|Most people, looking at the above title,
would imagine that iridium is some sort of precious metal and that the
proposition is that you will be leaving a bar of it to someone in your
will. Well, almost but not quite - its a bit more esoteric than
that. Read on, and the story will out.
Let us imagine that you are aboard one of those Leviathan Jumbo jets, bound for the other hemisphere and trying to settle down and amuse yourself with the seat-back gadgetry so kindly provided by the airline operator. The cabin staff are attending to your every whimsy, after all thats why you pay a premium for business-class travel. Your company is happy to fund it because they need to send you halfway around the world on their errands more often than you would prefer to be the case. Youve never really been afraid of flying because the statistics say that its many more times safer than any other form of travel - and thats good enough for you. What is more, frequent flyer mileage notwithstanding, you really dont have any choice in the matter. Australia has to do business in Asia, youre good at bridging that cultural gap and business opportunities have never been better. You just wish that you could be anaesthetized for those long overwater legs.
About four hours (and four drinks) into the flight youre awakened from your dozing semi-stupour by a brace of Flight Attendants brushing by and you gradually become aware that theres a change of atmosphere in the cabin. It was night-time, it had been quiet, darkened, porthole blinds drawn and only the odd reading light on. There now seems to be a lot of Flight Attendant activity, cabin lights are being turned on and you sense that there is something amiss. Suddenly the silent hiss of the aircrafts aerodynamic passage is broken by a confident voice, that you recognise as the Chief Pursers, saying that the captain has advised that due to a technical problem the aircraft will be turning back. You look out your side of the aircraft during the turn and the wings and engines appear, in the moonlight, as they usually do. You strain to peer across the aisle and from what you can see, the other side seems to be just as orderly. As the aircraft rolls out of the turn, suddenly its attitude changes, the nose is obviously well down and the slipstream noise is much louder than youd ever heard it before. Out on the wings you notice that the spoilers are sitting up, obviously to increase the descent rate. Instinctively you realize that its not a normal change of flight-level. Why would they need to do it so rapidly that every-ones ears are popping? Just as suddenly the aircrafts attitude changes, almost level, perhaps even a bit nose high, the spoilers retract and the engines are heard to spool up again. Youre just about to try and attract a Flight Attendants attention with a drink (and info) request when all the cabin lights flicker and go out. Immediately theres a buzz of concern in the cabin and the Flt Attendants appear with flashlights. Its not hard now to figure out whats happening. If it had been a cabin depressurization the passengers smoke-masks would have dropped down. Youre familiar enough with developments to realize that the problem must be electrical, perhaps smoke or fire, and that the crew has started switching off the electrical systems one by one, attempting to source the fault.
You notice that one of the passengers across from you is talking urgently into a mobile phone and you wonder how he could possibly be getting through at this distance from a ground repeater station. It must be one of those direct satellite phones you decide and immediately you start wishing that youd put some pressure on the firm to provide one for your use. Somehow itd be reassuring to be able to phone up the family and tell them that youll be home again shortly in four or five hours or so you hope. A sobbing woman a few rows forward is being attended to by cabin staff but most passengers are obeying the seat-belt signs and are seated and calm.
A Flt Attendant comes through the flight-deck door and you notice that shes coughing into a handerkerchief held over her face. Before the door is closed you see that, in that gloomy darkened interior, one of the pilots is wearing a full-face mask, there is smoke swirling wispily around and you can hear a loud rushing sound. It was obviously one of those dreaded "smoke-in-the-cockpit" situations and the flight-crew are going through checklists and venting the smoke through their sliding side-panels. You look at your watch, only mere moments have passed since you were awoken. Four hours into the flight meant that the aircraft was somewhere South-West of the Cocos Islands. You wonder if the crew will attempt a landing there.
Theres no longer any need to wonder, the Chief Purser is making an announcement - but hes using a battery powered megaphone. "The Captain has decided that because of the worsening smoke in the cockpit he has no option but to divert to Cocos Island. That means that we will be landing there in about 55 minutes. Meanwhile please stay calm, put on your life-jackets, remove sharp objects and high-heeled shoes. In the unlikely event of a ditching becoming necessary we will warn you to adopt the brace position about 60 seconds prior to alighting on the water. Please look again at the seat-pocket cards and remind yourself of your nearest exit. In the event of a ditching you must not, repeat not, inflate your life-vest before exiting the aircraft. Flight attendants will now move about the cabin issuing extra cushions and blankets. They will answer any questions you may have". Obviously the captain is too busy to make any announcements and hed probably sound disturbingly muffled through his oxygen mask anyway. Opposite you, you notice that the gentleman with the satellite phone is still talking urgently into it.
The next five minutes pass very slowly and you wish that you had the nerve to ask the gent with the phone for a loan of it but hes obviously foreign, very agitated, emotional and talking with family. You take out your pen and personal organizer and start scribbling a letter to the family in the Notes section. Its fairly short, descriptive and can easily be torn out of there later if needs be. You wrap it in a sick bag, bind it with a rubber band, encase it in a further plastic sick-bag and jam it firmly inside your inside coat pocket before doing up the life-vest. Its a poor substitute for whats evidently going on in hushed tones across the aisle from you but you still hope its something that you can laugh about later.
