordinating in establishing efficient flight routes. Advanced aerodynamics and engine systems greatly increased the efficiency of the plane as well. By its unveiling in the mid-twenty-first century, the M2051 was considered the crown jewel of commercial aircraft.
Antimatter Generation in Propulsion
The M2051 was the first commercial aircraft to be powered primarily through positron generation. The discovery of new laws of particle physics in the 2030s allowed antimatter to be drawn from parallel universes. While highly expensive in capital and maintenance cost, positron power offered a novel energy source that did not necessitate the use of fossil fuels. Aerospace corporations, especially Mitsubishi Flight Solutions, examined the potential applications of antimatter in powering aircraft propulsion. The M2051 used extremely efficient electrical engines, energized through an onboard positron creator. A flow of positron particles would annihilate within a large container of "heavy water", producing heat; a series of heat exchangers would carry the energy to a system of electrical generators, which powered engines and onboard systems. While highly expensive at 380 million USD, and heavy at 25 tonnes, the 76 MW positron power system was claimed to save airlines costs due to the lack of a requirement to purchase hydrocarbon fuel.
While praised for eliminating the dependence of air traffic on limited reserves of fossil fuels, antimatter-based electrical propulsion was criticized for its reliance upon complex onboard systems that were prone to failure. To maintain efficiency, positron generators required superconducting coils to receive power; superconducting materials conducted electricity with little energy loss, and this degree of efficiency was necessary for the antimatter creators to operate. Superconducting coils only operate within a narrow range of temperature and environmental conditions, and thus are highly prone to failure. During testing, the M2051 experienced a complete loss of engine power due to a failure of superconducting power infrastructure; nonetheless, the FAA offered the aircraft a full safety approval. Positron generators also possessed numerous other complex components that could malfunction, potentially posing a serious problem for flight.
Automated Systems in Air Travel
The M2051 was entirely automated, and utilized the most advanced electronic systems to fly efficiently. In most conditions, the aircraft was flown virtually by a network of ground computers that comprised a "cloud", controlling the flight paths of a variety of airplanes; in case the M2051 lost connection with the cloud, onboard electronics could fly the plane autonomously. The Mitsubishi cloud network, based in Okinawa, received flight and weather data from numerous aircraft, and routed airplanes to achieve maximum efficiency, communicating with other cloud networks if necessary. During the development of the M2051, Mitsubishi Flight Solutions and subsidiary Airbus greatly expanded computer networks to match the complexity of the new aircraft's information gathering and data systems.
At 4:55 AM EST, aircraft data from Flight 619 disappeared from the Mitsubishi cloud network, as the M2051 was in flight over the Bering Sea in the midst of an Arctic storm. The plane was assumed disconnected from the network. At 4:56, an automatic system informed human air traffic technicians at Mitsubishi about the loss of connection. At first, the controllers thought that a technical glitch was at fault; they attempted contacting the aircraft with a backup radio system, to no avail. At 5:03, they informed military officials in the United States, who searched for the plane with secondary radar, without success. Neo-Pacific listed the flight as "delayed", until it was officially registered as "missing" by the FAA at 5:45. Immediately, international media networks reported on the missing plane, as the US, Japanese, and Russian Air Force initiated a cursory search.