April 11, 2019

As a Coast Guard aviator, Howard Baker has experienced firsthand the complexity of reporting his in-air position to command centers on the ground, especially during crises or natural disasters involving multiple aircraft carrying out multiple operations. The current system relies mainly on periodic radio calls between aviators in the air and command centers.

The system is inadequate and prone to error, sometimes leaving the command center with only a general idea of where those aircraft are, he said. This delays search-and-rescue efforts, and can be a safety concern for the aircrews themselves.

So when it came time for Baker to decide upon a final project for his Systems Engineering program, the choice was obvious: a tracking system that addresses those multiple technological and capability gaps.

Baker's solution provides any Coast Guard command center with real-time tracking, monitoring, and communications capabilities on a global level. It comprises three subsystems: one on the aircraft, one on the ground, and an interactive display software and subsystem for users in the command center.

This solution is ideally suited for the Coast Guard because of its unique and broad operational missions, Baker explained, pointing out that aviators can find themselves providing marine environmental resource protection, search and rescue, and ports and waterways security all over the globe, including at the North and South Poles, and often hundreds of miles offshore and at extremely low altitudes of fewer than 25 feet.

His system, he says, is designed to ensure that command center personnel know exactly where those aviators are, allowing a more efficient and judicious deployment and use of resources, and enhancing air crew safety.

Though his system is not yet complete—for instance, software still must be written—Baker believes that it will bolster the Coast Guard's efforts in that direction.

I believe that my system is a realistic option [for the Coast Guard], he said. They recognize that they need a system like this, and my project will help the Coast Guard quickly move through the systems engineering process to provide a viable solution for their aviators and command centers.

The Systems Engineering program at Johns Hopkins Engineering regularly highlights the design projects and in-depth thesis research of its students. We will continue to make these presentations available so that they can benefit the entire systems engineering community.