Part of the show Safety at 40,000 Feet
Wilf James asked:
I keep hearing on the news about the search for the lost Malaysian aeroplane and the fact that its "black box" will soon run out of battery power so that it won't be able to send out any more "beeps" that are needed to locate the plane's wreckage.
So how do black boxes work and how will this obstacle be overcome in the future?
The boxes themselves aren't actually very clever. In fact, your smartphone will have a much higher memory capacity than a black box. However, would you expect to be able to read your emails on your phone if you just hold it at a wall at 400 miles an hour, crushed it under 2,000 kilograms, fried it under 1100 degrees centigrade for an hour and then baked it in your oven for 10 hours, and then for a good measure, dropped it in the sea?
This is probably a really dumb question, but if the location of my cell phone can be tracked, why doesn't every plane have a satellite tracking system so you'd at least know when and where it went down? cheryl j, Thu, 17th Apr 2014
MA370 had a number of unique circumstances allowing the plane to be "lost".
One of the books I read long ago was "30 Seconds over Tokyo", about the Doolittle Raid.
I can readily think of two ways to better help.
I could imagine hitting a button every few minutes would be a pain.
Evidence suggests that all the tracking comms on MH370 were intentionally disabled, incuding one (ACARS) that doesn't have an "off" switch but only a circuit breaker. No reason to suspect explosion or other malfunction, just pilot choice.
If one has real time monitoring, then the "dead-man" switch is redundant. MH370 disappeared because it made an odd turn and either disabled or otherwise lost function of its communication equipment. Real time monitoring would have either detected it "vanishing", or been able to better track its movements and alert authorities that the course didn't make any sense (no matter if someone was pushing a switch or not).
Yes, and for several very good reasons. Most importantly, lack of capture by strong signals in adjacent channels, and the ability of the ground station to "stamp on" a distant aircraft in order to talk to a nearby one - it's the guy nearest the airport who needs priority service, and the 200W ground station is issuing orders which must be obeyed whilst the rest of us with 5W airborne are passing the time of day.