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    Demystifying The Black Box In An Airplane


    Often after an air disaster, as in the case of MH 370 (Malaysian Airlines 370), MH17 (Malaysian Airlines 17), and now the MS804 (Egypt Air Flight 804), we hear about the black box of the airplane and how, if found, it can lead to relevant findings about the reason of the airplane crash. So, what is actually a black box and what is its use in an airplane?


    What is a Black Box?
    According to Wikipedia,” A flight recorder, colloquially known as a black box, although it is now orange-coloured, is an electronic recording device placed in an aircraft for the purpose of facilitating the investigation of aviation accidents and incidents.”

    Simply put, a black box is a combination of a flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder which may not be vital during a flight but gives integral information about the plane in case of a crash. For this reason, it is made of corrosion-resistant stainless steel or titanium, with high-temperature insulation so that it can withstand an accident.

    Because the tail of the plane is believed to be the most crash-resistant, a black box is always stored in the rear, as a flight data acquisition unit sends all the data to the black box.

    Any commercial airplane is required to be equipped with one of these.



    The Black Box, as it is known, was invented by the Australian scientist, Dr. David Warren.

    In 1960, Australia became the world’s first country to make the black box mandatory for all commercial aircraft, while he was working at the Aeronautical Research Laboratory in Melbourne in the mid-1950s  This was decided after a series of events where it became evident that a flight recording system was necessary to decipher the cause of two plane crashes, the first one being the mysterious crash of the world’s first jet-powered commercial aircraft, the Comet, and an unexplained plane crash in Queensland.

    What is its use in an airplane?
    The two parts of the black box, the flight data recorder, and the cockpit voice recorder have different functions.

    The flight-data-recorder registers the airplane’s altitude, direction, speed and similar information throughout the flight.

    The cockpit-voice recorder, as the name suggests, records each and every conversation in the cockpit. It has a small cassette tape, which runs continuously keeps recording each and every message. However, messages in the previous 30 or 60 minutes can only be retrieved, depending on the capacity of the tape.

    Both these are invaluable tools for Air Crash Investigators across the world and, with time, will become more and more sophisticated, as in the case of any other technology, potentially being the most reliable and only source of investigation behind aviation accidents.

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    Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.

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