You might have heard the term “the black box” in the context of airplane accidents. It’s what they look for after a crash because it holds information about the plane and its communications.
But did you know the so-called black box is actually bright orange? The reason is obvious, of course. The color makes it easier to locate.
The history of the black box
In the early days of aviation, there was little information available to investigators after airplane accidents. And this lack of data hindered the development of safety measures. So the industry found a way to collect the flight data they needed – even after a catastrophic accident.
In 1953, an Australian scientist named Dr. David Warren invented a device capable of recording flight data and cockpit conversations. He named his invention the “Flight Memory Unit.” This would eventually be known as “the black box.”
The box is formally referred to as the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). The FDR logs essential flight parameters, like altitude, airspeed, and vertical acceleration. Meanwhile, the CVR captures audio from the cockpit, including conversations between pilots and air traffic control. Together, these devices provide a comprehensive account of a flight’s final moments. This allows investigators to piece together the causes of an accident.
Why is the box actually orange?
The device is not black, but orange, making it easier to spot amongst the wreckage. It’s also equipped with an Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB), which emits a signal for up to 30 days.
The box is very durable. It’s engineered to withstand extreme conditions, starting with the impact of a crash. It also goes through drop tests, crush tests, and fire tests.
So, the real question is actually “How did an orange box become known as a black box?”
The term “black box” is believed to have originated from journalists and the media, rather than from aviation experts or engineers. The origin of the term remains unclear. But in the early days of the black box, its inner workings and the data it recorded were not understood by the public. As a result, the media coined the term as a way to describe something mysterious.