Flight recording devices

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Flight logging systems were created in order to identify the causes of air accidents, which are nearly invariably fatal. David Warren, an inventor with the Aeronautic Research Laboratories in Melbourne, Australia, invented the flight recording systems that are still in use today in the 1960s. Flight recording instruments are usually made up of two components: a Cockpit Voice Recorder and a Flight Data Recorder. While a Cockpit Voice Recorder records the audio condition of an airplane’s cockpit, a Flight Data Recorder records several flight parameters such as speed, velocity, and temperature. The flight recording devices are designed to withstand high impacts associated with air crashes. In addition, they are designed to withstand fires and water conditions. Flight data recording technologies are important. They have led to the introduction of gradual improvements in air safety, based on insights that have been gotten from previous air crash investigations, so that air travel remains one of the most popular and safest modes of travel worldwide.

Introduction

Airplane manufacturers install all planes with a black box, which is composed of two items, a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder. The flight data recorder’s task is to compile a wide range of information in the course of flight. This ranges from altitude, pitch, air speed, fuel levels, temperature, among other parameters. Most flight data recording devices can record up to 25 hours of data (Han, 2015). This report explores the historical, engineering, and social aspects of flight data recorders.

The second component of the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder captures audio files of speech between an aircraft’s pilots, crew, and air-traffic controllers. The cockpit voice recorder also records background noise within the cockpit, including alarms and engine noise. Flight data recorders are critical for investigators attempting to unravel the causes of flight accidents. They provide critical insights on the causes of flights. Airplane crashes are often fatal. It is not only important to establish the cause of an air crash, but also to be able to prevent an air crash in future that may occur for similar reasons.

History

David Warren invented flight data recorders. His inspiration came from a profound reason. He lost his father in one the earliest air crashes in Australia in 1934 (Bellis, 2017). David Warren was born in 1925 in Northern Australia. In the 1950s, while David was working with the Aeronautic Research Laboratories in Melbourne, several events and developments spurred him to explore the idea of a flight data recorder. In 1949, in Britain, da Havilland Comet aircraft was introduced, which crashed in 1954. Since there was no recording device in the aircraft, there was no way of investigating the events that led to the crash. Around the same time, tape recorders were becoming available at trade shows and in stores (Bellis, 2017). The appearance of tape recorders made David Warren wonder how much information would have been available to investigators if such a device had been in the cockpit.

In 1957, David Warren came up with a prototype, which he called the ‘Memory Unit.’ There was a lot of resistance from professionals in the aviation industry. For instance, members of the Royal Australian Air Force famously quipped that it would record ‘more expletives than explanations.’ On the other hand, civilian pilots had concerns that the device could be used to for unsanctioned surveillance and espionage (Bellis, 2017). Nevertheless, the British adopted the device, followed by Australia. Over time, it became standard procedure to install the ‘memory unit’ in all commercial airplanes across the world.

Figure 1: David Warren with the First Flight Data Recorder Prototype Source:ethw.org

It is not clear how Warren’s device came to be referred to as the black box, considering that Warren prototype was more orange than black. The aim of making it a bright color such as orange was to make it easier to spot and retrieve following a crash. Nevertheless, the ‘black box’ reference has stuck, potentially due to the tough steel reinforcement required to safeguard the device from external interference. Although David Warren never received any financial reward because of his critical invention, and has been officially recognized as the legitimate inventor, following a long battle, Warren was awarded the Order of Australia in recognition of his contribution in 2002. David Warren passed on 2010, at age 85 (Bellis, 2017). His invention remains a key device in aircraft flying all over the world. It has provided critical information to air crash investigators that has been critical in the prevention of future incidents.

