Flight data recorders, or “black boxes,” have their history in the earliest days of aviation as the Wright Brothers carried data recorders on one of their initial flights. This initial recorder was very crude and only recorded limited flight data including duration, speed and number of engine revolutions.
From Down Under
Australian Government, Department of Defense
The modern day flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder was invented by Australian scientist David Ronald De Mey Warren. Australia was also the first country in the world to make cockpit-voice recording mandatory after the 1960 crash of Trans Australia Airlines Flight 538.
Orange Is the New Black
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The origin of the term “black box” is uncertain and the phrase is only used colloquially. A popular explanation of the term is that early flight recorders required the inside to be completely dark so data could be recorded (much like a photographer’s dark room). Another explanation is that the term became used after a meeting about the “Red Egg” (the Aeronautical Research Laboratory system prototype) developed by Warren, when a journalist told Warren, “This is a wonderful black box.” The third most popular origin is that it comes from World War II Royal Air Force jargon, as electronic innovations were referred to as the “box-of-trick” or the “black-box.” Black boxes are actually a bright orange so they can be easily located in case of a crash.
Cockpit Voice Recorder
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The cockpit voice recorder only records 2 hr. of audio in the cockpit. This recorder documents crew interaction, communication with air traffic control and background noises.
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The famous black box "ping" can only be detected if the aircraft is under water. The ping is a sound emitted by a device called the underwater locator beacon within the flight recorder. If a crash happens on land, searchers only have the orange color as a visual beacon.
Here are 5 facts you may not have known about flight data recorders or “black boxes,” including the history, invention and function of these devices.