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Air France 447 Black Boxes Readable 116

Posted by Soulskill
from the key-evidence dept.
An anonymous reader writes "It's not a lengthy press release, but it's good news: the memory cards for the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the Air France 447 crash in 2009, recently recovered from the sea floor almost two years later, are readable. The data was recovered over the weekend and includes the full two hours of cockpit recording. Apparently it will take weeks for analysis of the data, but it looks like the challenging recovery effort is paying off in a big way. Hopefully detailed answers about the cause of the crash will follow."
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Air France 447 Black Boxes Readable

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  • Tragic story so far, but atleast it shows the viability of solid-state memory. On a sidenote: If there is only 2 hours of voice recording, why will it take weeks to listen to it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's probably in French.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by sycodon (149926)

        Probably an endless stream of cussing towards Airbus and "that damned computer".

        The only wires planes should fly by should be steel wires.

        • by Luckyo (1726890) on Monday May 16, 2011 @05:50PM (#36145626)

          Tell that to B-2 pilots.

          Actually scratch that. Tell that to ANY modern pilot, be he military or civilian. For added bonus, tell that to greens all over the world and be lynched on the spot, as unstable aircraft are significantly more fuel efficient and can only be flown with fly-by-wire. Trying to fly it manually will result in very spectacular and fiery ending.

          • by sycodon (149926)

            "result in very spectacular and fiery ending."

            Is it irony that you should choose this phraseology to describe the perils of not flying by wire when this was the exact fate of Air France 447?

            Sorry..I'm old fashion. Steel cables or worst case, hydraulics. Better yet...both!

            • by mjwx (966435)

              was the exact fate of Air France 447?

              Where did you read that?

              Care to provide a citation. As far as I know CASA and other agencies dont have a clue why AF447 crashed.

              This is why the black box will take so long to analyse (including verifying the contents of the black box itself).

              Until then, I'm sticking with what Luckyo said. Modern planes, especially the tail-less delta winged variety are not easy to fly unassisted.

              BTW, in the age of fly by wire, pilot error remains the number one cause of acc

              • by jamesh (87723)

                BTW, in the age of fly by wire, pilot error remains the number one cause of accidents.

                I believe the reason for that is that when it all goes wrong the computer disengages the autopilot and hands control over to the meat pilots...

            • Because planes with manually controlled hydraulics never had control failures or crashed, ever. Oh, and congratulations on your psychic powers for knowing that the crash was caused by a fly-by-wire failure before any of the evidence has been evaluated. Can you tell me where I should be investing in the stock market?

          • by tlhIngan (30335)

            Actually scratch that. Tell that to ANY modern pilot, be he military or civilian. For added bonus, tell that to greens all over the world and be lynched on the spot, as unstable aircraft are significantly more fuel efficient and can only be flown with fly-by-wire. Trying to fly it manually will result in very spectacular and fiery ending.

            There are no unstable aircraft. All aircraft are stable otherwise they won't be controllable. There are SOME aircraft that are staticly unstable - computerized flight contr

            • Your Boeings and Airbuses that serve commercial aviation are inherently stable.

              I don't believe its as black and white as stable vs unstable anymore. You yourself point out the fact that the margin of error is very small. My understanding is that the A330 is only stable in an extremely narrow flight envelope. It does have fixed pitch/power settings that can be used if the computers fail, but they are extremely suboptimal, so instead the computer fly's it in ranges that would result in a near instant stall if

        • by JWSmythe (446288)

          Trust me, it's not modern airline pilots who are screaming that.

          Not to make light with a car analogy, but.... :)

          I was driving out to watch the shuttle launch this weekend (yes, it was cool, even though there were low clouds). About 45 minutes into the trip, my truck stalled. It took a few tries, and it started back up. I happened to have my OBD-II reader with me, so I stopped at the next exit and checked for codes. No current codes, but a pending code for an intermit

          • by KreAture (105311)
            The sensors are actually very good.
            The connectors used to interface with the sensors are however the cheapest you can get that has a vibration-rating.
            It's sad, but there are connectors that will last the life of a car, but they will most likely never be found in one due to cost. Most car-connectors aren't even properly dust and mosture-proofed.
            • by JWSmythe (446288)

              Well, most automotive sensors I've seen for essential purposes (like engine and drivetrain monitoring and controls), are "Weatherpack" connectors, which do an excellent job. I don't know how the sensors I replaced were damaged, but it was physically obvious on the interior portion. I haven't seen a failed weatherpack connector yet. I have seem some that weren't attached correctly (stuffed in "good enough", but not electrically sound).

