The black box in the airplane is a recording device that constantly monitors everything that goes on in the cockpit of an airplane: communications, wind speed and even if the pilot passes gas! The tape is for 30 minutes and then constantly recycles. The box itself is compact, solidly built and virtually indestructible, able to survive crashes, fires and submersion in water. It is used to determine what went wrong when the plane went down, or it is when it can be recovered!
That is the problem with the black box, recovery. It is suppose to emit a signal, but the signal doesn’t always work, and even when it does work, the box may not be easy to obtain. When the US Airways flight went down in the Hudson, there was no problem, but when the French Airliner went down off the coast of Brazil it was a different story! That plane disappeared in a region of underwater mountain ranges with valley thousands of feet deep and characterized by strong currents. The black box is around twenty thousand feet deep and probably buried in silt. With over 70% of the Earth’s surface covered by oceans, this is likely to happen again.
The alternative to the black box is a constant download of information to ground stations. In this day of high quality and high speed transmissions it is a simple thing to do. Every 20 seconds send a data burst to the nearest airport and a separate computer can record and hold the data for a specified time, even longer than the 30 minutes. Microchips and satellite processing makes this feasible. On long voyages over the ocean, either automatic recording buoys could be set up or the plane can tie into satellite feeds, most already are communicating with the satellites through GPS and even satellite telephones that are now available for passengers on the planes.
The black box could still be kept and, if recovered be the “ultimate” record of what happened and what went wrong. But when the black box can’t be found and it’s signal has diminished to nothing, the other data would still be around and probably provide the information needed to prevent a recurrence! It is a simple solution to a complex problem and one that is possible using existing technology.
Airlines could say good-bye to the black boxes and should say hello to remote recordings! Everybody would benefit from increased safety.