Boeing has found a way to test wireless signals onboard its planes, using the pinnacle of aviation technology - a sack of potatoes.
The aircraft manufacturer's engineers were faced with a quandary when testing inflight radio signal quality. Planes are increasingly making use of in-flight wireless systems, but there is the potential that they can interfere with a plane's electrical systems.
Ensuring that there is a strong enough signal to meet regulatory standards, while also delivering a usable wireless signal, requires engineers tweaking the systems, and that can take a lot of time, even up to two weeks.
To accurately replicate flight situations, testing would also require the presence of a cabin full of humans sitting in passenger seats on a dummy flight.
However, Boeing engineers found a way to resolve testing problems was by substituting humans for large sacks of potatoes.
Apparently the vegetables behave in a very similar way to humans on a plane. This means they are able to block out radio waves as they pass through the cabin, just as a human would, though they are less likely to demand free beer or ask to meet the pilot.
To speed up wireless signal testing, Boeing staff filled seats on one of its decommissioned aircraft with 20,000 sacks of potatoes.
Aside from doing little to dispel perceptions that modern airlines treat passengers little better than freighted cargo, the test enabled engineers to successfully tweak wireless signals in a fraction of the time, taking just ten hours.
Test data was then validated with non-vegetable passengers, with Boeing claiming that the end result is greater reliability and safety on its flights.
And the name of the tuber testing method put in place by the engineers? That would be Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution, or, abbreviated, SPUDS - of course.