The ‘Black Box’ Flight Data Recorder

The first prototype coupled FDR/CVR designed with civilian aircraft in mind, for explicit post-crash examination purposes, was produced in 1956 by Dr.David Warren of the Defence Science and Technology Organisations’, Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne, Australia. In 1953 and 1954, a series of fatal accidents involving the De Havilland DH106 Comet prompted the grounding of the entire fleet pending an investigation. Dr. Warren, a chemist specializing in aircraft fuels, was involved in a professional committee discussing the possible causes. Since there had been neither witnesses nor survivors, Dr. Warren conceived of a crash-survivable method to record the flight crew’s conversation (and other pre-crash data), reasoning they would greatly assist in determining a cause and enabling the prevention of future, avoidable accidents of the same type.
Despite his 1954 report entitled “A Device for Assisting Investigation into Aircraft Accidents” and a 1957 prototype FDR called “The ARL Flight Memory Unit”, aviation authorities from around the world were largely uninterested. This changed in 1958 when Sir Robert Hardingham, the Secretary of the UK Air Registration Board, visited the ARL and was introduced to Warren.
The Aeronautical Research Laboratory allocated Dr. Warren an engineering team to develop the prototype to airborne stage. The team, consisting of electronics engineers Lane Sear, Wally Boswell and Ken Fraser developed a working design incorporating a fire and shockproof case, a reliable system for encoding and recording aircraft instrument readings and voice on one wire, and a ground-based decoding device. The ARL system became the “Red Egg”, made by the British firm of S. Davall & Son. The “Red Egg” got its name from its’ shape and bright red color. In 1960, after the crash of an aircraftat Mackay (Queensland), the inquiry judge strongly recommended that flight recorders be installed in all airliners. Australia then became the first country in the world to make cockpit-voice recording compulsory.

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