Flight Recorders: How Do They Work?

Flight Recorders: How Do They Work?

Have you ever wondered how a flight recorder can be retrieved from wreckage in a seemingly unharmed state? Or how it’s able to provide enough information for accident investigators to recreate the flight?

Well, you’re not alone! Read on to find out how flight recorders work!

The Eyes and Ears of an Aircraft

A flight recorder – or black box – is an electronic device that is carried on aircraft as a means to facilitate investigations of accidents and incidents. The two flight recorder devices, namely, the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) stores information on the recent history of the flight. The FDR collects data several times per second by recording at least 88 different parameters. The CVR, as the name suggests, records the voices and conversation of the pilots, along with other sounds in the cockpit.

According to the provisions in ICAO Annex 6, a Type I FDR shall record the parameters required to determine the aircraft’s flight path, altitude, speed, engine power, operation and configuration, while Type II and IIA FDRs record all these, and the configuration of lift and drag devices. Time, airspeed and heading are some of the other parameters recorded.

Super Strength

Source: www.npr.org

The flight recorder is usually installed in the tail section of the aircraft, where it is most likely to survive a crash. The device itself is made to withstand high impact and extreme conditions. Current flight recorder survivability standards include the ability to resist 1100°C flame covering 100% of recorder for 30 minutes, and 260°C for 10 hours; static crush of 5000 pounds for 5 minutes on each axis; immersion in aircraft fluids (fuel, oil, etc.) for 24 hours and sea water immersion for 30 days. Flight recorders are also built to hold out against hydrostatic pressure equivalent to a depth of 20,000 feet.

Black Box – Or Not


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When flight recorders were first introduced in the 1950s, they were contained in a black box, earning itself the name ‘black box’. However, this proved to be an impractical design as it was difficult to spot a black box among debris at a crash site. And so, since 1965, all FDRs are required to be painted bright orange or yellow so that they could be easier to locate at an accident site.

Data to Deliver a Testimony

Source: panow.com

Most FDRs record up to 25 hours of data in a single, continuous loop. Modern FDRs are accompanied by an underwater locater beacon, a detection aid which emits ultrasonic ‘ping’s when submerged.

CVRs are fed information from the microphones and earphones of the headsets worn by pilots, as well as from an area microphone in the cockpit roof. The CVR also records communications with air traffic control. Unlike FDRs, the CVR does not record in a continuous loop. Instead, CVRs record for a period of two hours, registering data via solid-state memory. New CVRs are incorporated with batteries so that recording can still take place even if all aircraft electrical systems fail.

Together, the FDR and CVR can provide a near-accurate narration of the aircraft’s flight history, helping investigators paint the flight scene – quite amazing, isn’t it?

The Ever-Changing, Ever-Improving

Source: www.imore.com

Thanks to the existence of flight recorders, accident investigations lead to more ground-breaking outcomes than ever before. The data from these devices can also help determine if the accident was caused by an aircraft issue, pilot error, or external event. Additionally, information from flight recorders have contributed to aircraft system design improvements, the identification of engine issues and the prediction of potential obstacles as aircraft age.

As flight recorders continue to progress with technological advancements, the safety of flight operations will increasingly improve. And in the aviation industry, safety is what we strive for.

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