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June 2nd, 2009
05:23 PM ET

Finding downed jet in open ocean is a tall order

A Brazilian radar plane is fuelled up Monday at the Fernando de Noronha airport to search for Flight 447.

A Brazilian radar plane is fuelled up Monday at the Fernando de Noronha airport to search for Flight 447.

CNN

Though searchers believe that they have found debris from an Air France jet that disappeared off Brazil's coast Monday, finding the entire plane and learning exactly what downed it could be a tedious, years-long process.

Many factors can complicate a search effort. Tradewinds and ocean currents can quickly scatter wreckage across several square miles, and the plane's altitude - almost 7 miles, in the case of Flight 447 - can make it difficult to pin down where the aircraft hit the water.

"It's a big ocean," said John Hansman, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's International Center for Air Transportation. "Once you're offshore, you're no longer in direct radar contact."

It varies from airline to airline, but passenger jets generally send location reports every few hundred miles when they're over open water, Hansman said.

They also send out maintenance reports via satellite that provide the plane's location at a specific time. Some maintenance reports are routine; others are sent when a problem or malfunction is detected, Hansman said.

Flight 447 was carrying 228 passengers and crew members from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, France. About three hours into the journey, more than 200 miles off Brazil's coast, the jet transmitted 10 maintenance reports: one for each piece of malfunctioning equipment, the professor said.

About 10 to 15 minutes later, when the Airbus A330 was scheduled to be over the Canary Islands - where the radio would generally function better, because the plane is over land - Flight 447 was expected to send a location report but didn't, Hansman said.

"You don't know that you lost contact until it didn't make its position report," he said, but "missing one position report is not that big a concern. When it didn't check in over the Canary Islands ... that's when they realized something was seriously wrong."

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Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Andreas

    Let me put you all up to speed here:
    1. Airbus is a great airplane manufacturer with an excellent safety record. If you wish for more statistics go and visit airdisaster.com you will quickly learn that in recent years Boeing had more incidents/accidents world wide than Airbus. On that note a Boeing 737 would have never survived the water landing in the Hudson earlier this year.
    2. The data that was transmitted to Air France Maintenance Control Center in Paris was sent via ACARS and was generated by the Central Maintenance Computer (CMC) This computer sends out information to the airlines maintenance control center to inform the maintenance crew at the destination maintenance of faulty systems and allow for enough time to prepare for corrective actions and arrange for required spare parts.
    3. GPS use: positioning of modern aircraft is also established through GPS one modern aircraft (as it was with this particular aircraft). This is also used for automated landings etc. Older aircraft do not have GPS and cannot simply be outfitted. You need data buses, modern computer etc. There are too many old aircraft flying around that cannot be retrofitted. But you need one unified system to monitor around the globe and everyone must be capable of using this system. This is why you cannot navigate and position track with GPS yet. Another reason is that you would need 3 satellites to establish exact position during a flight ( 1 for longtitude, 1 for latitude and one for altitude). There are not enough satellites operating to guarantee a covereage of the entire planet with all 3 parameters at any given time. One more thing regarding your 150 bucks GPS, this peace is not build to withstand a crash. It is not that easy to build equipment that works after an airplane crashed into the sea or land from 35,000 feet. The "black boxes" are designed to withstand such crashes, fire and a lot more so locating the aircraft after a crash would not work.
    4. The incident involving Qantas was not a matter of power loss or spikes it was a malfunctioning ADIRU, this particular ADIRU is from a different manufacturer than Air France is using. You can certainly take this off as a possible reason.

    In case one wonders what I do: I'm a n EASA certified aircraft engineer for Airbus and Boeing aircraft and am in the industry for more than 25 years

    June 3, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  2. sy levine

    There is no technical reason why the digital flight recorder data isn’t sent in real-time to the ground automatically via telemetry. Then with-in a couple of seconds you have the planes position/location (with in 200 feet), its attitude, velocity, etc. safely stored on the ground and used for flight safety, aviation security and cost reduction. This data used in real-time could have also prevented 9/11. It has been intentionally withheld and stored on the operational plane for fear of litigation. The ability to telemter its data has been technically available for over ten years.
    See:
    http://www.safelander.com

    June 3, 2009 at 10:13 am |
    • sylevine

      By Sy Levine The Fatal Crash Once Again Shows The Need To Utilize The Black Box Data In Real-time

      Commercial aviation if it utilizes the black box data in real-time will make flying safer and more economical. The black box should not only be used in the autopsy mode but should be used proactively to decrease the cost of flying and the fatal crashes. Planes should also have a remote copilot in addition to the on-board for safety and economy.

