As the seemingly endless search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 showed, the technology used for locating a lost aircrafts are badly in need of upgrading. When an aircraft crashes at sea, it often shatters to countless parts, which can be carried away for miles and miles across the vast ocean. And many other parts may end up at the sea floor. This makes the task of finding the plane very difficult, let alone locating the black box that is needed if we want to learn anything about what happened to the aeroplane.
As you would expect, there is no shortage of ideas that would help with future searches. Here are three recent and most interesting patents that have potential to do just that:
- A Floating Black Box
It took two years for French investigators to locate black boxes of Air France Flight 447 which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. This patent was filed in a year after the Air France crash by Lockheed Martin, and was made public recently during the search for Malaysia flight 370. Essentially, its main idea is to separate black box from the airplane after a plane crashes into ocean.
In this design called “Automatically Ejecting Flight Data Recorder,” the black box is placed in a compartment which is directly to outside of the plane and is connected with a floating device. When the plane crashes into the ocean, the cover door opens and releases the black box, which will then float on the surface of the ocean, making recovery much more likely.
- An Airplane Buddy System
This patent by Laurence Mutuel and Benoît Couturier is called “Method and device for assisting in the locating of aircraft” and was granted just 4 days after the flight 370 went missing. Its goal is to solve the problem when an aircraft is lost outside the radar. This typically happens over the ocean, but it might happen also above land in some areas of Africa or the Americas. This patent will utilize something resembling data crowdsourcing in the sky – the planes sharing their data with each other.
The principle looks fairly simple. The first plane sends its location and identification data to at least one other plane within its communication range. After the second airplane lands, it downloads this data to a central database. This data will provide at least some useful data in case a plane goes missing. With many aircrafts sharing data, it can work quite well.
- Underwater Echoes
This patent was filed by Boeing and its full name is: “Aircraft location system for locating aircraft in water environments.” This method was developed to help with finding the main parts of the plane after it has broken up upon impact with water. The inventors describe a system of sound reflectors that would reflect signal send by sonar. These reflections will be placed on the most important parts of the plane, like engines, wings, cockpit, or tail.
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