When Amelia Earhart took off in 1937 to go around the world, people had been flying for about 35 years. When she tried to fly across the Pacific, she – and the whole world – knew that it was risky. She did not survive and was declared dead in January 1939. Over the next 80 years, many planes were lost worldwide and were never found, including the disappearance in 2014 flight 370 of Malaysia Airlines over the Indian Ocean. .

As flight instructors and aviation professionals, we know that increasingly advanced technologies make it easier to track aircraft, even on large bodies of water far from the ground. These systems make it much easier for aircraft to navigate, and many allow real-time tracking of flights across much of the globe.

Move from one place to another

From the early years of aviation until around 2000, pilots navigated mainly by playing points on a map. They used direction finding equipment to follow a route from an airport to a radio transmitter beacon located at a specific location, then from one beacon to the other until reaching the radio station. 39, the destination airport. Various technologies facilitated this process, but the concept was still the same. This system is still used, but less and less as new technologies replace it.

During the first years of the twenty-first century, pilots of major airlines began using the US global positioning system and other similar systems using satellite signals in orbit to calculate the position of the aircraft. 39; air. As GPS is more accurate, pilots can land easily in bad weather, without the need for expensive ground radio transmitters. Satellite navigation also allows pilots to fly more directly between destinations, as they do not need to follow routes from one radio beacon to another.

Six satellite navigation systems are in operation: GPS, managed by the United States; Galileo, managed by the European Union and the European Space Agency; and the Russian GLONASS covers the entire planet and the BeiDou Chinese system is expected to expand to the world by 2020. India's NAVIC system covers the Indian Ocean and surrounding areas; Japan has begun operating the QZSS system to improve navigation in the Pacific.

The systems operate independently of each other, but some satellite navigation receivers can simultaneously merge data from several of them, providing pilots with extremely accurate location information. This can help them go where they go rather than disappear.

Aircraft tracking

When planes are lost, the responsible company or country often begins to search; Some efforts, such as the research of the MH 370, concern many countries and companies.

When all is well, most planes are tracked by radar, which can also help air traffic controllers prevent collisions in the air and tell pilots of difficult weather conditions. When planes fly beyond the range of land-based radars, such as on long voyages over oceans, they are followed by a method designed more than 70 years ago: pilots periodically air traffic control with reports, at what altitude they fly and what is their next navigation mark.

In recent years, a new method has been deployed around the world. Called "Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcasting", the system sends automatic position reports from aircraft to air traffic controllers and nearby aircraft. So, everyone knows who is there and avoids collisions. By 2020, the FAA will require that most US aircraft be equipped with an ADS-B system, which is already mandatory in several other countries.

For the moment, however, ADS-B flight tracking does not cover the most remote regions of the world, as it depends on ground-based receivers to collect information from aircraft. A space-based reception system is being tested, which could eventually cover the entire planet.

In addition, many aircraft manufacturers sell hardware including monitoring and tracking software, for example to analyze engine performance and identify problems before they get worse. Some of these devices can transmit real-time data on the location of the aircraft in flight. The data from these systems were used in the search for the MH 370 and also allowed the investigators to get an idea of ​​the crash of Germanwings 9525 in the French Alps in 2015, before the flight data recorder of the "box black "is not found.

GPS, ADS-B and other navigation and tracking systems may have helped save, or at least find, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, either by preventing them from getting lost or by directing them. rescuers to their location after the plane fell. Eight decades later, planes are still disappearing – but it's becoming harder and harder to leave the map.

Brian Strzempkowski, Deputy Director of the Ohio State University Aviation Studies Center and Shawn Pruchnicki, Associate Professor, Ohio Center for Aviation Studies

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.