Thursday, May 27, 2010

Airliner Black-Box

The "black box" is a generic term for two recording devices carried aboard commercial airliners. The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) records a variety of parameters related to the operation and flight characteristics of the plane. The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) records the voices of the flight crew, engine noise, and any other sounds in the cockpit. All large commercial airliners and certain varieties of smaller commercial, corporate, and private aircraft are required by law to carry one or both of these boxes, which generally cost between $10,000 and $15,000 apiece. The data these devices provide is often invaluable to experts investigating the events leading up to an accident. The recovery of the boxes is one of the highest priorities in any mishap investigation, second only to locating survivors or recovering the remains of victims. FDR information is also often used to study other aviation safety issues, engine performance, and to identify potential maintenance issues.

Despite the nickname "black box," the FDR and CVR are actually painted a bright high-visibility orange with white reflecting strips to make them easier to spot at a crash scene. The meaning of the term black box itself is somewhat unclear. Some suggest it refers to the black charring that occurs in a post-crash fire while others believe the color black is a reference to the deaths often associated with an accident investigation. The design of modern black boxes is regulated by a group called the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The ICAO determines what information the black boxes must record, over what length of time it is saved, and how survivable the boxes must be. The ICAO delegates much of this responsibility to the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE) that maintains a document called the Minimum Operational Performance Specification for Crash Protected Airborne Recorder Systems.

Black boxes first began to appear in the 1950s and became mandatory during the 1960s. These early devices used magnetic tape for data storage, much like that used in a tape recorder. As the tape is pulled over an electromagnetic head, sound or numerical data is recorded on the medium. Analog black boxes using magnetic tape are still present aboard many planes, but these recording devices are no longer manufactured. Newer recorders instead use solid-state memory boards, called a Crash Survivable Memory Unit (CSMU), that record data in a digital format. Instead of the moving parts present in older recorders, solid-state devices use stacked arrays of memory chips similar to a USB memory stick. The lack of moving parts eases maintenance while reducing the chance of a critical component breaking in a crash. Solid-state recorders can also save considerably more data than older magnetic tape devices and are more resistant to shock, vibration, and moisture.

Whatever the medium used to record the data, the purpose of the black boxes is to collect information from various sensors aboard an aircraft. The Cockpit Voice Recorder, for example, saves sounds from microphones located on the flight deck. An area microphone is typically placed in the overhead instrument panel between the pilots, and an additional microphone is located in the headset of each member of the flight crew. These microphones pick up conversations between the flight crew, engine noises, audible warning alarms, landing gear sounds, clicks from moving switches, and any other noises like pops or thuds that might occur in the cockpit. The CVR also records communications with Air Traffic Control, automated radio weather briefings, and conversations between the pilots and ground or cabin crew. These sounds often allow investigators to determine the time of key events and system failures.

(Source: An E-mail)

I must confess at this moment that i was not much aware about the Black-Box thing per se except the name. But the mishap of an Air-India Express flight at Mangalore Air-port some days back made me to look for more knowledge regarding it.
It is just a part of that information regarding Airliner Black Box which was sent to me by my friend.


  1. I prefer silence in my response. :P

    I wish we could live in peace. (:

  2. I appreciate your views Momal.. May peace prevail in this world for eternity..

    (btw.. i feel this comment of yours was meant for "Faceblockistan" post.. but i can understand the problem is there with the theme of my blog)


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