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Flight Data Recorders, Decades Out of Date

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the jet-lagging-behind dept.

Transportation 266

Tisha_AH writes "For the past fifty years the technology behind aircraft flight data recorders has remained stagnant. Some of the advances of cloud computing, mesh radio networks, real-time position reporting and satellite communications are held back by a combination of aircraft manufacturers, pilots unions and the slow gears of government bureaucracy. Many recent aircraft loss incidents remain unexplained, with black boxes lost on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, buried under the wreckage of the World Trade Centers or with critical information suppressed by government secrecy or aircraft manufacturers. Many devices still rely upon tape recorders for voice and data that only record a very small sampling of aircraft dynamics, flight and engine systems or crew behaviors. Technologically simple solutions like battery backup, continual telemetry feeds by satellite and hundreds of I/O points, monitoring many systems should be within easy reach. Pilot unions have objected to the collection and sharing of detailed accident data, citing privacy concerns of the flight crew. Accidents may be due to human error, process problems or design flaws. Unless we can fully evaluate all factors involved in transportation accidents, it will be difficult to improve the safety record. Recommendations by the NTSB to the FAA have gone unheeded for many years. With all of the technological advancements that we work with in the IT field, what sort of best practices could be brought forward in transit safety?"

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"Cloud computing" (5, Funny)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425180)

Trying to take that a bit literally, are we?


Dune Coons (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425212)

So the one place where there would be a benefit to all this nifty surveillance technology that keeps popping up everywhere else and for once, with no civil rights issues ... and they let it go decades out of date. Doing something useful must not be as fun as circumventing the Constitution for politicians.

Really if this were a private Internet connection with an expectation of privacy they'd have come up with 20 different ways to monitor it, 5 of which wouldn't require a warrant due to bad precedent. A flight data recorder has no concerns about privacy and such so it just isn't a priority. Nice. Real nice.

100% buzz-word compliant, for your protection. (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425246)

Not only that but the article conflates two different issues.

1. technology that COULD be improved (complete with buzz-words).

2. government/corporation control of data.


Re:100% buzz-word compliant, for your protection. (1)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426038)

Those two issues, in this case, aren't unnecessarily conflated. It's technology that needs to be improved and can be improved and government/corporation control not of the data (it's already in government/corporation control) but of technological updates that could save lives.

When you are at work, you have no privacy from your employer except in the bathroom.

are you serious? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425188)

well, they can run in parallel. as far as i know, nobody says you can't have a backup flight data recorder using mesh cloud pie-in-the-sky technology...

tape isn't bad (5, Insightful)

infalliable (1239578) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425218)

Tape is one of the best long term and reliable storage methods. As long as it doesn't burn (which kills any memory type), it's more stable in most situations than the modern memory devices. Remember, it has be stable in salt water, in high impact, humid environments, dry environments, wide temperature ranges, take electrical shock, etc.

People just think it sucks b/c it's old school and clunky.

Re:tape isn't bad (4, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425266)

As long as it doesn't burn (which kills any memory type), it's more stable in most situations than the modern memory devices. Remember, it has be stable in salt water, in high impact, humid environments, dry environments, wide temperature ranges, take electrical shock, etc.

Flash is better at all of those things than tape except electrical shock, and you can isolate the module with optical signals and power via induction (with its own fairly complex power supply in there on the other end, thus handling surges) or via optical power, which is horribly inefficient but who cares? It doesn't take much power to write flash, and turbines can be designed to produce basically any amount of electrical power you like.

Re:tape isn't bad (2, Interesting)

flappinbooger (574405) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425938)

Flash is better at all of those things than tape except electrical shock, and you can isolate the module with optical signals and power via induction (with its own fairly complex power supply in there on the other end, thus handling surges) or via optical power, which is horribly inefficient but who cares? It doesn't take much power to write flash, and turbines can be designed to produce basically any amount of electrical power you like.

X2 on flash. Shoot, the black boxes could be made to do all of those things you mentioned to isolate it, and then the flash itself could be ruggedized in some fashion and have multiple redundant copies.

They could log every piece of information to recreate every aspect of the flight right down to every word spoken and button pushed, let alone flight path.

I think it comes down to the fact that they (pilots) don't want that level of scrutiny. Why not? Well, would you want it in your car?

Re:tape isn't bad (2, Insightful)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426080)

I think it comes down to the fact that they (pilots) don't want that level of scrutiny. Why not? Well, would you want it in your car?

Except you own the car, the pilots don't own the airplane they are flying and your car isn't carrying hundreds of passengers who are paying your employer for you to fly them to a destination. If I was a pilot I would welcome that level of scrutiny. Where am I going wrong so that I can improve my skills as a pilot.

Re:tape isn't bad (5, Informative)

Whalou (721698) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425276)

Information isn't stored on tape anymore in a blackbox. From TFA:

Today most black boxes--the majority made by L-3 Aviation Recorders, in Sarasota, Fla.--can record 256 distinct streams of digital data, or parameters, per second, and store them all for 25 hours before writing over them. The latest voice recorders can store 180 minutes of conversation, while the older ones store 30 minutes. Both kinds of data are stored in stacked semiconductor dynamic RAM memory boards.

Re:tape isn't bad (1)

warGod3 (198094) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425854)

Our CVRs are 30 minute. The bad thing is that 30 minutes does not cover a lot and the pilots know this and can record over information.

The FDRs that are out there are acceptable, however, they data stored and downloaded via PCMCIA card.

The information stored on these devices should easily be communicated to a back-up unit. Also, it would be beneficial if the data was transmitted upon each landing. As for the CVRs, there should be no way to for the pilots to know that within 30 minutes, the device will write over. Regional flights are usually at least an hour. I would say that CVRs, dependant upon type of aircraft, should be at least two times the recording capability of the average flight time of that particular A/C for that fleet type per operator. These could then have drives either swapped out or downloaded upon a landing.

Re:tape isn't bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33426066)

and we all know what happens to "dynamic RAM memory boards" when the power goes out right?

Out of date? (2, Interesting)

seeker_1us (1203072) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425238)

They work, don't they? Yeah more bells and whistles might be nice, but as Scotty said "the more you overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."

how about 3 flight recorder systems? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425252)

keep current black box, add another smaller modern cheap off the shelf backup to first box, and ad the third whizbangliveinternetradiolivefrequencyshiftinginternetlivelivelive box?

