Technologies Available for Better Air Safety

Video: The real-time nature of an online flight data recorder would be able to prevent some crashes caused by pilot errors. 

Historical Backgrounds

President Trump's "Space Force" started from Reagan's "Star War",

 and the Cartoonists' Rendition of the Star War SDI .

In the 1980's, President Reagan released the then secret military Global Positioning System (GPS) for civilian use after Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down, so that similar tragedies of navigation errors would never happen again. Other countries followed Reagan's open navigation policy, and learned from the advanced navigation/communication technologies. Russian's Glonass, European Union EU's Galileo and China's BeiDou (Northern Dippers) were all made available to civilian use for the cause. 

In the 1960’s, U. S. Air Force had a clandestine manned space program to replace CIA U-2 spy planes. U-2 had been shot down multiple times over Russia, Cuba and China. The space program is not officially declassified (PBS NOVA Astrospies). Former Space spy astronaut General James A. Abrahamson ran the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) also known as “Star Wars” during Reagan administration. After retiring from the Air Force, Abrahamson coordinated a project of Air Traffic and Safety Initiative. It was identified that the black box i.e. flight data/voice recorder should be online, not to be tied to an aircraft only. Federal Aviation Administration FAA’s Automated Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) could be augmented to cover the vast (greater than 90%) oceanic aerospace that was the "blind spot" of radars. 

Unfortunately, the black box is still tied to an aircraft. However, there are already private websites such as providing real-time positions of flights for anyone to check online. The concept behind this vision of safety decades ago is what we now call the "Cloud". 

In 1994, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) approved a policy on implementing communications/navigation/surveillance/air traffic management systems that stated “Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS includes GPS, Glonass, Galilleo and BeiDou) should be implemented as an evolutionary progression… towards an integrated GNSS over which contracting states exercise a sufficient level of control on aspects related to its use by civil aviation.” Thirty years after GPS was made available for civil aviation, here is an industry can squeeze another row of seats into the economy sections of its entire fleet in six months, but it can’t implement a fundamental safety measure that has been technically feasible for more than twenty years. Meanwhile, airline passengers continue to believe there will be more misfortunes, but that will always be somebody else’s flight. The national civil aviation authorities are only concerned with the most pressing of safety issues, and not making any progress on the increasingly obvious lack of surveillance. The crash of Air France 447, the disappearing of Malaysian Airlines MH370 into thin air, and other less well-known accidents were events waiting to happen.
After Snowden revealed that there were global surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA). It is said that perhaps the FAA need to turn this problem over to the NSA or CIA, who seem to know where everybody is in the world at every moment. Cloud searching, sourcing and analysis have become ubiquitous and advanced so much so in recent years that any personal device can do the job. With the online and Cloud infrastructure, smart devices or artificial intelligence AI can be useful. Passengers are able to play an auxiliary role in safety. "Find my iPhone" is built into all Apple’s devices. It was first released in 2010, has saved not only devices but also lives. Several video calling apps are available to find family members or protect properties Skype, bSafe, Life360, KiteString, etc. Some are more suitable for a specific purpose than others. Internet access is needed for these smart device apps to work. Since In-Flight WiFi’s is available on many domestic and oceanic commercial flights, smartphones can be used to find them. 

Looking Forward to the Future: 1. Tracking and Viewing Commercial Aviation (Airline) Flights

The following tests were conducted aboard general aviation aircraft and airline flights with platform-agnostic apps., that is, they can be run on PC’s, Apple iOS or Android devices. "TrackView", also known as "Find My Phone", has a real-time video monitoring function while Apple’s counterpart "Find My iPhone and FaceTime" are separate apps. TrackView, Find iphone are demonstrations of the vision of an online black box and FAA’s ADS-B. They could have helped to solve the greatest aviation mystery of MH370 had they been known and used at the time. Similar apps will certainly improve air, personal safety and save lives in the future. 

