GPS Tracking Can’t Find Flight 477 — and Why

Few have escaped hearing the tragic story of how Air France flight 477 disappeared in to Atlantic a thousand miles or so east of Brazil on a flight to Paris.  The Brazilian military and other organizations are putting in near-heroic and not unfruitful efforts in find the remains of the passengers and plane, but as in all such tragedies their efforts seem to take too long and produce too little in the way of answers.

I’ve noticed in the past day or two a lot of activity in the general interest media regarding GPS and why GPS couldn’t just find flight 477 when it first went missing, why airline flights over the ocean aren’t routinely tracked by GPS, and today my BS detector went off when I noticed some (undoubtedly Beltway Bandit financed, in some hidden way) out and out US government propaganda using the death of the Air France passengers and crew to promote one of Washington’s most oversold and technically flawed schemes ever (friends, after you get done paying for this boondoggle, you’ll think $600 toilet seats are a bargain, believe me).  So I now expect this post will grow into several installments.  So be it, the longest journey begins with but a single step, as they say. Good example of media GPS tracking speculation here

Let’s work through some of the more common questions circulating today, working from the standpoint of most general interest to most esoteric.  This first article will certainly be of use to media types and fellow authors who want to find out a few of the basic things I virtually guarantee they currently don’t know about GPS and air commerce.

Why Can’t GPS Find Flight 477?

That one is the simplest to explain, but perhaps the most difficult for the non-techies out there to grasp.  GPS can’t find Flight 477 because GPS can’t find anything.  Yep, you read it here first, “Hey Joe, I just saw this nut on the Internet who says GPS can’t find anything.  What an idiot!”  Well nut job I may be, I’ll leave that to the shrinks.  But idiot I ain’t, at least regarding GPS.  In spite of the near universally held belief that the GPS (what most people say when the mean the NAVSTAR GPS, a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), operated by the USAF and commonly described as 24 satellites circling the globe) does not track, or find anything.  Each active satellite sends out a precision timing pulse and some other navigation-related technical information, and that is that.  The satellites don’t track anyone or anything, in fact the signal between the satellites and whomever might be using their signal is purposely made one way .. the GPS satellites can’t receive any data from ‘clients’ using their signals to navigate, so even the CIA or some other fictional more secret agency can’t ‘track’ a single thing through GPS … period.  Now you may think I am mincing words or splitting hairs here, but the truth is, unless people get this basic concept in their brain and de-emphasize the fiction about GPS they routine get from TV, the movies and even certain US government officials, there are a number of important follow-on concepts here that are going to remain misunderstood.  Lives and billions of dollars, actually, ride on this concept, and I see the problem getting a lot worse rather than showing signs of improvement.

OK, so if GPD can’t track anything, why is the title of this blog GPS Tracking?  Glad you asked that, it’s the first step in understanding what is really going on here versus the common misconceptions.  Follow me through on this, it is not really too difficult.

Step One:  The GPS satellites send out a receive only (broadcast) signal.

Step Two:  A receiver sense this signal and processes the data to solve an equation.  The result of that equation is the position of the receiver in space.  (Typically on. or close above, the surface of the earth)

Step Three: The solution to the position equation is converted into something human-usable.  A display of the user’s position on an electronic map.  In simple terms this is GPS navigation in a nutshell.  The map may be on the dashboard of your car, on the screen of your cell phone, on the monitor of your laptop, on a navigational display in the cockpit of an airplane, or you name it,  but one thing is always true … up until this point in our mini-course, only you, the user, knows where you are.  No one else is tracking you or has the capability to track you … period.  The act of fixing your position or navigating with the NAVSTAR system and a “GPS Receiver” is an independent, user discrete function.  The customer knows where he is, no one else does.

Step Four:  Sometimes just knowing where you are is all you need to know.  That’s why, in fact, the vast majority of GPS products on the market are deceive/navigate only devices. They don’t get down below Step Three, above.  But there are many cases where the user wants others to know where s/he is, wants to be tracked in other words.  This is most commonly what we mean when we say “GPS Tracking”, and this is the aspect of the overall GPS utility most variable, and most misunderstood.

Let’s go back to the GPS-driven navigational display in the aircraft instrument panel we used as an example above.  This seems like the most germane example since we started out talking about the loss of Flight 477.  Did Flight 477 have such a GPS-driven navigational display?

I don’t have access to the specific equipment list of Flight 477 so the answer to the question I posed above is. yes, no or maybe.  The majority of commercial airliners flying today do not have GPS navigation aboard.  This likely will change in the future … especially if the US government succeeds in promoting and ill-advised monstrosity they call Next Gen … which the referenced GPS capability article  shows they are apparently grinding their personal axe on the bones of flight 477’s victims.  Many smaller business and private aircraft do have GPS navigation receivers/display, but the important point to wind up this install of my series on is that it matters not if Air France had GPS navigation aboard or not, because no one was in a position to track them anyway.

