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  • Digital Camera Saves Airline Time and Money

Photonics Spectra
Oct 1997
Ruth A. Mendonsa

'United Airlines' System Aircraft Maintenance Control Group's job is to keep a fleet of 570 aircraft in service and well-maintained so the planes are safe and the airline remains profitable. It can be costly for airplanes to be grounded because of mechanical problems.

A United Airlines mechanic uses the Sony camera to image a faulty airplane part.

A digital camera from Sony Electronics helps the airline keep its planes in the air. The airline uses the DKC-ID1 camera to provide remote diagnostics from its headquarters to mechanics around the world. When a plane has a mechanical problem, technicians use the camera to take digital photographs of damaged or nonfunctioning airplane parts and send the images electronically to the engineers in San Francisco for evaluation. This method enables engineers to diagnose a problem and suggest a repair without traveling to the site of the damaged aircraft.

Full-color images

The DKC-ID1 camera is a handheld digital still camera that allows the mechanics to capture color images in a variety of lighting conditions and focal distances, and to download them to PCs. It comes with a 2-MB PCMCIA memory card, and it can connect to a PC via a built-in SCSI interface.

The camera is equipped with a 450k-pixel progressive-scan charge-coupled device that provides full-color high-resolution images, and the liquid crystal display viewfinder allows the user to review stored images on the spot. The 123 zoom lens focuses so accurately that the engineers can analyze metal flakes found in the plane's oil system.

United Airlines had been using an aging, inefficient camera system. The company tested many digital cameras and chose the DKC-ID1 because of its imaging capability, portability and ease of operation. The camera weighs only 26 oz. These features allow the crew to send the equipment anywhere in the world in a matter of hours, shortening the time the plane is out of service. If a second opinion is needed, the airline's engineers can send the images electronically to the aircraft engineers at Boeing and McDonnell Douglas for diagnosis.

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