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Monday, March 7, 2011

A Blast From the Past - The ELT Detector

I was going though some of my old files and came across my Senior Project for my Bachelors Degree back in 2000. Basically we had to design, build and prove a working electronic project of our choice in order to graduate. Well being a ham and in the Civil Air Patrol my choice was to make something in RF and help the CAP. The design I came up with was a pager size device that would alert a pilot there ELT or Emergency Location Transmitter was on. A lot of time when we got called out to search for these ELT's they were false alarms in fact over 59 out of 60 of my documented finds were false activations. I wanted to design a product that a pilot could wear or throw in his fight bag that if there was a signal on 121.500 Mhz (121.775 prototype) and was less than 200 feet away it would beep.

I could remember so many hurdles in fact one of my professor strongly recommended not do a RF project because of all the unsuccessfully attempts by other student in the past. But 10 weeks later I had a working prototype that was close to be manufactured. Had a lot of fun and it was a ton of work but learned alot and it was my first RF design and the first use of SMT.

A second unpublished off shoot of this was to prove a cheap way to monitor all airports as a base station application and link via telephone/cell lines. So the signal could be located almost instantly near airports or base stations and dial to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Kind of similar idea of the the home ADT security systems, but for planes.

Here are some photos

You can follow this link ELT PROJECT to all the documentation of the project including PCB layout, how it works, and parts suppliers.

Soon to come, I still have the prototype and soon will shoot a video of it working I still have a practice beacon to test it with.

Here is an article in the local paper
The ELT Detector:

Chris Johnson decided to couple his interest in the Civil Air Patrol to develop a product that would reduce false ELT and EPIRB responses. An Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) for aircraft and the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) for mariners is a device found in most airplanes and boats. The purpose of these devices is to help track down planes or boats in distress either from crashing or sinking. The problem is that 95% of these "emergencies" are false alarms and it cost millions of dollars each year because every alarm has to be tracked down and investigated. In addition the false emergency could very easily mask a real emergency.

The solution to this problem is Chris’s invention, a small portable ELT/EPIRB monitor about the size of a pager. The device has a limited range so that it will only pick up a signal within about 100 feet. The pilot of a plane would wear the device clipped to their belt. If there is a hard landing that would falsely trigger the ELT, the pilot would know it and notify authorities that it is a false alarm thus averting a search and rescue operation. The device would work similarly for boat operator with an EPIRB.

Chris is currently completing his last quarter at NEIT and will have many job opportunities as well as marketing of his new product. As can be seen from the picture below, Chris did a high quality job and has this product in a very near manufacturing design layout. He made the printed circuit and successfully soldered very tiny surface mount electronic components.

Vin Scotto, Chair, and faculty of the EET department, are very proud of what these two outstanding students have accomplished. Barry and Chris are excellent ambassadors of the Electronics Engineering Technology program and have bright futures ahead of them. It is a prime example of what someone can do when they combine learned skill with a strong interest. It not only works out well for Senior Projects, but for an entire career. Vin always tells his students the importance of pursuing a career in an area of strong interest because you will be doing that job 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and about 50 weeks a year for a 30 to 40 year career. If you are going to do that job for that long and want to excel at it, you have to have a passion for it. The result will be a very stimulating and satisfying career filled with opportunity and the pay-off is that you are having fun at the same time. Find out what excites you, develop skill in it and have fun applying that skill.