Miles O'Brien Blogging the Air France Crash: The Search for Black Boxes

Miles O'Brien, whose work we've been featuring recently as a Boing Boing Video guest contributor, has been covering the Air France crash intensively on True Slant and in short bursts on Twitter. Here's a snip from his latest blog post, about the effort to retreive the plane's "black boxes."
Now that searchers have found some floating remnants of Air France 447 in the Atlantic 430 miles (700 kilometers) north of the Fernando de Noronha islands, the hard work of trying to locate the Airbus' "black boxes" - the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder - can begin. This is actually much worse than the proverbial needle in the haystack, because in that case, the assumption is the needle can be found after expending a lot of time and energy. These boxes might very well be truly lost to the abyss.

But of course they still must try to find them as well as any wreckage of the Airbus A-330.

To that end, a French research ship with a submersible capable of diving to a depth of 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) is steaming to the area. The French transport Ministry says the ship carries equipment "able to explore more than 97% of the ocean bed area, specifically in the search area." I some spots, Atlantic is more than 20,000 feet deep in the area where searchers found the floating debris.

The submersible will be listening for the distinctive "pinging" noise that these boxes are designed to emit once they are submerged in water. They are supposed to "ping" for thirty days in water as deep as 20,000 feet. Sonar used by surface ships is only good to about a thousand feet of depth - so it is essential to send some "ears" deep beneath the sea in order to find the boxes. These sonar devices can be towed by ships or ply the deep on their own power.

Long Odds Search for Black Boxes (


  1. I assume that there is a reason that just making them float would be impractical; I’d be very curious to know what that reason is.

  2. Why is it that the only people who refer to the flight data recorder as a “black box” do so knowing that they aren’t really BLACK boxes? Either they put quotes around “black box” or they refer to them as the “so-called black box”?

    Just call them Flight Data Recorders. People will get it. Especially when your image of the “black box” is emblazoned with the label “flight data recorder”.

  3. How is it that the black box is 10,000-15,000ft deep when the plane crashed next to an island? Are they lying? How close to the island was it?

  4. What about flight data recorders with a real-time satellite datalink? I’m sure there is a very good technical reason that this relatively simple idea hasn’t yet been implemented. Not enough satellites? Can any brilliant Boing Boing readers enlighten me?

  5. so i used to cross the Atlantic a lot, and i always think about how best to survive a crash like the one I’m sure doomed the passengers of that flight.

    it seems to me, that when a plane is obviously heading down like that, if the passengers were able to form a human ball in the center of the plane, they might be more likely to survive the impact.

    passengers could grab all children and put them in the center of the ball, then (yeah i know this is a bit sexist) all the women around the children, then the men around the women.

    i just think the way passengers are expected to remain in their seats, buckled in, sets them all up to face the full brunt of the crash individually.

    oh.. and my other idea

    every passenger puts on a breathing apparatus, then the passenger compartment if flooded with semi-rigid foam.

  6. IANAaeronautical engineer, but I’m guessing that the reason black boxes aren’t made to float is that in order to function they must be connected to various things that do not float.

  7. It’s got to survive high speed crashes, aviation fuel fires, and you want it to float too?

    During WW2, the US had a really cool system for locating downed aircraft lost over the ocean. Planes would care a metal sphere that was hollow and designed to collapse at a certain depth. The depth was chosen where the temperature and pressure of the water created a wave channel where teh sound would propagate over great distances. Listening stations were set up at various locations with microphones at the appropriate depth.

    When a plane went in the water, this ball would sink, hit the right depth, collapse, make a “pop” sound, the sound would travel across the ocean, the listening posts would pick up the “pop”, and then using accurate time pieces, they could triangulate back to where the “pop” occurred.

  8. I like the idea of making them float. And…it could be a quite simple fix, though I’m not an aviation expert. This would mean changing the ENTIRE design of the box itself…but not the stuff inside. Simply add (within a LARGER ‘black box’) a sealed gas/air chamber. Of course, if the box is damaged in the crash this MAY not work…but hey, design one and test it. It can’t be too expensive to build a bigger box. For the initial test, you could weld two of them together, and replace the components of the second one with air.

  9. They are heavy for sure, or what about ejecting the Flight Data Recorder or FDR with a parachute a few hundred feet above the water, then have airbags deployed. And also didn’t the FDR’s utilize metal tape to record as tape would melt. I was thinking also maybe the whole “black box” name, born from the phreaking era?

