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Virtual Black Boxes

Use telecommunications to save flight disaster information.
  (+29)(+29)(+29)
(+29)
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After air disasters there is often a seemingly interminable wait to find the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. Even when found there is a chance that they have been damaged.

My suggestion is that the aircraft should transmit this data (or at least some of it) to a suitable receiving station. This would be invoked automatically by the avionics systems, by the crew or by air traffic control. Thus important data could be available to investigators almost immediately.

I originally thought of this when the ill-fated Iridium low orbit satellite network was 'up there' but effectively unused. Seemed like a good use for it.

I reckon that a few megabytes would be enough to pass on the most important information. And once started it would be able to transmit new data almost real time.

This might also provide information from aircraft that would not normally have blackboxes. Not needing the heavy and expensive crash-proofed capsules might enable light aircraft to be so equipped.

In my ignorance I can't even see that it would be dramatically expensive - an enhanced-output wireless ethernet device would seem to be a reasonable starting point. Or maybe a peer-to-peer arrangement to other aircraft in the area?

So what needs to be done to get it working?

snagger, Sep 14 2001

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       Gets my vote... I've thought the exact same thing before.
mwburden, Sep 15 2001
  

       This was discussed at length after the EgyptAir 990 crash. It seemed that the pilots thought that this would be a terrible invasion of their privacy as would any continuous voice recording.
yunohu, Sep 15 2001
  

       This does seem like a good idea. To be fair, though, we should acknowledge that it was first suggested on the halfbakery in an annotation to another idea. I don't remember who it was.
beauxeault, Sep 15 2001
  

       Apologies to whoever has either written or read about this or a similar idea before - plagiarism and repetitiveness not intended.   

       And surely aircrew could have a reassurance that this would not be used except in the most extreme circumstance? (That is, not for airlines to check on union activities, etc.) I certainly did not mean any sort of cockpit spy for regular use.
snagger, Sep 15 2001
  

       Even if the telemetry only recorded avionics data, that would be sufficient information for what the black box is most often used for -- to determine whether an equipment failure or pilot error occurred.
mwburden, Sep 16 2001
  

       The aviation data [altitude, speed, direction, windspeed, etc] could be transmitted on one channel, and voice on another. ONce the plane had landed, the voice channel could be destroyed, helping with the spying issue. Once the plane has landed, there would be no real need for voice data.
elendilmir, Sep 26 2001
  

       Excellent idea! I would have guessed that aircraft transmit some kind of regular signal anyway (don't flight numbers appear on air-traffic-control radar? So are these transmitted?) so maybe existing 'beacon' type systems could be modified to handle basic flight data? And in any case, why are current FDRs so lousy? I seem to remember from somewhere that they still use a tape to record the data - surely it should be possible to make a solid- state device that would be pretty much crash-proof?
Basepair, Feb 13 2005
  

       Trouble is that some small percentage of crashes involve loss of communications. In those cases you would still need a physical black box. But communication technology is cheap enough that this could be a backup for the physical box. [+]
ixnaum, Sep 18 2005
  

       just store the data in a cumulonumbus.
wjt, Sep 05 2014
  
      
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