Re:Out of date? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425806)

Do they? I mean there's several obvious problems with them which must have a better solution now than when they were first created. For one thing the beacon runs out of battery life very quickly and for another the heat shielding could be a lot better. More than that, there's been a lot of information on what causes planes to crash, surely there's need of a tweak to add more information than what's currently possible. I doubt very much that we've hit the point where there's too much information available in these circumstances.

It's absolutely ridiculous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425258)

We don't need to be so clever to realize Airplane builders aren't interested to included latest high tech blackboxes.

Everybody knows when an airplane crashes something failed: engine, electrical sensors, human error some cases, big etc.

They always preferred to attribute any fatality to the (dead) pilot or the weather (god).

The world of whatever, indeed.

Re:It's absolutely ridiculous (3, Informative)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425396)

Umm, no. You're almost a century out of touch with reality. What you say was true in 1930s.

Today, when an airplane crashes, the human has failed. Pretty much always. Technical issues that lead to crashes are very, very rare. If you were to place monetary bets, a winning strategy is to bet for human failure.

Re:It's absolutely ridiculous (2, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425548)

"Well, I don't think there is any question about it. It can only be attributable to human error. This sort of thing has cropped up before and it has always been due to human error."
-HAL 9000

But seriously, the actual source of most plane crashes is a combination of a lot of factors: mechanical problems, pilot error, management practices (such as overworking pilots to the point where they're more likely to commit a pilot error), weather, a certain amount of bad luck, poorly maintained airport facilities (particularly in foreign countries), and errors by air traffic controllers. There's tons of redundancy and other checks to make it hard for any one of these to cause a crash (even pilot error: there are alarms and such that make it much easier for the pilot to do the right thing).

Re:It's absolutely ridiculous (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426150)

I agree wholeheartedly. But still the human usually fails -- not always the pilot. Of course you need to draw a line somewhere, lest you classify, say structural engineering failures as human errors too. When we reduce controlled flights into terrain (CFITs) by an order of magnitude or two, then I can come back to revise my skewed worldview ;)

Re:It's absolutely ridiculous (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425872)

Well, to be fair modern aircraft have some silly things.

Take the ERJ-140 (regional jet) - turn on bleed air from either or both turbines without shutting off and disconnecting the APU bleed, and the APU will explode, shooting the compressor component of it straight out the tail of the Jet.

It (alone, anyways) won't crash the plane, but this is a simple as pushing a button before turning a knob... and the knob is surrounded by the buttons. Watch your fingers, eh?

Re:It's absolutely ridiculous (5, Interesting)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425906)

Really? Air France Flight 447 just falling apart in the sky going 537 mph at 35,000 is from a human failure? US Airways Flight 1549? Emirates Flight 407?

No, humans aren't the cause of all crashes, a chunk of them yes, but not close to "pretty much always".

Checking that out and looking up the causes of the accidents you'll see human error by the flight crew is a cause of some, but mechanical failure is a larger cause of accidents. []

And yes, I do have my pilot's license.

Re:It's absolutely ridiculous (1)

pz (113803) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426018)

Umm, no. You're almost a century out of touch with reality. What you say was true in 1930s.

Today, when an airplane crashes, the human has failed. Pretty much always. Technical issues that lead to crashes are very, very rare. If you were to place monetary bets, a winning strategy is to bet for human failure.

I believe this assertion to be true, but do not have data to support it. I'm certain the data exist, though.

However, there have been some recent mechanical failures that were very important to understand because of the wide-spread safety implications. I'm thinking mostly of the problem with lubrication of the horizontal stabilizer lead screw on MD83 aircraft from 10 years ago that resulted in at least one crash and the grounding of the fleet (and, now that I've reviewed the incident on Wikipedia, it also resulted in a revision of Alaska Airline's maintenance schedule).

While it would seem that most errors are pilot errors, we still need to pay attention to the mechanical ones.

Re:It's absolutely ridiculous (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426152)

You're almost a century out of touch with reality. What you say was true in 1930s.

Today, when an airplane crashes, the human has failed. Pretty much always.

In a few cases in recent years (probably including the AF447 crash) the plane has been flying along on autopilot until the autopilot runs into something that it can't manage to fly through, and then it shuts down and dumps the problem on the pilots. In some cases they can handle weather that's too turbulent for a computer, in others they crash. Is that a 'human problem' or a programming problem or a 'flying into weather that we wouldn't try to fly through manually but we have an autopilot so that's OK' problem?

News tech is fragile (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425284)

Those devices need two things :
(1) to be very sturdy and survive an accident with the data
(2) to save a minimu of data to try to explain what happened

Although modern tech would enhance (2) it usually fail at (1). Tape can be broken and cut, but repaired again (with a small loss). It is much more resistant to many type of hazard short of high temperature. What would you replace it with ? Unproven tech ? Furthermore You would have to redo all the safety test , and get all safety organisation around the world to agree with a standard change. And that is also costly. So there is no incentive by either governement and corporate to push for a new tch for black box, neither is there a need. So your BB is lost in the atlantic ocean ? So what ? You think you super mega modern BB would not either ? For a similar *weight* and solidity ?

Not to use an ad hom, but you sound like the new kid with fancy toy, and did not really check in depthb why the old stuff is used. Show me a scientific study evidencing that the new tech is more reliable incase of crash than plain magnetic tape, and you can count me in. Until then, get off my lawn.

Re:News tech is fragile (1)

mutube (981006) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425388)

Its my understanding the tape hasn't been used in new flight recorders for quite some time. I think they're all solid state now.

Yeh, I'll get off your lawn.

Still, the summary is atrocious buzz-word bingo. The article is better written but the 'glass box' basically amounts to broadcasting the black box data on the go. Hardly a revolutionary idea, with a sugar coating. If it doesn't exist currently there is probably a reason - technical (bandwidth requirements) or otherwise (cost) - that is not outweighed by the proposed benefits. Rather than address this we get hand waving and straw man rambles about union conspiracies.


Re:News tech is fragile (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425662)

Actually politics goes a long way to impede real progress in equipment design... The cockpit door being the most blatant of all of them.

Damn unions... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425298)

You would think that the unions representing the people whose lives depend on airline safety would promote technology that could reduce the risk of air travel. Too bad they are comprised by such short-sighted people.

Re:Damn unions... (3, Funny)

Richard Steiner (1585) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425880)

Passengers are represented by unions?

