Airplane black boxes, explained

Airplane black boxes, explained

“Tower, look at to the south, there’s an aircraft crashing” On Veterans’ Day in 2001, an airplane carrying 260 people dropped out of the sky shortly
after taking off from JFK. “An aircraft just crashed to the south of
the field” The top fin of the plane broke off and fell
into Jamaica Bay, and the rest of the plane crashed into a residential
neighborhood in Queens. Everyone onboard and 5 people on the ground were killed.
This was just 2 months after September 11th, and it was reasonable to assume, as many people did,
that New York was being attacked again. But investigators concluded that it wasn’t
terrorism that took down Flight 587. And they knew that because of what they found
on the airplane’s black box. What the press calls the “black box” is
actually 2 orange flight recorders. The idea dates back to the 1950s, when the
first commercial jet had 5 accidents in its first 2 years of passenger service,
and investigators realized how useful it would be to have a record of what was happening
on the plane before the crash. Early generations of flight recorders etched
the data onto metal foil. By the 1970s they’d switched to magnetic
tape, and by the 90s, solid-state memory chips. But overall, the concept has remained basically
the same, with 2 components: The cockpit voice recorder stores the last
2 hours of sound from cockpit and from the pilots’ headset microphones, on 4 different
channels. In some cases, these audio recordings alone
can reveal what happened, as they did when a Germanwings flight crashed into the French
Alps in 2015. NBC report: “The plane begins to descend.
Air Traffic control calls. No answer. The captain begins banging on the door, yelling,
‘For God’s sake, open the door.’ Passengers scream in the background.”
In the case of Flight 587, that’s the plane that crashed into those houses in Queens — the
cockpit voice recorder offered some hints about what happened.
The transcript showed that before crashing, the plane ran into some wake turbulence from the large 747 that took off just ahead of Flight 587.
But that turbulence alone wouldn’t have been enough to take down the flight.
So investigators needed information from the second box: the flight data recorder. It captures
at least 88 types of data about the plane’s position and instruments for the past 25 hours.
That data feeds into computer animations of what happened before the recorder lost power. And the black box data revealed that the pilots lost control of the plane over the course
of about 10 seconds. And this line in particular stuck out — it
shows what the copilot, who was flying the plane, was doing with the rudder pedals in
response to the turbulence. Pilots can maneuver planes along 3 axes, pitch,
roll, and yaw, which is what the rudder controls. But they rarely use the rudder, because as you’ve
probably noticed, they can change direction by rolling. Investigators concluded that the copilot probably didn’t realize that his aggressive rudder pedal
movements were making things worse, that they were putting enough pressure on the
the vertical stabilizer, that it detached causing the plane to crash.
Because of the flight data recorder, authorities could rule out both terrorism and mechanical
failure, and instead, blame pilot error and poor training. No two airplane accidents are the same, but the flight recorders are useful for every
case, provided that they survive the crash. And they usually do. The recorders are installed
near the tail of planes where the force of the impact is somewhat lessened.
And the memory boards are kept in steel or titanium cases and surrounded by materials
that protect against high temperatures. Often, the rest of the box will be destroyed,
but that doesn’t matter as long as the memory unit is intact.
Of course, flight recorders that are never found are useless.
They do have a beacon that activates underwater and sends an ultrasound signal every second
for 30 days. That signal can travel through 14,000 feet of water. But as flight MH 370 showed, sometimes investigators
aren’t even within that range. BBC report: “But the batteries from MH 370 black boxes are almost certainly starting to fail. If they haven’t already.” That’s why some have proposed new systems
that don’t leave the data on the plane, but rather transmit it in real time to
satellites or ground stations. There are privacy and cost concerns to consider,
but in the future, they might not need to find a box, in order to find the answers the that investigators, and families need. Why does the press call it a black box when it’s orange? Very good question. The term “black box” is not actually used within the aviation industry. I was told when I originally came here there were a couple of different theories. One, that the term black box is often used in engineering for a device where you have a lot of inputs. It may go back to the early days of the recorder, where they used light-sensitive paper to record traces from the stylus. And that equipment was housed in a light-protected black box. There’s also the idea that, as a result of the accident, once they’ve been expose to heat and fire, that they turn black or a dark brown. Nobody really knows where the term came from. But as I say, they’re more appropriately called flight recorders or onboard recording devices and they’re always painted a very bright orange.

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100 Replies to “Airplane black boxes, explained”

  1. sooo why didn't they hear or do that animation thing to see what happened to that malaysian flight that disappeared? or did the black box not survive?