A Southwest Flight 2397* from San Diego to San Jose, California is illustrated as how the system works. The airborne device was a Samsung Galaxy S4. The ground stations used a PC and a Google Nexus 5 were in the comfort of a home and SJC airport in San Jose. During the flight tests, the airborne device reported positions back to the ground stations every five seconds, excluding only very short wifi blackout periods during taking off and landing. 
Southwest Airlines uses a KU-band satellite connection for their in-flight wifi. There are also KA-band satellite connections for airline carriers such as JetBlue, etc. GOGO connections use land-based stations for over-the-land flights. TrackView/Find My Phone is downloadable from App store, Play store or
 *The flight # or call sign 2397 can be assigned to different routes. 

Playback of the video/voice on board while over the ocean, as recorded by a ground station during the flight in real-time. The night vision alone could have solved the mystery of Malaysia Airline MH370. 

The flight is taxiing from the terminal to the end of runway at the San Diego airport, 

as seen from our ground stations in San Jose and SJC.


The flight is over the ocean for 25 minutes after taking off from San Diego. 
Note: This map display was zoomed out few times comparing to the previous figure in order to see the location of the flight relative to land.

The flight approaches land near Oxnard

The flight approaches San Jose from the South.


The flight arrives at San Jose Airport, taxiing to the terminal. 

The following pictures were captured during an oceanic flight ( CI003 from SFO to TPE )

Flight attitude indicators on two smart devices are compared with the flight data displays on-board a Boeing 777. The displayed flight data are consistent. The smart devices and apps are not certified. They are used as references at this time. The differences ground speeds and the air speed are the Jet Stream effects.  

Readers are encouraged to repeat the tests on your next air travel for entertainment or curiosityGPS signal reception is a tricky part on board an airliner. Seats next to the windows work fairly well because of the line-of-sight requirement to the GPS satellites. A decent GPS signal repeater will be needed for other seats in a typical passenger cabin. Using a window for the GPS signals would experience an interrupt if the airplane making a turn more than 45 degrees or more because the sky view would be different. A GPS "Cold Start" might take longer than you think. Set your devices correctly, and be patient for the GPS to work. Most windows on a Boeing 787 with an opaque material might block GPS signals. Oceanic flight tests were conducted on flights departing from SFO and OAK airports. The online voice/videos in the passenger cabin were very good. This monitoring function alone could have solve the mystery of what happened inside flight MH370. The locations of the flights were available sporadically. The identified causes were the qualities of GPS repeaters and the WiFi. Those flights were flying high latitude routes. The communication satellites, INMARSAT for example, are geosynchronous and over the equator. The results were not yet as exciting as the Southwest flight. 

The national civil aviation authorities FAA, Eurocontrol, CAA's should issue a guideline or directive to the airlines for providing In-Flight WiFi and repeated GPS signals, so that an extra communication link will be ready for an online black box. The airlines make income by providing WiFi. Crowd sourcing and AI can play a safety role in today's Cloud infrastructure. The costs of retrieving black boxes are expensive. A real-time black box data analysis could have a chance to save Air France 447. 

If FAA makes the first move, others will follow or vice versa. That is a win win situation for all. 

Looking Forward to the Future: 2. Tracking and Viewing General Aviation Aircraft

The general aviation vehicles used for the flight tests were Collings Foundation WW2 B-25 Mitchell and B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. This B-25 flew from NASA/Moffett Field in Mountain View, along San Francisco Bay, and then around Treasure Island. T-mobile was our smart phone carrier. A Google Nexus 5 was the airborne device, and a PC was at the ground station. The aircraft would lost contact with the ground station if over 1,000 ft. due to the phone company's service limit in the area. As of today, Internet access are provided by phone or cable companies. General aviation application will be practical when a regional or global Internet access is available. The service will be provided by Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Starlink satellites, Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles (UAV) or balloons in the future. SpaceX, Facebook, Google and others are working toward that goal. 

According to SpaceX, their service will begin in 2020, the online black box is ready for that. There are quite a few private pilots like John Denver and John F. Kennedy Jr. out there would need real-time attention, as if there was a virtual instructor next to them to keep safe.