AUGUSTA, Maine —We’ll probably never know what led to a fatal airplane crash at the Knox County Airport last year because no radio transmissions were ever recorded.
In that crash, a small plane that was taking off clipped a pickup truck crossing the runway, killing Marcelo Rugini, an exchange student from Brazil, David Cheney of Beverly, Mass., and BJ Hanigan, a University of Maine graduate from Portland.
But today, a new device developed by two men from Maine is allowing small, towerless airports to record and save those transmissions.
It’s called the General Audio Recording Device.
John Guimond began developing the device within days after three men died in that Knox County Crash.
"It was that comment that we'll never really know because the audio was lost, it was never recorded,” Guimond said.
Guimond, who is manager of the Augusta Airport, teamed with his friend Ron Cote, an electronics specialist, to develop the GARD system, a small recording setup general aviation airports can use for a variety of situations.
"Training, for data recording, and also for accident investigation," Guimond said.
Relatively inexpensive, about $2,500, it’s taken just a few months for word of the GARD to reach small airports around the world.
"We’re getting emails from New Guinea. We’re getting emails from Australia. I looked at John, I said, ‘What did we create?" Cote said.
In Maine, the device quickly caught the Department of Transportation’s attention.
The DOT is so impressed with the training capabilities it has offered to split the cost of installation with each of Maine’s nearly four dozen towerless airports.
"The key thing for us is that prevention of finding out discrepancies that might be happening during flights or during things the ground crew was doing and actually correcting that before you have an accident,” said Scott Rollins, state aviation director with the DOT.
The transmissions can be saved for decades, in the event of any mishap or crash, providing tangible evidence where just a few months ago it might be just a guess.
"Giving some people some comfort that I said this and I did everything I could, everything I was supposed to do,” said Guimond.
OWL'S HEAD (WGME) -- A little black box could have a big impact when it comes to your safety in the air. Two Augusta men invented a device they hope will prevent crashes like the one in Owl's Head that killed three men last year.
Less than a year later, it's still not clear what went wrong at a small airport in Rockland. And there is no way to know what the pilot said before he crashed because the radio communications at small airports aren't recorded.
The Rockland tragedy prompted Augusta state airport manager John Guimond to ask his electrical-supervisor friend Ron Cote for help. “Week to 12 days we had a prototype.”
The prototype is a small black box and software. It's called a General Audio Recording Device, or GARD™. “We record and capture all radio broadcast like what's going on now.”
The transmissions are filed away and can be listened to by managers. It's brand new technology that could help in investigations and also prevent them.
In the week GARD™ has been used at the Augusta State Airport, Guimond says they've identified certain situations where radios need to be used more often. There's also been positive feedback from four other Maine airports.
There are 42 public airports in Maine that the Department of Transportation works with. None of them have control towers, so the dot says it will reimburse those airports half the cost if they install the GARD™ system.
DOT officials say a count will help allocate resources and funding. The GARD™ system costs between $2,500 and $3,200.
It's been a surreal journey so far for these Mainers, one they hope will ultimately save lives.
Some 19,000 small airports across the country don't have control towers and could benefit from the GARD™ technology.
July 15, 2013 WCSH 6
AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A tiny black box that can record up to 3,000 years worth of data could help improve safety and prevent plane crashes at small general aviation airports.
The GARD system, or General Audio Radio Device, was developed by Maine Department of Transportation Engineer Ron Cote and Augusta State Airport Manager John Guimond.
After a plane crash last November at Knox County Regional Airport killed three University of Maine students, airports across the state reviewed their safety procedures.
The crash happened when a small, single engine plane took off and clipped a pickup truck crossing the runway. The plane then crashed in the woods.
Knox County Airport Manager Jeffrey Northgraves said at the time he had no way to determine exactly what happened because the airport didn't have the ability to record airplane and ground radio traffic.
That all changed when Guimond and Cote unveiled the GARD system. The device records radio transmissions of airplanes and ground traffic at small general aviation airports.
Northgraves said his airport purchased the GARD system in February, and it has lead to improvements in safety procedures.
At the Augusta State Airport, Guimond said the device can also be a useful training tool.
"I'm able to go back, listen to those audios, and use it for training of pilots and ground people," Guimond said. "If they say something that's not quite right or just didn't make sense, I can bring them in, we can listen to it, and we can make adjustments to how they're broadcasting on the runway."
Since Guimond and Cote teamed up to form Invisible Intelligence LLC and the GARD system, it has sold to five airports across Maine and has drawn interest nationwide.
"It's more about the safety aspect for John and I," Cote said. "We realize it's probably worth more than what we're doing, but if we can save one life, can you put a price on that?"
The device costs between $2,000 and $3,200 depending on the buyer's need. The state said it's looking into reimbursing municipal airports that buy the GARD system up to half the total cost.
Cote said the next step is developing software to identify key words in audio recordings as another tool to improve safety, and pushing the device to more airports nationwide.