Secrets of the Black Box

Publikacja w serwisie: 21 July 2010
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[Polish version: Tajemnice czarnej skrzynki]

The information [which came] from the Russian official investigators that the Polish black box installed in the perished presidential Tupolev airplane could only be read in Poland, is incorrect.  In 1994, after the crash of the Chinese Tu-154M with a Polish black box which was made by the same Polish company, Russians read its data. This means that also this time, they had the technical know how to decipher its data and to alter it.

After the crash of the presidential plane Tu-154M, media reported that, except of the Russian black boxes, onboard was also the Polish data recorder – ATM-QAR/R 128 ENC, manufactured by the Polish company ATM.

During the crash it was partly damaged but the storage media survived and allowed data readout in spite of the destruction of the case with the circuitry.

Formally, the Polish black box is the property of the State Air Force and it is maintained by the State Military Intelligence.

Decoded Data

In mid April, the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) and Edmund Klich, then the Chairman of the Polish Air-Crash Investigation Commission, claimed that the so called Polish black box can only be read in Poland. This information is available in the press archives. However, it turns out that the data of the Polish made recorder was read by the Russians after the crash of the Tupolev plane owned by Chinese airlines. As it was established by the weekly Gazeta Polska installed on that plane was Polish flight data recorder whose data has been read by Russians. That crash of the China Northwest Airlines 2303 occurred on the 6th of June 1994. The Tu-154M with 160 passengers crashed just minutes after the take off – nobody survived that crash. According to the investigation, its cause was malfunction of the autopilot. After a few days the black boxes, including the Polish made data recorder, were found in the wreckage of the plane.

We were not asked to read it, and as far as we know it, Chinese and Russians managed on their own – says Mr Thomas Tucholka employed by the black box manufacturer ATM.

We asked if it were possible that the Polish black box from the presidential plane was read by Russians before its return to Poland.

There is no reason why they would be doing that and after all, our recorder would show trace of interfering with – comments Thomas Tucholka. Excused by the investigation confidentiality, the representative of the company ATM did not want to say what data was found in the Polish black box mounted on the Tu-154M that crashed near Smolensk on the 10th of April.

Putin’s [election] sponsor serviced our plane

In 2009 the Tu-154M of the 36th Special Air-Transport Squadron, was extensively serviced in Samara (Russia) and the Polish owners received it back on 21st Dec 2009. The daily Nasz Dziennik revealed that the serviced airplane was under warranty. In the case of finding that it was a malfunction that caused the crash at the Smolensk-Severny airport, the servicing plant Olega Deripaski (Putin’s election sponsor) would have to repay the insured sums. That would equate to enormous compensation, loss of the company’s reputation and in the end departure of customers and its bankruptcy. Paradoxically, the Samara aviation plant is accredited by the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK), the one which is in charge of the investigation of the Polish presidential plane. Already after that service, Tu-154M suffered a malfunction when transporting Polish rescue team returning from their help mission from Haiti. As it was established by Gazeta Polska, Tu-154M was sent to the Samara plant with full equipment. Before its departure, the Polish black box remained in place – removed was only the cassette containing the recording media alone. All other electronics hardware in that recorder went with the plane to Samara. A part of that hardware was badly damaged during the crash. Russians had access to the Polish data recorder without restriction as even a single Polish representative was not involved.

In 2009, during the Tu-154M service repairs the plane’s interior was fully modernised, including its subdivision into three individual compartments and the main passenger cabin. The Polish black box was not installed in the cockpit but it was in the section which underwent the full renovation.

We have contacted SKW, who maintain the black boxes, asking whether our special military agencies have the data from the Polish black box and also where from, the SKW had such detailed information about its course just after the crash. From the secretariat of the SKW Manager, we received assurance that we would receive answer to our questions – until the time of printing this issue no one from the SKW responded.

Data readout

The Polish black boxes were installed in Tupolev planes owned by various airlines in the early 1990s. The data in that recorder is not recorded like in the standard black boxes on a magnetic tape but in the memory of an electronic integrated circuit enclosed in the removable cassette. As we were told by Mr Paul Jajkowski from the ATM, the Polish data recorder ATM-QAR registers flight parameters of the plane but is not capable of their transmission to the base.

