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Air France tragedy: Time to require black boxes that float? (They exist)

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How? We can turn to car air bags for a clue. The bags are linked to accelerometers that sense changes in a car's movement. If the car stops, and that stop exposes the occupants to g-forces (a measure of acceleration or deceleration) above a certain threshold, the bags inflate. Now, shift to an aircraft about the auger in. (At least in the case of an F-18 fighter, hopefully the pilot will have ejected.)

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The deployable black box's sensors likewise are set to a certain threshold. When they sense "crash," the recorder is ejected from the tail area. It's designed to hurtle clear of any wreckage. It can float. And it sends out a radio beacon that passing satellites can pick up. Instead of taking days to locate the wreckage and longer (if ever) to recover flight data recorders and voice recorders from the ocean floor, it can be done in hours because the recorders remain on the surface.

After 9-11, US officials tried to get airlines to give these a spin. Among other things, they could have provided valuable information about what went on during the hijackings and subsequent collisions with the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. And since the FAA's land-based radar can only track aircraft to about 250 miles offshore, such recorders would be vital in dealing with airliners that disappear outside the radars' range.

Why hasn't this technology been more widely adopted?

"The airline industry has been reluctant to accept anything that involves additional cost after 9-11, " Mr. Hall says."After 9-11 the need for a deployable recorder was obvious. This particular accident off the coast of Brazil puts an exclamation point on that need."

Despite the rugged submarine terrain lying beneath the crash site, some experts hold out hope the black boxes will be found.  We noted that yesterday in a post on what it takes to mount a search.

The sentiment was echoed in today's Washington Post:

"They are trying to be found," said William R. Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation. "The navies involved have sophisticated equipment designed to find submarines that are tying to hide. I think there is a good possibility that they will be able to locate these boxes."

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