Re:Damn unions... (1)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426142)

If they aren't now, give them 10 more years. ;)

OP, you may have a point but you've argued awfully (2, Interesting)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425300)

Cloud computing? Conflation of data not being recorded and the choice to be secret about what's recorded? Technologically simple solutions with "hundreds of I/O points"?

Rather than hand-waving over every single modern technology which might be remotely relevant to the flight recorder, how about writing down, point by point, each improvement you feel should be made and why you feel it would be beneficial. Mention deployments to flying aircraft as well as destruction testing which has been done. IOW, what that is broken are you able to fix?

And, yes, pilot privacy is a concern because certain well-known air crashes have involved the airline and/or even government falsifying data to put the blame on the pilots (cue fingers wagged at France).

Buzzwords (2, Insightful)

halfaperson (1885704) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425304)

Why would a black box need to use cloud computing or mesh networks?

Just because new technologies have emerged doesn't mean they are necessarily applicable in all areas of computing. My knowledge in this field is limited, but I just don't see the point of a twittering black box, or whatever web 2.0 meme is the flavor of the day.

Re:Buzzwords (4, Funny)

rotide (1015173) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425352)

Cptn flt 1524 JFK->CVG just incorrectly set speed for landing. Humans gunna die! lol!

Re:Buzzwords (1)

vegiVamp (518171) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425624)

For the same reason you want your servers' data backed up off-site: it is beneficial to have access to it even if the area of disaster is utterly destroyed - in the case of a black box, think "lost at the bottom of the atlantic".

They're (hopefully) not talking about using EC2, but just using those terms as shortcuts for the principles they embody: storage over network, so your data is somewhere else, preferably redundantly.

Re:Buzzwords (2, Informative)

halfaperson (1885704) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426086)

Sure, it would be a nice feature for the black box to somehow send its data somewhere safe. If "cloud computing" is nothing more than sending data to a remote server, well I guess this post fits the bill as well, making it nothing more than a useless buzzword.

Re:Buzzwords (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425886)

Airliners send your boss a text message if you exceed various limits. Why not a Twit as well? :P

FAIL (4, Insightful)

m0s3m8n (1335861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425306)

"Many recent aircraft loss incidents remain unexplained, ....., buried under the wreckage of the World Trade Centers" - This has to be the dumbest statement of all time. I think everyone knows what happened to the planes THAT WERE FLOWN INTO THE WTC BY MUSLIM TERRORISTS. Fail.

Re:FAIL (1)

rotide (1015173) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425326)

If you can't imagine the possible benefit to having voice recordings/transcriptions of those that perpetrated the attack, then I think you're the one who FAILED. What I do find a bit "fail" with the WTC example is it seems to imply, if not state, those recorders still haven't been found.

Re:FAIL (1)

m0s3m8n (1335861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425354)

Maybe you wrote the article. My point is we know what happened, not that the attack "remain unexplained".

Re:FAIL (1)

m0s3m8n (1335861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425368)

OK, perhaps I was a little harsh. A re-write of the sentence is needed.

Re:FAIL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425534)

You were insufficiently harsh. Upon reading that sentence my reaction was: "That's just fucking retarded."

Re:FAIL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425610)

Yes, your post certainly is retarded.

Re:FAIL (4, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425428)

You also left out the part about the government hiding crucial data. You know like when Grey's cause a plane to crash or when the Illuminati shoot one down to see how we will react. Where is my tin foil hat?
What people don't understand is that you are
more likely to die in your car or hit by lightning than in an airliner crash. It is a flashy news worthy event when it happens because it is so rare.
Here is the big question. How many times has a black box not been found? And how many times has the lack of one caused other planes to crash?
The airlines are already adding real time telemetry to their new airlines if for no other reason than to improve maintenance. The older black boxes are getting replaced be newer and better ones. The old ones do actually work very well and have provided the data needed to improve safety over the years.
So for this most part this whole thing is a paranoid issue with very little merit in the big scheme of things.

Re:FAIL (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425852)

So, if it's the IRA doing the piloting, that makes a substantive difference? What if instead of Muslim terrorists it's actually Mossad agents? Is that relevant? I get that there's the need to cram Muslim into every possible example of terrorism, the way that you have to reference Russia about socialism or Germany when it comes to fascism, but could we actually grow up a bit and quit being a part of the problem?

Re:FAIL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425866)

There is nothing but circumstantial evidence linking Al Qaeda for 9/11. That's why the FBI still hasn't posted evidence for 9/11 on his wanted page. Unlike the CIA, they are a (mostly) constitutional government authority that depends on evidence in a court of law to determine what did or did not occur.

While I'm not a truther per se, there are a few facts that trouble me:

1) The US Government still refuses to release more images of the attack on the Pentagon. To believe that a single camera had nothing but a few frames on the incident is simple idiocy.

2) A large number of people serving in the Bush Administration believed that they needed a Pearl Harbor type of event in order to get the nation behind an invasion of Iraq. Subsequent to 9/11, which was committed by Saudi Arabians based out of Afghanistan, we invaded a nation that was not threatening it's neighbors and did not have any means to harm the United States.

3) On the day of 9/11, an understaffed and underequipped NORAD not only was preparing for an exercise involving hijackings, but had many of it's assets in northern Canada and Alaska, for an exercise for protecting North American airspace from Russian bombers.

My own suspicion is that, just as Pearl Harbor was expected and purposefully not thwarted so we would get involved in WWII, certain elements of the US government also aided and abetted 9/11 hijackers through agents so they would have the national will to eliminate Al Qaeda and invade Iraq. I don't think they planned on the plane impacts causing the towers to fall, though.

a bit for unions a bit for bureaucracy... (5, Insightful)

DMiax (915735) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425312)

The rabid tone of the summary is completely unsupported by the article itself. Does the submitter have any evidence that advancements are held back by unions, bureaucracy and privacy concerns? The article does not claim anything like that.

They are just proposing a replacement technology with a catchy name. The submitter is a massive troll.

Re:a bit for unions a bit for bureaucracy... (3, Informative)

operagost (62405) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425758)

Actually, it does say in the article:

It has been a decade since I first proposed the glass box, and progress toward it has been shamefully slow. The main hurdle is sheer institutional inertia. The strongest institutional opposition has come from airline pilots, who fear that the practice would lead to full-scale monitoring of their work, much as it has for interstate truckers. In 2000, in reaction to the EgyptAir crash, the FAA tried to mandate cockpit cameras, but the U.S. pilots' union managed to prevent it. The rest of the world, which followed the U.S. lead, has also done nothing.

