Saturday, June 13, 2009

Musing on Modifications to Flight Recorders

Your standard everyday run-of-the-mill common-or-garden flight recorderFollowing the tragic loss of Air France 447 over the Atlantic (1st.June 2009), the unsolved (at time of writing) reason/s for the crash, and hunt for the 'black box' flight recorders before the 30-day bleeper runs out, a few thoughts spring to mind...
Construction: often flight recorders (which are bright orange, NOT black) are retrieved from crashes too badly damaged to recover much data from. Surely being such a vital part of any crash investigation, they should be constructed from something as virtually indestructible as a space shuttle's heat shield which can withstand up to 3825°C.
Flotation: improvements could include a flotation element – some compressed gas compound that would activate when water pressure reached a certain level, and thus return the box to the surface.
Locator: the 'bleeper' could be powered by a tiny radioactive isotope which would continue to signal much longer than the current 30-day battery. Or in this digital age, it could even be a GPS.
Data Recording: the Air France jet sent out automatic messages in its final moments, detailing various technical faults. Flight recorders store info: 2hrs of cockpit voice recordings and up to 25hrs of flight data. But this IS the 21st.century! As the globe is constantly circled by satellites, could these 'black boxes' be designed to – instead of storing data – stream that information non-stop via satellite to terrestrial servers?
Location: And thinking of satellites, surely GPSs could be used to accurately 'fix' a flight crossing an ocean instead of relying on land-based radar? Flight 447 was 'off the scope' when it was lost.
Data Transmission: alot of information can be sent in incredibly short bursts of nano-second (or one billionth of a second) duration: the military transmits thus to avoid detection by electronic warfare elements. It would not be hard to design a “data burster” transmission system for planes. An 8-hour flight with “data bursts” every second of a nano-second duration would produce 28,800 bursts, or 28,800-billionths of a second worth of information: storage would never be a problem.
Experts may well find gaping holes in my suggestions, but unless I'm overlooking something fundamental, improvements in the resilience of and transmission from 'black boxes' need serious attention.
For more about flight recorders, check the How Stuff Works link...
PS: 17 Dec.2009 - it looks as if experts in the field now echo my suggestions...
PS: 19 March 2011 - Airbus faces manslaughter charges following this crash.
PS: 05 April 2011 - Wreckage and some bodies have been located on the ocean floor by unmanned submarines.
PS: 02 May 2011 - The 'black box' has been recovered...
PS: 28 May 2011 - First evidence from the 'black box'...

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