"The technology’s there — we’ve had this stuff for 15 years and little’s happened," said Michael Boyd, a Colorado-based airline analyst. "My BlackBerry can be used to track me, so why can’t we do it with planes?"

Not quite, Mr. Boyd, you’re on the right track, believe me, but your “analysis” has a few holes in it.  In order to make a GPS Tracking system out of a “common GPS”, you need two important components we haven’t mentioned yet and which no one, including the Next gen spin-meisters has really considered.  I’ll return to those issues next installment, meanwhile just remember this key point:

GPS can’t find Flight 477 because “GPS’ does not track commercial airliners in general and over the oceans and polar regions in particular.  “Common GPS” can not do so, period, the mechanisms and physics aren’t there.  Commercial airlines could be tracked with varying degrees of effort and expense, and next installment we’ll consider some of the pros and cons and costs.

GPS Tracking Her Panties For Satisfaction And Profit

Everyone who reads my GPS Tracking articles here regularly (and, by the way, if you aren’t already a subscriber, may I ask you, as a personal favor, to just click on this link and subscribe?  It would be of benefit to both of us, thanks) knows that I focus on ways that GPS tracking can improve a business’s bottom line … how you get a return on an investment in specific technology.

Many readers who come here from search engine queries, though, are interested in the more drama-related aspects of GPS … things like tracking and errant spouse of girl friend.  There was even a spoof article which made the rounds a month or so ago about a company selling a device that could be attached to a woman’s panties and would not only send their location from time to time but sound an alarm if they were removed.  A joke, I hope, for at least the foreseeable future.  But for how long?  I don’t know.

We here’s a company who has a proven rate of return on their investment in GPS tracking technology and their specific application is tracking women’s lingerie … and expensive, sexy lingerie at that.  So far I think they have limited the use to tracking before the panties are worn, but ….

Continue reading “GPS Tracking Her Panties For Satisfaction And Profit”

GPS Tracking Education Opportunity

OK, no BS.  This is a selling-oriented event.  But it is an excellent way to learn a lot about what GPS Tracking is … not what the rumor mills have you thinking it is.  These folks have been my business partner for years.  They produce excellent products, field an excellent integrated system and provide top-drawer support.  So if you want to increase your technical understanding and make better informed business decisions, give it a shot, even if you feel you are miles away from buying anything:

Continue reading “GPS Tracking Education Opportunity”

GPS Tracking, Transportation, Logistics and the Law

William J. Augello’s "Transportation, Logistics and the Law" presented by Brent Wm. Primus

Fall 2010 Schedule

This is the vital information you need for minimizing risks and increasing net revenues for your organization AND for enhancing your own individual professional growth. The course will be presented by Brent Wm. Primus, J.D., attorney and Sr. Editor of transportlawtexts, inc.
For more information about this course please click here
This seminar has been approved for 6.5 hours of Continuing Education Credits by the Certified Claims Professional Accreditation TLL logoCouncil, Inc. and 6.5 hours of Continuing Legal Education will be applied for upon request.  For more information please email us.

Parcel Forum 10

Oct 4, 2010, Chicago, IL

This one day course is designed to provide a basic working knowledge of the laws and regulations affecting the supply chain with a strong emphasis on parcel shipping.
To register for "Transportation, Logistics and the Law" please click here
Note: The "Transportation, Logistics and the Law" seminar is available separately as a Pre-Conference Workshop OR as part of a Platinum Package Registration Transportation and Logistics Council Nov 3, 2010, Ft. Worth,TX

Hosted by Blakeman Transportation
This one day course is intended to provide an introduction and overview of the laws and regulations governing transportation, logistics and the supply chain. It is being sponsored by the Transportation and Logistics Council as part of a three day course offering, which will also include "Freight Claims in Plain English", presented by Gerard F. Smith, Esq. and "Contracting for Transportation & Logistics Services", presented by Raymond A. Selvaggio, Esq. Further information for those courses may be found at
To register for "Transportation, Logistics and the Law" please click here

Nov. 17 2010, Atlanta, GA

Hosted by Unipro Foodservice, Inc.
This one day course is intended to provide an introduction and overview of the laws and regulations governing transportation, logistics and the supply chain. It is being sponsored by the Transportation and Logistics Council as part of a three day course offering, which will also include "Freight Claims in Plain English", presented by Gerard F. Smith, Esq. and "Contracting for Transportation & Logistics Services", presented by Raymond A. Selvaggio, Esq. Further information for those courses may be found at
To register for "Transportation, Logistics and the Law: please click here

Can’t Attend?

The course text book, plus other valuable texts, can be purchased at or email

The FCC is Giving Away Your GPS Tracking — Act Now!