Commonly, data from the recorder is read after every flight (precisely, after its return to the base in Warsaw). Only for technical purposes, eg during test flights, an option of real-time data monitoring is utilised. The screen of a laptop connected to the recorder ATM-QAR, with the help of a special software ATM-FDS, presents the actual parameters being recorded – explains Paul Jajkowski.

This means that the current data monitoring (and also the path of the airplane) of the Polish black box is possible unlike the Russian black boxes, which can be read only after the landing.

The Polish black box from the presidential plane Tu-154M would register the same parameters as the original Russian recorder MLP-14-6 plus additionally parameters related to the engine vibration control.

The Polish black box was found by Russians three days after the crash and was temporarily made available to Polish officials. After the recorder ATM-QAR had been read at the Polish Technical Air Force Institute in Warsaw it was then returned to the Russians because – as it was argued – “the Russian side leads the air-crash investigation”.

As it follows from the unofficial reports, the data obtained from the Polish black box was the same as the technical data from the other black boxes, including that related to the flight parameters. According to the daily Gazeta Prawna at 8.41.02 Polish time, the tail of the plane together with its engines, had detached from it. One and a half second later, the plane which was accelerated to the speed of 290km/h crashed with its roof down to the ground. The first part of the plane, the cockpit and the presidential and VIP’s compartments were blown under the impact of the fuselage. The systems of the plane stopped at 8.41.04 and that time was accepted as the time of the accident.

This description however must raise reservations – it shows that the plane crashed with its front first but its tail was destroyed earlier. If this were the case, one would need to clarify why its tail disengaged before the impact with the ground. This might suggest that there was an explosion onboard Tu-154M before its fall. Was it possibly true? Neither the military prosecutor nor the spokesperson of the Air Force or the representative of the company ATM wished to answer this question.

Black Box Manufacturer

The company ATM – the manufacturer of the Polish flight data recorder – was founded in 1987. From the very beginning it specialised mainly in the manufacturing of black boxes and flight data logging and analysis systems. Systems made by the ATM have been used among others by Boeing, Britannia Airways, British Airways, Civil Aviation Authority, Czech-Slovak Airlines CSA, Aeroflot and LOT.

The recorder made by the ATM was the first in the world computerised black box with an electronic memory. The Chairman of the ATM Company Board is a Physicist, Dr Roman Szwed. As it can be found on the ATM web pages, in the 1970s he was a research assistant in the United Institute of Nuclear Research in Dubna near Moscow and in the 1980s, a research assistant in the European Centre of Nuclear Research near Geneva, CERN. Deputy Directors of the ATM are Tadeusz Czichon – graduate of the Electronic Engineering and a Physicist, Maciej Krzyzanowski.

Dorota Kania


translation: P.L.

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Po przekroczeniu granicy rosyjskiej konwój z Jarosławem Kaczyńskim zmierzającym 10 kwietnia do Smoleńska na miejsce katastrofy miał zwolnić, a następnie krążyć po mieście. W tym czasie premier Donald Tusk rozmawiał z Władimirem Putinem. Według ustaleń Polskiego Radia, trasę z Witebska do granicy białorusko-rosyjskiej konwój z Jarosławem Kaczyńskim, który zmierzał do Smoleńska, by zidentyfikować ciało prezydenta RP, pokonał bardzo szybko. Tuż po przekroczeniu granicy rosyjskiej zwolnił. Pokonanie około stu kilometrów z Witebska na miejsce tragedii zajęło blisko trzy godziny. – Bardzo sprawnie dojechaliśmy do białorusko-rosyjskiej granicy. Tam 40 minut sprawdzano nam dokumenty, mimo że mieliśmy paszporty dyplomatyczne. W drodze do Smoleńska eskortowała nas już rosyjska milicja. Jechaliśmy bardzo wolno, około 25-30 km/h - relacjonował jeden z członków delegacji Adam Bielan. Delegacja pytała konwojujących milicjantów o powody tak wolnej jazdy. W odpowiedzi mieli usłyszeć, że takie mają rozkazy. Jeszcze przed Smoleńskiem pojazd z prezesem PiS został wyprzedzony przez kolumnę z premierem Tuskiem, który na Białorusi wylądował kilkadziesiąt minut po Kaczyńskim. Potem autokar z Jarosławem Kaczyńskim jeszcze krążył po mieście. W tym czasie premierzy Polski i Rosji odbyli spotkanie. Informacje te miał zweryfikować Piotr Paszkowski, rzecznik Ministerstwa Spraw Zagranicznych.

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