A two-man invention team that began designing an electronic interactive anti-collision device for helicopters in the wake of a tragic crash between two news choppers over downtown Phoenix last year, today is less one man.
Chris Morrison’s death last November has left the reality of such a device uncertain.
A day after the July 27, 2007, mid-air collision that killed four broadcast journalists, Valley helicopter pilots Chris Morrison and Ralph Gannarelli, began designing such a system.
But Morrison, 40, of Scottsdale, president of Nuvo Technologies, a wireless technology systems company, died in November.
Gannarelli is an aircraft mechanic who formerly flew a helicopter for KNXV-TV (Channel 15).
Each co-inventor took a different role in the system’s design. Gannarelli still has all the plans for the system, but he told the Tribune that he has not been actively pursuing the completion of the system since Morrison’s death.
“I would like to see someone take the interest in it,” Gannarelli said of the proposed device. “I’m not going to do it alone. News helicopters are always flying close to each other. I think it would be a good safety measure. Chris hashed out the software for about three or four months to make the system work, and I knew what it took to be up in the air with other helicopters close by. It should be recognized.”
After closely reading about 50 invention patents involving avionics and aircraft anti-collision systems, Gannarelli wrote the necessary commands for the system.
Morrison was designing the mechanics of the device to be wireless-based and to work off a NAVSTAR global positioning system which would provide communications to pilots when they were within a mile of each other.
In September, Morrison and Gannarelli filed an application for their invention with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a review process that takes about eighteen months.
During the review process, Morrison’s and Gannarelli’s goal was to get all five Valley television news stations on board with the project, and they had made progress.
The pair had met with news station officials at Channel 15 and at KPHO-TV (Channel 5), and received a favorable response from both places. Morrison died one day before the pair had planned to pitch their device to officials at KSAZ-TV (Channel 10) in Phoenix.
But Gannarelli told the Tribune this week he is not actively pursuing the completion of the device.
In a touch of a button on the aircraft’s control panel, a voice command would let pilots know where other news helicopters are while maneuvering through the air. The system also would sound a warning if a helicopter is within 300 feet of another.
A prototype of the system never was manufactured because the invention still was in its design stages at the time of Morrison’s death.
After the invention is reviewed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an overall 18-month process, officials at the Federal Aviation Administration had planned to test the device, which would be a long drawn-out process, Gannarelli said.
“The FAA wanted to make sure the system didn’t interfere with any other communications systems, and Chris was making sure that it didn’t,” Gannarelli said. “He was making sure it had all the working parts.”
KNXV pilot Craig Smith and photojournalist Rick Krolak, KTVK pilot Scott Bowerbank and photojournalist Jim Cox died when their two helicopters collided a year ago over Phoenix Steele Indian School Park.