Engineering

The cockpit voice recorder, sometimes referred to as the cockpit audio recorder, captures the total audio environment of the cockpit. This includes pilots’ voices, crew voices, alarms, radio transmissions, instrument adjustments, switch activations, engine noise, as well as airflow noise (ATSB, 2014). In older versions of cockpit voice recorders, audio file recordings captured only approximately thirty minutes before the end of the flight. In modern versions, cockpit voice recorders retain information spanning the last two hours of the flight. In addition, the latest information takes priority over older information. Therefore, information recorded over two hours will be replaced with the latest as time goes by. This is in accordance with ‘the endless loop principle.’ It is estimated that approximately 80% of aircraft accidents are due to human error (ATSB, 2014). Cockpit voice recorders, therefore, offer critical insights that may facilitate investigations into the causes of accidents.

Figure 2: Flight Data Recorder. Source ATSB.gov.au

While the cockpit voice recorder captures audio information, the second major component, referred as the flight data recorder, records numerous flight parameters. These parameters will vary depending on the type or even size of the aircraft. The five major classes of parameters include pressure, air speed, pressure altitude, normal acceleration, magnetic heading, and microphone keying (ATSB, 2014). In case of an accident, data from microphone keying, which refers to instances when crew or pilots made radio transmissions, is critical since it can be compared with information from the cockpit voice recorder following an accident (ATSB, 2014). In modern aircraft, the installed flight data recorders can capture thousands of data types that are associated with airplane operation. Flight data recorders in modern airplanes also capture the last 25 hours of activity, with the most recent information taking precedence over older information (ATSB, 2014). An air crash investigator with access to information from a flight data recorder has a great chance of unravelling the cause of an accident, whether it is a fault or human error.

In the first cockpit voice recorders, magnetic tape was used to record data. In modern versions, however, memory chips are used to store the information. Cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders were first installed in aircraft in the 1960s following the uptake of commercial flights and the realization that air crashes would remain unsolved without a recording medium. Flight recording devices are often installed in the tail section of aircraft (ATSB, 2014). The tail sections of aircrafts usually suffer the least damage and the devices are more likely to remain unaffected.

Flight recording devices are supposed to withstand any external impact or potential interference following an air crash. For instance, air crashes often involve airplanes coming to a sudden stop at very high speed. In addition, there might be a fire or a plane might land in expansive water bodies. Consequently, they ought to be able to survive such conditions and impact. Flight recording devices are also fitted with Underwater Location Beacons to facilitate retrieval in case of a water landing or crash. The Underwater Location Beacons are of battery-powered. When immersed in water, they emit acoustic signals that can be converted into audio signals (ATSB, 2014). Flight recording devices are designed in order to withstand harsh conditions and with features that facilitate easy tracking and retrieval.

Figure 3: Underwater Location Beacon. Source ATSB.gov.au

A major shortcoming of flight recording devices as constructed today is that they are useless unless retrieved. There are numerous cases, even recently, where planes with more than 300 passengers disappeared without a trace. Since they have not been traced, and the black boxes retrieved, it has been impossible to establish the cause of such crashes. For instance Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in 2014, has not been traced, implying that it is impossible to determine the cause of the crash in the open ocean (Karimi, 2017). As a result, some engineers have proposed that air manufacturers adopt novel technologies such as wireless transmission and cloud computing to store information from flight recorders (Yu, 2015). Flight data recorders have been applying the same technology for a long time (Hunt, 2014). Using novel technologies would not only ensure that the air planes are traced, but also that they are traced quickly, saving a lot of time, critical resources, and potentially human lives.

Social

Air crashes are usually fatal. In most cases there are no survivors (Hylton, 2011). However, the loved ones of those who perish are often left devastated and wondering what happened that led to the fatal accident. In cases where black boxes are retrieved, air crash investigators have a chance to establish the cause of an accident. Relatives of victims of air crashes, therefore, are able to find closure. In addition, results of investigations facilitated by recordings found in black boxes have gradually led to improved air safety. Air travel, despite the fatalities witnessed, is still considered one of the safest ways to travel. No doubt, insights from previous crashed obtained from flight recording devices have led to innovations and regulations that have improved air safety overall.