  10. How is it that the black box is 10,000-15,000ft deep when the plane crashed next to an island? Are they lying? How close to the island was it?

    The ocean floor tends to drop off abruptly to the abyssal plain (“the really deep bits” in laymans terms. For a volcanic island, there might not be any apreciable continental shelf at all.

    I hadn’t heard anything about the crash being particularly “near” anything – all just out in the middle of the deeeeeep blue sea.

    “Are they lying?” Who’s ‘they’ – some TV station? If so, no, they’re just probably wrong. Again. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  11. Quoting CNN: “The earlier debris was about 650 kilometers (400 miles) northeast of the Fernando de Noronha Islands, an archipelago 355 kilometers (220 miles) off the northeast coast of Brazil”

    So yeah. I think your perception of “near” is off. 650 km is not “near”.

  12. Mr. Blackbird:

    Consider, please, that the Flight Data Recorder is bolted securely to the aircraft frame, so as to help it survive the impact. This means that it will sink with the frame.

    OK, so maybe we need a floaty-FDR ejection device, which would safely eject the FDR underwater. But not too deep, or the flotation material will crush, and not be buoyant.

  13. Hawkins, I realize that it would be bolted to the frame. My idea was simply to make it float. I’ll leave it to the experts to determine how to get it out of the plane. : )

  14. @4: ERIKO23
    A plane going down vertically is very close to a free fall. If you jump from a 2 Km high mountain inside a ball of humans that wouldn’t be different from hitting a rock. Many divers have died for hitting the sea from high altitudes (tens of meters, not kilometers) at the wrong angle, and water is surely much softer than a human body. Speed makes things much harder, ever got a bumblebee in the face while riding a motorcycle? Ouch!

    There’s simply no space to release the inertia of a free fall in a way to keep a human alive into a falling plane; one would need an extremely soft and extremely big cushion to decelerate properly, and that would be much bigger than a plane. A similar device already exist, it’s called air and can be used by a parachute. If there were other ways, the military would use those instead of parachutes. The only working example I know of is the one they use on Mars missions, which is made possible by Mars’ lower gravity and its extremely thin atmosphere that would require impractically huge parachutes (and by the way, we still have to see it work with human crews).

    To me the only way to save people from a plane falling vertically would involve some safety equipment (floating jacket + parachute w/breather for high altitudes), completely automatic (just forget about any untrained civilian pulling the cord at the right moment, and I assume he/she even remembers to pull the cord!), *very* easy to wear or – better – mounted inside the seat.

    The SF fan in me would love a rail mounted seat that closes a shield around the passenger then rolls towards the tail of the plane where it is ejected, it opens a parachute and is capable of floating/landing softly enough. A homing signal and a radio, plus drinkable water, some food and a first aid kit would also help, though it would cost a fortune put hundreds of these seats on civil aircrafts.

  15. “Because you can’t talk to a satellite from underwater – you need an antenna at the surface”

    I think what’s meant is a realtime feed of all the in-flight data from the FDR on the plane simultaneously to one (or a network of them) on the ground, from takeoff to landing (or crashing), thus alleviating the necessity of actually locating the thing 6,000 meters down. Would also help locating the wreckage (and more importantly, survivors) in the first place, I imagine.

  16. So black boxes should:

    1. float or be able to be ejected before reaching crush depth
    2. be called Flight Data Recorders
    3. be linked via satellite in real time

    I like all of these ideas. For the satellite suggestion how about single unit buoy relays that uplink all kinds of real-time air traffic and weather data (not just flight recorders)?

    /watches too many sci-fi movies
    //not an engineer
    ///the human-ball-in-the-center-of-the-plane idea frightens me

  17. It’s also worth noting that radio signals propagate in very different ways in water and air, and depending on their frequency.
    A transmitter located underwater would be nearly impossible to locate if it didn’t use very low frequencies (in the range of tenths of kilohertz, not megahertz) while a transmitter operating on a hill would better use much higher frequencies (tens, hundreds of megahertz) that would be unusable underwater.
    I have no data on how blackboxes are built, but they certainly took into account this aspect of radio waves propagation and provided the blackbox with all the hardware needed to address any crash possibility.

