April 10, 2014

It's all about the pings

THIS ENDLESS TALK about not being able to find the black boxes from missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is very irritating. In the first place, the boxes aren’t black. They’re red. Everybody knows that. Why the heck are they called black boxes, and why do reporters tamely repeat the technical jargon when it is so patently incorrect? And why don’t flight recorders float, so you can hear them better and find them more easily?  A little built-in buoyancy, and a couple of small explosive charges to free them from any wreckage are all that’s needed.

And then there are the pings. Everybody keeps talking about the pings. Pings keep popping up in different places hundreds of miles apart. Pings are getting weaker because the batteries are running down. Pings, pings, pings. It’s all about pings. Pings from three miles down in the ocean. No wonder they’re weak.

Why not pongs, for goodness’ sake? Any acoustic engineer will tell you that a pong is audible in water much more easily than a ping and carries farther. A pong has a rich baritone noise about it. Its longer wavelengths more easily penetrate both water and air. A ping is a fleeting tin-can kind of noise, a thin, wussy, boy-alto kind of noise,  with no staying power or ability to punch through its surroundings.

You can test this for yourself by standing on one side of a wooden door and having your wife or girl friend make a ping on the other side by tapping a knife against a drinking glass. Then have her tap a heavy spoon against a glass beer mug to produce a resonant pong. You will note how much louder the manly pong is, compared  with the wimpish ping.

Red, buoyant, flight recorders emitting pongs instead of pings would save the search and rescue people millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in their futile quests to locate missing aircraft at sea.

And as for the elusive debris field we keep hearing so much about, maybe there isn’t one after all. Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger didn’t leave a debris field when he put US Airways Flight 1549 down nice and gently in the Hudson River. Maybe the captain of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 did the same when he suddenly realized he was way off course and running out of gas.

Maybe he relied on the pings to bring him the rescuers he needed. If only the engineers had given him pongs instead of pings, this whole tragedy might have been averted.

Today’s Thought
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison

“Do they let you smoke at your school?”
“Are you allowed to drink?”
“Of course not.”
“How about dates?”
“Oh dates are fine, as long as you don’t eat too many.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

Why not use both? If every void space on the aircraft was filled with table tennis balls they might provide enough additional buoyancy to keep the aircraft afloat. If it broke up there would be a very definate debris field....lots of pings AND pongs.
Don't say you didn't see this coming!

John Vigor said...

Oh man, you're way ahead of me. I'll pass on your magnificently simple suggestion to the FAA. Meanwhile, hurry to buy stock in table tennis ball manufacturers. You can say you saw it here first.


John V.

Glenn said...

I'm thinking that the term 'ping' is not really a sound, but the term used to describe the communication between computer (electrical) devices.
Also why in the world should transponders be capable of being turned off? It's not as if they will drain the battery of the plane.