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Air Travel Term of the Day: Black Box

You have heard it before, especially when there's an airplane crash: Black Box. What is a black box? Why is it called Black Box?  Is it black?

  • By the year 2015, FAA requires that the batteries in black boxes need to last longer than 30 days.



There are Two Kinds of Units with "Black Boxes"





The two kinds of black boxes on board an aircraft are: (1) The Voice Recorder; and (2) The Flight Recorder.

1. The Voice Recorder - This is a black box that records everything that the pilots talk about, the interaction with each other, and their interaction with the machine. Anything and everything that is going on in the cockpit is being recorded by the voice recorder.

2. The Flight Recorder - This records anything and everything happening with the aircraft; the altitude, the longitude, if it is on auto pilot or not, whether it is ascending - or descending. It records how the plane is doing, what turns it is making, whether it is going fast, or slow.

When there's an aircraft incident or accident, these two black boxes combined, give the investigators the information that they need about the flight. The black boxes are battery-operated, is water proofed to preserve the information, but the battery life as of today, is only 30 days. The blackbox of Air France Flight 447, the one that crashed at the Atlantic Ocean over Brazil, was recovered after two years, and information was still useful in finding out why the aircraft crashed.

There have been questions why the battery is only good for 30 days. As a result of these concerned questions, the battery life requirement will be changed, as early as next year.

Is the Black Box black?

The black box is usually black, hence the word "black box". If you can see the picture above, though, the outside of the unit of this contained circuitry is orange. The orange part is only the skin. Most of the components inside are black.

History of the Word

In 1947, "black box" is a slang for "navigational instruments" (Online Etymology Dictionary). Later on, the term was extended to any electronic apparatus that has a complicated circuitry, contained in a unit, and is waterproof and fireproof. Throughout the years, that unit in the airplane that survives crash and or explosion, has been permanently called "black box".