As soon as there is a plane crash, the first thing we think about is finding the famous black box to understand what happened. But we, the general public, aside from knowing that the black boxes are full of information about flights, we don’t really know much about it. Based on this observation, I rolled up my sleeves and went to do my little research to find the answers to your most unmentionable questions about black boxes. Fasten your seatbelts. Imminent takeoff. That’s wrong, you’re not on a plane.
1. What exactly does an airplane’s black box record? Can it hear our conversations?
No, the black box is not supposed to record EVERYTHING that happens on the plane, so you can continue to tell your seatmate about your erection problems without fear for your privacy. The black box only records cockpit sounds in addition to all the flight parameters: altitude, speed, pressure, engine operation, and a whole bunch of stuff that we don’t understand but which indicates what did the plane during the flight. This is why in the event of a crash, the black box makes it possible to understand what happened.
2. Where is she on the plane?
The black boxes (yes, there are two per plane, just in case) are positioned in the tail of the plane because that’s the part that usually takes the cheapest during a crash. It leaves them more likely to remain intact and, therefore, to be useful. Engineers aren’t dumb anyway.
3. Why is it called “black box” when it is red? Aren’t we kidding ourselves here?
Simply because the first black boxes were black. Over time, we ended up making them red/orange with reflective strips to find them more easily among the debris of the plane. The name hasn’t changed, but frankly we manage to live with it quite well.
4. When was this thing invented?
“That stuff,” how you go… Be a little more respectful please. The ancestor of the black box appeared in the 1930s thanks to François Hussenot, a French engineer. He invented the “hussenographers”, which photographed the indications of flight instruments. The films were kept in a dark room called the “black box” (aaaaah, so that’s it). Then the technology evolved and in the 1950s an Australian invented a more reliable magnetic recording system. Then in the 1990s we replaced all that with SSDs that were easier to protect. There you go, you’ve covered a piece of aviation history in just two minutes. Well done.
5. How do you find the black boxes underwater?
When there’s a crash on land, it’s relatively easy to find the little boxes, but when the plane ends up in the ocean, it seems a bit trickier. And that’s the case. But the black boxes are equipped with a system which is triggered on contact with water and which broadcasts ultrasound on a precise frequency to facilitate localization. It can be picked up up to 6000 meters deep, which leaves room (unless the plane falls into the Mariana Trench, which would be really bad luck.)
6. How long do we have to find a black box after a crash?
The box data keeps for a very long time, so for a land crash, no need to rush. On the other hand, the ultrasonic beacon system which is triggered under water only has 30 days of autonomy. Beyond this time, it becomes almost impossible to find the black box. So, when there’s a crash in the ocean, it’s best to dodge.
7. Is a black box resistant?
Obviously, it must be solid if we want the widget to resist in the event of a crash. That’s good, the black boxes are solid: they can withstand up to 1100°C for 1 hour, up to 2 tons of pressure, and they can be submerged up to 7 kilometers deep. That’s a lot more than any electrical device in your possession, thankfully.
8. Is a black box reliable?
A priori yes, since it would make it possible to find the causes of the accident in 90% of the cases. Data from black boxes is even reused in flight simulators to train pilots in extreme situations. It’s a way to stop repeating the same mistakes, and that’s not bad.
9. Does it store a lot of data?
Yes, thousands of parameters, but for a limited time: only the last 25 flight hours are recorded. Beyond that, it fades. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. Yes, I too have my limits, sorry to disappoint you.
10. What are we waiting for to fuck in the cars?
This is precisely what will happen, and very soon. The black box should become mandatory in new vehicles from May 2022 and in used vehicles from 2024. It will be great to know what happened in the event of an accident, but many people are worried about their privacy, which is also very understandable. Fortunately, the cars’ black boxes won’t be able to record our conversations. For that, we already have our phones hahaha…. haha…ha.