Being watched from the inside…what secrets does your electronics hold?

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cockpit dataIn this environment of security theatre, many folks are very attune to all of the surveillance we are under, but you might need to consider the equipment you have on the airplane you fly that is also watching you. 

All of the popular glass cockpit EFIS systems that I’m familiar with keep data on all of the parameters that feed into them. In my particular case, the EFIS takes a snap shot of all the data points available every two seconds and stores that information into memory (the image above is a download from my airplane with thousands of lines of data). Don’t forget that your panel mount or portable GPS can also keep precise records of what has occurred recently, or not-so-recently, and this includes your smart phones and tablets depending on the software being employed.

eye in the skyThe good news is this information is great for helping accident investigators recreate what occurred, assuming the data isn’t compromised; the bad news is, this data can and will be used against you if something shows up untoward.

Case in point – in this very thorough investigation conducted by Transport Canada of an inflight break up of a Van’s RV-7A, it clearly shows that the pilot exceeded the aircraft’s limitations with disastrous results. The data was able to allay fears that there was something flawed about the airplane, but it also stood as a stark reminder that limitations are published for a reason. In this case the data served an invaluable service to the flying community at large, but it wasn’t too splendid for the family of the victims.

gopro video landing Another item that is rapidly coming on scene is small, high-definition, video cameras like the GoPro, which I use. These can also lead investigators to more accurate conclusions using both the video and audio tracks that are saved and often recovered.

Another example was an engine failure that lead to a successful, at least for the occupants, off-airport landing. The investigators noted the lack of a engine run up (determined by onboard camera audio). In this instance, it was unclear if FAA action was taken against the pilot, the fact that it showed up in the accident report is bad enough. In this particular case the run up would not have detected the impending failure.

All of this isn’t to spook you, but I would offer it as an awareness item. If you are out there doing stuff you shouldn’t, consider the ramifications; if not, consider these onboard “black boxes” a good thing in case the unthinkable occurs.

In the end, the nerd in me is willing to accept the risk that all this neat high-tech gadgetry could cause complications in an accident. I personally believe the scales tip to the good side when all of the benefits are considered.

Fly knowingly!

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