The End of the 'Black Box' Flight Recorder

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The black box recorder carried on planes to record flight data was a wonderful invention. They allowed crash investigators to have access to far more (and more reliable) information than had previously been available.

But it's about time the flight data stored in the infamous "black box" got sent online rather than kept on in-plane hardware. A new system from the satellite communications company Iridium would do just that, Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz points out. If the system turns out to be a robust solution, the grim spectacle of tin-kickers' search for a flight data recorder after a crash may finally end.

Iridium has worked with Canadian data link specialist AeroMechanical Services to demonstrate the continuous download of FDR information using AMS' Automated Flight Information Reporting System (AFIRS).

The AFIRS's FlyhtStream operating mode could be used together with Iridium's 2KB/sec. air-ground data link service to deliver system information to airline managers and dispatchers, aircraft and engine manufacturers, air traffic control and search-and-rescue authorities. The capability has been demonstrated in trials over the Atlantic, according to Dan Mercer, Iridium's general manager for EMEA and Russia. "AFIRS and an Iridium terminal were fitted to a pair of Airbus A320s and a Boeing 757 belonging to one airline, and to a 767 belonging to another," he says. "The test team judged that the streamed data would have been sufficient for a successful investigation in the event of an accident."

Read the full story at Aviation Week.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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