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Transportation Hardware Technology

Flight Data Recorders, Decades Out of Date 266

Posted by Soulskill
from the jet-lagging-behind dept.
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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Flight Data Recorders, Decades Out of Date

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  • by bsDaemon (87307) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:13AM (#33425180)

    Trying to take that a bit literally, are we?

    fp?

    • Dune Coons (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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 and they let it go decades out of date.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
    • 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.

      meh

      • 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.

        • by Z00L00K (682162)

          Both having flight data recorders on the aircrafts and a data link could be done. However the bandwidth needed for a data link can limit the usefulness. Especially on transatlantic flights.

          But the data recorders could be improved so that they do eject from the aircraft under certain conditions and equipped to be able to float to the surface for easier recovery.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by AGMW (594303)

          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.

          I'd argue that the tech doesn't need to be improved, just current tech applied!

          As I understand it, BA already record vastly more information than is required in the black box and retrieve it from each 'plane when it lands. Obviously in the event of an accident this info is often/usually lost because it is outside the black box, but the collection of that flight data from successful flight is still useful. Now how about some of that nifty burst-transmission stuff the military use. How much info from the o

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:29PM (#33426600)

        Next week on slashdot, the aircraft that can post to twitter, and update it's own facebook status.

        Air France 447 is now friends with Atlantic Ocean
        Status: Crashed

  • tape isn't bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by infalliable (1239578) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:19AM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:27AM (#33425266) Homepage Journal

      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by flappinbooger (574405)

        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          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 (Score:4, Insightful)

            by vijayiyer (728590) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:53PM (#33426874)

            Would you feel comfortable with a keystroke logger installed on your work computer by your employer?

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by FoolishOwl (1698506)

              If my job was such that typos at any time could kill hundreds of people in minutes, then yes.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Obfuscant (592200)
            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.

            Except that is not how the data would be used. Every infraction would be used as a reason to fire someone, and hire a less-expensive employee. And in case of any accident or incident, any unrelated error would be fodder for extended lawsuits. Any minor failure in a judgement call would be costly. If the pilots debate turning on the "fasten seatbelt" annunciator based on a marginal rad

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

      by Whalou (721698) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:28AM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912)
      And damage to tape isn't all-or-nothing.
    • Re:tape isn't bad (Score:5, Informative)

      by hot soldering iron (800102) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:08PM (#33426262)

      Bullshit. My wife worked on the "black boxen" (really orange for visibility in a wreck). She was always complaining because the internal tape mechanisms were the exact same as an old 8-track from the 70's, and with the tape constantly running the ferrite wore off. The boxes were full of black crap, and sometimes the rollers were so old, the rubber went gummy and fscked up all the tape. Lot's of the recorders came in totally inoperative, and had been that way for a long time.

      She was so glad when they finally started making, and using, solid state drives.

  • Out of date? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by seeker_1us (1203072) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:22AM (#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."
    • by hedwards (940851)
      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
  • by FuckingNickName (1362625) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:32AM (#33425300) Journal

    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 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by halfaperson (1885704)

    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.

    • by rotide (1015173) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:46AM (#33425352)
      Cptn flt 1524 JFK->CVG just incorrectly set speed for landing. Humans gunna die! lol!
    • by vegiVamp (518171)
      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: (Score:2, Informative)

        by halfaperson (1885704)
        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.
    • by X0563511 (793323)

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

  • FAIL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by m0s3m8n (1335861) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:33AM (#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.
    • by rotide (1015173)
      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.
      • by m0s3m8n (1335861)
        Maybe you wrote the article. My point is we know what happened, not that the attack "remain unexplained".
      • by m0s3m8n (1335861)
        OK, perhaps I was a little harsh. A re-write of the sentence is needed.
    • Re:FAIL (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @09:53AM (#33425428) Homepage Journal

      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 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sprouticus (1503545) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @03:38PM (#33428942)

        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?

        Well unless my logic 101 professor in college failed miserably, it is impossible to know if a box which was never found could have prevented another crash.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      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?
  • by DMiax (915735) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:34AM (#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.

    • by operagost (62405) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @11:29AM (#33425758) Homepage Journal
      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? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:36AM (#33425318) Homepage

    ...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.