  18. I find the reports coming out saying “it may never be found” to be HIGHLY suspicious. Everyone in marine surveying and seismography reading that would be seriously raising their eyebrows to read something like “even with the pinging it could be impossible to find”. Global surveying companies on a daily basis use gear that can provide an accurate, 3D model of vast squares of the ocean floor for clients, including sub-bottom profiling (telling people what’s under the ground on the seafloor). They can tell you where debris fields are, what kind of metals are in that field, to within very close accuracy. They use ships that tow several “streamers” with passive / active sonar arrays, each several kilometers long, that are used to create the maps that you see in the blue ocean areas on google earth.

    To suggest it’s worse than a needle in a haystack is, quite frankly, absolute complete and utter bullsh*t – I hate to feed the conspiracy trolls, but in this case, I’m really wondering why already the media are trying to prepare people for failure in something that is really not that difficult to achieve. If the government of France/Brazil paid one of the handful of global survey companies as little as a few million dollars, they could learn what’s down there, down to the inch.

  19. When I first saw that photo I thought it was a USB flash drive. I may paint my own to match it.

    My own USB flash drive, that is.

  20. What you COULD do is set up a system like an EPIRB. Basically they are little floating transmitters that you have on a ship on the outside. Essentially if they fall off the ship, they get set off. The emergency signal can be used to home in on where the ship probably went down.

    Yes but the trouble is that ships don’t generally get dropped into the ocean from 30,000′ at a couple hundred miles per hour.

  21. When I first saw that photo, I thought it was a USB flash drive. Now I want to paint my own USB flash drive to look just like it. Then it would be easy to find.

  22. One of the stories I stumbled across on google news (and have since been unable to find again) said the data recorders are intentionally designed to not float, whether they’re attached to the plane or not.

    Apparently the jostling they’d receive at the surface would distort the signal and make their location much more difficult to triangulate.

    I’m not sure this makes much sense to me, but I read it on the internet so it must be true.

  23. Global surveying companies on a daily basis use gear that can provide an accurate, 3D model of vast squares of the ocean floor for clients, including sub-bottom profiling (telling people what’s under the ground on the seafloor).

    At what resolution though? 0.1m? 1m? 10m? 100m? Mapping undersea geological formations is way different than mapping confettied aircraft debris.

  24. @GuySmiley, not really, particularly when you consider the companies that map those formations also analyse what minerals/metals etc., they are made up of, remotely. How do you think “The Titanic” was found? Or in Australia recently the wreck of “The Sydney”. You can tell what materials are on the seafloor – you can even see dolphins in the water if you know what you’re looking for – it’s a common occurence with undersea seismic surveys. As for resolution – it basically comes down to cost and how much gear you have – but yes, to within an inch (companies spending 10 billion dollars on a pipeline require that accuracy). But it’s almost irrelevant, since with the location of the crash already established, a wide area sub-sea survey in a number of sectors would show the searchers where most of the debris lies, and thus where they have the highest chance of success. ROV’s could manually search the “big” fields, and AUV’s (Autonomous Underwater vehicles) could do sweeps of the more sparse, spread out areas. I hate to use a cliche, but it’s really not rocket science. The only real potential difficulty they might face out there is depth.

  25. I hate to use a cliche, but it’s really not rocket science.

    And just how long did it take to find the wreck of Steve Fosset’s plane? And how was it found? Not by satellite photos, not by aerial surveillance, it was accidentally stumbled on by hikers.

    Finding a destroyed aircraft isn’t easy. How far did the floaty bits float before being discovered? How far did the heavy bits drift on their 3 mile journey to the bottom? If it was a midair breakup how far did pieces travel and in which direction before they even hit the water?

    I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m saying it’s harder than you’re assuming. The ocean is big. Really, really big. To do very high resolution mapping, you can’t cover much area at a time. To do wide area mapping you don’t get as good of resolution.

  26. we have these:

    why can’t there be a LOT of them, cruising, diving, listening, surfacing, hunting and burst transmitting to satellite? Why can’t some of that espionage money be spent on making us all safer in peace time?

    A global network of autonomous ocean glider-bots that do nothing but wait for the tell-tale beep of a FDR would not cost THAT much.

  27. I believe the thing doesn’t float because it is likely still attached to a cockpit. If planes were made of foam rubber then we would likly recover these better but have more accidents.