              Most aviation connections that I've seen

              • by adolf (21054)

                I had a Weatherpak connector (not quoted, because I believe it actually was a Weatherpak(tm) and not just something similar) fail: The connector on the coolant temperature sensor on my work truck broke into little pieces when I was changing the spark plug wires, just a few weeks ago.

                Of course, changing plug wires is one of the lowest-impact maintenance events that ever happens on a vehicle. If I'd broken it doing something else (like wrenching out a stuck spark plug with a breaker bar, two u-joints, vario

                • by JWSmythe (446288)

                  I can't say that I recall ever seeing a broken WeatherPak connector. Well, unless someone took a screwdriver or hammer to it. :)

                  Back to your main topic (if you're reading this far), what are you using for an ODB-II reader? I've been thinking of putting together some kit (possibly over Bluetooth so it works with both my Droid and laptop) to better understand the workings of that truck, and to diagnose it on the go (if I'm going anywhere far, it's likely for work) and am interested in any opin

          • by AmiMoJo (196126)

            The damning thing about this accident is that the manufacturer told Air France that pitons freezing over were a problem and that they should be changed. Air France started doing it but had not got around to this aircraft yet. Of course we don't know for sure that it was piton failure but it seems like the most reasonable explanation given the available evidence.

            Much like Fukushima a company knew there was a potential problem but figured that it wasn't urgent enough to spend a lot of money on. In both cases

            • by JWSmythe (446288)

              Ya, a lot of things get a low priority if they aren't causing problems all the time. So an engine stalls occasionally, or the pitot tube freezes sometimes, it's not catastrophic. Pilots learn work-arounds until the problem is fixed. Well, until we see something catastrophic like this.

              I agree, it does sound like the pitot tube failure. Being where it crashed, I don't think we'll be able to find out exactly what happened. It could have been ice (most likely), but it could ha

        • by Cochonou (576531)
          Actually, there are already reports saying that according to "leaked" information from the investigators, after preliminary analysis of the FDR contents, the likely cause of the crash is not an aircraft malfunction. See this very rough [google.co.uk] google translation. Of course, such early reports should be taken with a lot of caution, but they come from a rather respectable source.
        • Yup, because no aircraft controlled by steel wires has ever crashed, had a malfunction, had a gearing jam, had a wire snap, had any number of other mechanical issues.

          • Or this: [midwestexp...rlines.org]

            a Midwest charter MD-81 carrying then presidential candidate Barack Obama, made an emergency landing at Lamber Filed in St. Louis, Missouri after an evacuation slide inside the plane underneath the tail in the airstair passage way deployed, interfering with the plane’s control cables.

        • Yeh I hear you on the Human having the final say-so over a computer, but the 787, which is built using the Human as the final arbiter of the control, will use Electrically actuated control surfaces, so that means they will fly by (control) wires (possibly fiber optic), rather than hydraulic hoses, witch bleed out when cut.
      • It's probably in French.

        Farnsworth: And this is my universal translator. Unfortunately so far it only translates into an incomprehensible dead language.
        Cubert: Hello.
        Universal Translator: Bonjour!
        Farnsworth: Crazy gibberish!

    • They're not just listening to it. There are a lot of recovery techniques that must be performed very carefully and with strict controls to recover every last bit of intelligible information from those media.
      • by KreAture (105311)
        Don't you think listening to it should be a first step?
        They may take whatever time they like on the rest, but I would urge them to start by giving it a good listen.
        Then they can submit a initial assumption based on this alone, and just make a point of it being preliminary.
        After all, we are dying (bad choice of word? sorry) to know.
        • by LordNimon (85072)

          Don't you think listening to it should be a first step?

          No. I think the first step is to transfer the data onto a safe medium so that they can listen to it without risking damage to the box.