Another five minutes pass and the aircraft suddenly adopts a nose-down attitude. You notice that there are cascades of smoke beginning to flow from the forward cabin lining. The sobbing woman sights it and immediately becomes hysterical, leaping from her seat. A couple of well-meaning chaps unstrap and rise to their feet, to go to her aid. This is misconstrued by many of the first and business class passengers who also unstrap and begin to make their way aft. Flt attendants try to stop them but the "move to the back of the bus" has turned from a panic into a pandemonium. You tighten your seat belt and wonder about whether the pilots needed just such a drastic trim change at this point of time. The aircraft was pretty well full, those passengers fleeing aft will find it impossible to secure seats back there. Most of them have left their life-jackets under their seats.
A Flt Attendant tears away at the ceilings cabin lining above the galley and large smouldering lumps of material fall to the floor as she sprays it rather ineffectually with a hand-held extinguisher taken from the galley stowage. The smoke levels are building in the cabin now, you can feel your eyes beginning to water profusely and its becoming hard to focus or concentrate. You begin to feel very heady and drowsy -as if youd taken too much medication. Its obvious that the smoke is having some toxic effect as the Flt Attendant with the fire-extinguisher (now empty) collapses into a vacant seat. You look out the window and see the moonlight reflecting off a fairly calm Indian Ocean, not very far below. Its still quiet in the cabin as if every-one felt rather cowed by the sudden rush of developments. The smoke density has built up everywhere now and some passengers are fumbling with the overhead compartments, obviously trying to get at the drop-down masks. The aircraft is slowing and the flaps are sliding back and down; but we couldnt have reached Cocos already. Its only been ten minutes. Its rapidly becoming clear that you arent going to.
The Chief Purser is vainly trying to locate his megaphone by torchlight, its obvious he has an announcement to make. You look out the window and its clear what hes about to say next. "Brace, Brace, Brace" he shouts and then flings himself into one of the vacated first-class seats. The first impact is quite mild and youre so light-headed that youve really forgotten all about what posture you should be in. Its fascinating to feel the surprisingly soft touchdown, obviously tail-first, the slow-motion soar across from that swells crest, then the rapid nose-down pitching is the last thing you feel as the deceleration bites and the nose buries itself deeply into the next swell. Your last sight-see was of the giant maws of the port engine intakes swallowing great gulps of ocean and rotating the jet viciously nose-down into the sub-surface silence.
Because of that massive deceleration many seats broke free - not including yours; but your legs were broken anyway by the seat structure in front. This was only one reason why you werent going to make it out of there. The other was that the fuselage had ruptured behind the wings and there was such an inrush of water that you doubted anyone would make it out. The only noise now was of the rushing water and a few muffled groans. The only smell was of kerosene. Obviously no life-rafts would get launched. No-one made any moves towards exits or doors. Shock or injuries or just a lack of initiative? The gentleman with the phone was nowhere to be seen. One of your last thoughts had been whether hed had the time (or consideration) to hang up and spare his family the final noise-some trauma.
As Flight 426 slips below the waves the airline maintenance chief looks up from his data terminal 1700 nautical miles away and says to the concerned faces around him: " Its all there, every bit of the last 4 hours and 23 minutes. Weve got cockpit voice and 512 channels of digital flight data. Get on the phone to Head Office and see if they copied it also. Advise BASI and Boeing that weve got it all, all that theyll ever need to get to the bottom of this. He turns to his subordinate and instructs him: "Seal all VH-EBS maintenance records, refuelling and turnaround servicing paperwork. Lock it in the Ops safe." " Can you play back the Voice for us now?" "Sorry, no, its digitally encrypted and the crypto-key can only go in a sealed envelope to BASI". "Do you have their final ditching position?" "Yes thats there in the clear on screen under the GPS logo and its been passed to the enroute ships and aircraft. Exactly 252.3 miles bearing 243.7 degrees (Mag) from Cocos DME". "It intentionally ditched within sight of a merchant tanker. They say there are no survivors".
The Boeing "GO" Team arrived in Perth mid-afternoon the following day. Analysis of the data commenced two hours later. By 0800 the next morning the Team Leader had called a press conference. As the press conference convened, a large screen started displaying a two dimensional view of Flight 426s last route. After a short preliminary backgrounder, the Boeing rep sped it up to about the 3 hour elapsed point and then froze it. "Ladies and Gentlemen, as you know, by January the first 2005, just over a year ago now, all US airline carriers had to be equipped with the Iridian data-bus. That is part of the Rainbow Operating Airliners Data Security Hosting Option Worldwide, also known as "Roadshow". Some of you will know that the dictionary definition of Iridian is anything pertaining to the iris or a rainbow. The iris discriminates colours. For us, after just such an event as yesterdays, for the first time we have all the colours we need. I refer to the multiple channels of operating data that was dumped from the CVR, GPS and DFDR (pointing), from this three hour point onwards, via an Iridium satellite constellation data relay to three Rainbow terminals in Australia and one in Seattle. For once the pot of gold was to be found at the end of the Rainbow because luckily your airline opted into ROADSHOW. At this point the Iridian data-bus was triggered by some DFDR electrical parameter exceedances and it began data-dumping history (and then later events) from power-on to power-off (which was the ditching event). We have a complete telemetry record of what happened within the systems, all radio communications and the cockpit voice recording. As well as that we had a very accurate GPS ditching position relayed upon which to base a survivor search. The aircraft lies at the bottom of a 2800 metre deep trench and it is unlikely that there will be any recovery efforts at that depth. However, thanks to Iridian and ROADSHOW we have all the data we need to analyse the accident and to promptly ensure it never happens again.
