Local invention 'The next black box'

A NARACOORTE businessman has come up with an invention that has been dubbed "the holy grail of aircraft safety" by an expert in the field.

Naracoorte local Russell Crane has invented a cockpit lighting system for aeroplanes which could prove to be just as important in the history of aviation safety as the black box was back in the 1950s.

Naracoorte local Russell Crane has invented a cockpit lighting system for aeroplanes which could prove to be just as important in the history of aviation safety as the black box was back in the 1950s.

Crane Livestock Transport owner and operator Russell "Rusty" Crane's cockpit lighting system - the Green Orientation or GO Light - has the potential to save lives by helping to stop accidents caused by spatial disorientation.

This involves pilots being unable to detect the attitude of their aircraft when they have no visual reference of the horizon, for example when they are flying in dark or cloudy conditions.

"Everyone has experienced spatial disorientation at some time or another," Mr Crane said.

"Think of when you're in a car, stationary in traffic, and you get the feeling of backwards movement when the car next to you moves forward.

"That's spatial disorientation.

"The GO Light mitigates unrecognised spatial disorientation and allows pilots more freedom to concentrate on their other instruments while maintaining an almost subconscious and accurate awareness of their attitude."

Mr Crane got his pilot's licence in 2010 and sits on the committees of the Naracoorte and Wimmera Aero Clubs.

He came up with the concept a couple years ago when he was looking to further his pilot training.

Inspired by his experience of how easily the human eyes and mind can be spatially confused, he decided to do a bit of research.

"It was just a thought process that continued rolling on, it wouldn't go away," he said.

"It is recommended that when you're going into low visibility conditions that you turn off the external strobe lights.

"I figured out that if uncontrolled flashing can disorientate the pilot then a controlled light should be able to orientate them.

"The GO Light is a system of gyroscopically moving lights that will give pilots a constant reference point of the horizon in their peripheral vision, helping them stay continually aware of the plane's attitude."

According to a 2010 report submitted to NASA's National Space Biomedical Research Institute, spatial disorientation, which is also referred to as vertigo, is an "enduring problem in aviation".

It can occur in mere seconds when a pilot looks away from the horizon to consult a map or check something.

During the 1980s and 90s it was a factor in about 21 per cent of all US Air Force Class A mishaps, and between October 1993 and September 2002 there were 25 high-performance fighter or missile mishaps with spatial disorientation as a contributing factor.

This resulted in 19 fatalities and cost the US Air Force in excess of $455 million.

Mr Crane said the statistics were very similar for private and commercial flyers also.

"If we can save just one life; well that's a plus isn't it," he said.

"I think the technology is already there to make (the GO Light) work.

"We should be able to bring it in as a pretty cost effective way of saving lives."

A still from a YouTube video showing how the Green Orientation, or GO, Light system works to make flying safer by eliminating spatial disorientation.

A still from a YouTube video showing how the Green Orientation, or GO, Light system works to make flying safer by eliminating spatial disorientation.

Things are moving quickly for Mr Crane and the team working on his GO Light system.

A provisional patent is in place and a PR company specialising in the aviation industry is contracted to gain industry media coverage worldwide.

This week manufacturers have been approached before testing takes place.

"We are really at a crucial stage of where it's going now," Mr Crane said.

Aviation lecturer Ron Bartsch, who is also the international chair of AvLaw and a former airline safety manager, said spatial disorientation was thought to be a contributing factor in up to 32 per cent of aviation accidents.

"If this concept can be taken forward and commercialised, it could be the most important Australian aviation invention since the black box," he said.

The GO Light is a two-light system made up of an internal and external fixture that works together to project a uniform horizon throughout the cockpit and outside the aircraft.

These fixtures rotate according to the movement of the aircraft, to remain level with the earth's surface.

The lighting system operates separately to the Attitude Indicator, and is programmed for installation at the rear of the cockpit.

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