          • by KreAture (105311)
            They already took a copy.
            But I do agree, a working-copy is ofcource a first step, after a copy of the original just in case...
            • They already took a copy. But I do agree, a working-copy is ofcource a first step, after a copy of the original just in case...

              I thought we were all computer professionals here?! Step one: Run all reports and fixes directly on a production system without testing. [duck-able comment /]

              • by ultranova (717540)

                No, the first step is to announce you have it in your safe, then see which three-letter agency tries to steal it.

        • Don't you think listening to it should be a first step?

          There's a lot more information than just the voice recordings. They'll likely have a reasonable guess fairly quickly, but it takes time to piece together a clear picture of what happened. It may turn out that the voice recordings don't reveal much at all. Often it's a bunch of routine chatter followed by sudden clipped brief exchanges while the pilots struggle to deal with whatever emergency has arisen.

          • by jd (1658)

            Once they've filtered the cockpit voice recordings. There'll be all kinds of noise, especially during a major storm. Towards the end, there'll be a multitude of sirens, klaxons, buzzers and alarm clocks going off. But you can't just filter any old noise, you have to filter out the noise that adds nothing but keep in all the noise that is important. That's harder than just applying a basic filter.

            Try transcribing the dialog off a movie without rewinding it. You'll find it's hard. Takes longer than the movie

    • by Anonymous Coward

      On a sidenote: If there is only 2 hours of voice recording, why will it take weeks to listen to it?

      flight data probably - lots of numbers the techs need to make sense of

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The article says that they "recovered the complete contents of the flight data recorder ***and*** the last two hours of cockpit conversation" It wont take two weeks to listen to two hours of audio, it will take two weeks to analyse " the complete contents of the flight data recorder" along with "the last two hours of cockpit conversation"

      • This is a very important point. The voice recordings will not make sense or give an accurate picture of what happened without being put in the proper context. In this case, the context of what was happening in the flight and what the aircraft told them about it in synchronization with the voice recordings. The voice recording on its own *could* give a completely misleading view of what happened otherwise.

        I'm curious of whether this will help convict or exonerate Air Bus on their manslaughter charges.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      Two hours voice recording, data logs from a few hundred sensors, it all has to be done meticulously and perfectly in accordance with aviation authorities from Brazil, the UK, France, Germany and the United States. And lawyers, alot of lawyers.

      "The download was completed in the presence of two Brazilian investigators of the Aeronautical Accidents Investigation and Prevention Center (CENIPA), two British investigators of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), two German investigators of the German Fed

      • This is kind of silly. Ok, maybe the first capturing of the data is important, but subsequent copies are trivial. And I'm sure they have software they can plug it all into that will show exactly what the plane was doing through the entire incident. This "weeks of analysis" stuff is bunk. Someone is BS'ing..
        • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

          You have millions of data points from a ton of sensors (over 200, I think it's closer to 450), the time isn't in making copies, the time is going to be plugging all that data into the simulators at Airbus and seeing what the data points to.

          Airbus, Air France, the German, American, French and British investigators get copies and they run the sims too.

        • by peragrin (659227)

          you do realize they not only look at the data, but at the binary position of each bit stored to determine it's authenticity.

          The raw stored data while containing the story is checked for anomalies just as careful as the story itself.

    • by demonbug (309515)

      On a sidenote: If there is only 2 hours of voice recording, why will it take weeks to listen to it?

      Obviously you can't have the whole investigation team shorting Airbus stock right away, that would be too obvious; you need time for some "regularly scheduled transactions".

      On a more serious note, there is 2 hours of voice recording plus lots of instrument data. Better to go through it thoroughly and recover everything you can rather than immediately issue a report just to satiate the curiosity of the public. I mean, it isn't like there is a rush - what are the chances that another [reuters.com] A330 might fall out of th

    • I work as an aerospace engineer and we use similar methods during design testing. It's not just cockpit audio that is recorded, there are tens or hundreds of thousands of parameters from systems all over the aircraft. To be honest, the audio may not even be that useful, if it happened fast enough there is a good chance the pilots didn't even know what was going on.

