Black BoxAfter every plan crash there is a urgent search for the Black Box -– the vital piece of technology that can often answer unanswered questions. With every plane crash you hear references to this mysterious device. The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and its dramatic weeks long search has still yet to yield the infamous black box. So what should you know about the Black Box?

1)    IT’S NOT BLACK. Orange is the new black in this case…officially, called “international orange”, the boxes are painted as such to make them easier to find among the wreckage of an air disaster.

2)    IT’S ACTUALLY TWO PIECES OF EQUIPMENT. The Black Box conjures up an image of a square piece of metal, yet it is actually two separate pieces of equipment that goes by the slang black box. The pieces consist of the flight data recorder, which records airspeed, altitude, vertical acceleration and fuel flow; and the cockpit voice recorder, which, as its name implies, records not only conversations in the cockpit but sometimes the sounds the aircraft was making in the background to help determine cause of crash.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 At 7.19.53 Am

3)    IT WAS INVENTED BY AN AUSTRALIAN. In the 1950s, Dr. David Warren wrote an article for the Aeronautical Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia, entitled “A Device for Assisting Investigation into Aircraft Accidents.” His initial prototype was called the “ARL Flight Memory Unit.” Warren’s impetus was both professional and personal – his father was killed in a plane crash in 1934.

4)    YOU CAN’T DESTROY IT. The Black Box is virtually indestructible. It has been shot out of a cannon against a wall, placed in fires of over 2,000 degrees Farenheit, even dropped into a pressurized water tank. It’s usually covered in titanium, hence its incredible resiliency.

5)    WHAT IS IT REALLY CALLED? A Foil OscillographicRecorder.

Currently, the cockpit voice recorder plays on a loop and records only the previous two hours of conversation and noise. That could change in this era of digital technology. Also a possibility? Video. The National Transportation Safety Board has discussed video of the cockpit, but pilots for now have resisted on the grounds of violation of privacy.

A great YouTube video that tells you everything you want to know about the Foil OscillographicRecorder (AKA Block Box) is done by The Engineer Guy. Check it out.