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Flight 447
Posted by: Bill Sebastian (Sebo) (---.triad.res.rr.com)
Date: November 17, 2009 03:14PM

FLT 447

Any discussion of the recent tragedy of Air France flight 447 brings a somber feeling to all, especially Aviation personnel. As was sadly reported on June 1st the Airbus 330, en route from Brazil to Paris, crashed into the Atlantic, killing all aboard. However, there is a PIEDMONT connection to the event. During the apparent breakup of the Aircraft, messages were sent automatically to ground stations in the final moments of that doomed flight. As the media has reported the messages were sent by a system with the acronym ACARS. ACARS stands for Automatic Communication and Reporting System.

*** THE PIEDMONT connection! ***

(For those familiar with flight operations procedures...please bear with me.) A basic rule is that the airline dispatch office must know the status of any flight at any time....on ground, en route, etc. Since the beginning, Piedmont had met this requirement by having Company radios at all stations the airline operated.

Soon after take off, the Flight crew would initiate a radio call to the just departed station. A typical radio transmission would give the Flt. Number - OUT time (leaving gate) and OFF time (leaving runway). The Station agent would acknowledge the transmission then send a teletype message with the flight number and times to Dispatch and all the down line stations.

With the beginning of Piedmont flights to the west coast (this private notification system was not available toward the west), Piedmont had no stations within the range of the route of the flights to the west coast. A temporary fix was for the flight to call ARINC ground stations along its route which in turn sent the necessary info to the Piedmont Dispatch center in Winston Salem. This was very expensive as the ARINC ground stations, made up of personnel, facilities, and radio transmitter/receivers were quite costly.

In June, 1976, at the hotel on the grounds of the O'Hara Airport in Chicago, Bill Sebastian (avionics) and Captain Jack Tadlock were attending a meeting with ARINC (Aeronautical Radio Inc) and several major Electronic manufacturers. This meeting was to discuss the design and implementation of a new data link system, (eventually named ACARS).

Prior to this meeting, Piedmont had conducted discussions via letters and phone calls with the various manufacturers to build the new system. The discussions were not successful and this face to face mission was to convince someone to design and build the new system.

This last ditch meeting had not gone well...none of the manufacturers would agree to build the new system. In fact, the meeting was about to adjourn when Captain Tadlock stood up and asked the moderator if he could address the attendees.

A few minutes before Captain Tadlock stood up he had been quietly told a little story by Bill Sebastian. It seems that Bill was wearing a new digital watch he had ordered from an avionics magazine. After telling Captain Tadlock the little watch had the equivalent of hundreds of tiny transistors (this was before the modern day chips that represent thousands of components) and only cost twenty bucks, and that his (Captain Tadlock) own Seiko was an electronic marvel for this day and time.

The moderator acknowledged Captain Tadlock and he made his pitch. "I cannot believe that none of you are willing to tackle this problem," he loudly exclaimed in a booming voice. "Here in my hand is a simple digital watch containing the equivalent of thousands of components," holding up the black faced plastic cased watch.

Then he took off his Seiko and said, "Do any of you have a Seiko? Holding it up in the air? Look at it and then tell me you can't build this system we call ACARS."

Tadlock was still standing when a person stood up and said, "We'll build it!!!" This Company was Teledyne Controls and thus began the ACARS system. Soon the Piedmont Avionics department and the Flight operations were working with Teledyne to design the system. Within a few months the system was designed and the wiring and components were begun to be installed in Piedmont A/C. The first A/C to get the new system was the long range 727 A/C since they were flying to the west coast. The first ACARS equipped flight took place in May, 1977, 32 years ago

The basic ACARS system used sensors/switches to capture the ON/OFF times (air -ground circuit) and the IN/OUT times (cabin door and engine oil pressure switches). The tail number (N) number was hard wired into the ACARS processor. The system then automatically transmitted a digital signal soon after becoming airborne to an unmanned radio on the ground. This data was then sent electronically to ARINC facilities in Chicago that processed the data and sent it to the designated recipients. At this time in Piedmonts history, the data was sent to the EASTERN AIRLINES computer center in Miami which processed the data and sent it to the appropriate Piedmont locations.

(the basic system also sent the payroll numbers for the Flight crews - Pilots and Flight Attendants, but that's a story for another day!!! Any one interested can e mail me)

Piedmont had pioneered, help design, and FAA certified the present day ACARS system and was the first Airline in the world to utilize the ACARS system. Over the years the system has been greatly expanded and is probably utilized by most all Airlines today

Another first for Piedmont - The PACEMAKER

W. E. Sebastian July 7, 2009 Wmsebo@triad.rr.com

P.S. Another feature of the ACARS system was the ability of the ground personnel to contact the flight while in the air. This feature was called SEL-CAL and was utilized when necessary. Basically it reversed the procedure.

Recent media reports that this SEL-CAL feature was utilized by ground personnel trying to contact the lost for a while Northwest Flight .

P.S. 2 - If readers like or dislike these stories, please post a comment or e-mail the author.

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Re: Flight 447
Posted by: sbtinme (---.maine.res.rr.com)
Date: November 17, 2009 08:14PM

Amazing story and well written/explained.

My only question is this: I was not aware that PI had 727LR a/c until the mid 1980s. Indeed, PI's service to the left coast did not begin until summer 1984 (LAX). Was the 1977 date referring to DEN service, perhaps??

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Re: Flight 447
Posted by: Bill Sebastian (Sebo) (---.triad.res.rr.com)
Date: November 17, 2009 08:40PM

You are so right...that is what old age does to you .It must have been the Denver stop. I NOW remember the first "long range" 727.. I have a story about that incident also. As you may remember, when we did start the LAX run...we didn't have the A/C to fly nonstop and the first real LR 727 was delayed for several days. When It finally arrived GSO and readied for the morning flight, Our Avionics found a serious problem...we fixed it!!! more details in some other story

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Re: Flight 447
Posted by: Don Shanks (Moderator)
Date: March 29, 2010 12:32AM

Great story, Sebo, another story of hwo the folks at Piedmont worked together to make us the best! Thanks for your writing. Look forward to another of your stories.
Don Shanks

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Re: Flight 447
Posted by: Andy Ray (---.triad.res.rr.com)
Date: March 29, 2010 01:22AM

Interesting memories.

One point on the SELCAL feature of ACARS. You only had eight (8) characters that you could send to the aircraft from the ground. In other words, if you needed flight 333 to call Baltimore, you'd simply send, "CALL BWI" (the space between "CALL" and "BWI" was also counted as a character) and the message would be displayed in a little eight-character window on the ACARS unit in the cockpit.

Another example were flight times. If ACARS missed the "OUT and OFF" times from the departure station, say Fayetteville, you'd simply send "ND TIMES" and the flight would know to call the departure station with the last two time events. Typically, the flight crew would not call you on the radio with a formal transmission like, "Fayetteville, Flight 333". Rather they would simply say something like, "Hey Fayetteville - 17 and 23" and we would know they were out of the gate at 17 minutes past the hour and airborne at 23 minutes past the hour. It was a very limiting system, but we made it very efficient.

One thing you did NOT want to do was SELCAL the flight if there was any possibility they might be on their takeoff roll because when the ACARS accepted a SELCAL message, it sounded a chime in the cockpit that sounded exactly like the MASTER CAUTION chime. You did not want the crew to be in the middle of takeoff rotation and have a chime go off. They would call you back as soon as the gear was up. Then, you would be assured of a very pointed conversation on the radio!!!

My God, it was lots of fun!

Andy Ray
jetpiedmont.com
Forum Moderator



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/29/2010 01:24AM by Andy Ray.

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