Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wish List for the MH370 Report: Did the aircraft have a QAR?

If someone is keeping a Wiki of items that people would like to see covered in the eventual report from Malaysia's accident investigation board, here's one for the list.

Many 777s, but not all, carry a Quick Access Recorder in the E&E Bay. When British Airways Flight 38 crashed on landing in 2008, investigators tapped into a QAR on board. 

A QAR is sort of like a Flight Data Recorder in that it stores flight data, except that, unlike the FDR, it offers easy removal of information. Airlines buy and use this optional gear to improve operational quality over time. 

Here's a photo of a Teledyne Controls QAR:

QAR downloads and analyses are vital to a good quality program. Here's a snippet on QARs from a report by Canada's Transportation Safety Board:

"Initiatives undertaken by airlines, such as the development and implementation of increasingly complex flight operational quality assurance programs, require that an increased number of data sets be recorded. Quick access recorders (QAR) were developed because information in FDRs was not easily accessible for routine maintenance and monitoring of aircraft systems. This type of recording has been done on QARs, which are not required by regulation. Most QARs in use routinely record far more data parameters, at higher resolution and sampling rates, than do FDRs."

If the MH370 aircraft (9M-MRO) had a QAR installed, then downloads from previous flights are in the hands of Malaysia Airlines. Even before the airplane turns up, these downloads could have information of real interest, such as error messages connected to past maintenance work. Further, then the airliner's wreckage is found, a QAR holding data from the last flight might be of enormous value if the tail section (which holds the FDR) broke up and the FDR can't be located. While QARs aren't built to be crash-rated, their contents -- even when only partially recoverable -- have been helpful to investigators of several recent crashes, Swissair 111 being one.

An electronic data-processing device analogous to the QAR, called the accumulator, was of great value in the Costa Concordia investigation, because the Voyage Data Recorder malfunctioned on its last trip. Fortunately, the accumulator served as an emergency backup.

Note: If the airframe didn't have a QAR installed, that would make me question the airline's attention to quality. Just saying!

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