  28. @guysmiley sub-sea is very different to trying to find something above land. Using the example of a plane crash on land is like comparing apples and oranges. Water is a fantastic transmission medium, and there’s very little in between you and your instruments. The best analogue an aerial survey can provide is a magnetometer or gravometer survey, and that is a single point instrument, not an array like in oceanographic surveying.

    As for covering wide areas, as I said, survey companies currently routinely use ships that tow 500 meter wide by multiple kilometer long arrays. Try to imagine the area that these cover (massive). There’s a reason Google Earth is able to provide those pretty pictures of the seafloor. Also – this data is usually used to tell a telco company exactly where to bury its cable along the seafloor – which is often no bigger than a foot or two in diameter. Or more crucially – where a gas company should put its billion dollar pipeline, to within a foot or two (so it doesn’t break or explode due to subsidence). The resolution is good enough.

  29. Drop a crumpled up ball of paper from a third floor balcony and you won’t have that much difficulty finding it, because if the air is still, it will fall fairly straight. Drop a sheet of paper from a third floor balcony, and it can drift a fair distance before it hits the ground. It’s perfecty possible that bit of plane that the black box is attached to resembles a sheet of paper more a crumpled ball. The black box could end up a considerable distance from the biggest bit of the plane.

  30. @#23

    How do you think “The Titanic” was found?

    They trolled around on the bottom of the ocean in a submarine where they thought the ship might be, searching in patterns until they discovered a debris trail and followed it to the wreck.

  31. ~

    Maybe they should design the black boxes with some sort of built in flotation device. Like a small automobile air bag.

  32. Palilay, Those maps that Google has that you keep going on about? Try zooming in to any decent level of detail.

    High resolution maps like you claim don’t exist on Google, they’re only available in very small areas to people who paid for the surveys. To map an area 50×50 miles at a resolution fine enough to spot airplane debris will take weeks and multiple millions.

    You assumption that you can just go straight down from where some floating debris was found and find wreckage is incorrect.

    I truly hope they do find the FDR and CVR, *I* want to know what happened to this A330. But I’m not going to go all Dispersed Coinage loopy if they can’t find it either.

  33. from Washington Post article, Brazil Finds More Wreckage from Jetliner Crash, one hour ago:

    “The plane’s wreckage may be 6,600 to 9,800 feet deep in the Atlantic, French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said today.

    “We have never recovered black boxes that deep before,” he said in a French radio interview, adding that “the sea currents are powerful that far down.”

    Moreover, weather at the crash site may impede the operation. Forecasts indicate that recovery crews may have to battle heavy thunderstorms and rough seas.

    The black boxes on the downed Airbus A330 can transmit their signals from depths of 14,000 to 15,000 feet. The pinger transmits an acoustical signal that can be detected with underwater microphones.

    Aviation safety experts say investigators have generally had success locating black boxes in both shallow and deep waters.

    But locating the pingers is not assured. Sound quality can be degraded by water temperature and underwater terrain. The signal will be especially hard to pick up if the devices, for example, are stuck in a canyon on the ocean floor.”

  34. @anonymous #4:

    “Black box” is an engineering term from the 1940’s, still widely used in computer science. It’s a “black box” in that it is opaque; knowledge of its internals are not required or desirable for its operation, and it is described in terms of its “interface”. It is the opposite of a “clear” or “white” box.

  35. The FDR seems to be a classic signal point of failure system, if you don’t recover the “black box”, then there appears to be no way to get at that information. Given the dollar cost of just one modern jetliner, and the lives at risk daily, there are many reasons why operators, manufacturers and governments need to rapidly understand any aircraft failure in detail and without delay.

    It seems to be a remarkably poor decision to have only one FDR system. The planes are already built with multiple redundancy systems designed to keep the aircraft airborne, so it should not be too much of a stretch to have back up systems to the FDR.

    There could be a series of back up systems:

    A real time or periodic transmission of FDR data during the flight to a secure central data-store.

    A depressurization and rapid decent triggered transmission, with an FDR on a separate electrical circuit and battery to prevent systemic failure.

    A series of supplemental exterior mounted FDR’s which float upon impact.

    A series of small emergency locator transmitter could be deployed throughout the aircraft, so that some would survive the impact or fireball resulting from a bomb on board.

    The cost of one deep sea location and recovery exercise should merit investment in these systems alone.