"What did happen?" The screen starts back into life. "Preliminary analysis indicates that at this point here, as per the annotations down the screen side, the Galley Bus power surged and blew a Circuit Breaker. This started the Iridian data dump of CVR and DFDR information. The senior hostess asked the Captain if he could try resetting that breaker. He did, it stayed in, and the passengers had their hot meals. However it appears that Cabin Bus wiring adjacent to the Galley Bus wiring bundle was damaged and a smouldering fire started beneath the cabin lining insulation. This fire then affected an AC Bus 2 wiring loom that arced and later caused another fire at the rear of the main Flight Deck Circuit-Breaker panel. This started a chain of failure events. As I progress the data-replay you can see these event timings down the screens side. Despite the crews efforts the fire took hold. From an initial reading of the CVR conversations, possibly some of their judgement calls after that were impaired by the increasing stress and the density and toxicity of that smoke. From the first smell of fumes and appearance of the smoke in the cockpit at this point here (from the CVR) it was only 18 minutes to the ditching (here). We think we know the origin of the Galley Power shorting. It has happened before behind where the ovens are plugged in and unplugged for maintenance removal. The non-success of the ditching was also probably due to impaired judgement. This is apparent from the CVR record. Perhaps influenced by a desire to ditch close to the tanker and, in the darkness, towards its lights, they touched down across the swell rather than accepting the moderate crosswind and approaching along the swell. A video of the ditching taken from the tanker clearly shows the aircraft touching down in an ideal attitude but being pitched rapidly nose down into the crest of the next swell by the under-slung wing-mounted engines. This broke the fuselage in half and it floated for only two minutes. The value of this information is such that we will have to rethink some of our simulator teachings on ditching. We will also look at putting a video channel or two into the Iridian system as data-transfer rates improve.
"Did the crew have access to any of this data as it was happening?" "They knew that the Iridian data-dump had started and they knew why. It was not long after that they started their trouble-shooting and decided to return, then later, to divert". The analysis was already underway in Boeing Roadshow OPS in Seattle as the data was being received. However, as is sometimes the case with electrical fires, instead of subsiding it got very complex. The fire was propagated further by other busses wires arcing and causing consequential failures." Action is already underway to ensure that similar failures cannot occur again. However the expenditure on the Roadshow Network has been well vindicated. If you cast your mind back to the second last MD11 accident you will recall that, if wed only had the answer to that one in time, wed have avoided the second one. The development funding of Iridian and Roadshow was half the cost of the Swissair Flight III salvage recovery and investigation. There will always be airline accidents but, thanks to Iridian technology and Roadshow, there no longer needs to be repeatable mysteries or "probable" causes. The operating costs are well covered by reduced loss of life, less litigation, lower insurance premiums and less Fear of Flying. This also translates to lower ticket prices."
"Why less Fear of Flying?" "More people than you can imagine are put off air-travel by such events as frequent air-crashes due to unknown causes. People tend to accept that there will be the occasional weather or pilot-error attributable accident but they find that the fear of the unknown is the greatest deterrent of all. Ive no need to remind you that, were it not for Roadshow, this would probably be an all-time mystery. Instead you can report it fully and responsibly and there need be no speculation at all. Id also ask you to remind the travelling public that Roadshow data has already been instrumental in resolving a dozen in-flight incidents that may otherwise have progressed to being accidents. Analysis has also uncovered a lot of trend information that was never before available, because, as you know, many different parameters can set off the Iridian data-dump. Theres a list of those in the Hand-out. This may have been a tragedy but we can confidently say that there will be no follow-on and that the losses and costs stop now. In the past, closure has always been a problem for families. This prompt analysis has been an Iridium Legacy for the victims families."
SO, WHY DON'T THEY DO IT SENSIBLY?
(why always the predictable, half-baked, unworkable, cheap-charlie solutions?)
If you think about this mooted (i.e. proposed 2005) change (see below, next panel), it doesn't make a lot of sense - for the following reasons:
a. Airlines are bucking for (and will get) extensions to the present ETOPS rules (i.e. for extended range twin-engined overwater ops there are tracking limits for max ranges from enroute airfields). All the airlines have to do is prove statistically that historical engine shutdown rates are within reasonable limits. The possibility of cabin or cockpit fires does not enter into this equation.
b. Aircraft that disappear enroute beyond radar range may never be located. If sr111's fire had happened 90 minutes further on down track it would have simply vanished. Its final 10 minutes of incommunicado flight could well have been 10 mins or 70 mins - as far as search authorities would have known. As you are aware, there were also lots of deficiencies with its EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon aka ELT). It would have vanished off the face of the Earth (and CVR and DFDR's would never have been recovered). And yet another MD11 IFEN-inspired accident may then have happened routinely because of that sort of eventuality. The same logic applies to terrorist bombs, fuel-tank explosions, hijackings, pilot suicides, clear air turbulence induced structural failures etc.
SO WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
THE (fictional) HANDOUT
(i.e. hypothetically possible)
|With some minor technological interfacing,
any crew experiencing "PAN PAN PAN" type (or worse) difficulties are
now able to select the appropriate ATC transponder code (7700/7600/7500)
and have both their CVR and DFDR data-dump auto-uplinked via data-link
to their own airline's operations site (telemetry to anywhere on earth).
This includes current GPS positional data and so, in the event of a
crash, provides a precise crash location (with the proper electrical
powering provisions, that is) - and the possibility of more rapid succour
for any survivors. The auto-uplinking initiators to include:
Notes: To protect pilots' privacy, as now happens, access to CVR data would be crypto-limited to accident investigators or (in the event of an incident) to the pilots' concurrence or a court-ordered review.