Conclusion

Flight data recorders are critical instruments that have to be installed on aircraft all over the world. They record conversations between pilots, crew, and air traffic controllers. They also provide insights on the conditions that a plane is flying through. Although most of the flight recording devices in use today have to be retrieved before they can be useful to investigators, engineers are already exploring novel versions that could transmit information wirelessly or take advantage of cloud computing technologies. The use of such novel technologies could drastically decrease the current costs of search, rescue, and retrieval of airplanes that have crashed. This is because current searches always require multinational and multiagency cooperation, especially in cases where a plane goes down in the open ocean. Flight data recorders offer aeronautical engineers with insights that help improve air safety. The devices offer information to loved ones of victims of air crashes, who otherwise might not know what led to the loss of their dear ones. Integrating novel technologies such as cloud computing into flight recording devices could increase air safety in the future.

List of Figures

Figure 1: David Warren with the First Flight Data Recorder Prototype Source:ethw.org5

Figure 2: Flight Data Recorder. Source ATSB.gov.au6

Figure 3: Underwater Location Beacon. Source ATSB.gov.au8

References

ATSB, 2014. Black Box Flight Recorders. [Online] Available at: https://www.atsb.gov.au/publications/2014/black-box-flight-recorders/[Accessed 8 August 2017].

Bellis, M., 2017. The History of the Black Box (Flight Data Recorder). [Online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/black-box-flight-data-recorder-1991663[Accessed 8 August 2017].

Han, P., 2015. Inside an Aircraft’s ‘Black Box’ Recorder. [Online] Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2015/03/25/inside-an-aircrafts-black-box-recorder.html[Accessed 8 August 2017].

Hunt, J., 2014. The Flight Data Recorder’s Slow Evolution. [Online] Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-flight-data-recorders-slow-evolution[Accessed 8 August 2017].

Hylton, W. S., 2011. What Happened to Air France Flight 447. [Online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/magazine/mag-08Plane-t.html[Accessed 8 August 2017].

Karimi, F., 2017. MH370: Here’s What’s Been Found from Jetliner 3 Years after it Disappeared. [Online] Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/08/asia/mh370-debris-found/index.html[Accessed 8 August 2017].

Yu, Y., 2015. The Aftermath of the Missing Flight MH30: What Can Engineers Do?. Proceedings of the IEEE, 103(11), pp. 1948-1951.

Attachment 1 –Time Plan

Complete the following Time Plan in order to plan your progress towards the submission date of your Informative Essay.

Task steps

Time allocated/nominated

How long will this take?

When will I do this?

Actual time taken

Planned completion date

Achieved

1.Topic selected

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30/07/2017

Yes No

2.Topic approved by teacher

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3.Preliminary brainstorm of ideas

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4.Research sources assessed and selected

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5.Preliminary research completed

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1/08/2017

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6. Preliminary essay structure proposed

1 days

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7.Further research completed

(Attachment 2 completed)

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8. Essay plan refined

(Attachment 3 completed)

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9. Plan discussed at conference with teacher

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10. First draft of essay completed

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11. Draft discussed and sighted, signed by teacher (or draft discussed with library learning tutors and/or submitted to YOURTUTOR

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12. Second draft of essay completed

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13. Informative Essay submitted Week 5

9/08/2017

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Attachment 2 – Note taking Template

ATSB, 2014. Black Box Flight Recorders. [Online] Available at: https://www.atsb.gov.au/publications/2014/black-box-flight-recorders/[Accessed 8 August 2017].

🗆 Current 🗆 Valid 🗆 Reliable

Page 5

The cockpit voice recorder, sometimes referred to as the cockpit audio recorder, captures the total audio environment of the cockpit. This includes pilots’ voices, crew voices, alarms, radio transmissions, instrument adjustments, switch activations, engine noise, as well as airflow noise

Bellis, M., 2017. The History of the Black Box (Flight Data Recorder). [Online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/black-box-flight-data-recorder-1991663[Accessed 8 August 2017].

