Black Box – the secrets of the aircraft recorder

Black Box – the secrets of the aircraft recorderDecember 27, 2019

Black Box – the secrets of the aircraft recorder
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Inventor of the flight recorder (Black Box) was the aeronautical engineer David Warren, who produced the first prototype in 1957. The idea of the flight recorder was not new, however, as the brothers Wright and Charles Lindbergh had allegedly already recorded flight data on board. In 1963, Australia was the first country in the world to prescribe a voice recorder and flight recorder in aircraft. The USA followed three years later.


The Black Box is both a voice recorder and a parameter recorder.

The Voice Recorder (CVR) records conversations in the cockpit, from the cabin to the cockpit or conversations from the cockpit to the outside. The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) records various parameters in the aircraft. At least 88 different parameters are required by law. Among other things, the flight route, flight altitude, speed, position of the aircraft, rotational speed, etc. are recorded. Today, a high-tech device can record thousands of data. The recordings run for 24 hours and are then overwritten.


A flight recorder has a cylindrical or round shape and is equipped with a special radio signal “ULB” (Underwater locator beacon), which is activated by contact with water and emits signals at 37.5 KHz (ultrasonic).


Old flight recorders used magnetic tapes to record data, but modern devices use flash memory for this purpose. So basically, a Black Box is a kind of huge and overly protected USB stick. The data is not encrypted, so it is available to anyone who finds the Black Box. This is supposed to be the case: Everyone should be able to read the Black Box.



Why Black Box?


Why does the whole world talk about the Black Box? If the Black Box is not really black, but bright orange. This colour was specially chosen to make it easier to find. There is no “unanimous opinion” as to why the flight recorder is called the Black Box. Three of the common theories are:


  1. Like a darkroom

An early development variant of the data recorder worked with photo exposure. This meant that the inside of the recording box had to be pitch black as in a darkroom – Black Box!


  1. Camouflage colour

During World War II, all components of airplanes were painted black so that they could not be recognized by the enemy by light reflection. Of course this also happened with the Black Boxes.


  1. Refractory paint

In the 1950s, some Black Boxes were allegedly painted with a fireproof paint that was black.



Where is the Black Box located?


Any aircraft with a takeoff weight of more than 5.7 tons or 12 seats must, according to international standards, have a Black Box on board. The Black Box is usually located in the rear of the aircraft to provide the greatest possible protection in the event of an aircraft impact.



What must a Black Box be able to withstand?


The housing is made of stainless steel or titanium and has a fire-retardant filling. Nowadays there are no more steel or plastic magnetic tapes inside, but memory cards of immense capacity.

Black Boxes are masterpieces of engineering, cost as much as a small car and have to pass the hardest tests such as:


– Impact

– Deformation

– High temperatures

– Low temperatures

– Deep sea pressure

– Resistance to aggressive liquids



Why is the data not transferred directly?


Only a Black Box that is found is a good Black Box.

The manufacturer Airbus was working on a Black Box that would “catapult” itself away from the aircraft in the event of a crash over water and float. This is to prevent the Black Box from being hidden somewhere on the seabed waiting to be discovered.


But is there not a better solution? Why don’t the airlines transmit the flight data directly to headquarters via satellite instead of still storing it in the old-fashioned Black Boxes?

Some of these transmissions already exist from the aircraft’s onboard network systems. But the problem is that satellite transmissions are expensive and capacities are limited.

In addition, questions will certainly arise about the possible manipulability of the data. The data of the good old black box are at least “hackerproof” down there at the bottom of the sea…


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