GPS Tracking Is At Risk!

Your GPS Tracking way of life is at risk.  I’ve written several times lately on the issue of a company called LightSquared who is convinced that they should build a 40,000 tower cellular network across the US that could (correction will,  based on actual testing) interfere with our free global utility known as GPS.

I’m really a bid saddened by the fact I have seen no responses here and no meaningful articles on this subject on any of the other blogs in this niche.

I know for a fact that a few company executives, corporate founders, etc. read my work … but apparently they are a bit too busy with “status quo” issues than they are with thinking about the future of our industry. 

The GPS Tracking Risk Is REAL

Folks, this could be a life-changing issue, in more ways than one … and it’s way to complicated for the talking heads at Fox and other network commentators to even take note of.

This article from gives a good current rundown.  If you earn your living using GPS tracking, or you depend upon GPS tracking for your business, you better think strongly about Save Our GPS — Get Writing, Friends’ target=_blank>writing your representatives and also joining the Coalition to Save Our GPS.

What’s particular scary to me in the AvWeb article is the fact that a shadowy venture capital firm has already (supposedly, anyway) invested 2.9 billion dollars in LightSquared. 

When serious money like that gets behind a project it becomes nearly impossible for $70K or $125K a year government executives and regulators to squawk loud enough to be heard.

Once this monstrosity starts building out cell towers it will be too late to stop it … interference and common sense be dammed … LightSquared will become another of those ludicrous “To Big To Fail” blots on our landscape, but in this case they will destroy the utility of GPS as we know it.

Tests Show LightSquared Interferes With GPS’ target=_blank>Tests Show LightSquared Interferes With GPS

GPS Tracking at RiskTesting has shown that a proposed national wireless broadband network system could negatively impact some GPS systems, or worse, and at least one company has already stepped forward to say they can fix the problem. LightSquared, which hopes to install 40,000 antennas across the country, may now face problems winning FCC approval that could also translate into additional costs for its primary financial backer. Meanwhile, a committee that advises air-traffic management policy believes GPS and LightSquared can be made to co-exist. And at least one company thinks it could offer an effective solution.

LightSquared’s largest financial backer, Harbinger Capital Partners, has already invested $2.9 billion of assets into the project, according to LightSquared. According to a Wall Street Journal article published Wednesday, regulators are probing certain trades Harbinger (a hedge fund) made years ago. It is not yet clear if that will have any affect on the company’s relationship with LightSpeed. Those who would like to see LightSquared prosper may include Symmetricom, a company that says packet-based primary reference source synchronization solutions could eliminate any interference between the LightSquared system and aviation GPS. Whatever the case, moving forward may require further modifications and testing to determine a method for safe and practical deployment of the LightSquared system.

What Can You Do Today To Save GPS Tracking?

In particular I urge you to read the unimpeachable, disinterested third-party report from emergency responders present at the initial LightSquared tests.  These folks are your customers if you are in this business.  Those folks are also the very guys you expect to come, quickly and accurately, to your aid if you dial 911.

This isn’t a simple issue guys and gals.  And it isn’t just this old guy ranting in the wilderness.

GPS tracking life is going to change in ways you haven’t even thought of, and the changes won’t be in a positive direction at all.

Do something today, or you’ll have to live with my ITYS (I Told You So) next year, as you wonder why your existing good products don’t perform for customers any more.

GPS Tracking needs you help.

Put Your (GPS) Bracelet Where Your Mouth Is

I’ve written here a number of times before about the common sense and the economics of GPS monitoring of certain criminals and released sex offenders and domestic abusers.

Here’s a darn good writer and a darn interesting District Attorney candidate who are getting their heads in the game and trying to demystify the technology and prove what works/doesn’t work.

Could GPS bracelets solve our prison overcrowding problem?

Philadelphia district attorney candidate will sport a monitoring bracelet for the month

Philadelphia district attorney candidate will sport a monitoring bracelet for the month

U.S. prisons have a serious overcrowding problem. It’s gotten so bad in California that a judge ordered the state to set 40,000 inmates free.  The Governator is trying to get that ruling overturned by appealing the judge’s ruling. Over on the East Coast, Philadelphia District Attorney hopeful Michael Untermeyer has a more creative solution:

Untermeyer said Thursday the city could save millions of dollars by moving nonviolent defendants out of the prison system and keeping tabs on them electronically instead.

Untermeyer says it costs $98 a day to keep someone locked up but just $8 a day to monitor them electronically.

via Philly DA hopeful dons monitoring bracelet – National Wire – .

