Flight Recorder: 5 Facts About Black Box That You Never Know About


When an airplane crash occurs, the rescue teams always seek for black box in order to investigate the case further. The question is what is a black box, and why is it so important? Black box is neither black nor a box, it is actually a cylinder mounted on two large pieces of metal. It is an electronic recording device placed in an aircraft with the purpose of facilitating the investigation of aviation accidents and incidents. Black box is in fact bright orange in color, and it aids in the recovery after accidents.

In an aircraft, there are two different flight recorder devices including Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). FDR preserves the recent history of the flight through the recording of dozens of parameters collected several times per second. While CVR, preserves the recent history of the sounds in the cockpit including the pilots’ conversations. For more detail, let’s take a look at some interesting facts about black box below.

1The Inventor of the Black Box

image: Aviation Voice

It all began when Dr. David Warren’s father was killed in a Bass Strait plane crash in 1934. David was only 9 years old at the time, but he already had some ideas in mind about the black box. This Australian inventor wanted to invent a unit that could record flight data and cockpit conversations in early 1950s. He then wrote a memo for the Aeronautical Research Center in Melbourne called “A Device for Assisting Investigation into Aircraft Accidents.”

By 1956, he produced a prototype flight recorded called the ARL Flight Memory Unit. However, his history-changing invention did not get much attention until 5 years later. The units were eventually manufactured in the UK and US. The special part is that Australia was the first country to make cockpit-voice recording mandatory after the 1960 crash of Trans Australia Airlines Flight 538.

2Black Box Is Super Tough

image: Wired

Black boxes go through a whole sequence of survivability testing to withstand the condition after a plane crushed. Those testings include: Crash Impact Test, Static Crush, Pierce Test, and Fire Test. That is not all, the testers also dropped them into a pressurized saltwater tank with water pressure at 20,000 ft below the surface.

As a matter of fact, FDRs are double wrapped in titanium or stainless steel which allow them to withstand atrocious conditions. They don’t melt, and they can go through a whole harsher conditions than the average of airline crash. No matter if you drop it from a great height, burn it, or submerge it in a pressurized water tank, this thing is virtually indestructible.

3Finding The Black Box

Black box is way easier to find if the plane crash underwater because it keeps on signalling the rescue teams. On land, search parties only have the orange color as a visual beacon to find the black box. That is why some black boxes are never found because on land crash is difficult to detect. There were very rare cases where they were found on land after accidents.


image: NPR

So Ping is a sound emitted by a device called the underwater locator beacon within the flight recorder. Ping helps the rescue teams to find it easier to detect if the aircraft is under the water. The best part is this underwater beacon emits a signal per second for up to 30 days before the battery runs out. The device can deliver signal from as deep as 14,000 ft under water. If the black box is recovered from a water crash, they will be transported in a cooler so that nothing dries out or rusts.

5The Placement of the Black Box

image: Aviation Stack Exchange

Although black box records data and voices from the cockpit, its place is actually in the tail-end of the aircraft. The tail of the aircraft is presumed to be the most crash-resistant part that protects the box best in case of a crash. The question is how can a device at the very back of the plane record data and conversations form the cockpit? So, there is this Flight Data Acquisition Unit (FDAU) that acts as information central for all the flight data. It is located under the cockpit, and it sends all of the information to the black boxes in the back for safe storage.


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