      THERE IS NO TECHNICAL REASON FOR THE RUSSIAN AIRLINER FATAL CRASH OR FOR NOT TELEMETERING THE BLACK BOX DATA TO THE GROUND IN REAL-TIME
      A year prior to 9/11 at the International Aviation Safety Association meeting in New York, methods for preventing crashes like golfer Payne Stewart’s decompression crash were proposed. None of these methods were implemented by the aviation industry and we got 9/11 (hijacking is about ten percent of aviation fatalities) and the 2005, 100 fatality, Helios decompression crash. When a plane deviates from its approved flight plan, we now have the ability to securely take remote control of it and land it safely at a designated airfield. We presently have remote pilot vehicles (RPVs) flying over Afghanistan that are controlled/piloted from continental United States (CONUS). Currently we are utilizing secure high bandwidth communication networks (for our RPVs, submarines, AWACS planes, etc.) and there isn't a logical reason for not making that technology available for cargo and carrier aircraft. The cost of 9/11 alone is ten times the cost of putting in a safe system and yet nothing has intentionally been done.
      When a plane decompresses there is a good possibility that if we remotely bring it down in altitude to a point where there is sufficient oxygen and fly it remotely for 15 minutes, the pilot and passengers may regain consciousness. At that time the control of the aircraft could be returned to the pilot or remotely landing it to save the lives of the people who are onboard. This would have saved the lives of those aboard Helios.
      Billions of dollars are wasted on unnecessary airport runway expansion and insufficient data programs to reduce fatal ground incursions. The lack of data has caused excessive verbal communication between the pilots and the controllers that is prone to errors. These ground incursions wouldn’t even occur if the flight data was shared so pilots and air traffic control had better visibility. But because the digital data isn’t shared automatically the pilot sees only a fraction of the information necessary to prevent a crash and the same holds true for the air traffic controllers (ATCs). Crashes such as Tenerife (583 fatalities), Comair (49 fatalities), etc. are directly caused by the lack of visibility due to not sharing the DFDR, ATC and airport runway data in real-time. Too many crashes are listed as pilot error when they are a direct result of a lack of visibility brought on by not sharing the digital flight data/Black Box in real-time to provide the necessary situation awareness. Many of the fatal in-air crashes fall into the same category. For example there was a crash where a plane ran out of fuel over JFK. The controller thought the pilot had more fuel left and the pilot who said his fuel was low didn’t use the correct emergency verbiage. Since the fuel supply is another black box input there is no reason why a red light, similar to the one on everyone’s car, doesn’t light up on the ATC display. The red low fuel light would reduce the controller’s work load and increase his situation awareness so that the people aboard a flight similar to the one that crashed would now live. Using the Black Box data decreases the work load of the pilot the air traffic controller as well as increases their situation awareness. By the lack of sharing the already digitized data in real-time we have egregiously curtailed the use of automation and expert systems technology for the prevention of crashes, increased the cost of flying and jeopardized our national security. The real-time use and sharing of the DFDR data to prevent crashes is more important then its present post mortem autopsy mode of operation. By the use of expert systems the problems aboard Air France Flight 447 would have been automatically recognized and with one second provided the pilots with the method to safely handle the situation and thus prevented the fatal crash. We do this for our astronauts (that is how they got back from the moon) and there is not technical reason for not providing this to the travelling public.

      Now, 3/8/2014, we have the breaking news that a Malaysia Airlines, Flight MH370, Boeing 777-200 aircraft carrying 239 people is missing. Another plane down, like Air France Flight 447 and we are going through the same problems that could have been solved over ten years ago.

      The already digitized data used in real-time allows the use of automated expert systems to check many of an aircraft’s sensors prior to, and during, a flight to assure that everything is functioning correctly without having a person in the loop. When a malfunction is detected it can automatically inform the pilot and ATC as to the best way to work a round a malfunction. Using cross checks and correlation most of the sensors can be checked and work a round’s provided to the flight deck crew for safe transportation. It will also automatically notify the ground operational center of expected malfunctions and the safest work a round’s using a history file that should be followed. By so doing, the pilot’s work load will be reduced and his performance enhanced. Also, it would save the time and cost of retrieving the recorder data and analyzing it (see AirFrance, flight 447, 228 fatality crash into the Atlantic in 2009). It would also assure that the recording data is correct since it would be automatically checked the performance data at flight time and during the flight (this could prevent some of the fatal crashes).

