BB Video: Miles O'Brien on Technology Questions in The Air France Disaster


(Download MP4)

In today's episode of Boing Boing Video, space/aviation/tech reporter Miles O'Brien speaks with me about the role of technology in the recent Air France crash.

He answers a number of questions posed here on Boing Boing by commenters on our previous episodes: how "black boxes" work, why they're not built to float, whether they would be more effective if they streamed data constantly while in use, and whether more training in the "lower-tech" aspects of piloting could have helped.

Since we taped this two-way conversation on Friday, recovery teams off the coast of Brazil have recovered some 16 bodies, and wreckage from the crash.

Here's a snip from his latest blog post about the disaster, over at True Slant.

The Air France 447 mystery may never be solved beyond a shadow of doubt, but there are some telling, tragic clues to consider based on what we know about the airplane systems and the extreme weather and aerodynamic conditions it encountered before it went down a week ago.

First, a bit of aerodynamics: The doomed Airbus A-330-200 was flying ever so close to its maximum altitude - in a zone pilots call the "Coffin Corner". It refers to the edge of so-called "flight envelope" of an aircraft. At this altitude, the air is much thinner and that significantly narrows the swath of speed at which the airplane can safely operate.

Read the whole post: "The 'Coffin Corner' and a 'Mesoscale' Maw." And speaking of True Slant, check out these two articles about the recently-launched site, a rare refuge for hardcore journalism in these hard times: Washington Post, and Associated Press.

If you're interested in this story -- or in aviation and space news in general -- you really should also follow Miles on Twitter to see his thought-stream unfold in real time.


Sponsor shout-out: This week's Boing Boing Video episodes are brought to you in part by WEPC.com, in partnership with Intel and Asus. WePC.com is a site where users come together to "share ideas, images and inspiration about the ideal PC." Participants' designs, feature ideas and community feedback will be evaluated by ASUS and "will influence the blueprint for an actual notebook PC built by ASUS with Intel inside."

Discuss

6 Responses to “BB Video: Miles O'Brien on Technology Questions in The Air France Disaster”

  1. airshowfan says:

    The tracking of aircraft over large bodies of water (like FlightAware and the KLM lounge mentioned above) is probably not based on real-time data, at least not when the airplane is beyond the reach of terrestrial radar. While at the middle of the ocean, a flight is supposed to report its position when it reaches certain waypoints, and it then reports when it expects to reach further waypoints. So you could interpolate, but other than for that, you don’t necessarily have any data on where an airplane is at any one time if it’s flying over a large body of water.

    Why don’t airplanes emit telemetry? Some of them do, to some extent. Why not more? Because a telemetry system would cost some $ to install, and it would make the airplane a little heavier, increasing fuel burn, and then (or even if you piggybacked on top of existing systems) the bandwidth might cost some $, and all those things raise ticket prices. So I don’t see an airline installing any telemetry anything unless the FAA makes them do it, or unless there is a real business case for doing it. Sure, data from the flight can be used to improve future flights (e.g. issues of crew management, engine efficiency at different settings, etc) but it’s cheaper to just download the data off the black boxes after the flight (especially since those are FAA-mandated, so they’re already there) than to set up some fancy system to beam it off the airplane in real time.

    See
    http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/flightblogger/2009/06/air-france-447-and-ads-b.html

  2. Anonymous says:

    It was awfully hard to understand Miles through much of this interview. Could bbtv maybe buy him a better mic or have him simultaneously make a local recording for later combination with Xeni’s side (if the issue is the network) ?

  3. gandalf23 says:

    I was wondering why they don’t have a GPS thingy on every plane so that they can track them easily. Maybe they do, but I haven’t heard anything about it in the news, and it seems that if they could say “We lost track of the plane at 10:35pm at this location” instead of “We lost track of them at 10:35pm and they were supposed to be about here, but maybe they were not” that would help recovery tremendously.

    Also it would be cool if that data was available on the airlines webpage so you could see what the plane was doing on a loved one’s flight, or see why the plane you are waiting on is delayed, so just to watch the graphics of planes moving about. They had a thing like this in the Dubai KLM lounge last time I was there. You could see the plane we were waiting on coming in, and coming across Iran and the Persian Gulf. It was kinda cool.

  4. Xeni Jardin says:

    @Gandalf23

    “They had a thing like this in the Dubai KLM lounge last time I was there”

    That’s fascinating! I’m imagining a reason that some US airlines wouldn’t want to do this is, I dunno, terror fears? But it’s a great data transparency concept.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Flightaware.com does this for free. I use it to track my friends on trips.

    “Also it would be cool if that data was available on the airlines webpage so you could see what the plane was doing on a loved one’s flight, or see why the plane you are waiting on is delayed, so just to watch the graphics of planes moving about. They had a thing like this in the Dubai KLM lounge last time I was there. You could see the plane we were waiting on coming in, and coming across Iran and the Persian Gulf. It was kinda cool”

  6. reginalewis says:

    Miles:

    It’s Regina Lewis from AOL.

    Trying to track you down to see if you might be interested in getting involved with new site/event around Apollo 11 – 40th Anniv.

    Think could be neat opportunity for you.

    Find me & will fill you in, or let me know how best to track you down …

    Sooner the better. Thanks, – R

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