🗆 Current 🗆 Valid 🗆 Reliable

Page 4

David Warren invented flight data recorders. His inspiration came from a profound reason. He lost his father in one the earliest air crashes in Australia in 1934

Han, P., 2015. Inside an Aircraft’s ‘Black Box’ Recorder. [Online] Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2015/03/25/inside-an-aircrafts-black-box-recorder.html[Accessed 8 August 2017].

🗆 Current 🗆 Valid 🗆 Reliable

Page 3

Most flight data recording devices can record up to 25 hours of data

Hunt, J., 2014. The Flight Data Recorder’s Slow Evolution. [Online] Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-flight-data-recorders-slow-evolution[Accessed 8 August 2017].

🗆 Current 🗆 Valid 🗆 Reliable

Page 8

Flight data recorders have been applying the same technology for a long time

Hylton, W. S., 2011. What Happened to Air France Flight 447. [Online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/magazine/mag-08Plane-t.html[Accessed 8 August 2017]

🗆 Current 🗆 Valid 🗆 Reliable

Page 9

Air crashes are usually fatal. In most cases there are no survivors.

Karimi, F., 2017. MH370: Here’s What’s Been Found from Jetliner 3 Years after it Disappeared. [Online] Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/08/asia/mh370-debris-found/index.html[Accessed 8 August 2017].

🗆 Current 🗆 Valid 🗆 Reliable

Page 8

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in 2014, has not been traced, implying that it is impossible to determine the cause of the crash in the open ocean

Yu, Y., 2015. The Aftermath of the Missing Flight MH30: What Can Engineers Do?. Proceedings of the IEEE, 103(11), pp. 1948-1951.

🗆 Current 🗆 Valid 🗆 Reliable

Page 8

Some engineers have proposed that air manufacturers adopt novel technologies such as wireless transmission and cloud computing to store information from flight recorders

Attachment 3 – Essay Plan

Use this template to help you plan your Informative Research Essay and prepare for your conference with your teacher.

Introduction

General Statement

Airplane manufacturers install all planes with a black box, which is composed of two items, a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.

Thesis Statement

This report explores the historical, engineering, and social aspects of flight data recorders.

Body Paragraph 1 – Aspect 1 –

Topic (topic sentence)

History

Supporting Info 1

David Warren invented flight data recorders.

Supporting Info 2

In 1957, David Warren came up with a prototype, which he called the ‘Memory Unit.’

Supporting Info 3

It is not clear how Warren’s device came to be referred to as the black box, considering that Warren prototype was more orange than black.

Clincher/concluding sentence

It has provided critical information to air crash investigators that has been critical in the prevention of future incidents.

Body Paragraph 2 – Aspect 2 –

Topic (topic sentence)

Engineering

Supporting Info 1

The cockpit voice recorder, sometimes referred to as the cockpit audio recorder, captures the total audio environment of the cockpit.

Supporting Info 2

While the cockpit voice recorder captures audio information, the second major component, referred as the flight data recorder, records numerous flight parameters.

Supporting Info 3

Flight recording devices are supposed to withstand any external impact or potential interference following an air crash.

Clincher/concluding sentence

Using novel technologies would not only ensure that the air planes are traced, but also that they are traced quickly, saving a lot of time, critical resources, and potentially human lives.

Body Paragraph 3 – Aspect 3 –

Topic (topic sentence)

Society

Supporting Info 1

Air crashes are usually fatal.

Supporting Info 2

Results of investigations facilitated by recordings found in black boxes have gradually led to improved air safety.

Supporting Info 3

Air travel, despite the fatalities witnessed, is still considered one of the safest ways to travel.

Clincher/concluding sentence

Insights from previous crashed obtained from flight recording devices have led to innovations and regulations that have improved air safety overall.

Conclusion

Topic Sentence

Flight data recorders are critical instruments that have to be installed on aircraft all over the world.

Recap of main ideas

In cases where black boxes are retrieved, air crash investigators have a chance to establish the cause of an accident.

Concluding comment

Integrating novel technologies such as cloud computing into flight recording devices could increase air safety in the future.

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