      Sy Levine Sr. Life Member of the IEEE
      sylevine1@sbcglobal.net
      For more info on this subject see the following link:
      http://www.safelander.com
      A small portion of the references
      International Symposium on Transportation Recorders
      http://www.ntsb.gov/doclib/.../rp9901.pd...‎

      National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
      International Symposium on Transportation Recorders May 3 – 5, 1999, Arlington, Virginia. Reducing Highway Deaths and Disabilities with Automatic Wireless

      The Remote Aircraft Flight Recorder and Advisory Telemetry System, RAFT, And It’s Ability
      to Reduce Fatal Air Accidents by 78% While Enhancing Air Space Capacity, Operational
      Efficiency and Aircraft Security
      Sy Levine ....................................................................................................................... 247-270

      SafeLander
      http://www.safelander.com/‎

      SAFELANDER provides a method of safely operating aircraft, equipped with a Flight Control Unit, Instrument Landing System, and Autopilot, remotely from the ...
      Sy Levine and Leslie Lenell (Levine)

      The website includes references to many crashes that could have been prevented and has the:

      Dutch Article on Sy Levine’s work with an English translation:
      The Dutch Magazine De Ingenieur
      reviewed Sy Levine's
      Remote Aircraft Flight Recorder and Advisory Telemetry System (RAFT)
      and
      SAFELANDER
      in the October 30th 2009 Edition
      1. The End of the Black Box: There's a Better Way to Capture Plane ...
      http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/06/ff_blackboxes/all/‎
      Wired
      Jun 28, 2011 – A flight data recorder at the L-3 Aviation Recorders testing facility...... Levine, together with his wife, has patented a system he calls Safelander ... to takeremote control of airplanes in flight—something, he points out, that could ...
      sy levine

      I'm adding this information for those who need more information on the subject:
      Sy Levine was formerly Chief Engineer of Northorp's Electronic Division and holds fifteen patents, ranging from inertial navigation through holography. One early patent was for the first commercial inertial navigation system, INS, which was put aboard Pan American aircraft. It dramatically changed commercial aircraft navigation and safety. The INS is presently used on all large commercial aircraft. He was also the chief scientist aboard the USS Ethan Allen submarine – the one used in “The Hunt for Red October”- during its maiden voyage. Mr. Levine is presently teaching Physics in the evening at West Los Angeles College and has been a guest lecturer for the Institute of Navigation (ION) and has authored numerous papers and patents including:
      • 1995 NATO Advisory Group for Aerospace Research & Development (AGARD) chapter on "Astro-Inertial Navigation Systems";
      • November 1998, 17th Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC) paper, "The Remote Aircraft Flight Recorder and Advisory Telemetry System and its Application to Unifying the Total Digital Avionics System". It won the best session paper award;
      • May 1999, National Transportation Board (NTSB) Symposium on Transportation Recorders paper, "RAFT And Its Ability to Reduce the Fatal Air Accidents by 78 % While Enhancing Air Space Capacity, Operational Efficiency and Aircraft Security";
      • November 2000, 1st International Aircraft Safety Association Symposium, N.Y. paper, "The Remote Aircraft Flight Recorder and Advisory Telemetry System, RAFT, Can Substantially Reduce Fatal Air Accidents While Enhancing Air Space Capacity, Operational Efficiency and Aircraft Security";
      • 1997 & 2002 McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology section on "Startrackers";
      • August 2006 US Patent No. 7099752, “SAFELANDER”, Lenell and Levine. This patent drastically decreases the cost of flying, substantially reduces aircraft crashes and can prevent a 9/11 recurrence;
      • October 2007, 26th Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC) paper, "An Onboard Pilot & Remote Copilot for Aviation Safety, Security and Cost Savings". It won the best session paper award;
      • May 2008, IEEE, AESS, SYSTEMS Magazine paper, “Onboard Pilot & Remote Copilot for Aviation Safety, Security and Cost Reduction"
      • April 2009, Advanced Avionics Conference in Montreal, Canada, “Emerging Technology Provides Cost Reduction While Enhancing Aviation Safety and Security”
      In the July 1999 issue of “AVIONICS” the Managing Editor, David Evans, wrote an article on Sy Levine’s patented system “RAFT”. The Managing Editor of “AIR SAFETY WEEK” featured RAFT in the May 10, 1999 and June 28, 1999 issues. Mr. Levine stated, “Using telemetry to obtain the information going to the flight recorders in real-time will prevent the vast majority of aviation related fatalities”. Mr. Levine's work was featured on the May 2000, BBC channel 4 television show "The Black Box". This TV show, in which Mr. Levine appeared in, was rebroadcast throughout the world, including the US. His work on aviation safety and security was presented on radio station KPFK, SAFELANDER is presently patented in the US and China

      For more info on this work Google: Sy Levine and Aviation Safety

      March 9, 2014 at 5:38 pm |
  3. Ashish Sinharoy, Mumbai, India

    "Our network follows you like a shadow" ... this kind of expertise is used by mobile companies to sell their services, by Government agencies to track movements of every mobile user and by mobile users like you and me to stay connected from the remotest corners of the earth.

