Black boxes: First things first, they are not black

After the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max -8 jetliner killed 157 passengers, among them 32 Kenyans, the term black box is on every lip.

On Thursday, Ethiopian Airlines announced that the Black box flight recorder of the flight that went down had been taken to France for analysis. "An Ethiopian delegation led by Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has flown the flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) to Paris, France for investigation," the airline communicated via its Twitter handle.  

So what is a Black box?

A black box is a misleading term.  And it is not black.

It is referred to as black because, according to Klm.com, "it is often charred black after a crash or, it may be because the very first boxes were painted black to prevent reflection or because 'black box' is a general name in science for devices with in-and output of data with complex internal workings".

The box is painted in a vibrant colour called International orange for visibility in the event of a crash.

Professionals call black boxes Flight Data Recorders (FDRs).  And, there are two types, either combined in one unit or separated. In other words, the FDR can be separate from the other black box called the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR).

The Flight Data Recorder captures information about the plane itself. It tracks the specific aircraft performance parameters such as the plane direction, speed, time and altitude. The Cockpit Voice Recorder on the other hand, records the audio environment (engine noise, stall warnings, emergency pings and pops) in the flight deck including the conversation of the pilots.

Australia became the first country to make flight data recorders mandatory for all commercial flights in 1960 after a plane accident in Queensland.

According to Nationalgeography.com, the 'Black Box' was invented by an Australian scientist Dr. David Warren after he was involved in the accident investigation surrounding the mysterious crash of the world's first jet-powered commercial aircraft, the Comet.

He realised that it would have been useful for investigators if there had been a recording of what had happened on the plane just before the crash, he got to work on a basic flight data recorder.

The 'black boxes' help plane crash investigators visualise how the plane was working and how the crew was handling it shortly before the accident.

Nationalgeography.com adds the two recorders have a device fitted to them known as an Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB). The device is activated as soon as the recorder comes into contact with water and it can transmit from a depth as deep as 14,000 feet.?

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Black BoxEthiopian AirlinesBoeing 737 Max -8Flight Data RecordersEthiopian Plane Crash