If you have problems getting your mind around this concept, just think of it as an IRIDIUM mobile phone sending data-streams (versus pure digital voice). It's technologically feasible but I'm pretty sure it's not in the FANS-1 or -2 master-plans. And it makes more sense than NTSB's recommendations (see below) for 6 year's hence. It solves the perplexing problem of massive, costly searches and months of puzzling over expensively salvaged (but incomplete) debris. The savings should be considerable in terms of money, protracted doubts, crew uncertainty and passenger anxieties. It should also reduce the hazards to both searchers and retrieval crews. It would tend to minimize families' anguish if the cause were known rapidly -by virtue of the revealing DFDR data-stream and interfaced CVR transcript. The torture of an air-crash is all the more agonizing because of the years of waiting and speculation - normally followed by a "probable cause" and further years of lawyer-enriching argumentative litigation.
Another big plus for this solution is that it (the individual aircraft's system) can be tested and proved at regular intervals. Maybe then you wouldn't really need to carry the proposed multiple systems - because that costs payload over the many years of airframe revenue operation. How many times have CVR's or DFDR's been found deficient or damaged beyond info retrieval? How often have incidents gone on beyond the 30 minute CVR rota and important facts, background noises and aural data been then irretrievable? In the event of an inflight technical conundrum, Boeing or Airbus can plug into the data-stream, analyse the data and advise the air-crews. Cynically viewing the possibilities, I suppose you could say that convening the Court of Inquiry before the crash-landing can ensure the widest possible distribution of blame and responsibility. That should be popular with crews (whether they survive or not) because it will put paid to a lot of the Monday morning quarter-backing and 20/20 hindsight. The percentage of accidents attributable to pilot error may then become a more solid figure. At present it tends to be fattened unfairly because it's a popular "fall-back" position (cf the early B737 rudder accidents).
Airline Operations Staff will shortly be retrieving real-time engine and systems data inflight for crew, aircraft operational, and maintenance scheduling purposes. Not to extend this capability, such that it could carry CVR, GPS and DFDR data for underway abnormal operations, would be irresponsible.
This NTSB Proposal sounds more like a favoured Avionics Manufacturing Firm has put forward a new expensive piece of kit as a result of the palpitations over sr111's CVR/DFDR failings - and sold it to the NTSB as a tailor-made solution. The FAA will "buy" it and endorse it because it just happens to be going through one of those phases where "long-winded" six year solutions are facile avoidances of short term criticism (for alleged habitual inactivity).
It really warrants more thought than it's obviously not been given.
NTSB recommends the FAA require CVR and FDR changes
Require retrofit after January 1, 2005, of all cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) on all airplanes required to carry both a CVR and a flight data recorder (FDR) with a CVR that (a) meets Technical Standard Order (TSO) C123a, (b) is capable of recording the last 2 hours of audio, and (c) is fitted with an independent power source that is located with the digital CVR and that automatically engages and provides 10 minutes of operation whenever aircraft power to the recorder ceases, either by normal shutdown or by a loss of power to the bus. (A-99-16) Require all aircraft manufactured after January 1, 2003, that must carry both a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and a digital flight data recorder (DFDR) to be equipped with two combination (CVR/DFDR) recording systems. One system should be located as close to the cockpit as practicable and the other as far aft as practicable. Both recording systems should be capable of recording all mandatory data parameters covering the previous 25 hours of operation and all cockpit audio including controller-pilot data link messages for the previous 2 hours of operation. The system located near the cockpit should be provided with an independent power source that is located with the combination recorder, and that automatically engages and provides 10 minutes of operation whenever normal aircraft power ceases, either by normal shutdown or by a loss of power to the bus. The aft system should be powered by the bus that provides the maximum reliability for operation without jeopardizing service to essential or emergency loads, whereas the system near the cockpit should be powered by the bus that provides the second highest reliability for operation without jeopardizing service to essential or emergency loads. (A-99-17) Amend Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 25.1457 (cockpit voice recorders) and 25.1459 (flight data recorders) to require that CVRs, FDRs, and redundant combination flight recorders be powered from separate generator buses with the highest reliability. (A-99-18).
Wednesday, March 10, 1999
Make black boxes better - TSB
Recorders should tape for at least two hours, have separate power, board recommends
By RICHARD DOOLEY -- The Daily News
The agency leading the investigation into the crash of Swissair Flight 111 is recommending sweeping new rules to cover the operation of flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders - an aircraft's so-called black boxes aboard passenger planes.
The Transportation Safety Board is recommending to Transport Canada recorders be modified so critical clues to the cause of a crash will not be lost.
Specifically, the board is recommending:
Cockpit-voice recorders have a two-hour recording capacity instead of a 30-minute continuous-loop magnetic tape.
Planes required to carry both cockpit-voice recorders and flight-data recorders be fitted with voice recorders with a two-hour recording capability.
Black boxes must also be fitted with independent power sources able to keep the units running for at least 10 minutes if an aircraft's power supply is interrupted.
The United States National Transportation Safety Board made similar recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday.
TSB lead investigator Vic Gerden told The Daily News in December the investigation could lead to changes for flight recorders.
The investigation into the cause of the crash of Flight 111 off Peggy's Cove Sept. 2 has been dogged by missing information from the Boeing MD-11's black boxes.