  2. Although it makes no sense to Transfer the data as when a airplane looses connection to the tower , nothing gets transmitted. The Malaysian airline went off radar. What if the other do to. No flight data or flight location. Keepin it simple would be effective for the industry and prolly better than Data transfer. Plus the cost + storage of the transfer would be huge

  3. That is wrong, the rudder is an essential part of turning an aircraft, unless you want to put the plane on its wing, you need the rudder to turn. The plane at the time was not turning so it is most likely that he was trying to correct for the yaw dilations made by the air.

  4. Another excellent video! Light years above anyone else. Great information, and pig that I am, I'd watch the on-camera host read the phone book. Breathtaking…

  5. Pilots always use the rudder in each and every turn….
    In any aircraft the use of the rudder is to stay coordinated. The ailerons controlling bank will not suffice in coordinated turn.

  6. Are you kidding me, Space-X can broadcast video feed from their rockets flying in space and we can't feed data in real time from aircraft on Earth. What century is the civil aviation flying in?

  7. Only a MORON calls it a black box – MORN. As to source of the term – aircraft are full of black boxes – INS, NAV COM systems are all in black boxes – the FDR and CVR are exceptions


  8. Now the data should be sent real-time to servers in the NTSB or at least to Boeing or Airbus depending, so that if the plane crashes into a very dangerous place to access or can't find the BlackBox, have all that information already in the servers and databases

  9. Three women are sitting next to each other on a plane, a beautiful woman, a rich woman and a black woman when the pilot announces “ Prepare for a crash landing “. The beautiful woman really dolls herself up and says “ I’m the prettiest, so they’ll rescue me first “, the rich woman puts on all of her most expensive jewelry and says “ I’m the richest, so they’ll rescue me first “, the black woman pulls up her skirt, pulls down her panties, spreads her legs and says “ the first thing they look for is a black box”!

  10. I know it as a MPFR [Multi Purpose Flight Recorder], I hate when there is water leak in its compartiment and the underwater beacon is triggered, always a problem.

  11. Didn't get the last debate on the phase "Black box". It's a very common term in UK engineering – used since at least 1902, long before the Wright brothers flight.

  12. Fun fact: The first ever comet to depart there was a famous BBC reporter on board and he died during the comet first flight in aviation history.

  13. Black boxes are called blox box because once it is recoverd its burned very much its a black box

  14. 3:31 that second sound with the impact of the wind at the nose was actually used in another Vox video when they made that Biomimicry video, the part where the air pressure was at its highest at the end of the tunnel and creates a loud bang when the train exits the tunnel and the air pressure is let out

  15. It's kinda sad how safety standards and design philosophies (e.g. safe life design, fail safe design, fault tolerant design, etc.) only come about and evolve because of these tragic accidents. If it weren't for thorough accident investigation we wouldn't know how to better design aircraft and maintain them in order to prevent future accidents. Next time you land, you can thank the thousands of people who have died flying and the investigators who asked why for helping to make your flight safe.

  16. The Black Box is were we look if a plane goes down this has everything in it to tell us why the plane crashed.

  17. Interesting that we don't know why they're called black boxes, they're actually called the same thing in Dutch too so it's not just a weird English fluke I'd say

  18. That indeed was a poor pilot training. Simulator made pilots overreact in such conditions with rudder input

  19. @Vox – great job on this, very informative, *thank you!*. You could produce 10 more videos on black boxes and their history with diagnosing airplane crashes, and I would definitely watch them all.

  20. Or how about we just simply make air travel safer than it is and perhaps not worry about things like black boxes

  21. If it doesnt break even impact, than why plane designers do not cover the whole plane with black box material huh?

  22. When Black Boxes are installed in an airplane (the FDR and CVR) is there a physical exterior door in which they can be accessed? As if they slide out on a tray?

  23. Black boxes are ancient technology from 50 plus years back, akin to keeping your money in a piggy-box! Data should be transmitted real time. Saying cost is a problem would not be a problem if the dead could sue. Saying there are privacy concerns is just lazy as secure data transmission is easy nowadays. The people who sell and live by these boxes are just intransigent dinosaurs happy with their jobs. The necessity of getting more and certain data quickly is obvious. The aviation authorities should demand the technology update. Probably the lawyers are worried that any government with a recording might demand the code-key and certain industry groups may want to avoid certain embarassments. Another failure of uncontrolled capitalism.

  24. Why dont they just put like 5 of them on the plane. Larger survival chance and recovery chance. +you can compare data to make sure it’s correct

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