    And here we have a case where aircraft manufacturers still rely on a "Black Box" and a "Flight Data Recorder" to help trace and locate a missing aircraft !

    What are Boeing & Airbus doing ... can't they put technology to better use?

    A bunch of school kids today should be able to write software that will transmit all flight data, including voice, live from any aircraft onto a land based "control centre", via a satellite.

    Imagine, the situation in several countries around the world now ... nobody knows what happened to the aircraft ... not Airbus nor Air France ... and ofcourse "aviation experts" & conspiracy theorists are having & will continue to have a field day ... that leaves the victims' families & friends, to live in pain & agony forever.

    We sure live in an apathetic world ... using the best of science & technology for some of the most trivial things in life ... whilst giving "Life" itself a miss.

    For $150, I can buy a personal GPS to know where I am by the minute, but we have to get lucky to find the Black Box to be able to tell where an aircraft with 400 passengers has ditched !!!

    Wake up, airline companies ... there's a few thousand families who do not know what happened to their loved ones ... and they would like to know the answer.

    June 3, 2009 at 2:44 am |
  4. keith griffin

    i wonder why we cant attach a gps system on the outside of an air plain ..they would break off on impact with the water and would float on the surface to give the location of the crash....espesily on over ocen waters...hope you like my idea

    June 2, 2009 at 11:13 pm |
  5. PIlot

    Air France and Airbus have ruled out terrorism and that is why they are not speculating terrorism. The thing is there was an abortionist killed and a U.S. Army solider killed and a solider injured. This sounds just like Quantas flight 72 when it lost control due to what the NTSB said was an electrical problem. Both Quantas and Air France had there Airbus A330s delivered the same year. I think and this is just my opinion that there might be a problem with the electrical systems put on those aircraft that year. Quantas Flight 72 also sent an automated electrical failure signal, but Quantas flight 72 was not struck by lightning.

    June 2, 2009 at 10:58 pm |
  6. Sharon from Santa Cruz,CA

    The black box will only answer what happen to Flight 477. Let's pray they will recoup the box within the 30 day time frame to give peace to all the families.

    June 2, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  7. Ebrima

    Very sad story. My heart goes out to the families of the victims.

    June 2, 2009 at 10:25 pm |
  8. David, Indiana

    Why, when the automatic messages of equipment malfunctioning were sent out, was there not an attempt to communicate with the crew of the plane? Or was there an attempt? What do air traffic control records show?

    What was the visibility at different altitudes in the area?
    Were there any surface ships that might have seen anything?

    What were the 10 malfunction reports?
    Who receives these reports and what is done with them?

    We can ask these questions because in this situation our minds and hearts reach out to try and find the flight, the people on the flight, and any information or answers that might help

    June 2, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  9. GH

    Two thoughts. First, I'm getting the impression that Airbus is not a safe brand. Seems to me their planes have gotten in trouble a few times in recent years, including the Jet Blue craft whose front landing gear came down turned, forcing an emergency landing. I'd like to hear from the airline pilots on this one. Second, it surprises and scares me that there is no long-range radar over that stretch of the Atlantic to track planes. Is that the case over most large bodies of water?

    June 2, 2009 at 8:00 pm |
  10. Isabel, Brazil

    This is a tragedy that will affect more than 30 different nationalities, a pain for many families.

    June 2, 2009 at 7:38 pm |
  11. Isabel, Brazil

    @ Annie Kate

    The investigations of the accident will be with France, where the aircraft was registered, but Brazil will be responsible for the search for bodies and wreckage.

    June 2, 2009 at 7:37 pm |
  12. Andreas

    This aircraft was not brought down by lightning! I have seen many damages that were caused by lightning on different manufacturers of commercilal airliners, non was to the extend that the airframe would have collapsed. Wha stuns me is that no one is looking into the possibility of a mid air collision. This is not uncommon and it had happened before even in controlled airspace despite the latest technology (TCAS).

    June 2, 2009 at 7:20 pm |
  13. Jeff Potts

    I'm shocked by the media's lack of flashy headlines speculating that an act of terrorism brought this plane down. No electronic messages from the crew and multiple electronic failures all at once are reported. Given the fact that this occurred in the middle of the Atlantic in deep waters I thought the speculation would be all over the place.