The plane's flight-data recorder and cockpit-voice recorder stopped working six minutes before the plane plunged into the ocean, killing all 229 people on board. The flight crew had reported seeing and smelling smoke in the cockpit 16 minutes before the plane crashed.
Without definitive recorder information, investigators have to rely on traditional methods of investigation, including reconstructing portions of the aircraft.
"If the equipment we are recommending had been placed on Flight 111, we would know what went on in the last six minutes of the flight," said board spokesman David Austin.
It would also give investigators valuable clues to what was going on aboard the aircraft long before it reached the coast of Nova Scotia.
Investigators are curious why Flight 111 would not respond to air-traffic controllers in Boston nearly an hour before the crash.
Boston Centre made repeated attempts to contact Flight 111 for 13 minutes as it flew through its area, 38 minutes before smoke was reported. Because the cockpit-voice recorder overwrote any subsequent conversations or noises in the cockpit, investigators don't know why contact with the plane was lost during that period.
Transport Canada requires Canadian-made aircraft to have flight recorders supplied from different electrical sources and is co-operating with international aviation agencies on flight-recorder issues.
Investigations into several crashes have been hampered by incomplete flight- recorder information, including the crash of a ValuJet plane in the Florida Everglades and the crash of TWA Flight 800 near Long Island, N.Y. in 1996.
Many airlines are voluntarily replacing black boxes with solid-state recorders.
Updated 01:06 PM ET
Safety board recommends recorder upgrades
By Kalpana Srinivasan, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The National Transportation Safety Board is
recommending that airplanes be retrofitted in 2005 with new cockpit voice recorders that can capture two hours of audio.
The safety board also wants airlines retrofitted with an independent power source that can continue operating recording devices for 10 minutes after power to the plane is lost.
In a letter Tuesday to the Federal Aviation Administration, NTSB
chairman Jim Hall suggested several steps the FAA should take to prevent the loss of valuable in-flight data.
Hall cited several major accidents in which investigations have been hampered by recorders shutting off and missing crucial segments of information.
He said the FAA should require airplanes manufactured after Jan. 1,
2003, that have a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder to have two combinations of these systems. One of the recording systems would be located as close as possible to the cockpit, the other as far back in the plane as possible.
Both systems should be able to cover the flight data for the previous 25 hours of operation and all cockpit audio information for the last 2 hours of operation.
The two systems should be powered from separate generator buses. The system closer to the cockpit should also have an independent power source that would automatically start up and run the recorders for 10 minutes if the planes were to lose power, the NTSB said.
The FAA said it would give serious consideration to the recommendations.
''We always review board recommendations carefully,'' said FAA spokesman Eliot Brenner. He noted that in mid-1997, the FAA ordered all airlines to upgrade their flight data recorders to more modern versions that can record additional data. Airlines have until the middle of 2001 to meet this requirement.
Current regulations call for a cockpit voice recorder with a minimum 30-minute duration. In recommending extending this time, Hall pointed to the case of Swissair Flight 111. Crucial data on the last six minutes of the flight is missing from its so-called black boxes, complicating the investigation into the Sept. 2 tragedy that killed 229 people off the waters of Nova Scotia, Canada.
Pilots reported smoke in the cockpit about an hour into the flight from New York to Geneva. The plane crashed into the sea 16 minutes later.
''Crew conversations and cockpit sounds prior to the beginning of the 30-minute recording might have provided insight into any initiating or precursory events that led to the accident,'' Hall wrote.
He noted that in 52 accidents and incidents since 1983, information from either the cockpit or the flight data recorders was lost because of a shutdown of electrical power.
The board also recommended that the aviation industry prewire aircraft and develop recording systems flexible enough to incorporate new technology, such as video, when it is introduced.passed another six-month extension
An AlliedSignal AirSat 1 satellite telephone system has been installed in a Gulfstream IV owned and operated by Iridium. The installation was performed by JetCorp at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Missouri, and represents one of the first airborne applications of the lightweight, low-cost satcom (see related story on page 54). Iridium, which maintains and operates the low-earth orbit satellite network upon which the AirSat 1 system works, had the system installed with enough time left over to allow for in-flight testing before the airborne portion of the system officially debuts next month. This was the second AirSat 1 installation for JetCorp. In December, the company installed the system on a Falcon 900.
With a number of lower-cost satcom providers such as Iridium moving in on Inmarsats turf, its been said that the transmission of data will be key to the success of the international consortiums services in the future. Already data transmission is increasing as a percentage of Inmarsats service mix, compared with voice, telex and fax, but in the future the strength of the organizations network will lie in the ability of Inmarsat to send packet data at 64 kbps from land-based mobile terminals and to and from its airborne users. Having already introduced applications that will use higher packet data rates for ground-based users, this spring Inmarsat-member nations will debate whether to extend high-speed data services to airborne customers as well. If Inmarsat agrees to add high-speed data to the air (currently it is limited only to land and maritime use) Internet connections via Aero-H satcoms could become a reality by 2002.
(and possible Iridium Technology airborne applications)
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 1999 22:51:44 +0800
From: IASA Safety <email@example.com>
CC: David Evans <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To Stephen Pope
Request you do me a favour and have a look at the (second) URL below with regards to the NTSB's recently announced NPRM intentions regarding upgrading CVR's/DFDR's by 2005 (mostly as a result of Canadian Investigator bleats in the aftermath of Swissair Flight 111). You might be able to match up what you know of Iridium's data-transfer capabilities with my CVR/DFDR upgrade counter-proposals (at the second URL).
