July 14, 2013

Black box developed by local men aids safety at smaller airports

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A little black box developed by two local men could help prevent airplane crashes at small regional airports by recording what has been unknowable until now.

click image to enlarge

Ron Cote, left, and John Guimond have built a device that records radio traffic for use at airports.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

John Guimond, manager of the Augusta State Airport, began to develop the idea after a crash in which three young men were killed when the plane they were in collided with a truck crossing a runway Nov. 16, 2012, at the Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head. Guimond spoke to the airport’s manager, Jeffrey Northgraves, about the frustration of not being able to investigate what caused the crash by listening to radio transmissions from either the plane or the truck’s driver, who is a pilot and was crossing the runway.

Those radio transmission recordings couldn’t be heard because they didn’t exist. There was no system to record them at the airport, nor is there any such system at most of the thousands of smaller general aviation airports around the world without control towers.

“At general aviation airports, it’s not recorded, so you never really know who said what on the radio,” said Guimond, of Fairfield. “We thought there has got to be a way to capture that.”

There wasn’t, but now there is.

G.A.R.D, or General Audio Recording Device, was created and developed by Guimond’s business partner, Ron Cote, of West Gardiner, through their new commercial venture, Invisible Intelligence LLC.

The system, most of which is contained within a 3-by-3-by-1-inch black box, records all radio transmissions at airports where it is installed. Those radio transmissions often can help investigators understand what caused a crash. And that knowledge, in turn, can help prevent future, similar crashes.

“If there has been an incident now, all investigators can do, at a general aviation airport, is look at what’s there,” Guimond said. “With this, you can go back and listen to the radio of the pilot and of ground vehicles. You can hear the demeanor of the people and their words. With that kind of information, maybe we could prevent another one from happening.”

Guimond explained the problem one day over lunch to Cote, an amateur radio operator since he was 12. Within about a week of working on it at his rural camp, he had a prototype. They took their device to Northgraves, who loved it, and the airport in Rockland became the first to install the new device.

Ted Talbot, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said DOT officials believe in the device so much the state agency will pay for 50 percent of the cost of installing G.A.R.D at any of the 42 publicly owned airports in Maine.

Talbot said not knowing what was broadcast over the radio in the Owls Head collision bothers DOT officials, and they hope the new device can fill in such gaps and help prevent similar accidents.
“Well, we’ll never know what happened, and that doesn’t sit well with our safety folks,” Talbot said.

“That’s really what spurred this effort. When this came to us, we had this sense of urgency to really address what has been lacking at these airports. And that’s accountability of aircraft. We’re very excited about it. It’s not just the first in Maine; it’s the first of  its kind in the nation.”

Cote, who works for the DOT as an electrical supervisor in traffic engineering, and Guimond, manager of the city-operated, state-owned Augusta State Airport, both said they developed their device and business on their own time, at night and during vacations, with the knowledge of their bosses. Talbot said the DOT vetted the issue and is comfortable that Cote developed the device on his own time.

(Continued on page 2)

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