Black box (transportation)
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A black box is a recording device used in transportation: the flight recorders (flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder) in aircraft, the event recorder in railway locomotives, the event data recorder in automobiles, message case in ships, and other recording devices in various vehicles.
A message case was one of the earliest forms of a black box. A written message was placed into a buoyant heavy duty water-tight metal canister and released into a body of water. On October 27, 1929 a damaged message case from the SS Milwaukee was found near Saugatuck, MI by crew member of a U.S. Coast Guard Station with a message from the ship's purser detailing the condition of the ship before it sank.
The black box term originated when after a meeting about the first commercial flight recorder named the "Red Egg" for its color and shape, someone commented: "This is a wonderful black box". Black box is a more humorous than accurate term and is almost never used within the flight safety industry. The recorders are generally not black in color, but usually bright orange (as pictured) as they are intended to be spotted and recovered after incidents, nor (contrary to an alternative usage of the term 'black box') are their operations unknown.
An alternative origin of the word is from World War II RAF terminology. During the period 1940-1945 new electronic innovations, such as Oboe, GEE and H2S, were added to aircraft (specifically bombers) on a regular basis. The prototypes were roughly covered in hand-made metal boxes, painted black to prevent reflections. After a time any piece of "new" electronics was referred to as the "box-of-tricks" or the "black-box". The expression made its way into post-war civil aviation and, ultimately, general usage.
- Annex: Acronyms and abbreviations in avionics
- Flight recorder
- Train event recorder
- Voyage Data Recorder
- Event data recorder
- Data logger
- Korean Air Lines Flight 007
- Heavy Vehicle EDR information site for black box technology
- ABC TV (Australia) Dr David Warren interview transcript 2003
- ABC TV (Australia) Dr David Warren interview transcript 2002