  36. If the Navy’s SOSUS net is still active in that region, they’d probably have a location for the splash or the debris breaking up on the way down.

  37. everyone seems to forget all these wonderful ideas for on-board systems would be paid for by the people too damn cheap to give you a bag of peanuts.

  38. @Martiantrailer:

    “Which is great until the power goes out or the lightning hits the antenna. Remember, this plane couldn’t even radio out one, “HELP!” message before it went down. Good luck trying to make a high speed data transmission system that’s foolproof.”

    Well, the point is that all the data on the FDR would be duplicated on whatever ground-based apparatus has been receiving it, thus obviating the necessity of having to locate the darn thing in the first place. Remember, the “black box” is mainly just a tool for reconstructing the events that led up to the crash, not an SOS beacon. The hypothetical live air-to-ground feed would just provide another layer of redundancy to the system …critical if it turns out it’s not possible to recover the box. (BTW, don’t they have their own on-board power supplies? Bat’ries & such?)

  39. @ 45
    A fine idea, except that a)it costs money and weight (which costs the airlines money) and b) planes don’t crash in the middle of the ocean that often.

    In regards to picking up a sonar beacon, it might be fairly low power (so it can broadcast longer) and you might need to get close to it because of the thermoclines in the ocean – temperature layers which can reflect sound waves, kind of like how a fiber optic glass can reflect light waves internally. Considering all the debris,it may well be true that the black boxes will never be found.

  40. It’s a lot more important for the black boxes to be fire-resistent than floaty, of course. I have to wonder if it’s even possible to have a buoyant material around a black box, sufficient enough in size to keep it afloat, but which wouldn’t cause issues in a fire.

    I’d think the best chance would just be a cushion of air+plastic, basically stick the thing inside a (very tough) beach ball. That’d take up a lot of space, though, and wouldn’t even help if the thing didn’t somehow separate from the plane.

    I’m liking the tiny-parachute idea.

  41. The plane, and all parts thereof, should float. Such a bother, retreiving sunken jetsam. So what’s heavy? The engines. Not that heavy, tho, that a closed-cell, fire retardant foam surround couldn’t buoy them. The thin aluminum shell of a jetliner, or virtually any plane, is engineered as light as they can get them, within safety factor parameters. Wings, full of fuel? The fuel is nearly gravity neutral in water. Everything foam-filled or hollow. The black box is nested in a pocket of foam, one at each end. They float, they blink, and cry for help.
    Another thought is airbags all over the place. Packing ’em in airbags is mighty dang safe, light, quick and bouyant (deployed airbags should probably exhaust about half their air after an incident).
    We shouldn’t be sinking our broken garbage into the sea. Dead bodies, fine, but a half tank of jet fuel? Not helping.

  42. Captcha fun before signing in: 14 rubdowns

    On to the topic. CNN just had a guy on (I only saw part) that talked about floating FDR and CVRs. They ride in the tail section or the wing, and are jettisoned upon ‘immediate’ deceleration. I assume this would also mean it would jettison in virtually ANY crash, minimizing the risk of damage, provided it landed outside the immediate crash area. Some governments around the world are using them currently, and Homeland Security is looking at/testing them for feasibility in commercial aircraft. Did I mention it floats.

  43. …and you might need to get close to it because of the thermoclines in the ocean – temperature layers which can reflect sound waves, kind of like how a fiber optic glass can reflect light waves internally.

    Yes, nobody mentioned this before, but this is a big deal for sonar. You can have two subs close to each other that can hardly hear each other, because of water layers of different temperature and salinity. It’s not a matter of just distance.

  44. Floatey black boxes are a bad idea. Never mind that you would need to cut a new hatch into the skin of the plane. It would need to retain the box with 100% reliability for years on end and then reliably pop out on demand. It would need to somehow distinguish between an agressive landing and an imminent crash. It would need to work with the plane oriented in any position, and work while the craft was deforming, burning, or oscillating. It would need to not change the flight characteristics of the plane, on acount of the pilots might be a little busy at the time, and not want distractions. It would also need to not damage anything on its way out. It would need to do all this with its own logic board, its own power supply, and its own ability to pop the hatch without discussing it with any one. It would need to do all this without adding weight or hazardous materials to the plane. Once out of the plane it can no longer use the rest of the plane as a crumple zone to absorb shock for it.