Untermeyer is totally ‘locked in’ on this issue. He’s wearing the GPS ankle bracelet for the next month and allowing voters to track his movements online. Here are the instructions. I tried to track that scoundrel down but the software at SenTrak Offender Management Solutions doesn’t seem to agree with my computer or that of my colleague…. (read the rest, recommended)

I think the two operative take away’s from this article are Untermeyer’s current figures … $90 a day saved per offender, and the fact that this is four way win situation:

Win:  The city saves a bundle

Win: The public gets better protection

Win: The police get to use their budget more effectively, catching criminals instead of watching them

Win:  And although you might not care about the rights of the offenders, think about this … every man or woman who ‘goes straight’ under this program represents an incalculable saving to society in general, the offender’s family and the offender him or herself.  Great stuff

Go Untermeyer!

Save Now With GPS Tracking, Or Wait Until Spring?

Anyone out there thinking in terms of waiting until Spring before impementing GPS tracking and reaping the savings _now_ instead of later?

How Global Positioning System Fleet Software can Help Combat Winter Fuel Costs – Utility Products

Utility ProductsHow Global Positioning System Fleet Software can Help Combat Winter Fuel CostsUtility ProductsGPS vehicle tracking uses a space-based global navigation satellite system to track time and location information of fleet vehicles. This in …

And then I came across this piece which answer the very difficult question of "Live" (near-reaol-time) or "Passive" (Mission Reporting) tracking.

Believe me, the correct answer isn't always obvious.

GPS Tracking Software: Should You Go With Passive or Real-Time? – Resource Nation (blog)

Resource Nation (blog)GPS Tracking Software: Should You Go With Passive or Real-Time?Resource Nation (blog)gps tracking software It isn't just transportation and delivery businesses that use GPS fleet tracking software. Home service providers like la …

An Auditor Who Can Add Two Plus Two

This is about G{S Tracking?  OK it does that headline look a little ‘snarky’?  Well I suppose it is.  I have worked with a number of municipal and country auditors in the past and tried to work with several state office … but they mostly look at the information that proves to them they are losing big time and say, "Ho hum, is it lunch time yet"?

This is a fact that will stand up to an audit.  You can take it to the bank.  Most states don’t even know how many sex offenders they have … or how many cars they have on the road for that matter.  Sad but true.

Continue reading “An Auditor Who Can Add Two Plus Two”

GPS Insight Does It Again

It’s always nice to read about your friends in the business.

GPS Insight is a (now not so) small company which started in this business a few years back about the same time my wife and I started our own (now closed) GPS tracking company.

The owner/founder/CEO Rob Donat has done a wonderful job building up a great example of what small business can do in the good old USA.
You can’t believe ALL the bad news you continually hear on TV …

GPS Insight Selected as a Red Herring Top 100 North America Tech Startup – EON: Enhanced Online News (press release)

GPS Insight Selected as a Red Herring Top 100 North America Tech StartupEON: Enhanced Online News (press release)(EON: Enhanced Online News)–GPS Insight, a leading technology provider of GPS fleet tracking solutions for commercial and government fle …

Hat’s off to Rob and the team at GPS Insight.

How Fast Is Fast Enough?

This is interesting coverage of an interesting topic.


Real Time GPS Tracking

here's the truth of the matter. There is no such thing. Anyone who uses this term is generally a salesman, and typically uniformed about technology.

You can, however use the term "Near-Real-Time" with some degree of accuracy.

That is what most suppliers really mean to say … they just sometimes shorten it to "Real Time" because it sounds better. I mean, why be accurate when you can sound good, right?

Typically They Are Talking About Updates

When a company tells you about "real time" or even near-real-time" tracking, they are usually referring to the rate at which their application updates with new locations, alarms and messages from vehicles being tracked.

GPS units on vehicles can be set to update very quickly. Typical times these days are well under one second for each new "GPS Fix".

But you can't use the information at that rate for several reason.

First, using almost any form of transmitting the data back to the user, the costs of the data transmissions would spiral out of sight.

Second, what on earth would the user DO with that much information? sway to much to store, analyze and keep track of.

After all there are 86,400 seconds each and every day … and if you had a modest size fleet of, say, 50 vehicles, do you really want to store and attempt to analyze 4,320,000 vehicle reports each and ever day? HardlRealtime GPS Vehicle Tracking a reality!

GPS Vehicle Tracking in realtime! This is ABC news coverage of the only true realtime tracking system on the market that does 5-second and 10-second updates!


Pick an Update Rate

So the typical solution is to pick an acceptable update rate and only report every so many minutes of vehicle use. This is the industry accepted solution, and it works well … unless, of course, the report that gets "dropped" because it doesn't come at the specific time of updating is the one you actually need.

Here's Some Scientific Thinking on GPS Update Rates:

Realtime GPS Vehicle Tracking a reality!

GPS Vehicle Tracking in realtime! This is ABC news coverage of the only true realtime tracking system on the market that does 5-second and 10-second updates!…