Plane Black Box & Cockpit Voice Recorder

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The term “black box” is frequently mentioned in reference to an air crash landing. This block box is actually two boxes: the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder. These two devices are integral to investigators following an aviation accident. Some items the black box records for investigators to analyze later include altitude, velocity, temperature, and communication logs. For search and rescue workers at the site of an aircraft crash landing, each black box is equipped with tracking and locating devices.

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A cockpit voice recorder captures crew and passenger voice and other sounds throughout the cockpit. The cockpit area microphone, the device, which picks up these sounds, is often found near the overhead control panel. For investigators, the sounds and voices heard on this device give important clues as to the chain of events leading to an aviation accident. In addition, from these sounds parameters, such as engine rpm, system failures, speed, and the time at which certain events occur can often be determined. Communications with air traffic control, automated radio weather briefings, and conversation between the pilots and ground or cabin crew are also recorded.

Black boxes are an essential tool after an aviation incident:

  • Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), records radio transmissions and sounds in the cockpit.
  • Flight Data Recorder (FDR), monitors parameters such as altitude, airspeed and heading.
  • Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB), assists in locating in the event of an over water accident.

For post-accident listening and analysis of the cockpit voice recorder, officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the pilot union, the manufacturer of the airplane, and the operators of the aircraft band together to reach conclusions. The group then compiles a written transcript of the events, as heard on the cockpit voice recorder, along with detailed timing of the events and passages in the transcript. The timing of the accident and the events leading to the accident are accurately detailed using information from the Federal Aviation Administration and all other participating agencies and parties.

In many plane crash landings, information and other factual evidence supporting one cause or another is usually voiced by the public media. This is not the case for the information on cockpit voice recordings, because Congress disallows the release of the actual recording. Even the release of the written timeline and transcript of the accident is highly regulated. The date and extent of the material to be released is often delayed until an exhaustive investigation is completed then the information is stored in the aviation accident database.


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