Local invention could replace the Black Box

Posted at 12:16 PM, Sep 18, 2017

A professor of Computer and Information Sciences at the State University of New York at Fredonia has a patent for new technology that has the potential to render obsolete the so-called "black box".

Doctor Junaid Zubairi has designed a Flight Data Tracker.  The new technology tracks and save flight data that's currently accessed from an aircraft's black box. Zubairi's software would eliminate the need, following a crash, to mount what can be an expensive and time-consuming search to recover the flight data recorder that stores the vital information.

"If the flight ends abruptly due to an accident, the data available in the (ground-based) server would allow the investigation into the crash to start immediately instead of searching for the black box," Zubairi explained. Accident scene searches can take several days to complete.

"In case of a crash, this real time component is really useful because instead of looking for the black box, we can reach out to the information immediately and we can start looking into the reasons why the plane crashed," Zubairi said.

The real time component of the Flight Data Tracker also makes it extremely useful for ground-based monitoring of flights. This feature, Zubairi believes, has the potential to avoid situations, such as the Northwest Airlines Flight 188 that missed its designated airport by 150 miles, or disasters such Colgan Air Flight 3407 that crashed near Buffalo, by continually monitoring flight data and triggering alarms. Information to be sent to ground-level servers includes engine data, such as oil pressure and airspeed, as well as altitude, roll, pitch, thrust, heading, and other parameters.

Flights within the continental United States can safely and reliably transmit data to a string of servers, located at airports along the aircraft's flight path, through existing UHF radio links. Satellite links could be utilized on international flights when UHF radio links are not available.

The Flight Data Tracker is scalable, so it can handle any number of flights – even thousands – without modification. The system allows several flights to send their data simultaneously to different servers. It is also "fault-tolerant," so it can continue to function even if a few servers are down.

Unlike other patented flight tracking systems, Zubairi's system does not require installation of new hardware devices on each aircraft, does not direct and store data to a single ground-based server or use proprietary algorithms.  

Four Fredonia undergraduate students assisted Zubairi in various development aspects

"I always try to get the students involved in my research. That is the hallmark of my research," Zubairi said.

Zubairi, who began work to develop the new technology in the 2010-2011 academic year, suggests use of black boxes could begin to be phased out within the next two years.