Regardless, it's the article's author who is jumping to conclusions here.

uh...what? (2, Interesting)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425318)

...citing privacy concerns of the flight crew.

Not only are you on the job (which means your privacy is significantly reduced by default), you're job involves being responsible for hundreds of lives. I'm sorry that you're worried about people potentially overhearing you and the co-pilot talking about that hot piece of new flight attendant, but recording flight data is just a bit more important.

Pompous assholes.

Re:uh...what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425716)

you're job involves being responsible for hundreds of lives.

Be glad that people's lives don't depend on your spelling.

Re:uh...what? (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425902)

AUUUUUGHHHH! I try so hard to get them all right...every now and then one of them slips past me :( ::hangs head in shame::

Re:uh...what? (1)

Richard Steiner (1585) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425978)

Cockpit crew conversation during critical operational windows is supposed to follow "sterile cockpit rules", and is restricted to topics pertaining to the operation of the flight.

Comments about flight attendants on approach or during takeoff might be grounds for disciplinary action. []

Note: I am not a pilot, but I've seen one! :-)

Re:uh...what? (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426016)

Do you know what commercial pilots do up there in the cockpit on jets?

I have four close relatives who are commercial pilots for major airlines and I've jump seated (before 911) three times. Once the business end of takeoff is taken care of, they set the auto-pilot keep an eye on the gauges and wait. Aircraft are so automated now there is nothing at all to do unless there is weather or a mechanical issue and mechanical issues are few and far between.

My cousin who has been flying CRJs and Airbuses for the last 10 years has never had a mechanical issue pop up. So they watch movies on shifts, one watching the plane and one watches a movie or surfs the web.

Unlike trucking where there is traffic, changing road conditions and ever pressing deadlines, in a cockpit there really is nothing to do but talk about hot pieces of stewardesses.

Do you want everything you say and do at work logged every day?

Re:uh...what? (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426110)

Do you want everything you say and do at work logged every day?

If people's lives depended on me, absolutely.

Conservative Tech (3, Interesting)

necro81 (917438) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425322)

The simple fact is that you can't take ordinary hardware, put it in a box, and say that it's ready to be a flight data recorder. The simple example is storage: even though you can get a 2-TB harddrive into your computer, it'd never pass muster for flight data. Even once you find ultra-ruggedized hardware that you're happy with, you then need to subject it to a few years of excruciatingly brutal tests to make sure that, in the event of a crash, you have a reasonable chance of getting useful information back.

Because the pipeline is so long, the FAA ought to, years ago, have put a development program in place. They should model it along the lines of a DARPA program: one- or two-year commitments with substantial deliverables. Want to play again next year? Better deliver this year. When the contract's up, the money's done. They ought to pit competing factions against each other: have development teams one year become destructive testers of someone else's hardware the next year.

Re:Conservative Tech (1)

InEnacWeTrust (1638615) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425392)

Except it's not the FAA or JAA's job to design & contract for those black boxes. It's Boeing and Airbus that have to do that. And yes, they do research a lot.

As you said, it's a matter of conservative tech more than cloudy Union protests.
Tech for DFDRs VDRs are supposed to still be working when almost everything else has failed. When engines, elec generators, hydrolics and pneumatics power have all failed, you don't have much left, and your sattelite uplink has very LOW priority among things that still need to be powered in emergency condition. Not to mention that uplink above the South Pole IS tricky.

Emergency conditions like that are supposed to happen somthing like 1 time every 10 or 100 million flight hours. What is the failure rate of sattelite uplinks ? of Sattelites ? what is the probablity of not beeing in sight of a sattelite ? what is the chance that the sattelite network you want to use won't be in use in 30 years when your plane finally needs it ?

Basically the recording systems have to be designed to that no matter the external conditions, it should work with the highest possible certainty. This pretty much rules out everything outside the aircraft

Why do you think GPS is still not the primary means of Navigation ? because it's UNSAFE. It's failure rate is not disclosed with enough certainty, it's reliance on government systems is unacceptable. (__foreign__ government, for 90% of the usefull world), the continuous maintenance of this network is not garanteed. It's exactly the same for Data Recorders. You just cannot trust the kind of technology enough for it to be the basis of your recording tools.

Airlines and governments are welcome to use any modern means of navigation, maintenance communication,... whatever, as __additionnal__ means of safety, but all this goes pretty much out of the window when serious problems arise aboard planes.

Re:Conservative Tech (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425406)

When engines, generators, hydraulics and pneumatics (are there any?) have failed on a fly-by-wire plane, there's no point in recording anything anymore. Well, there is a point if you want to see how a plane behaves with unactuated control surfaces, but that's of academic interest and beside the point of determining why it crashed. Because crash it will.

Loss of engine power does not imply that a fly-by-wire plane is unflyable. As long as you have hydraulics and ram-air turbine, you can still fly it. Won't do much in the way of aerobatics, but you can, say, land it in a river. I don't think that there was any incident with a fly-by-wire plane where, without significant loss of structure (think engines falling off), the engines were out and the hydraulic/ram-air system was out as well.

Re:Conservative Tech (2, Informative)

InEnacWeTrust (1638615) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425416)

No. (although you answer completely beside the point, we're talking about the safety of buzzword external means of recording)

On modern airplanes, the RAT (ram air turbine) is an electrical generator not hydraulic). It supplies DC emergency electrical network and a few flight control power.

It's not at all academic. The RAT helped save many aircrafts from crash.

(pneumatic is the air intake at engine level that supplies part of air conditionning and pressurization systems)

Re:Conservative Tech (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425600)

I believe he understands what a RAT is.. if you look he said "you have hydraulics and ram-air turbine" in relation to a comment on a fly by wire..

so he was basically saying if you lose hydraulics having a RAT won't do you any good as both have to be functional in the case of loss of main power.

Re:Conservative Tech (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425654)

I didn't say anything about how the RAT works. I only said that as long as (some of) your hydraulic systems are operable, and you have RAT, you can fly a fly-by-wire plane. So we agree here.

I never said that RAT provides academic benefits. I merely said that the GP's claim about all subsystems being out is pretty much made up. Theoretically possible, but didn't happen just yet.

Re:Conservative Tech (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426098)

Except it's not the FAA or JAA's job to design & contract for those black boxes. It's Boeing and Airbus that have to do that.

