Engineers at Payload Systems (Cambridge, MA) have teamed with Cambridge Arrow Instruments (Warren, VT) to deliver one aspect of commercial airplanes that general aviation aircraft have always lacked: the black box. Similar in principle to those the big guys carry, the self-contained flight data recorder saves information such as altitude, position, time, temperature, and orientation from the cockpit's controls/displays for use in flight instruction or accident investigation. The only problem: engineers at Payload Systems say there are no requirements for this type of device. "We're trying to come up with a realistic set of requirements for the planes that will benefit from this product," says Steve Sell, mechanical engineer at Payload. "We will be able to record cockpit voice and other parameters such as engine noise. We're basically going to retain and enhance the security features so the data that comes off the recorder will be secure and tamper proof." Information is saved to 1 X 1 X 1/8-inch-thick SanDisk (Sunnyvale, CA) flash cards which can be removed for review or archiving. The flight recorder box is located in the tail of the airplane and will accommodate two wire connections: one for power, and one for GPS. Upon completion, it should sell for less than $1,000, a price that Sell credits to the ever-increasing value in PC components. "You are getting a lot more for your dollar," he says. "You can buy a 386 or 486 board for $100 or less and it has a lot of capabilities." He began with an Intel 80386, and has since realized the advantages of a Windows CE machine, specifically for initial prototyping in real-time. Engineers are using Parametric Technology's (Waltham, MA) Pro/Engineer to design the physical structure of the recorder, and OrCAD (Beaverton, OR) for the PC-board layout. Automotive-airbag sensors and accelerometers from Motorola (Austin, TX) and Analog Devices (Norwood, MA) will be used to record information such as altitude. "The computer industry is evolving so much faster than the proposal cycles," comments Sell, "so it is highly likely that electronic components with even greater capabilities will be available during the development cycle, at a similar cost."
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