A Chilean air force transport plane with 38 people aboard has vanished and presumably crashed over the ocean, and authorities don’t know where it went down or even if they will ever be able to determine the location, to rescue any survivors or at least to retrieve the black boxes so as to be able to determine what happened and why so that appropriate corrective action can be taken.
But a very inexpensive and readily available device, if it had been used, could have told authorities exactly where and when the plane went down, perhaps in time for a rescue effort, and certainly with enough specificity to make recovery of the black boxes – and perhaps even the remains of the deceased – possible, says MIT engineer, inventor, and now professor John Banzhaf.
Inexpensive devices can help
Indeed, this type of device could have provided the same detailed information about the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which is still missing despite the passage of more than four years, and searches which have cost almost $200 million.
Thus it is quite possible that the cause of the Malaysian crash, and the presumed crash of the Chilean air force plane a U.S.-built C-130 Hercules, may never be known, so that no appropriate actions to prevent future similar events can be taken, noted the professor.
Banzhaf says that in this era of smart phones and GPS, there should be no such mysteries.
Indeed, the plane’s position when it went down should have been known immediately from a simple piece of existing technology known as a floatable EPIRB, and a miniature data recorder within it recovered very shortly thereafter without any deep diving and endless listening for elusive pings, says Banzhaf, who has two U.S. patents and many technical papers to his credit.
Most ships and even private yachts are already required to have on board EPIRBs [Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons], a technology that has been in use for decades in marine environments.
Chilean air force plane and EPIRBs
When activated by triggers set off when the devices are plunged to a reasonable depth of water, these floatable EPIRB devices pop up to the surface and send out an emergency distress signal – which indicates the identity of the caller – to several search and rescue satellites always overhead worldwide.
If linked – as even small personal hand-held EPIRB devices designed for use by hikers now commonly are – to an internal GPS locator of the kind found in many cell phones or even smart watches, the devices will also provide their location with pinpoint accuracy, and in addition permit rescuers who subsequently arrive on the scene to hone in on its radio signal to locate it floating on the surface.
“If all of this can be packed for hikers into a small hand-held device weighing only ounces, which can transmit your identity and your location anywhere in the world for at least 24 hours, and is even waterproof and designed to float, there is no reason why one or even more much larger EPIRBs designed especially for aircraft should not be able to do the same with a bigger battery sending a signal hundreds of times more powerful, and able to last for weeks if not months.”
This is much better than a device sending out pings from under the ocean which can be detected only by craft closer than a few miles away searching a wide swath of ocean, says Banzhaf.
Since EPIRBs designed for aircraft can be far larger and much heavier than the tiny personalized hand-held EPIRBs used by hikers, there is no reason why they could not also contain tiny data recorders (sometimes called “black boxes”), or at least store duplicates in their flash-drive type [SSD] memory of all of the same information from data recording circuitry located elsewhere in the aircraft and now stored in the precious – but often difficult and expensive to recover – black boxes.
These devices would store – and provide to authorities – detailed information about everything that happened to the craft, and possibly even the last several hours of what was said in the cockpit.
Chilean air force parallels to Malysia
Many EPIRBs made for ocean use are designed to be “floatable,” so that they are automatically – sometimes even explosively – released if the water pressure on them exceeds that found at a specified depth if for some reason the crew was not able to release them even earlier while the craft was actually sinking.
That would make it possible for rescuers to locate exactly where the craft sank, and to find almost immediately – floating on the surface in the device’s SSD – detailed information about what happened; obviously far preferable to having authorities try to search thousands of square miles of ocean, and then attempting to recover this invaluable information from the ocean bottom thousands of feet below, says Banzhaf.
Similar automatically-ejecting floating black box backups capable of sending personalized emergency rescue signals to satellites, as well as a honing signal to searching planes or ships, and containing detailed data about the vehicle’s operation and the last several hours of cockpit conversations, could also have been used to simply and very inexpensively provide information about lost planes like those of the Chilean air force and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, says Banzhaf.
Indeed, had the Chilean flight been equipped with such an inexpensive and readily available device, it is even possible that the distress signal providing the exact location where the airplane went down could have been received in time for rescue aircraft to provide assistance to any who might have survived and been waiting on rafts or even in the water for rescue, argues Banzhaf.