If you want the same black box technology, accessible by any accident investigator in any country, and you want it in every plane regardless of manufacturer, then you cannot rely on manufacturers to do that job. Being experts, they certainly should be utilized in the research, design, specifying, regulation, and manufacture of such systems. But it does ultimately have to come from some higher authority, whatever libertarians might want to say about it.

If it were true that manufacturers could be entrusted with the job, then why aren't there standardized black boxes in all automobiles? There are a whole lot more automobile accidents, causing many times more damage and loss of life, than there are airplane crashes. A few manufacturers can poll a very limited data set from their vehicles after a crash, but those are entirely proprietary systems that only the manufacturer has access to, and they are far from reliable. Even if there were rules and regulations mandating such data recorders on new automobiles, they would be of little use if they were not standardized and developed across the entire industry.

Re:Conservative Tech (1)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425492)

Am I missing something here? Keep the existing black box tech, you don't have to remove it, but *simultaneously* transmit the info where possible. That way you have the best of both worlds.

By the way, there was some ACARS info transmitted for Air France Flight 447, which people have talked little about. ACARS seems like the kind of thing that's needed, just ramp up the information being transmitted... can't you do that?

Re:Conservative Tech (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426026)

I was strongly under the impression that this happened already. There was a pretty tale in The Economist of a plane flying the Pacific getting a lightning strike which caused an engine surge, diagnostic data being uploaded automatically to Rolls Royce in the UK where 24/7 diagnostic teams made the decision, with the plane still in the air, whether to require checks on landing, and to start checking out the replacement parts which might be needed. In their little story, no checks more checks were found to be needed, so the plane continued on its timetable having had its logs reviewed by an expert.

Re:Conservative Tech (1)

Richard Steiner (1585) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426048)

ACARS messages tend to be relatively small and tend to be somewhat expensive to send (charges are usually on a per message basis), so while ACARS is often used for things like WX alerts and NOTAMs, interrogating engine parameters, takeoff and performance numbers, etc., a continuous stream of ACARS data from an aircraft is probably not something an airline would want.

Hard to say, though. The tech is very useful, and maybe it would be in this instance.

Good reason for no continuous telemetry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425366)

Satellite tracking requires a predictable (preferably stable) platform for the antenna. If the aeroplane starts to behave unpredictably, you lose the telemetry, so just when you want the data, it is lost. This is why you have the 'black box' - to record data reliably, no matter what the flight conditions are, including during a crash.

Given that telemetry is useless when you need it most, the question becomes an economic one: is the economic value of having continuous satellite telemetry in normal flight worth the weight and fuel cost?

One of the big issues is preventing recordings of non-crash events being overwritten when the aeroplane is being maintained after landing. A huge number of cockpit voice recordings are lost because people fail to secure the recordings after an incident. Read the public reports on the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch website: - the vast majority of passenger & cargo aviation reports are about on-ground incidents. Its an interesting read.

Re:Good reason for no continuous telemetry (1)

geogob (569250) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425386)

One important thing to point out, is that when the aircraft attitude is so messed up that the sat link is no longer reliable, the crucial events that lead to the crash already occurred. We don't really need to now how the plane crashed into the ground, we need to know why and what lead to it. Nevertheless, on board recoding should not be replaced by telemetry.

As for the value of such a system, if its only used for analysis in the event of a crash, I think its a waste of money. But if its used for more than that, It may become a damned good way to further improve air safety.

Re:Good reason for no continuous telemetry (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426056)

Not necessarily, An aircraft can do a lot of lurching which will destabilise the satellite antenna without risking the aircraft. But if a flight control snaps after several minutes of lurching, you will not know without on-board data storage.

Re:Good reason for no continuous telemetry (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426064)

Where are you going to get all the satellite bandwidth for this? Hell the agency with the biggest budget and most expensive planes, the United States Department of Defense, doesn't do this with their combat or transport aircraft.

For the 40-odd UAV orbits they are nearly tapped out for satellite bandwidth.

Constant telemetry... (4, Interesting)

geogob (569250) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425370)

A direct telemetry feed to ground stations or via satellite could be a very interesting way to monitor the airplanes and give crucial information in the even of a crash, but could not replace an on-board logging device. In the even of catastrophic malfunction, on-board recorders are most likely more reliable than networked data. But in the even the on-board recorder is lost, the telemetry feed could give most of the required information on the systems leading and the events leading to the malfunction.

To some extent, these systems already exist and are used by maintenance crew to schedule maintenance and get early warnings on possible problems with the airplane.

Having a global system that is not company-based, but centralized and international could give not only make incident reconstitution easier, but might also improve transparency on aircraft maintenance on less "serious" airlines and provide real time information (wetter radar feed, wind shear data, turbulence, etc.) to air traffic control and weather forecasters to improve safety overall.

The major technical issue that this would bring is a problem of bandwidth. There are a lot of aircraft in the air and it would generate huge amounts of data. Transmission, storage and analysis would all be challenge.

Re:Constant telemetry... (1)

ericlj (81729) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425918)

Personally, I'm not too anxious for constant satellite telemetry to be a mandatory part of the equipment. I don't think too many people would be happy to hear that their flight was canceled/delayed to install a new satellite transmitter on the plane.

The major technical issue is 100% fail-safe reliability. With decent compression, the bandwidth shouldn't be that big a thing.

Re:Constant a reality (2, Interesting)

Thwyx (137997) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426032)

There is nothing technically preventing this. It's already being done. GE Aviation engines can be fitted with technology to report, in real time, the behavior of engines on a plane while it is still in the air.

It wouldn't be a stretch to extend the telemetry to other plane systems. []

Re:Constant telemetry... (1)

Virtucon (127420) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426060)

Constant Telemetry is difficult even for things within close proximity, say 60 miles. Ask NASA about all of the channels of data that come out of the Shuttle during launch including the RSRMs, Safe/Arm Devices, temp sensors.. It goes on and on. Each one of those traditionally would be a discrete channel necessitating bandwidth. Then you have the Spectrum Licensing, how to you share space etc? You could
possibly do a cellular packet switched arrangement but again, it's hard enough to get Wifi on Planes to work at a decent speed with EvDO without the thought of having 1-3Mbps from each aircraft ( a swag ) going to collection places. Think of the spectrum, back haul, storage and life cycle management of the data. All of that could be satellite based, again, beaming to ground stations. I would submit that a satellite based approach would also not restrict the solution to transcontinental flights. With this data too, Airlines may be able to better monitor the flight characteristics of their aircraft and advise pilots of
adverse conditions or bad operating habits.. (Read that as monitoring for operational best practices and adherence to policy)

GPS is also frail, previous Slashdot articles point out the issues the Air Force is having with the constellation of satellites and if we're going to rely on it for Aviation safety, then it needs to be funded more soundly. Right now there's a litany of applications and services that rely on GPS that are all secondary market in nature. While one could argue that another GPS constellation like the one the EU is putting in place is a necessary back up, you have to remember that satellites fail as well.

