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All About the Flight Data Recorder

While aviation accidents are extremely rare in occurrence, there is always a possibility of an incident happening at some point. As such, it is important that investigators are able to properly understand the events leading up to the accident, as well as secure the data of various avionics and systems. With the flight recorder in flight management system, commonly referred to as a black box, personnel can investigate aircraft accidents during a recovery to analyse what went wrong to further the protection of aircraft for future operations.

The data recorder is a staple device implemented within all aircraft, as regulations set forth by the International Civil Aviation Organization (IACO) require their installation. Additionally, such devices must be capable of surviving even the most severe aircraft accidents, ensuring that they can be recovered for the means of improving flight safety. The flight data recorder that is present in most aircraft will often contain two devices within its assembly, those of which are the flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR). With the flight data recorder, various information is captured from avionic parts and systems, including altitude, heading, airspeed, acceleration, pitch, and more. With the cockpit voice recorder, on the other hand, all noise and communication from the pilots and radio is recorded. As such, investigators may analyze all reading, noises, and conditions leading up to an accident for their investigation

While the name “black box” is commonly used to refer to the flight data recorder, the device itself is most often presented in a bright orange color. This is due to the fact that the device is extremely important for investigations, thus it is painted to be easily spotted and secured. To maintain the data that is needed for analysis, all recordings are placed on digital format solid-state memory boards. With its memory capacity, the device can capture upwards of 25 hours of flight data and 2 hours of cockpit audio. To ensure that data is always up to date, new recordings will continuously overwrite the oldest data during an operation.

As the flight data recorder must withstand the most severe accidents, all parts are placed within a cylinder that is called a crash-survivable memory unit. This unit is composed of multiple layers of stainless steel and insulation, and an aluminum housing stores the data device. As such, the data recorder can withstand 3,400 g of gravitational acceleration, 20,000 feet of underwater pressure, and upwards of 2,000 degree fahrenheit temperatures. To make searching and locating the flight recorder easier, such as in the case of an ocean crash, a sonar device is implemented within the housing that can emit an ultrasonic signal for up to 30 days. Complete with an internal power supply, the flight data recorder is a robust and useful device.

While more advanced flight data recording devices are a more recent addition to aircraft, such devices in similar forms have been present for aviation since the first Wright Brothers’ flight in 1903. While the original flight logging devices only logged parameters such as airspeed and propeller rotation, flight recorders have since significantly expanded over the years and through each world war with new capabilities and housing. As the aviation industry continues to improve safety and regulation, flight data recorders also face continued advancements in their recording abilities and survivability.

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