    There is also the problem that after it leaves you are now searching for a little box less than a meter across, rather than thousands of pound of aluminum sitting in an oil slick, or at the base of a large pillar of black smoke.

  45. Certain portions of this discussion remind me of “How To Do It.”

    Specifically, how to rid the world of all known diseases:

    Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvelous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there’ll never be any diseases ever again.

  46. #53 posted by MartianTrailer:

    Ah interesting information in this article. Apparently there are automatic live transmission of data from planes. Here’s the relevant part…

    [horrifying bits]

    On a more serious note: I’ve always found “crashed into the sea” more disturbing than “smashed into the earth.” It’s an imagination thing: having a vivid one puts me in the cabin. Something about having impact and then still having thousands more feet to fall and be lost beneath.

    I don’t fly much.

    That said: read Spencer Dew’s “The Sea Beneath.” A short short, which may or may not resonate with you, depending on the amount of time you’ve spent imagining yourself in a crashing aircraft.

  47. I cannot believe that my iphone, my car GPS and specialized GPS’s all over the world that can pin point the lay down of a oil rig in the middle of the Antlantic
    with the accuracy of a surgeon cannot follow a plane in flight and feed it’s data in reel time via satelite.

    Of course you might say that a electric malfunction might disrupt such a device/antenea, but is it not better to have some data than no data at all ?
    witch is likely to be the case with this crash!

    Maybe the aviation industry is worried of having all that data available to the public because they are a lot more in flights incidents that are reported ?
    What is the aviation industry trying to hide ? the black box system is 1970’s technology it’s time the public knows about what the hell is going on!

    And I don’t think that a 200$ GPS per plane, and a couple of hundreds of servers per company will make them more straped for cash then they are now !

    M. Cosentino
    Montréal, Canada

  48. Wasn’t Miles O’Brien one of the chief engineers on the USS Enterprise NCC 1701-D? Yeah, he should be able to solve the problem in no time…

  49. #56 posted by IWood, June 3

    Thankyou for saying what I was trying to think.

    Next week on BoingBoing Comments, we’ll be showing you how to play the flute, split the atom and irrigate the Shara Desert making vast new areas cultivatable!

    I kid because I love, right? Put down the pitchforks!

  50. @guysmiley : the only reason the resolution is so low on Google Maps is because to have higher res you need to PAY for it – google offers basic undersea features at low res at a public service. The data reflects known sub-sea mountains, not the sort of detail that for example mining companies will get when they pay 40 million dollars for a one month survey – but the detail is absolutely possible. I have seen with my own eyes, seismic charts where one can see the seafloor, and clearly make out the outline of a ship in the middle of it – as far down as a kilometer. A trained analyst can tell you that the little 1mm ‘flecks’ surrounding it are debris, and probably give you an extremely well educated guess as to what they’re made from too (with a magnetometer survey he can tell you pretty exactly).

    However, after reading more information on this case, I’m inclined at last to agree with you that a seismic survey in this case would be extremely expensive and problematic – but I really don’t think that’s a reason why it shouldn’t be done. If I were a family member of one of the victims, I know I’d be pretty pissed to hear Air France decided to do nothing to save a couple of million dollars. I do think in this case, however, they will need to rely more heavily on extremely sensitive passive equipment to try and hear the “ping”, and probably a lot of magnetometer work, which is a whole other kettle of fish, particularly in hilly terrain.

    By the way – I didn’t mean they could simply find the plane beneath where they knew it crashed, but in the art of finding a needle in a haystack under the sea, your search area is -tremendously- narrowed if you know the exact location to within a kilometer or so of where the plane/boat went down. It’s more like finding a needle in a bale of hay – definitely achievable if you have the time and the will.

  51. Why can’t the black box data be permanently transmitted? wtf this is the age of information. We hunt around for a cassette?!

  52. @1 – in a sense, great idea, have a number of blackboxes around the aircraft in little external pods. Problem (I haven’t read the posts) is it might get mashed on impact. So it’s probably in the middle of the aircraft? The whole black box thing drives me nuts – it’s so 1950s.

  53. #21,

    “I think what’s meant is a realtime feed of all the in-flight data from the FDR on the plane simultaneously to one (or a network of them) on the ground, from takeoff to landing (or crashing), thus alleviating the necessity of actually locating the thing 6,000 meters down.”

    The ACARS network did receive real time information from the aircraft. It is quite possible that this is the only digital information which will be available for the investigation.

