Amelia Earhart will have trouble disappearing
As aviation professionals, we know that technology is improving the ability to track planes even over vast stretches of water. These systems make it easier for aircraft to navigate, and some even allow them to track their flights in real-time across the globe.
How to get from one place to another
Pilots used to navigate by connecting dots on a map from the early days of aviation until around 2000. Radio direction-finding devices were used to navigate from an airport to radio-transmitting beams at fixed locations, then from beacon to beacon until they reached the destination airport. The concept remained the same, even though different technologies were used to make the process easier. This system is still used, but at a decreasing rate as newer technologies replace it.
Ground-based radio beacons can be found at airports and major flight routes. Sabung. hamster/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
Pilots of major airlines started using the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the early 21st century. This system uses signals from satellites orbiting the Earth to calculate a plane’s location. GPS allows pilots to land in poor weather conditions without expensive radio transmitters. Satellite navigation will enable pilots to fly directly between their destinations because they don’t need to follow radio beacon routes.
This is a diagram showing a constellation.
The six satellite navigation systems are GPS, operated by the United States, Galileo by the European Union, and GLONASS by Russia. China’s BeiDou is expected to cover the entire globe by 2020. India’s NAVIC covers areas around the Indian Ocean. Japan began operating the QZSS to improve navigation on the Pacific.
Some satellite navigation receivers combine data from multiple systems at the same time, giving pilots a very accurate idea of where they are. This can help them reach their destination instead of getting lost.
When planes get lost, they are often searched for by the company or nation responsible. Some efforts, such as the search for MH 370, include many countries and companies.
Radar can be used to track most planes when they are flying well. It also helps air traffic controllers avoid mid-air collisions and gives pilots directions in case of severe weather. In instances where planes are passing beyond the ranges of land-based radars, such as on long-haul flights over oceans or in space, they can be tracked by a method developed more than 70 years ago: Pilots’ radio air traffic control periodically with reports about their location, altitude, and next navigation landmark.
In the last few years, there has been a global rollout of a new technology. The system, also known as “Automatic Dependent Suspension – Broadcast,” sends automatic position reports to air traffic control and other aircraft nearby so that everyone can avoid collisions. The FAA plans to mandate that by 2020, all aircraft in the U.S. will have ADS-B systems, which are already required in other countries.
FAA Coverage of ADS-B services in the U.S.
ADS-B tracking is not available in remote areas yet because the system relies on ground-based receivers for the collection of data from planes. A method of space-based receivers, which may eventually cover the whole planet, is currently being tested.
Many airplane manufacturers also sell equipment with monitoring and tracking software, for example, to spot engine problems and analyze their performance before they get serious. This equipment transmits real-time information about the aircraft’s location while in flight. The data from these systems was used to search for MH 370 and provided investigators with early insight into the 2015 Germanwings 9525 accident in the French Alps before the “black box” flight recorder of the plane was discovered.
Amelia Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and others could have been saved or found by GPS, ADSB, and other navigation systems. This would be either by preventing the two from becoming lost or by directing rescuers toward their location once the plane had crashed. Even eight decades after the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, it is harder for planes to disappear from the map.