You may then be prepared to get back to me (info David Evans, M.E. of Air Safety Week) with a learned opinion, best guess, referral or stifled yawn.
Your story was at:
the counter-proposal for year 2005 CVR and DFDR NPRM's (Notice of Proposed Rule-Making) is at:
Low-cost Iridium satcom poised for bizav launch
|Subject: Re: Iridium or Inmarsat? (Who will get Iridian/ROADSHOW?)|
|Rob Eisses wrote:
Hi John, We are an Iridium Service Provider in Canada. Your project and ideas look interesting. I will do some digging and see if I can find someone who can assist you from Iridium LLC.
Cheers Robert Eisses
E-mail to my Iridium Phone or Pager: email@example.com
From: IASA Safety <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: March 20, 1999 8:36 AM
Subject: Iridium or Inmarsat? (Who will get THIS business?)
If you can understand the following it may be in your interests to research it further as a business opportunity.
If you cannot (or do not have time) please kick it upstairs. If there's no interest in Iridium data-transfer
technology being mandatorily applied by the FAA to the next generation of Cockpit Voice Recorders and
Digital Flight Data Recorders world-wide, then I'll refer it to INMARSAT.
Wed, 24 Mar 1999 16:10:17 +0800
From: IASA Safety<email@example.com>
To: Rob Eisses <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CC: David Evans <email@example.com>
Thanks for your reply (above).
The FAA/Airlines will bleat about costs, but as you may recently have read there are increasing whinges about the cost (and dangerous delay) of crash investigations, so there is an argument to support using better technology which may alleviate/offset the cost of some of our antiquated processes for air-crash investigation.
Some pundits say they fail to see the point of proposals to have FDRs equipped with batteries to keep recording after power is lost. i.e. Just What are they going to record?. Bus 1 had zero volts, Engine 4 shows no response etc. So, if going down this path, my suggestion is to also build some independent data-logging devices into the DFDR itself & then strap a battery to it.
e.g. solid state accelerometer, temp sensors, microphones, attitude direction indicator [ADI] etc, to at least give some info on what happened after aircraft main electrical bus power is lost. However there is still much value in any data-record preceding a total power loss (particularly if it is telemetry data-linked by one of a pre-defined set of triggering events). The sr111 team have a lot of data to analyse but it may have been scrambled by the gradual compromise of that aircraft's electrics i.e. a discrete battery-powered arrangement would possibly have avoided that sort of corruption. Look at what a Formula One Racing team uses as far as telemetry/logging goes, it vastly outweighs anything that even the best airlines use. Ironically, an airliner's QAR (Quick Access Recorder) used to assess crews, performance trend monitoring etc. has over 400 discrete inputs, compare this to an FDR. Even modern DFDR's are data-deficient and don't always survive/aren't always retrievable. Have a look at www.tagelectronics.co.uk to see what McLaren use - for logging/telemetry (TAG 2000), then compare it to an average Flight Data Recorder's inputs.
- The above proposition then shoots down the airline crew's arguments of such "information being used against them", because QAR's are widely accepted as a modern maintenance and quality assurance tool. Even the RAF's basic turbo-prop trainer (the Tucano) uses them- and has always done so since introduction into service in 1989.
- Then I suppose the great American Litigation factor must come into it, imagine (for whatever reason) that the host's satellite/download/logging etc. failed or failed to receive a burst at a critical point. However once you go down that road, why bother inventing a better mouse-trap at all?
Personally I don't think that it would involve a huge cost to vastly upgrade the aircraft equipment (i.e. the telemeterable information obtainable about an aircraft (its condition and GPS location)). Interfacing it with a data-link and a battery of event-triggers is also within current technology. The FAA is always an obstacle but they seem to go for innovative technological change that portrays them in a safety-supportive light. I have noticed, however, that the Investigative Authorities (NTSB) seem to have more pull - and get a faster response when the blowtorch effect of an ongoing major investigation (like sr111) is still burning.
If Iridium got into a joint venture with Boeing or Airbus (or Bombardier for that matter), you may find that it will open doors to all sorts of other aerial and aerospace applications (via your LEO Constellation). Let me know if you get any feedback (positive or negative). If it's negative I know of some other entrepreneurs that are interested in developing this sort of technology. The only reason I came to Iridium first is that it's the new boy on the block, with the appropriate kit and the volume (via its many prestigious partners) to be heard beyond FAA and in Congress itself. I know that the Veep's Air Safety Committee is interested in this very vexing question of CVR and DFDR deficiencies - and also in the cost and agony of protracted aircrash investigation. It's alright to flaunt 1998 as the first year of nil US Airline aircrash fatalities - but, behind closed doors in reality, there are many people waiting for that other shoe to drop.
PS Just in case you didn't receive some of the other supporting correspondence I will send it to you. If you did, apologies for cluttering your INBOX. I would however appreciate your forwarding it directly to Iridium LLC (complete with your endorsement or derision - as you see fit).
Subject: Re: Iridium or Inmarsat? (Who will get THIS Mega business?)
