Navy sending black-box locator to aid in search for MH 370

Navy TPL 25 black box locator

The Navy’s U.S. Pacific Command is sending a black box locator to the Indian Ocean to aid in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, in the even debris from the plane is found.

The Towed Pinger Locator 25 system, used by the Navy to search for downed military and commercial aircraft, has highly sensitive listening capabilities and can detect pings from an aircraft’s black box — or flight data recorder — at depths up to about 20,000 feet.

The 75-pound TPL 25, measuring 30 by 35 inches, is generally towed behind a vessel at slow speeds of 1-5 knots, depending on depth, the Navy said. The unit’s tow fish carries a passive listening device for detecting pings, which are transmitted up the TPL 25’s cable and presented audibly. They also can be sent to an oscilloscope or signal processing computer. When a ping is detected, the process is repeated from other positions to triangulate the location of the box.

"This movement is simply a prudent effort to preposition equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area so that if debris is found we will be able to respond as quickly as possible, since the battery life of the black box's pinger is limited," Cmdr. Chris Budde, U.S. 7th Fleet operations officer, said of sending the TPL 25 to the suspected crash area.

Flight 370 disappeared March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. After more than two weeks of fruitless searches and speculation, the Malaysian government said Monday that the flight went down in the southern Indian Ocean in an area where satellite images had shown possible debris.

Finding the plane won’t immediately solve the mystery of what happened on board and why the flight was diverted from its original course. But finding the black box would be crucial to answering those questions.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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