    • 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.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterile_Cockpit_Rule [wikipedia.org]

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

  • Conservative Tech (Score:4, Interesting)

    by necro81 (917438) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @08:37AM (#33425322) Journal
    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.
    • by jez9999 (618189)

      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?

      • 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.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        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.

        And you run into politics very quickly.

        Why do you think cockpit voice recorders are so limited, when we can stuff in enough flash and/or RAID-1 a pile of SSDs for hours of CD-quality audio storage? Literally - you can take a many SSDs together, mirror them all, and have hundreds of hours of audio at CD-quality. A bit less

  • by geogob (569250) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @09:00AM (#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.

    • by ericlj (81729)

      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.

    • 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.

      http://www.geae.com/services/information/diagnostics/tier.html [geae.com]

    • by Virtucon (127420)

      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

  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chatsubo (807023)

      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

  • 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

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      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? I've missed you...
  • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @11:23AM (#33425678) Homepage Journal
    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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      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.

      Did you read the same article I did?

      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.

      Do you not consider in-cockpit cameras to be a modernization of flight recorders?

      Here's the first article that i dug up when searching for "pilots union" and cockpit recorders
      http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB124201244946205809.html [wsj.com]
      Colgan Air Inc., which operated the [crashed] flight where 50 people died], is proposing to download and analyze random cockpit recordings in the future as a means of enhancing safety and enforcing cockpit discipline. The union represe

  • Telemetry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kieran (20691) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @11:23AM (#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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 m

    • I don't know if, or how often, black boxes are checked for this, but I could see real time telemetry being quite useful for preventative maintenance purposes. By monitoring how much the stick must be moved in order to achieve a particular control surface movement, you could detect things like cable stretch or hydraulic problems. You could collect real time fuel consumption data which could be used to tune the engines. You could also collect data on how alert the crew is (magnitude and frequency of correct
  • I've missed your melodramatic summaries. Welcome back!
  • Yeah... (Score:3, Informative)

    by morari (1080535) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @11:40AM (#33425888) Journal

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

    • by dunezone (899268)
      Well to be fair almost nothing recognizable survived from the WTC, I wouldn't say "lost" as much as vaporized. I remember an interview from a fire fighter who said the most recognizable thing outside of twisted metal and concrete that he saw in the debris was a mostly charred dial pad to a desk phone. Even the body parts they find are just fragments.

      The impact zone had immense heat from the jet fuel for several minutes followed by the hydrocarbon burning of all the plastics (this was the real contributor
  • by sirwired (27582) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @11:42AM (#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".

    SirWired

  • 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

  • "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?"

    Answer: None. You're asking a bunch of people who presumably have IT experience to play armchair engineer and second guess the designers of embedded systems that are designed not only to record data on aircraft controls, time, and position, but to permit recovery of that data if th

  • Bandwidth! (Score:3, Informative)

    by gnieboer (1272482) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:03PM (#33426194)

    There are good technical reasons why FDR data doesn't make sense to upload raw data automatically.

    The pure FDR data is sampled at a high data rate, which varies according to model of FDR. The most modern systems also collect hundreds of data points at a time. This is discussed in the article, though I'd challenge some of their bandwidth calculations... the sample rates they quote seem very low (for modern systems), though I don't have my books in front of me.

    What DOES make sense (and again, the article does address this), is having computing capability in the FDR (or outside of it, as it wouldn't need to be crash-worthy) that filters the data and ID's in real-time out-of-normal events and reports them.
    In fact, most airlines already use a system like this, but not for the purpose of crash monitoring, but to detect aircraft problems in flight and alert ground crew so they can they can be prepared to fix them before the pilots even know there was a problem.

    The issue is that this uplink capability can't replace the on-board FDR recording capability. That black box must still be there, as during the crash sequence, there is a good chance your satcom/etc systems will fail before the final crash. So this can augment, but not replace.

    They also discuss adding a capability to comb through the complete raw data (you can just download it on landing as another route). Yep, great idea, but already being done by many airlines.
    See http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aviationservices/brochures/Airplane_Health_Management.pdf [boeing.com]

    And in fact, the military is using the FDR data to check their pilot's proficiency as well as the aircraft performance:
    See http://www.navair.navy.mil/PMA209/_Documents/MFOQA_101_20090224.ppt [navy.mil]

  • Hello? McFly? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by daemonenwind (178848) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:11PM (#33426288)

    How about the lesson, "Never save data that can only serve to get you sued out of existance if something bad happens".

