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What is a Black Box? | Types | Usage | History & Invention

By: Richard J. Gross
Updated On: August 23, 2022

What is a black box? This is a question that has been puzzling people for years. A black box is a device that records information about a flight. It can be used to record cockpit conversations, as well as data from the aircraft’s instruments.

Black boxes are often referred to as Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVRs) and Flight Data Recorders (FDRs). Today, the black box is found on almost every commercial airliner.

The black box is a mystery to many people, as it is often referred to as a “black box.” However, the black box is not actually black; it is usually painted bright orange or red so that it can be easily found in the event of a crash.

Liked this interesting fact? Read on to find more! In this blog post, we will discuss the history and invention of black boxes, as well as the different types that are available.


What is an Aircraft Black Box?

An aircraft black box is a device that is used to record data or cockpit conversations during a flight. The black box is an essential piece of equipment on every commercial airliner.

What is an Aircraft Black Box?

Black boxes are typically installed in the rear of the aircraft, where they are more likely to survive a crash. The black box is designed to be durable and withstand extreme conditions. It is also designed to be fireproof and waterproof.

The black box is an essential piece of equipment because it can provide investigators with valuable information about what happened during a flight. For example, the black box can help investigators determine the cause of a plane crash.

As an example, the black box from the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared in 2014 is still missing. However, in another incident, namely, the 2009 Air France Flight 447, the black box was successfully recovered and helped in the investigations.

It was found that Air France Flight 447 had encountered a thunderstorm which caused the plane to crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

The recovery of black boxes is essential in order to help improve aviation safety. During the process of wreckage recovery, black boxes are often the first pieces of equipment that are located. This is because black boxes are designed to emit a “pinger” signal that can be detected by search and rescue teams.

The pinger signal has a range of about two miles and can help investigators locate the black box. Once the black box is located, it can be downloaded, and the data can be analyzed. This signal lasts for about 30 days after a crash.

It can be detected by sonar equipment from boats or even by hand-held devices. The black box is able to withstand incredibly high temperatures and pressures. The black box is also designed to survive an impact of 3400g, which is equivalent to the force of a jet crashing into a concrete wall at 400 miles per hour.

The black box is also equipped with an underwater locator beacon or ULB. The ULB emits a signal that can be detected by sonar. The ULB has a battery life of 30 days.


Types of Black Boxes

There are two types of black boxes that are installed on commercial aircraft, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and the Flight Data Recorder (FDR).

Types of Black Boxes

The Cockpit Voice Recorder

The Cockpit Voice Recorder is used to record the conversations that take place in the cockpit. The recordings are made on a loop and overwrite the oldest recordings. The Cockpit Voice Recorder can record up to 30 minutes of audio.

The CVR consists of two microphones, one for each pilot. The CVR is located in the cockpit and is usually mounted on the ceiling. These microphones can detect sounds in the cockpit, such as engine noise, pilot conversations, and warnings from the aircraft’s systems.

The CVR storage is done via a digital or an analog recorder. Modern CVRs use a digital storage system that can store up to 25 hours of audio. The audio quality of the recordings is very high and can be used to identify voices. Earlier, the CVRs used an analog storage system that could only store about two hours of audio.

In cases where there are multiple pilots, microphones are placed in different positions in the cockpit so that all the conversations can be recorded. Furthermore, standby batteries are used to power the CVR in case the aircraft’s electrical system fails.

The Flight Data Recorder

The Flight Data Recorder is used to record data about the flight. This data includes information such as airspeed, altitude, and heading. The FDR also records information about the operation of the aircraft’s systems, such as the use of flaps and landing gear. The data from the FDR is used to help investigate accidents and incidents.

The FDR consists of a solid-state memory device and a digital data recorder. The memory device stores the data in non-volatile memory, which means that the data is not lost when power is lost. The digital data recorder records the data in a format that a computer can read.

The FDR is located in the aircraft’s fuselage, usually in the tail section. The FDR is mounted in a crash-worthy container designed to withstand an impact’s force. The container is usually made of stainless steel or titanium.

An incident where FDR really came in handy is the Miracle on the Hudson. On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The aircraft struck a flock of birds and lost power in both engines.

The pilots were forced to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. The data from the FDR was used to help investigate the accident and determine what happened.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration or the FAA, the FDR should consist of a few parameters such as airspeed, heading, altitude, and vertical speed. The FAA also requires that the FDR should be able to record at least 25 hours of data. Additionally, the data should be able to be downloaded within 60 minutes.

The FDR is an important piece of safety equipment on aircraft. The data from the FDR can be used to help prevent future accidents and incidents.


