Need for a technological solution to black box recovery

Need for a technological solution to black box recovery

Need for a technological solution to black box recovery

The Indian Air Force plane AN-32 transport aircraft with 29 people on board, which disappeared over the Bay of Bengal on July 22, is an extremely tragic loss.

Mysteriously, the aircraft did not send out the emergency distress signal. Continued search efforts by the IAF, Navy and the Coast Guard, in addition to satellite-based imagery services to locate the aircraft, have proved futile.

India has approached the USA for assistance since the search has become a mystery like the Malaysian flight MH370 which could not be traced since March 2014. Some of the other global accidents include:
(a) Air France transatlantic flight 447 on July 1, 2009;
(b) BELL 206 helicopter in India carrying then Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy on Sept 3, 2009;
(c) Malaysian Flight MH 370 on March 12, 2014.

In the field of aviation, the Flight Data Recorder (FDR), popularly referred to as “black box”, is the main source of specific aircraft and flight performance data for accident investigation. The data recorded by FDR is also used for analysing air safety issues, material degradation and engine performance. In many of the aviation accidents, it is very difficult to locate the black box and debris for finding out the real causes of the accidents.

When an accident happens, black box is required to be located and analysed to find technical reasons. It is seen that in such accidents quoted above, especially intercontinental flights, the recovery of `black box syndrome’ persists. The cost, efforts required and the difficulty involved are enormous in such cases. The minimum cost of search operations of Air France flight is estimated at about $100 million while for MH370, it was $44 million.

The black box of Air France flight was not found till 2011 in spite of huge efforts for retrieval from the Atlantic sea. As regards the Andhra Pradesh incident, the Bell helicopter crashed in Nallamala hills and could not be located for a few days in spite of deploying over 5,000 security personnel, eight helicopters, air borne imaging platforms and many local village folk.

India became desperate for a request to the USA for their imagery services. The disappearance of MH370 is still a mystery and was abandoned in July 2016.

In view of the above, there is a necessity to find a global technological solution to the causes of this mysterious missings. This was discussed in a research paper titled “Futuristic Black Box Design Considerations and Global Networking for Real Time Monitoring of Flight Performance Parameters” authored by me and published by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology in International Science. It offered one solution.

The methodology proposed the design of a new FDR and global networking for real time monitoring of flight performance and GPS parameters. The new design was to have the following additional features:
(a) The flight performance parameters are to be recorded a few times per second;
(b) The recorded parameters need to be transmitted to the controlling air traffic ground station every second in real time which is monitored by the ground crew;
(c) This proposed black box should include reception of GPS parameters through GPS additional receiver on board the aircraft suitably integrated;
(d) This black box is also to transmit GPS parameters (aircraft positional parameters) along with flight performance parameters in real time
(e) Cockpit video and video recording of passenger cabin as additional inputs, and
(f) The FDR to have suitable power backups and the last recorded flight parameters must be transmitted for a longer time and switches over to transmitting GPS.

In the case of the FDR of an aircraft, recording is already done but transmission is not carried out in real time. Thus, in the case of accidents especially across transatlantic, Southeast Asia and Australia, the location of black box becomes very difficult. In some cases, it may not be feasible to retrieve the black box and the reasons for the accident are inconclusive with many questions.

If the FDR is redesigned and modified to transmit similar to spacecraft orbital and on board systems, it will become a “wonderful black box”. Along with this continuous monitoring of downloaded flight safety parameters including flight position parameters (GPS parameters) and its uploading through global network, will save a lot of time and costly retrieval efforts.

Greatest unsolved mystery
The tale of flight MH370 is the greatest unsolved mystery in aviation since Amelia Earhart disappeared with her Lockheed Electra in 1937. This solution could have given a clear path for speculation surrounding the mystery of MH370 and IAF’s AN-32 transport aircraft.

The air traffic control centres (ATCs) can be re designated as Air Traffic, Telemetry, Tracking and Control Centres (ATTTCCs). In addition to the existing flight performance parameters, cockpit video, GPS parameters, passenger cabin video and external video inputs can also be comprehensively designed. The external video cameras can be so located suitably to view engine intakes and aircraft surroundings.

Communication, IT and networking technologies are very well coordinated for global networking. Further, data fusion/ data warehousing technologies are available for exploitation to monitor flight performance parameters including GPS parameters in near real time to all the agencies including International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The passenger video inputs can help monitor in case of any terrorist related activities inside the passenger cabin.

The proposed technological solution can be integrated with GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation System (GAGAN) of Airports Authority of India, a satellite based navigation system for civil aviation purposes. For this, suitable hardware development and adequate bandwidth are basic requirements.

(The writer was an officer with Air Force Aeronautical Engineering-Electronics Branch)

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