Computerized Air Crashes May Make The Skies Safer

Virtual reality could be a boon for investigating airplane crashes. The Institute for Aerospace Research in Ottawa, an arm of Canada's National Research Council, is developing software that can transform the data from a plane's black-box flight recorder into a realistic sight-and-sound simulation of the aircraft's final moments.

Called the Aircraft Data Analysis & Presentation System (ADAAPS), the program will allow crash investigators to sit in the cockpit and watch a reconstructed instrument panel while listening to the crew's voices. The mishap can also be viewed from the ground or from overhead. And three-dimensional computer images of the terrain can be merged with the simulation, along with data from air-traffic and weather radars plus eyewitness accounts. ADAAPS cross-checks all the information for integrity and consistency, relieving investigators of the time-consuming chore of hunting for anomalies.

The final simulation can also be used to drive a flight simulator, so safety experts can try to figure out ways to avoid such accidents. Elias Politis, head of the ADAAPS project, expects the system to be finished early next year.