    Until there's tort reform in the USA to bring us in line with countries like Germany, this data will never be captured or saved.

  • Most of the data needed for accident investigations could be transmitted in real time for logging on the ground, the only need for a "black box" would be to cover periods where communication is lost - like in the last few minutes of a catastrophe. Like everyone, flight crews object to having every moment of their work day subjected to surveillance by their employers - hence their objection to transmitting flight data and crew conversations for recording on the ground.

    The flight crew union objections could

  • Utter bullshit (Score:4, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:12PM (#33426312) Homepage

    "For the past fifty years the technology behind aircraft flight data recorders has remained stagnant.

    There's been enormous progress in flight recorders. The first ones only recorded a few basic items, like altitude, airspeed, attitude, and control positions. The recording mechanism used a stainless steel tape, on which diamond points scratched graph lines. (Those were really rugged. That stainless steel tape could survive almost anything and still be read.)

    Today's recorders are (inevitably) digital, recording perhaps a hundred parameters. Most key engine and airframe data is logged. They also record both what the pilot's control positions are and what the aircraft control surfaces are doing, which allows distinguishing between pilot error and control failure. There's a separate cockpit voice recorder. Enough data is recorded that the data can be loaded into an aircraft simulator and played back to reproduce the events.

    Few flight recorders are not recovered. [wikipedia.org] In the last 10 years, there have been four failures to recover a flight recorder - two from 9/11, Air France Flight 447, and Siberia Airlines 1812. Of those, only Air France 447 [wikipedia.org] is still a mystery in which flight recorder data would be useful. And, in fact, Air France 447 was "phoning home", over a low-bandwidth maintenance link, reporting trouble with the air data sensors.

    So there's an argument for sending more data back on the maintenance links, but this does not involve "the cloud".

  • by spire3661 (1038968) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:44PM (#33426780) Journal
    Privacy concerns? Im sorry but if you are part of the operating crew of a modern airliner, the only privacy you should expect is in the bathroom.
  • by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic&gmail,com> on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @03:00PM (#33428510)

    The biggest impediments are in the huge difficulties to get any new technology past the certification process and the cost of insuring against liability. (The liability issues around general aviation were ameliorated somewhat about 10-15 years ago with the passage of a law limiting the 'long tail' liability for older planes.)

    My personal case in point - when I was taking flying lessons a long time ago, you could buy a brand new CB radio for about $50. An airplane VHF radio with not-that-much-different capabilities cost over $2000 at the time, had lousy audio and relatively poor reception compared to the CB radio.

    The airplane radio had to pass both FCC and FAA (and, I think a couple of other institutions) certifications, each of which cost the manufacturer over $1 million for re-certification every time they wanted to change a resistor. Each of the parts had to go through the same process, which generally took several years. So the aviation radio was built out of ten-year-old parts using 8 year old designs, and the cost of each improvement had to be amortized over a few thousand units - so just getting certified can cost 1/4 to 1/3 of the cost of the part.

    And the radios still suck.

    Then, liability insurance was also about 1/3 of the retail cost of the radio. At that time if a private plane crashed, everyone within a mile of the crash sued the manufacturer of every component that had ever been on the plane. Still today, if a company makes a part that is on a commercial airplane, they are likely to get sued if the plane crashes, even if their part had nothing to do with anything, and their liability is essentially unlimited.

    In one example I knew about (about 1985), a guy forgot to put fuel in his plane, took off and crashed into a house about 1/4 mile from the runway. One of the companies that was sued was the maker of the original OEM starters for that brand of airplane. They were sued for $millions. It cost them almost $5 million in legal fees to prove they were not at fault, even though their starter was not even on that plane - it had been replaced years before. They got out of the business, and never came back.

    TOday we have the worst of possible worlds - the regulatory environment punishes innovation and makes it impossible for small companies to compete due to the infrastructure required to meet the regulatory requirements, and the liability environment stomps on them while they're down. So we have nothing but big monolithic industry giants with every incentive to not innovate, to not put the 'new thing' on. Boeing is being amazingly courageous in building the 787. They are betting the company not only on the marketability of the plane, but the potential liability.

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