Without getting into the mess of redesigning existing Flight Data Recorders, I have a simple proposal that I think would help in deep water crashes.

I propose that several floating cushion sets be distributed around the plane (tail section, along fuselage, etc.). These FDR floaties would be about the size of a seat cushion, but they'd be wrapped in a water soluble cover. When a plane crashes into the water, if the plane breaks up, then several of the cushions would float to the surface. When the cover dissolves, several folded arms open up making it much bigger exposing a orange-nylon covered mesh with an aluminum sheet embedded. This would be easier than seat cushions to see from satellites and planes, and the aluminum layer would reflect radar and make it easier to find.

This alone would help find water crashes sooner, but if you add a simple USB memory stick in the center, then have data similar to the current FDR's being fed into it, then finding one of the floaties would give quite a bit of information including the final GPS coordinates before the crash.

These devices would be light and cheap. I'd think current planes could be retrofitted very cheaply. The only challenge would be the wiring needed to connect to the main FDR or the nearby data splitter. But just putting a few in the tail section alone would end this madness of having to find FDR's on the seabed to get a better idea of what happened.

Wouldn't this be easy to implement without disturbing current FDR use and development? These would be destroyed in a fiery land crash, but that is not their purpose. This is just so we can find plane crashes in the sea when we don't know precisely where they went down (and to get basic data when the black boxes are too deep to get to immediately). Malaysian flight 370 and Air France Flight 447 would have both been greatly aided if these floaties were in those planes. What do you think?

  • $\begingroup$ Also related: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/2153/… $\endgroup$
    – CJBS
    Mar 21, 2014 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ This question "what do you think" invites speculation. This website may not be the best place for discussion of ideas for novel tracking devices. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2014 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I wondered if this was the case when I was composing the question. I almost want to apologize, but for some people, they would know if such an idea was feasible, technologically and implementation-wise as well. It would not be speculation for them to render their opinion on what may be a unconsidered option that would help. As to me bringing it up here, if not following the letter of StackExchange's outlook, it is following the spirit of it, as I understand. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2014 at 10:20

1 Answer 1


The first thing that comes to mind to me is that they'd have to be firmly attached enough to not come off in flight, yet somehow detach easily when in the water. They'd also create additional drag, which - especially to commercial air carriers - translates to money lost (additional fuel).

There would also need to be some connection (wired or wireless) to continuously transmit data to them (I'm assuming that you're proposing several of them).

Finally, the whole point of the FDR's housing is that it's rigid enough to withstand explosions and impact, yet the floatation proposal requires that there be some sort of expanding material that'd inflate upon contact (or presumably submersion - consider weather/rain) with water.

General aviation aircraft use ELTs (Emergency Locator Transmitters), which are designed just to notify of the location of a crash incident. They are required in the U.S. for general aviation and commercial aircraft, but unfortunately not for scheduled flights by an air carriers.

I get the impression that the trend is probably towards having more data transmitted real-time during the flight (think Air France stall/crash) of systems monitoring data and location such that location and recovery of more data-intensive logs (voice recorder) would be more efficient.

  • $\begingroup$ These floaties would only need to be deployed when the plane hits the water and breaks up, so they would be inside the fuselage. If the plane doesn't break up, then other transmitters automatically come on. When the plane breaks into pieces, several of these floaties would come out too, just like the seat cushions. And they wouldn't need to be inflated. Enhanced seat cushions tucked under the plane's skin here and there is the idea. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2014 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ @GregConquest and what if the part of the aircraft they're stored in sinks intact, which happens often enough? Wouldn't work... The only way to ensure separation is to have them be either on the outside of the aircraft or have some sort of explosive panel just over them and a fully automated highly reliable ejection system that somehow detects any impact with water that's indicative of a crash yet doesn't trigger during a rough or hard landing, or during heavy buffeting due to wind. Not going to happen, way too high risk of accidental discharge. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Mar 21, 2014 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ jwenting, this is low tech and cheap. You put them around the plane. Just a few coming out is better than looking for blue seat cushions and miscellaneous suitcases. This is only useful if a plane breaks up upon impact. At the most basic level, having no data storage device on the floaties, you could easily scatter a few hundred around a plane. A half-dozen or so also holding flight data located near likely breakage points would be the enhanced level. $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2014 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ @GregConquest And how would you find these "floaties" in the middle of the Pacific or Indian oceans? $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Aug 16, 2015 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ Late to the "party" here, and my opinion won't be a popular one (and probably would not be the same, were it my family lost aboard the missing plane, but: in the grand scheme of things, how many planes (and passengers/crew have been completely lost where we have no idea at all where they crashed) over the lifetime of manned flight, as compared to the number of planes and people total. Cost vs Risk vs Reward. Why should an airline pay for something in real money that the chances are infinitesimal to occur? $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 2, 2016 at 12:12

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