- 18 Jan 08, 21:52 GMT
I’ve been away from my normal beat for a couple of days, getting involved in coverage of the Heathrow crash landing. But reporting on this story has reminded me of how new technology has changed the lives of journalists. Ten years ago, we would not have had three tools that proved essential over recent days – Google, Youtube, and games software downloaded online.
Even just a decade ago, my first stop in examining the possible causes of this near disaster would have been the BBC library, home to volumes of Jane’s Aircraft and to dedicated researchers who would comb through countless dusty folders of little cuttings from newspapers in search of vital scraps of information. Next, I would have called our film library in search of archive pictures, then waited for a stack of tapes, sometimes in old formats which needed converting, to arrive on a van..
But nowadays I turn to Google. A quick look at my web history shows I made around 70 searches over the last two days. The first, an hour or so after the crash landing, was for “instrument landing system” (Wikipedia gave me a useful summary) but soon the theories moved on and I was typing “777 power incidents” into the search box.
My very first search, though, was on Youtube – and it quickly turned up something very useful. A passenger on a BA 777 flight to Heathrow last year had posted his footage filmed out of the window as it made a safe landing, passing over the exact spot where Thursday’s flight fell short. We used those pictures on the Six O Clock News – and other broadcasters had the same idea, finding Youtube footage of bird strikes to illustrate one possible cause of the crash landing.
Graphics artists are invaluable on these occasions and Google Earth provided them with useful images of the approach to Heathrow. But to get a real feel for the view from the cockpit, I despatched a producer to go and buy a Flight Simulator PC game. Then we realised that the small aircraft that comes with the game wouldn’t do the trick, so we went online to download a Boeing 777 add-on.
When we invited a retired pilot into our edit suite to describe what happens when you find yourself without power at 600 feet, we expected him to be scornful of our game footage. Quite the opposite – he said it was identical to the experience provided by the simulator where he learned to fly a 777 at Heathrow ten years ago. So a £25 piece of software is now performing the same task as a machine that cost a six-figure sum to build – another example of the advance of computing power.
Mind you, as the grateful passengers of the BA flight will attest, technology has its limitations. When something went terribly wrong with the systems on one of the world’s most advanced passenger aircraft, it was human qualities – the skill and nerve of the crew – which saw them safely onto the ground.
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