    ACARS uses satellite communication. It can exchange ATC messages as well as engineering data.

  54. #61–Having spent almost an hour trying to find an arrowhead in a haybale WITH the aid of a metal-detector, I can say that it isn’t easy.

  55. The term ‘black box’ is an engineering expression, meaning a closed system you don’t worry about the contents of. You know the inputs and you know the outputs (none in this case). That’s it. Has nothing to do with the colour of the thing. They are orange so they can be spotted more easily.

  56. If the aviation safetly people had a load of little floating beacons, they could have dropped them out of a plane in a 20km grid around the suspected crash site.

    Then they could have tracked the movements of these beacons. Then when they found wreckage they could have used the movement data from the beacons to track back to roughly where the plane actually went down, and so found the FDR’s more easily… Sure it wouldn’t give you an exact location but you would have a _much_ better chance of finding the things in the ~30 days they have before the signals stop.


  57. MR. ALI

    i think france and brazil is trying hard to find out the black box and plane, they are wasting there time

  58. My question will probably be very clear to others but I am just wondering about the bodies of crash 447? Are they all going to start rising from the ocean because if they are able to they will float? unless trapped in the plane. Does the death process make it so that in time they are more able to float? Hence, we probably be seeing lots more bodies? Right?

  59. I’ve been searching the Internet in vain for citation to an ocean air crash of some decades ago, and the subsequent recovery of the black boxes from fairly deep– ‘though I think not as deep as the maximum ranges I have seen cited for #447. Does anyone recall the story of the old crash, and how deep the water from which the recorders were retrieved?

  60. With today’s technology storing large amounts of data and voice information is not a complex or costly issue. A thumbdrive that is capable of holding a vast majority of the information that lead up to a major in-flight failure can be obtained for much less than $50.00.

    Very low cost modules exist that are lightweight and provide GPS receiving capability.

    So with these two technologies and a little forethought, a solution for narrowing down the search and rescue / flight data recorder recovery / initial failure analysis problems would be to develop a system that gets realtime copies of the info that the CVR and FDR systems store, as well as tracks the overall health of the aircraft I.E. am I rapidly plummeting to the ocean, or do I have multiple serious system failures?

    This system could automatically eject itself from the aircraft and deploy a small parachute to reduce its ultimate shock as it splashes into the ocean, or lands on the ground.

    It also could be commanded to deploy from the cockpit if the flightcrew decided that all is lost and they wanted to notify someone as to where to start the search.

    This device could track its initial GPS position, and transmit it to an already existing satellite based reciever system that recieves Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) transmissions. Aircraft are also capable of receiving these transmissions.

    The general gist of this system is to get the most pertinent info necessary to determine what led up to the aircraft problems, store it in technology that does not have to meet the same stringent requirements as the FDR and CDR (I.E. massive g-force, crush resistance, 1 hour immersion in burning jet fuel etc.) and then separate this system from the aircraft before it crashes. This system then can be a beacon to start the search and rescue and inital failure analysis process.

    If for instance it is set to eject automatically when the aircraft is rapidly plummeting through 10,000 feet it will probably have all the information necessary to indicate what led up to the aircraft system failure, while still having plenty of time to eject itself from the aircraft and safely deploy its parachute.

    This would narrow the search area down vastly, and lead any rescue operation to the affected area quickly as well.

    The system could easily be made to float and to transmit effectivly no matter what orentation it landed in on the ground.

    With all such systems cost is a factor, as our aircraft are such a reliable means of transportation any additional system that is added needs to be small, lightweight, simple to install, etc. to be practical given today’s economic situation and the aircraft industries already challenged economic position.

    The location of this lightweight system would be preferrably in the tail of the aircraft where it would most likely still be intact even if a midair explosion took place.

    Note: Thumdrives were just an example of the low cost storage capabilities that exist. This is not to suggest that a USB thumbdrive be used as a storage solution, but is just suggested that similar technology can be used that is low-cost but still robust in nature to store the information that can be used to start the failure analysis process after a aircraft crash.

    I am an Electronics Engineer, a private pilot with instrument rating, and an experimental aircraft builder.

  61. I say that they find it, but it may be useless– either damaged or doesn’t render any valuable information. So, the question will then be, “What caused an airliner to just fall-apart or explode?” That question may only be answered by the people on board that flight!

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