Date: Sun, 21 Mar 1999 23:25:30 +0800
From: IASA Safety<firstname.lastname@example.org>
CC: David Evans <email@example.com>
I doubt that Iridium Canada or the big chiefs at Iridium LLC in Washington could possibly be aware of this application of Iridium Technology - because it's been solely my construction (in discussion with David Evans, Managing Editor of Air Safety News, the pre-eminent Airline safety weekly - ph: 301/340-7788 ext 2089). If you look at vol 13 No 11 of that publication (this last week's, I think) you will see mention of it - as David and I have decided to throw down the gauntlet (so to speak). Either Iridium or Inmarsat will pick up this new business opportunity. They will corner a market that is presently acknowledged (by both the industry and the sr111 investigators) to be desperately deficient. The proposed fixes put forward by the NTSB (see the Word6/95 formatted attachment) are a sick joke. We are, after all, talking about a conservative US$2bn project over the next five years. The technology risks in the development are simply a matter of interfacing, mounting, powering and proof-testing. As far as air safety implications of any aircraft modifications go, there are no more than there would be for the FAA's STC of any piece of avionics kit. All the antenna work has been done by Iridium's partners already and are flying on a number of bizjets. Data flow-rates may have to be looked at however. That's where Inmarsat may have the edge.
Whomsoever picks up this ball and runs with it will be in on the ground-floor of a real money-spinner that will go on for decades- and have applications, beyond airliners, to aerospace and the military. It would need a company with Iridium's lean and hungry outlook to get it up and running. The other advantage is that they have a multiplicity of cashed-up partners, some of whom (like Raytheon) are well versed in airliner avionics. Iridium, as you know, are already into some airborne applications, but not this vitally important safety aspect. Unlike phones, beepers, TV linking, conferencing and seat-back entertainment
gizmo's, once data-link CVR/DFDR's are mandated for the US by the FAA, the world's airlines in toto will beat a path to your door. If they don't, once the names in the attached article get to be well-known (Iridian and Roadshow), any airlines without the kit will be seen as safety "also-rans". Their revenues will suffer.
If you read carefully through the attachment (in Word 6/95 format) you will see its merits and the background against which it is formulated. I would appreciate it if you could forward it (complete and in hard copy) on to a number of your Iridium contacts.
In that manner some forward-thinking individual may see the potential and put together a cogent proposal that will lead to a project consortium (perhaps even with Boeing themselves - I believe that they are actively researching new business avenues as the hull orders start to wane). So, if you have any contacts in the new business area at Boeing, feel free to shoot some hard copy and comments their way. If they prove not to be interested, I'm sure Airbus Industries would be. I say "hard copy", by the way, as far too many Emailed good ideas simply end up in the busy exec's Windows trashcan.
If you wish you could pick up the phone in a day or so and talk to David Evans about it. i.e. Give him time to digest this first. You may be able to fax him some contacts at ILLC, Allied Signal and Boeing. A PR man such as yourself should have a black book choc-a-bloc with them. David's Email is above. He would also be prepared to send you a gratis copy of the relevant ASW mag, I'm sure. I'll look over that web-site you sent me. As to where I came across your Email address, I dart-boarded an Iridium site. I've always been good at darts.
If you follow this one through, Philip, I think you'll find yourself top-of-the-pops at ILLC (may even be a free phone in it for you).
fax for David Evans: +1/301/762/-4196 (if you call and can't reach David, ask for his sidekick Erik Huey ph: +1/301/340/-7788, x2208))[firstname.lastname@example.org]
PS The fictional prose (Your Iridium Legacy) at the beginning of the attachment is a scene-setter. i.e. If you're not in the picture, you don't get the picture. Read it (twice through) and you'll see my point. It will help some of the non-aviation Iridium LLC air-heads to tune into the air-safety considerations.
Philip van Leeuwen wrote:
Dear John,Thanks for sending me this material. I provide Iridium Canada (one of the regional Iridium companies) with public relations counsel, so I am not in a position to act on this or respond to you. However, I will forward this off to Iridium Canada so that they can refer it to the appropriate people at Iridium LLC (in Washington) and Allied Signal (avionics equipment). It may well be that ILLC is already on top of this.Given your interest in aeronautical communications, you are probably aware of the aeronautical communications section of the iridium web site (http://www.iridium.com/english/industry/aero/index.html). There are some white papers there that may be of interest.By the way, how did you come to send this message to me? Where did you find my name and e-mail address? (just curious). Thanks for your interest.
Philip van Leeuwen
NATIONAL Public Relations Inc.
From: IASA Safety<email@example.com>
Sent: March 20, 1999 11:18 AM
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Subject: Iridium or Inmarsat? (Who will get THIS business?)
If you can understand the following it may be in your interests to research it further as a business opportunity. If you cannot (or do not have time) please kick it upstairs. If there's no interest in Iridium data-transfer technology being mandatorily applied to the telemetry of the next generation of Cockpit Voice Recorders and Digital Flight Data Recorders world-wide, then I'll refer it to INMARSAT.
On your points:
1. As the situation currently stands, if sr111 had had it's initial (and then final) failure 90 minutes further on (in mid-Atlantic) it may well have disappeared without a trace. The EPIRB (Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon aka ELT or Emergency Locator Transmitter) on sr111 was not received (if you recall). It was a model that had to surface (as in a successful ditching) in order to transmit its position. In a high-speed catastrophic breakup even the CVR/DFDR can be destroyed (particularly in an overland crash such as the Pittsburgh 737).
2. The "info flow back and forth" with GPS data is simply orderly receipt of triangulated timing pulses at the aircraft. There is no data uplink of any kind with GPS. The GPS navigational array is an entirely different constellation in comparison with the Low Earth Orbitting (LEO) satellites such as Iridium have out there. Iridium satellites simply contain transponders that can bounce signals (via each other) around the curvature of (and eventually down to) the earth. They are designed for the transmission of digital voice and data-streams (i.e. telemetry). That data-stream is presently a little limited with Iridium (9800kbps or equiv to fax-speeds) but they are upping that soon. Inmarsat can presently do much better. To a certain extent both of these "biggies" in the satcom field have over-looked the potential of airline flight-safety links as a money-spinner. They're cashing more into in-flight pay-phones, beepers etc.