      To go through 100,000 variables and prove beyond reasonable doubt that a specific variable directly caused the crash will probably take far more

    • Most likely the investigators will not be listening to it like most people listen to a news broadcast. They will repeatedly be going over every second of the voice recording analyzing every pop, hiss, bang, etc. They will be analyzing what the pilots are saying and how they are saying it. (Are they stressed? Are they relaxed?). They will also been matching the audio track with the data track in terms of timeline and looking for any clues that the verbal or nonverbal sounds can provide. i.e. At 1:34:42, the

      • by Animats (122034)

        Most likely the investigators will not be listening to it like most people listen to a news broadcast. They will repeatedly be going over every second of the voice recording analyzing every pop, hiss, bang, etc.

        For this flight, the flight data is the crucial issue. It's known from the maintenance telemetry that there were some system failures prior to the accident. The data from the aircraft systems is the big issue. It's non-trivial to analyze. Often, especially on newer aircraft where there's a lot of data, the data can be converted into a format that can be loaded into an aircraft simulator, allowing investigators to replay the accident. That was done with the aircraft that landed in the Hudson River.

        The co

        • I don't doubt that the flight data is important; however, in an accident all evidence should be analyzed in great detail. The voice should at least confirm the data. It is theorized the airspeed tubes got clogged with ice and caused all sorts of problems. The voice track should have audible alarms that match the data.
    • by yodleboy (982200)
      as i understood it from another article, it's 2 hours of cockpit voice and the entire flight worth of flight system data. I'd imagine it's the latter that will take the time to analyze.
    • its all in making sure that the data can be proven to be forensically valid.

      that and getting 2 Catholic Priests 2 Protestant Ministers
      2 Rabbis 2 Muslim Iams? and 2 Wiccans in a room that won't fight is a bit hard to do.

      they not only have to plug all the data in from all the sensors they have to be able to prove somebody didn't find the recorder mess with it and then dump it back on the ocean.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      but atleast it shows the viability of solid-state memory

      I believe most modern aircraft have been using some form of solid-state memory since the 90s. Probably one of the very first uses of higher-density flash storage media, since the only way to break it is you literally break the silicon inside, especially once the board is built and tested and then potted inside which turns it into a really solid mass.

      Cost isn't that big of an issue since these recorders already are pretty expensive to begin with, so eve

  • The same as for almost every airplane crash -- gravity.
  • Pretty amazing tech (Score:4, Interesting)

    by afidel (530433) on Monday May 16, 2011 @06:06PM (#36145884)
    Impact Shock 3400G, 6.5 milliseconds
    Penetration Resistance 500 lb. weight from 10 feet
    Static Crush 5000 lbs., 5 minutes
    High Temperature Fire 1100 C, 30 minutes
    Low Temperature Fire 260 C, 10 hours
    Deep Sea Pressure and 20,000 feet, 30 days
    Sea Water/Fluids Immersion Per ED-56a
    The CSMU design has been fully qualified to these requirements and, in fact, exceeds them by considerable margin in key survival areas:
    Impact shock has been successfully demonstrated at 4800 G's
    High temperature fire exposure has been tested to 60 minutes
    Low temperature fire was tested immediately after exposure to 1100 C fire.

    From here [scribd.com]. Check out the physical design on page 8.
    • by dr_dank (472072)

      And Hulk Hogan whacked it with a folding chair a few times for good measure.

    • by EricWright (16803)

      Deep Sea Pressure and 20,000 feet, 30 days

      I think they can up their estimated duration by an order of magnitude now...

      • by afidel (530433)
        Hehe, those were the tested and certified parameters. Once you survive 30 days it's probably just a matter of how long your seals can last before they get eaten by exotic bugs or broken down by time.
    • by chocapix (1595613)

      Impact Shock 3400G, 6.5 milliseconds

      I did the math out of curiosity, and that means it's supposed to be able to stop from 780km/h in 70cm. Holy Shit!

      Impact shock has been successfully demonstrated at 4800 G's

      If it's still 6.5ms, that's 1100km/h to 0 in one meter. Holy fucking shit!

  • Seems the one part that you can rely on.
  • "It's not our fault!" Signed, Airbus
  • Last words: "Oh shit..." (or equivalent in French)

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