Dear Fellows and Members
Since the disappearance of Flight MH370 on 8 March 2014 very little is known about the fate and whereabouts of the aircraft or of its passengers and crew. Inevitably, there has been speculation about what might have happened, leading to an array of plausible as well as wild theories. Surrounded by such uncertainty is hardly the setting in which scientists, engineers and aviators, all intelligent, well-educated men and women should be performing their roles.
The question, what happened to the flight can only be answered when the aircraft or at least the Black Box recorder have been found. Of fundamental importance is to locate the aircraft. Speculation surfaced that the pilots disabled the transponder after departure. Aircraft carry transponders to identify it and its location to the respective receiving stations round the world. If the presence of the transponder on board an aircraft is so fundamental to passenger as well as the aircraft safety, why can it be disabled at will? Surely the preferred mode of operation would be for the back-up transponder to duplicate the primary transponder and take over fully if a fault is detected, to function continuously after departure from the airport and be inaccessible to the pilots.
Reports suggest that flight MH370 came down in the Southern Indian Ocean (where the water depth is some 5000 to 6000 m) so it will probably be impossible to find. Is it not feasible to equip the aircraft with a brightly coloured balloon (encased within the fuselage) that inflates on contact with salt water but remains tethered to the aircraft by a reeled line? This will not lessen the fate of those on board the aircraft but there will be a better chance of finding the aircraft quickly, recovering the Black Box and learning from the event.
Mechanical, electrical and control engineering have all become extremely reliable in the last 60 to 70 years as a result of the intelligent application of science. But, are we becoming complacent by reliance on sound, established engineering principles, forgetting the soft underside which is vulnerable to and exposed by fate and malice? Should the companies involved in high tech industries have a Department of What ifs..? What if the flight deck be invaded? What if an aircraft cargo door be incorrectly sealed before departure? What if the foundations of the railway line close to the sea at Dawlish should be washed away in a storm? What if a plane (or ship) were to be hijacked? A lot of people have been embarrassed for not being prepared for recent events. Let us be sure that engineers are not among them next time.
Please keep an eye on our events. We hope to meet you at our future lecture meetings.