The FDRs do need an update, but importantly finding the FDRs after an incident is more critical. The ping box for the bottom of the ocean search can certainly be updated, the storage mechanism could
be updated and certainly more channels of data could be logged. Right now with an aging ATCS I doubt that this will ever become an FAA priority, just like Airbus fixing their A300/A330 Tail sections.

Re:Constant telemetry... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33426082)

A direct telemetry feed to ground stations or via satellite could be a very interesting way to monitor the airplanes

I have worked on systems like this in the past. The *AMOUNT* of data is mind boggling huge (think terabytes per day per fleet). For one machine monitoring say 20 senors the data can reach gigs per day. Especially if you have a high sample rate (which you want for accident reconstruction). Then on top of that add in a FLEET of machines. Nothing big say 2000 (and some of these dudes push 20-50k machines monitored and hundreds of datum samples per). It is a simple matter of yes you can record it locally, but over the air? You would never be able to get all the data in, like you said transmission is the problem. So you lower your sample rate (or send back higher rate non filtered on some sort of external input) but the data is not as good. The other end of gathering the data together and storing it is also an issue. How long, where, backups, speed of the reports, etc...

Aviation age predates the information age (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425414)

There are plenty of people willing to work on bringing aviation into the information age, but it's a slow, costly process. Have to get the main stakeholders: the FAA, the commercial airliners, the pilots' unions, and the air traffic control unions to all agree on the way forward, and none of them particularly like to talk to each other. The systems we have now aren't particularly great, but they work and have enjoyed a decent safety and efficiency record... even though there's much room for improvement. But anyone trying to iron out the bugs in new software or systems will be blamed for not sticking with the "old reliable" and "certified" status quo.

The most progress could probably be made by experimental aircraft and private pilots, but there are a lot fewer around, since we haven't been training so many pilots for wars, and becoming a commercial airline pilot isn't as glamorous as it once was. Maybe in other countries with lower certification barriers, they could spearhead the use of ruggedized PDA tech and mesh network tech to accomplish a lot of cool stuff on the cheap.

Re:Aviation age predates the information age (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425618)

There aren't as many GA pilots around becasue the variosu CAA's and the FAA have been bleding htem to death. Seriously, $10,000 for a radio and GPS. That's half the cost of my airplane. Mandate another $8000 box to impove safety? Great. Now we're not as safe because we're going to instead stay away from controlled airspace and be more likely to hit other "non-participating traffic."

Re:Aviation age predates the information age (2, Insightful)

Chatsubo (807023) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425776)

I don't live in the USA. But...

The USA sets the standard. If the FAA won't touch it, pretty much no-one else will, since their product will be useless in one of the top markets in the world, and I'm pretty sure the other major markets just follow the example of the USA anyway.

Also, indeed, it seems the experimental crowd grows smaller. I am 30, and by a huge margin the whippersnapper of the local EAA chapter. I'm not even that active, but I'm trying to get a plane built "someday". That's more than I can say for the rest of "gen-X". The sad part is, even though my composite plane will (hopefully someday) be light-years ahead of what the general-aviation guys are flying, it's still a design from the late 70's. There's not much "new" out there... The most radical guy I can think of is Rutan, and he's getting on in years now...

And that's the EXPERIMENTAL crowd. As far as I can tell, Cessna are only interested in stamping out their ancient designs for the rest of time. And why shouldn't they? the older aviation crowd wanna fly what they know... and the FAA are totally cool with that! I can hardly imagine any significant flying school not having a fleet of 172's. It's the status quo for the aviation guys, and status quo is all there is for them. I find this very irritating since I'm an IT person, and I want to see continuous improvement and experimentation.

Aviation had an age where people were free to try new things, and try they did. But these days propose anything just a little bit out of the box and even your local EAA guy starts telling you how crazy you are for not sticking to the "tried ways". It seems air-folk think that everything's been tried and any deviation from the set standard is to ask for death. If you get totally crazy, yes, I agree, you'll probably die, especially if you're "eyeball engineering", like many a self-styled builder is known to do. That's not what I mean here.

I feel that FAA certification has killed any innovation that is to be had in the industry. That is combined with a general lack of interest from young people in experimental flying (no, getting your com and bussing people around in a Caravan doesn't count). When the current (already oldish) generation of EAA-ers die, I'm not sure there are going to be significant numbers of people to replace them. I think, in about 15 years, I will be one of two EAA people left in my city, down from enough people to run the local EAA airfield by themselves. I cry for the day that particular initiative will die due to lack of interest.

Proven Technology (1)

splutty (43475) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425418)

I think one of the main reasons why there's so little 'improvement' in these things, is that they're very wary of using newer (and possibly less robust, less reliable) technology.

Similar to the fact that NASA is still using CPUs from 20 years ago, since they all have a proven track record, are resilient under stress, less prone to external influences, etc.

However I do think that newer technology used in parallel with the current existing hardware would in the end give us proof whether it's as reliable, more reliable, as useful, more useful, etc.

Durability, stress conditions, hostile external conditions and all those play a large role. The more complex systems become, the more unreliable generally as well. In this case, I'd go for KISS instead of newfangled stuff.

But even then, 50 years is quite a lot :)

Re:Proven Technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425434)

Every single piece of anything inside of an aircraft is submitted to certification process. This is expensive, and the tests are hard.

New equipment are wellcome. But to sell to aircraft industries you will need to put a LOT of money to certificate. It is pressure, water, fire, ice, impacts, everything you can think and those only experts will know. Also, the headline says it is few parameters recorded... big lie. There are so many devices being recorded that several analyses must be performed to know which of them will be sufficient to recreate failure conditions. You have a minimum time or recording by law, but time is everything to recreate the scenario. Most failures begin 1,2 hours BEFORE the actual accident. What you will record for how long, considering you have a finite recording device requires a dedicated TEAM of engineers.

my 2 cents...