3. FANS-1 (and later FANS-2) are the planned "Future Air Navigation Systems" that embrace a lot of radar-like positioning data-relay via satellites, and many comms improvements that will eventually spell the complete end of static-ridden HF comms (and selcal HF = 'selective calling' which chimes HF messages into a particular aircraft at long range). However FANS-1 doesn't embrace or include the sort of emergency data-dump data-relay of CVR/DFDR info that I am proposing. FANS-2 is still in development.
4. If a bomb exploded on board an airliner at high-level cruising altitudes, the destructive damage would normally be due to one of the following (and similar to):
a. Loss of pressurization (explosive decompression) - disabling flight-crew
b. Explosive decompression causing progressive structural failure (similar to a slow motion TWA800)
c. An incendiary device or HAZMAT (in a cargo hold) or wiring fault that caused an uncontrollable fire that would
eventually lead to loss of control (the aftermath result of VJ592 catching fire or indeed, sr111)
d. A cockpit-triggered device (pilot suicide)
e. A catastrophic fuel-tank explosion (exactly like TWA800)
In all cases but 4e, an IRIDIAN data-link would be triggered that would send the data as long as it was powered (which could be a battery-backed arrangement). As per the "HANDOUT", it would not need a conscious pilot-triggering via the ATC transponder code (that's just one of the ways to kick-off). The advantage of digitally recording data is that the data-stream would always start at the event-point and transmit two channels (historic and ongoing) - all quite within the realms of current technology. It may be a bit much to expect that a data-link could be established in the time-span of a TWA-800 type event - however that accident was reasonably unique. Apart from the terrorist bombings of the mid-60's to early 80's, there have in fact been very few (mid-80's onward) immediate destructs due to terrorist bombs, suicide bombings or structural failures. Correct me if any-one knows better. Security levels are such nowadays that bombing (terror or suicide) is a much reduced likelihood. In all events leading to explosive or rapid decompression the IRIDIAN data-dump would be triggered by a simple baro-pressure transducer. An airliner takes a long time to drop (even out of control) from 33,000 feet to earth. In that time, if it was still essentially intact (i.e. noTWA800 type inflight breakup), the IRIDIAN proposal would be delivering its data-stream. In the Silkair crash scenario both the extreme attitudes and the ensuing high rate-of-descent would have triggered an Iridian relay.
5. The CFIT (Controlled Flight into Terrain) situation would be covered by EGPWS (Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System). EGPWS has much much fewer falsetto (and earlier) warnings than the older GPWS. So, in this case IRIDIAN might get out enough data to establish that (as expected) immediate pre-crash parameters were normal. i.e. you only need a snap-shot of all parameters (not a flow). However, as in the Cali 757 crash, the CVR and DFDR were recovered pretty well intact anyway. The IRIDIAN Proposal is meant more for over-ocean backup. If you think about it, many aircraft spend many hours on long-haul oceanic routes and are vulnerable to simple "mysterious disappearance". The same consideration applies to numerous military and non-airline operations (Navy P3's, S3's, USAF long-haul, B52, AirForce One, exec bizjets etc). The Roadshow network need not be mandated, it might simply be seen as a safety enhancement that airlines (and other operators) opt into (much as they do into the ACARS operational data-relay system now). However, since most long-haul airlines will soon be routinely passing info to, and extracting operational data from, their aircraft enroute it may even become routine for a CVR/DFDR data-dump to commence every flight at "top of drop" along with other operational data retrievals (Fuel Remaining, pilot duty hours, inflight unserviceabilities, scheduled maintenance, cargo offload, passenger onwards travel interlining, gate position etc). As you're no doubt aware, most airliner accidents (about 88%) occur in the approach and landing phase. In this way you automatically cover the CFIT proposition.
6. FYI. You may (or may not) have heard about the Cathay Flight Engineer who got the ACARS incoming message alarm and looked over his shoulder (from his F.E.'s seat in a B747 enroute) at the ACARS VDU to see that he'd just been terminated by management. A BIT RUDE!! Read about it at this link (click here)
7. Aart, I hope I've answered your questions. If IRIDIAN and Roadshow (as proposed by me) was a true panacea to all aircrash scenario's and their data retrieval, reconstruction and analysis imbroglios, I certainly would have patented it. It's simply a kick-starter for minds much greater than mine to start thinking about the possibilities and beyond the simplistics conveyed in the recent NTSB proposal for FAA rule-making. There has got to be a better way than the agony of Vic Gerden's needling of that Shearwater sr111 haystack (from which we can really expect nothing more than a perplexing "probable cause"). I myself simplistically think that some of the brilliant minds in the Iridium consortiums (or the lesser lights in Inmarsat) can start playing fundamental footsie with Boeing or Airbus and then do "the business" well into the next millennium. It's a ROADSHOW that's presently minus the pop-stars.
8. Perhaps a current airline technologist such as Andrew would care to comment?
**PS If any of the above message recipients did NOT receive a copy of the original proposal attachment (The Iridium Legacy) and Email -and would like to- just email me for it at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some more data acquisition sites (aerospace/aircraft - though not necessarily aimed at DFDR, they provide good info on what is available.)
The Lauda Air B767 Accident
|see this link|