WHAT IS A BLACK BOX ?
After any aircraft accident we always hear about the search for the ‘Black Box,’ but how much do you really know about these important pieces of equipment?
Any commercial aircraft is required to be equipped with a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder. It is these two items of separate equipment which we usually refer to as a ‘Black Box.’ Whilst this equipment does not assist the aircraft “in flight, both these pieces of equipment are vitally important should the plane crash, as they help crash investigators find out what happened just before the crash.
To help locate the cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder after a plane crash that occurs at sea, each recorder has a device fitted to it known as an Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB). The ULB is activated as soon as the recorder comes into contact with water and it can transmit from a depth as deep as 14,000 feet.
And GUESS WHAT, to help investigators find them; a Black Box is not actually black at all, but bright ORANGE.
All recorders undergo countless tests and can survive very high and low temperatures.
WHO INVENTED THE BLACK BOX?
The Black Box was first invented by an Australian scientist named Dr. David Warren. While Warren was working at the Aeronautical Research Laboratory in Melbourne in the mid-1950s he was involved in the accident investigation surrounding the crash of the world’s first jet-powered commercial aircraft, the Comet. Realising that it would have been useful for investigators if there had been a recording of what had happened on the aircraft just before the crash, he got to work on a basic flight data recorder. The first demonstration unit was produced in 1957, but it was not until 1960, after an unexplained plane crash in Queensland, that Australia became the first country in the world to make the Black Box mandatory for all commercial aircraft.
THE COCKPIT VOICE RECORDER
The main purpose of the Cockpit Voice Recorder is, unsurprisingly, to record what the crew say and monitor any sounds that occur within the cockpit. While investigators would be interested in any communication between the pilots that went on just before an explosion or plane malfunction, trained investigators are keen to pick up on sounds such as engine noise, stall warnings or emergency pings and pops. Investigators are so skilled that they are then able to work out crucial flight information such as the speed the plane was travelling and engine rpm and can sometimes pinpoint the cause of a crash from the very sounds the plane was making before it crashed. The Cockpit Voice Recorder is also extremely important for determining the timing of events as it contains information such as communication between the crew and ground control and other aircraft. The Cockpit Voice Recorder is usually located in the tail of a plane.
THE FLIGHT DATA RECORDER
Of equal, if not more significance to the Cockpit Voice Recorder, is the Flight Data Recorder. This piece of equipment is essential to the work of Air Crash Investigators as it records the many different operating functions of an aircraft, such as the time, altitude, airspeed and direction the plane is heading. These are just the primary functions of the recorder, in fact, modern Flight Data Recorders are able to monitor countless other actions undertaken by the plane, such as the movement of individual flaps on the wings, auto-pilot and fuel gauge. Information stored in the Flight Data Recorder of a plane that has crashed is invaluable for investigators in their search for determining the cause of the crash. The data stored on the recorders helps Air Crash Investigators generate computer video reconstructions of a flight, so that they can visualise how a plane was handling in the time leading up to the crash.
The Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder are invaluable tools for Air Crash Investigators worldwide and will continue to play a major role in helping determine the causes of aviation accidents, as well as offering plane manufacturers and government’s invaluable feedback to help make air travel as safe as possible.
THE FUTURE OF THE BLACK BOX
As technology continues to develop it is likely that Black Boxes, or flight data recorders, will become more sophisticated as well as streaming live information back to airline control centers as is currently being trialled by Qatar Air