News A300 aircraft, a330, air france, Air France Airbus A330, airbus a330, aircraft models, airplane models, Alucia, helicopter models, model airplanes, model helicopters, model planes, plane models, Remus 6000 UAS, Remus submarine, wooden airplane models 1 Comment
A Franco-American team will make a fresh attempt to locate the wreckage of an Air France Airbus A330 that search teams have been unable to find in 18 months of extensive campaigns.
Thierry Mariani, the French deputy minister in charge of transportation, announced on Feb. 4 that Air France, Airbus and the government will back a new search to locate the A330 aircraft, AF447, which disappeared off the Brazilian coast between May 31 and June 1, 2009, without a trace. Like the last mission in May 2010, the new operation will rely solely on advanced unmanned automated systems (UAS), rather than surface-towed sonar, which dominated earlier searches, running back-and-forth patterns to ensure each area is observed at least twice.
However, unlike last year’s attempt, which focused on just part of the vast 17,000-sq.-km crash zone, based on ocean current models, the new mission will systematically investigate the entire zone, except for 6,000 sq. km already explored. Alain Bouillard, an official in France’s bureau of accident investigations, or BEA, who is leading the inquiry, said a follow-up study in June 2010 using dropped buoys had determined that the crash area is characterized by eddy currents, rendering modeling problematic.
To be managed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, which participated in the 2010 search, this year’s operation will employ three Remus 6000 UAS vehicles supported by a small expedition ship, the Alucia, based in Seattle. Two of the UAS vehicles are owned by the Waitt Foundation and the third by the German oceanographic institute Geomar. If the team is successful in identifying the wreckage field, a larger vessel still to be identified will be sent to retrieve the wreckage and the aircraft’s voice and data recorders.
BEA Director Jean-Paul Troadec says the UASs, equipped with camera and sonar, are the only means currently available capable of undertaking high-precision exploration of the sea floor at the 4,000-meter depths and rugged terrain where Flight AF447 went down, which despite a joint Franco-U.S. mission in 1974 remains largely uncharted. “Given the certainty of the aircraft’s last known position and ACARS data, transmitted 15 minutes before impact, we are sure the aircraft is in the part of the crash zone that we haven’t yet explored,” he says, “and we’re more confident than ever that our strategy will enable it to be found.”
David Gallo, director of special projects at Woods Hole and co-expedition leader, says exploration of the crash zone last year showed the Remus submarines are capable of running precision patterns in terrain with scarps of 90 degrees or more. And a high-precision mapping campaign of the Titanic site last August-September showed they can detect objects the size of a barrel or a chair at 600 meters, Gallo said.
The Alucia is scheduled to leave Seattle on Feb. 9 and arrive at Suape, Brazil, on March 14. It is slated to be on station to begin the search on March 18. The operation is to extend through July 8.
Air France and Airbus will foot the estimated €9.2 million ($12.5 million) cost of the search and the French government the retrieval effort.