Re:Proven Technology (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425686)

Similar to the fact that NASA is still using CPUs from 20 years ago, since they all have a proven track record, are resilient under stress, less prone to external influences, etc.

NASA is using antique hardware because it has been rad-hardened. Smaller feature sizes are less resistant to bit flipping by cosmic rays, and fancy new processes haven't been moved to the exotic semiconductor substrates that are sometimes used for radiation-hardened processors. And of course, a processor that doesn't rely on microcode is much easier to prove out your code on. They could use something newer but still simple, but given these restrictions there's no point.

are you back, /.? (1)

SoupGuru (723634) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425490)

Are you back? I've missed you...

Re:are you back, /.? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425544)

Could someone comment on what happened? I was nervously clicking the "Refresh" button on my browser every 15 seconds. My day does not start until I get my dose of Slashdot.

I think there has to be a Slashdot status page setup somewhere which will give updates in case of trouble. It's the only way to be sure.

Re:are you back, /.? (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425594)

Slashdot got Slashdotted by you and all the other nervous clickers.

Technological advancements in IT (1)

Barnett (550375) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425582)

Please don't mention "aviation" and "IT" in the same sentence. There is a HUGE difference between something that must work all the time, and something that must work most of the time.

Redundancy (1)

Roger_Wilco (138600) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425622)

It seems to occur surprisingly often that the black box cannot be found, because the tail (e.g.) cannot be found. I would leave the existing black boxes in place and add a large number of very small additional devices: just a flash chip in a styrofoam ball. With a bunch of 'em, the chance of finding at least one would be significantly improved. It may be easier to get accepted a system that only adds redundancy, since it can't be less effective than the already-approved one.

Re:Redundancy (1)

boristdog (133725) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425804)

I actually suggested this project at my company. Put a couple dozen hardened flash backup devices at various points in the collection stream, scattered throughout the plane structure. The project wasn't approved, but I still think it's a great idea.

Your foam ball idea is a great addition to this.

Answered and asked (1)

CBung (1572609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425672)

Seems like the author answers a lot of their own question. This post just feels like a rant from someone in the industry with a half-assed question tacked on the end, what gives?

Welcome to Drudge-dot! (3, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425678)

Interesting intro:

held back by a combination of aircraft manufacturers, pilots unions and the slow gears of government bureaucracy

Does the article support the notion of the pilots unions fighting against modernization of flight recorders? No, it doesn't. Does common sense support such a notion? No, it doesn't either.

Really, this is not a place for union bashing. If you have an axe to grind, so be it. But don't try to wield your axe at every conceived opportunity, or you'll end up making yourself look silly - as you just did.

Re:Welcome to Drudge-dot! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33426136)

Interesting intro:

held back by a combination of aircraft manufacturers, pilots unions and the slow gears of government bureaucracy

Does the article support the notion of the pilots unions fighting against modernization of flight recorders? No, it doesn't. Does common sense support such a notion? No, it doesn't either.

Really, this is not a place for union bashing. If you have an axe to grind, so be it. But don't try to wield your axe at every conceived opportunity, or you'll end up making yourself look silly - as you just did.

Not that this is the place for Union bashing, but I cant say he is too far off the mark. Besides, the union jab was a tiny bit of the story. Lighten up, Francis.

Can you show me examples where unions DIDNT drag things out with a blindingly strong indifference to everything BUT their members (screw everyone else, we are getting what we deserve dammit!)? Sure its their job to protect their members, but they often do so with extreme stupidity and make choices that negatively affect other groups with no concern for the collateral damage they do. They fiddle while Rome burns.

And yes, Common sense DOES support such a notion if you actually pay attention to the blinding stupidity that is union thinking/actions. Just look at the news and see all the crazy things unions do that dont make sense (unless you are pro-union).

But back to the point...

IMHO Unions are concerned that with more ubiquitous FDR and especially CVR data, it will be easier in a he-said-she-said environment post accident to defend their members' actions and cover any mistakes that aren't able to be proven otherwise.

Think of it this way: would YOU want a permanently mounted GPS in your car tied into your car's brains so the following happens?:
Officer: I clocked you back there doing 70 in a 55.
You: But officer, I wasnt speeding, your radar must be off.
Officer: "lets ask your 'black box'. Nope... thats not what your car is telling me it thinks you were doing 72 actually, and were doing so for the last 5 miles before I clocked you. Oh, and on top of this ticket, 15 minutes ago you drove erratically coming off the line at the intersection of 4th and elm when the light changed green. I can see you floored it and the tires spun out for 3 seconds. Enjoy this reckless driving citation too. Have a nice day. "

Telemetry (2, Interesting)

kieran (20691) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425692)

According to a TV show I watched on the subject some a while back, British Airways have been taking live telemetry from their planes for years.

Privacy? Really? (1)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425746)

Pilot unions have objected to the collection and sharing of detailed accident data, citing privacy concerns of the flight crew.

I wasn't aware any reasonable expectation of privacy existed while working on a 4-8 person crew serving a couple hundred people in a space the size of a double-wide mobile home. Not to mention, just what other profession entitles you to privacy while at work, especially the sort of work where owners and direct supervisors are almost never in the same time zone as a given employee? They apparently feel entitled to privacy in a case where privacy would mean no oversight whatsoever.

Re:Privacy? Really? (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426116)

It is not really privacy they are complaining about - that is just a comfortable word. They are worried about performance monitoring - the equivalent of keystroke logging. They don't want someone saying that 3% of their landings in the last month were outside acceptable limits, or something similar.

Radio broadcast (1)

joshv (13017) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425766)

Just have the darned black box broadcast all of its data once every millisecond. Put receivers on satellites and on grounds stations or even on other planes. Give the transmitter a range of several thousand miles, and come up with some scheme to avoid broadcast collisions (either time or code division multiplexing).

If a plane goes down go back to the recorded transmissions, of which there should be multiple copies.

Re:Radio broadcast (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426090)

And if the data takes longer to transmit than a millisecond?

Re:Radio broadcast (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426154)

As TFA worked out, that would massively saturate existing networks. Bandwidth to satellites is an expensive commodity. While your scheme would undoubtedly work, it would cost billions.

+1 Redundancy (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425796)

Call me crazy, but data duplication might help in some way; particularly off site backups when a signal is available, coupled with multiple storage points on the aircraft itself.

What "problem" is he trying to solve? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425802)

There seems to be a fundamental problem or two with this article.