The invention and history of the Black Boxes of an Aircraft

The black box is not a new invention. The first black box was used on an aircraft in the 1930s. The black box was invented by Australian engineer David Warren.

Warren was working for the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation when he came up with the idea for the black box. He was inspired by a device that was used to record data from experiments conducted by British scientist James Watt.

The black box was originally called the Flight Memory Unit or FMU. The FMU was first used on an aircraft in 1939. The FMU was used to record data from the Commonwealth CA-15 aircraft test flights.

The black box was not mandatory on aircraft until 1958. In that year, the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, required that black boxes be installed on all commercial aircraft.

This year was picked as it was the 50th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight. The black box has come a long way since its invention in the 1930s. The black box is now an essential piece of safety equipment on aircraft.

While the black box is a vital piece of safety equipment, it is also shrouded in mystery. The black box is often referred to as the “black box” because it is a mystery how it works. This is because the black box is sealed and cannot be opened without damaging it.

Flight Recorders Usage

Once retrieved, the data from these flight recorders can provide valuable information about what happened during an accident or incident. This information can be used to help improve safety and prevent future accidents.

In the United States, the data is received by the National Transportation Safety Board or the NTSB. The NTSB is responsible for investigating accidents and incidents. They receive the data in digital, audio, and video formats.

Usage Of Flight Recorders

How does the NTSB process this data?

The black box data is sent to the NTSB, where a team of investigators processes it. The team will analyze the data to determine what happened and why. They will also make recommendations on improving safety and preventing future accidents.

The data is collected via USB ports, ethernet cables, and other data storage devices. The memory board, which is the black box itself, is then removed and sent to the NTSB. Additionally, the NTSB can also employ other agencies, such as the FBI, if foul play is suspected.

New Generation Flight Recorders

Black Boxes definitely have evolved since their invention. The newer data collection and storage methods have made black boxes more reliable and easier to retrieve.

The solid-state memory boards replaced the older tape-based system in the late 1990s. This allowed for a more reliable and rugged recorder. Additionally, the new black boxes can store more data than ever. The increase in storage capacity is due to the use of digital technology.

The new black boxes are also easier to retrieve in the event of an accident. They are often located in the tail of the aircraft, where they are more likely to survive a crash. The location of the black box can be tracked via GPS so that it can be quickly found and retrieved.

Additionally, video data is now being collected by some black boxes. This allows for a better understanding of what happened during an accident or incident. The video data is often stored on solid-state memory boards like the other black box data. Examples of this new technology being implemented include the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 777.


What’s Next for Black Boxes?

As you can see, black boxes have come a long way since their invention. They are now more reliable and easier to retrieve.

The new generation of black boxes is able to collect more data than ever before. This data is vital in understanding what happened during an accident or incident.

Additionally, the video data collected by some black boxes provide a new level of understanding.

There are various incidents where the black boxes were very helpful:

  • For example, in the case of Air France Flight 447, black boxes helped to understand what happened during the flight. The black boxes were recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and provided investigators with critical data.
  • In another example, black boxes were used to understand the cause of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 incident. This plane disappeared over the Indian Ocean in 2014. The black boxes were never found, but the data they collected was used to understand what happened.

While black boxes are not perfect, they are essential in understanding what happens during an accident or incident. Regrettably, black boxes also have drawbacks. The first and foremost is that black boxes can be damaged or lost during an accident.

  • Even if the black box is not damaged, it can be very difficult to find. For example, in the case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the black box was never found. This made it impossible to understand what happened during the flight.
  • Another drawback of black boxes is that the old ones only record data. They do not record video or audio. This means that they can only provide a limited understanding of what happened during an accident or incident.
  • Finally, black boxes are only as good as the data they collect. If the data is inaccurate, it can lead to false conclusions about what happened.

Despite this, as technology continues to improve, black boxes will become even more important in helping to keep people safe.


Final Thoughts

The black box is an underrated invention that has assisted in many ways, from recording data to help with airplane investigations to understanding what happened during a blackout. It is truly a remarkable device with a long and interesting history.

Additionally, it also has the mystery element due to the fact that not many people know how it works or what goes on inside of the black box. Next time you fly, take a moment to think about the black box and all of its potential! We hope you enjoyed learning about black boxes as much as we did! Thank you for reading.

Richard J. Gross

Hi, my name is Richard J. Gross and I’m a full-time Airbus pilot and commercial drone business owner. I got into drones in 2015 when I started doing aerial photography for real estate companies. I had no idea what I was getting into at the time, but it turns out that police were called on me shortly after I started flying. They didn’t like me flying my drone near people, so they asked me to come train their officers on the rules and regulations for drones. After that, I decided to start my own drone business and teach others about the safe and responsible use of drones.

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