When there is a GA accident, the non-aviation media always seems to report that “there was no flight data recorder on board.”
That may change in the near future as three companies have teamed to bring flight data monitoring to the GA market.
“We call this the GA FDM, which stands for General Aviation Flight Data Monitoring,” said Scott Meacham, president of CAP Aviation Consulting Group, which is spearheading the human factors segment of the FDM’s development. Alakai Technologies is handling the hardware component, while the software is being developed by Open Aero.
“The GA FDM can track maintenance, operations, safety and training issues,” said Meacham. “It’s like OnStar in your automobile. For example, if you have an onboard maintenance issue and selected the wireless option on the package, when you decelerate below 30 knots that information is uploaded and a service notice is sent and then you are contacted.”
The GA FDM could help reduce the time and cost of flight training, Meacham predicted.
“CFIs can use it as a means of doing an electronic debrief of a previous flight,” he said. “You can use it to review maneuvers or a cross-country flight. Or let’s say a student does a solo flight and has some difficulty. You can pull the memory card and put it into your home computer and review it that way. You will be able to glean 82 parameters, including flight control operation and airspeed from the data it captures off the Primary Flight Display in the aircraft. If the student is having trouble with a particular maneuver you can go back and replay it and teach it at a workstation as opposed to in the aircraft.”
The unit employs two types of technology: A self-contained recorder, which is an after-market recorder, and an integrated recorder that is installed in the airplane along with the other avionics. “One you can pull in and out of the aircraft and one stays permanently in the aircraft,” he explained.
Meacham estimated the GA FDM will add approximately $5,000 to the cost of an aircraft and will have monthly subscription fees of approximately $140. Added weight is negligible at around 2.5 pounds.
It will be awhile before the GA FDM is available on a widely available basis, according to Meacham, who notes the company is now working on a small proof-of-concept trial with fleet operators. It also is working with officials at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University to secure funding with the Center for General Aviation Excellence and Research for a research project on GA FDM, he said.
DON’T CALL IT A BLACK BOX
Don’t call the GA FDM a black box, cautioned Peter Morton, president of Peter M. Morton Consulting Inc., an engineer who is one of the many players in the effort to bring flight data monitoring to general aviation.
“Black box implies that the unit can survive a crash and/or an intense fire after an accident and the emphasis is on finding out what caused an accident,” he said. “With flight data monitoring, the emphasis is on accident prevention.”