    June 2, 2009 at 6:56 pm |
  14. sy levine

    I'm adding this information for those who need more information on the subject:

    Sy Levine was formerly Chief Engineer of Northorp's Electronic Division and holds fourteen patents, ranging from inertial navigation through holography. One early patent was for the first commercial inertial navigation system, INS, which was put aboard Pan American aircraft. It dramatically changed commercial aircraft navigation and safety. The INS is presently used on all large commercial aircraft. He was also the chief scientist aboard the USS Ethan Allen submarine – the one used in “The Hunt for Red October”- during its maiden voyage. Mr. Levine is presently teaching Physics in the evening at West Los Angeles College and has been a guest lecturer for the Institute of Navigation (ION) and has authored numerous papers and patents including:

    • 1995 NATO Advisory Group for Aerospace Research & Development (AGARD) chapter on "Astro-Inertial Navigation Systems";

    • November 1998, 17th Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC) paper, "The Remote Aircraft Flight Recorder and Advisory Telemetry System and its Application to Unifying the Total Digital Avionics System". It won the best session paper award;
    • May 1999, National Transportation Board (NTSB) Symposium on Transportation Recorders paper, "RAFT And Its Ability to Reduce the Fatal Air Accidents by 78 % While Enhancing Air Space Capacity, Operational Efficiency and Aircraft Security";
    • November 2000, 1st International Aircraft Safety Association Symposium, N.Y. paper, "The Remote Aircraft Flight Recorder and Advisory Telemetry System, RAFT, Can Substantially Reduce Fatal Air Accidents While Enhancing Air Space Capacity, Operational Efficiency and Aircraft Security";

    • 1997 & 2002 McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology section on "Startrackers";

    • August 2006 US Patent No. 7099752, “SAFELANDER”, Lenell and Levine. This patent drastically decreases the cost of flying, substantially reduces aircraft crashes and can prevent a 9/11 recurrence;

    • October 2007, 26th Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC) paper, "An Onboard Pilot & Remote Copilot for Aviation Safety, Security and Cost Savings". It won the best session paper award;

    • May 2008, IEEE, AESS, SYSTEMS Magazine paper, “Onboard Pilot & Remote Copilot for Aviation Safety, Security and Cost Reduction"

    • April 2009, Advanced Avionics Conference in Montreal, Canada, “Emerging Technology Provides Cost Reduction While Enhancing Aviation Safety and Security”

    In the July 1999 issue of “AVIONICS” the Managing Editor, David Evans, wrote an article on Sy Levine’s patented system “RAFT”. The Managing Editor of “AIR SAFETY WEEK” featured RAFT in the May 10, 1999 and June 28, 1999 issues. Mr. Levine stated, “Using telemetry to obtain the information going to the flight recorders in real-time will prevent the vast majority of aviation related fatalities”. Mr. Levine's work was featured on the May 2000, BBC channel 4 television show "The Black Box". This TV show, in which Mr. Levine appeared in, was rebroadcast throughout the world, including the US. His work on aviation safety and security was presented on radio station KPFK, 10/18/01. B.E.E. from New York University College of Engineering, M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (Thesis: “Generalized Inertial Navigation System”), and New York State Professional Engineer License. SAFELANDER is presently going through the patent process in China

    June 2, 2009 at 6:54 pm |
  15. Annie Kate

    Last night on the show it was mentioned that the airplane could have been hit by lightening since it was in the area where storms can be intense – what would that have done to the pattern of debris? Would it be more spread out or would the debris position itself in the same way as any other crash? What agency is in charge of the search and investigation on this airplane – someone from Air France or someone from Brazil or what?

    June 2, 2009 at 6:28 pm |
  16. kemi

    I had a dream about the plane crash 2 weeks ago. the plane busted into flames in the air. it looked like an explosion. I hope they find the black box to really know what happened. They should not rule out terrorist attack. I pray for the families of those affected in the bad incident.

    June 2, 2009 at 5:50 pm |
  17. Linda from Boulder

    If I can see a broken swing in my backyard on google earth, why can't they use the same satellites to find that plane in the ocean?

    June 2, 2009 at 5:47 pm |
  18. Andreas

    while it is good to see that CNN does really go deep in their investigation it is disturbing to see that in many instances the wrong terms are being used. The unit in question from the EASA AD note is an ADIRU ( Air Data Inertial Reference Unit) and not as reported ATIRU. Some of the experts that can be seen on your show when it comes to airdisaster have no system knowledge of the involved aircarfts.
    On another note, since the Air France flight was outside of any Radar coverage has anybody looked into the possibility of a mid air collision with a small corporate jet? Are all aircraft accounted for?

    June 2, 2009 at 5:33 pm |

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