First, what problem is he trying to solve? That is not clear. Black
boxes are nearly always retrieved. As limited as they are, they do
provide information that is generally adequate to crash investigators.
The shortcomings of existing recorders are not well established,
and he provides no numbers to make his case.

Further, he is talking about major changes to the model: transmitting
flight data, *during flight* to ground stations. There are a lot of
consequences to this, including some not-so-good potentialities.
Where is any analysis of that? Who would own that data? Would
it be encrypted? Who could access it and how? When? Why is
this a good idea? Would the pilots be able to turn it off? If yes,
then that's a major hole (since pilots frequently are required to do
aircraft power management in response to equipment issues, this
would be likely). If no, then the plane has a built-in radio beacon,
which is it's own little bit of nastiness.

Mention is made of the Egyptian Airlines crash some years back.
It's assumged that controllers would have real-time access to the
flight data. ?! The sensibility of that, to say nothing of the expense
and security, seems highly questionable. Even now, obtaining the
contents and interpreting the bits from a flight recorder requires
the aircraft manufacturer and the black boxes themselves; this
has an easily understood security model, which all by itself has
substantial virtue.

Finally, he's presumably an expert. Why not mention that every
aircraft has *two* "black boxes"? (One for the voice cockpit recordings,
and one for the flight data. They're usually installed in substantially
different locations in the aircraft.)

This is a good idea. (1)

1984 (56406) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425814)

If you stoop to RTFA you'll see there's a lot of sensible stuff in it, with the two main points being: flight data recorders record a limited (25h) sliding window of data, and that you have to go and fine them and sometimes this isn't possible. Both those make crash investigations harder than they might be, and delay the results. If you could get results more quickly and reliably, that'd obviously be a good thing.

The author doesn't suggest a sudden wholesale replacement of black boxes, but a supplementary mechanism for also transmitting data in real time. That data could be aggregated and mined without waiting for a crash to occur, potentially providing a much richer source of information about aircraft behaviors in both normal and abnormal operation.

He confuses the point a bit in some of his summary sentences by implying that he *is* talking about a prompt wholesale replacement of black boxes.

Is that you Jon Katz? (1)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425874)

I've missed your melodramatic summaries. Welcome back!

Yeah... (2, Informative)

morari (1080535) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425888)

Sure... "lost" under the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Uh huh.

"Advances of cloud computing" are being held back? (3, Insightful)

sirwired (27582) | more than 4 years ago | (#33425914)

Given that "Cloud Computing" as a buzzword is only about two years old, and has yet to receive a great deal of commercial deployment, I think we can hardly blame the FAA, NTSB, Boeing, Airbus, and airlines for not deploying it Right The Heck Now.

What does that even mean, to use "Cloud Computing" for the "black box"? Cloud Computing has about as coherent of a definition as the previous buzzword du jour, "Web 2.0".


Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33425942)

Airplanes in general are decades out of date. All the pilots do anymore is watch the autopilot work. If we didn't have the pilot unions we would have fully automated airliners, which would be cheaper and safer. If it hadn't been for the pilot unions 9/11 wouldn't have happened, because you can't hijack and airliner that has no controls. We wouldn't need black boxes when everything on the airplane is continually telemetered to a remote control station. Computers don't misinterpret ATC orders. Computers don't lie. Computers don't get distracted. Computers don't unionize. Computers don't cause delays.

If we really cared about safety and security, we would mandate that in 10 years, nothing will be allowed to fly that isn't 100% computer controlled remotely by ATC authorities. If this offends a few rich people with their cessnas and pilot unions, then so be it. We don't need elevator attendants anymore, so we shouldn't need pilots anymore either.

No Brainer. (1)

CherniyVolk (513591) | more than 4 years ago | (#33426004)

A lot of technology in Avionics, for decades, has been stagnant. It might not seem so when we grovel over a F22 Raptor or the Russian PAK FA fighter. Not to belittle the development of these crafts, really it's the vector thrust that primarily puts them in their league. Much of the planes are the same as much older planes going as far back as the 60s. For example, MIL-STD 1553B is on that F22 Raptor and it probably has TADIL support and maybe even JTIDS if it's really 'bleeding edge'. MIL-STD 1553B is 1978, and despite it's problems and the fact it's a bus architecture, it's not going away and will be in use for decades to come in the field of avionics. Yes, there's 1553C and 1773 (1553 over fiber), but the only people using those are test labs; problem is, none of the terminals support anything but 1553B. Serial communications on those planes are far better than consumer serial, but they are too old and really just inconvenient for the consumer as to why they never took off (RS-539, RS-422 real RS-232 25pin Synchronous and Async when able). This is just the tactical communications technologies for the planes; airframe requirements pretty much lock those down to mere allowances for aesthetics more than anything else.

Why is this? Well, all the old technologies given to us by the forefathers of avionics works. Every piece of that plane is certified, making changes or deviations from those requirements astronomically expensive. For example, most terminals used in avionics are unique and rare items which also make them very expensive... 20 million USD for one that is operational; despite it's age. For any avionics system coming onto the market that claims to support any of the standards, a government program office has to allocate millions of dollars just in routine test procedures to be sure your component does nothing more or nothing less than what is precisely expected for any given scenario (this also means your machine has to mimic known bugs; if it doesn't then someone might develop a component that crutches it self against your "fix" and the end result a 747 crashes killing 243 people on board).

And that is the main reason technology in avionics moves so slow, just as it does slowly in every other critical field like medicine or cryptography (Lots of hospitals still rely heavily on old obsolete HP PA-RISC VME technology). (Yeah I know, your iPhone can crunch keys better than those ugly government doodads; but the iPhone isn't certified to handle it, and it's uncertain it will work every time in all conditions. That ugly government device will work, and provide the exact result, every time; rain or shine.)

Then we have people who have no idea what it's like to clean up passenger plane wreck, who think their simple uncertified and untested .99 cent iPhone locator software may some how locate a blackbox underneath a mile of water... no emitter can transmit through that much mass; there is no GPS locator that can locate a blackbox in the ocean that deep. That much salt water density, you'd have to be touching it with RFID. GPS locator technology is from the avionics industry... decades later... mind you. There's no technology the consumer uses that would help them find these black boxes more. Most of consumer technology is scraps from government/military technology after it's been used and abused, the private sector isn't creating anything fundamentally new. I know that hurts, but it's the truth, virtually all the R&D is on the governments dime.

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