David Warren (inventor)

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David Warren

Dave Warren with BlackBox Prototype.jpg
Warren with a prototype of a black box
David Ronald de Mey Warren

(1925-03-20)20 March 1925
Died19 July 2010(2010-07-19) (aged 85)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Alma materUniversity of Sydney
Imperial College London
University of Melbourne
Known forFlight data recorder, cockpit voice recorder, "the black box"
Scientific career
InstitutionsDefence Science and Technology Organisation
1985 ABC news report interviewing Warren about his invention.

David Ronald de Mey Warren AO (20 March 1925 – 19 July 2010) was an Australian scientist, best known for inventing and developing the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder (also known as FDR, CVR and "the black box").[1]

Early life[edit]

Warren was born to Rev Hubert and Ellie Warren and had three siblings.[2] He was born on a remote mission station on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory, the first white child born on the island. He was educated at Launceston Church Grammar School and Trinity Grammar School, New South Wales.[3][4] His father died in the crash of the de Havilland D.H.86 Miss Hobart over the Bass Strait in 1934.[5]

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours from the University of Sydney, a PhD in fuels and energy from Imperial College London, a Diploma of Imperial College, and a Diploma of Education from the University of Melbourne.[6]


  • 1944–46 – Teacher of mathematics and chemistry, Geelong Grammar School, Victoria.
  • 1947–48 – Lecturer in chemistry, University of Sydney.
  • 1948–51 – Scientific Officer, Woomera Rocket Range and Imperial College, London.
  • 1952–83 – Principal Research Scientist, Aeronautical Research Laboratories, Melbourne, (now part of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation).
  • 1981–82 – Scientific Adviser (Energy) to the Victorian State Parliament.

Warren worked at what are now the Defence Science and Technology Organisation's Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne from 1952 to 1983, rising to the level of principal research scientist.[6][7] While there, he came up with the idea for the cockpit voice recorder while investigating a crash of the world's first commercial jet airliner, the Comet, in 1953, after seeing a miniature voice recorder at a trade show. "If a businessman had been using one of these in the plane and we could find it in the wreckage and we played it back, we'd say, 'We know what caused this.'", Warren later recalled. "Any sounds that were relevant to what was going on would be recorded and you could take them from the wreckage."[5]

While devices had been previously used to record certain flight parameters, they did not include voice recording, and were not reusable, and therefore were not practical for routine commercial flights. Warren's invention, which relied on magnetic recording media, allowed easy erasing and re-recording, which made it practical for routine line service. Warren's concept of cockpit voice recording added a new dimension to instrument data in flight recorders, and has proved extremely valuable for accident investigation. Some accidents where the CVR played a prominent role were solved not by the crew's recorded voices, but by other sounds incidentally recorded on the CVR, which provided a vital clue to the accident cause.[8]

Committees, honours, awards and recognition[edit]

Warren was the chair of the Combustion Institute (Aust & NZ Section) for 25 years (1958–83),[citation needed] the founding chair of the Morris Minor Car Club of Victoria (1977-2002),[citation needed] as well as committee member of the Chemical Society,[citation needed] the Institute of Fuel,[citation needed] and the Australian Institute of Energy.[citation needed]

Warren received many awards and honours, including The Australian Institute of Energy Medal (1999),[9] the Hartnett Medal of the Royal Society of the Arts (2000),[10][11] the Centenary Medal (2001),[12] the Lawrence Hargrave Award of the Royal Aeronautical Society (2001),[10] Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) (2002),[13] and the ICAO Edward Warner Award (2016).[14][15]


In November 2008, Qantas named one of their Airbus A380s after Warren in honour of his services to aviation.[16]

Warren died on 19 July 2010, aged 85, in Melbourne.[17] He was buried in a casket bearing the label "Flight Recorder Inventor; Do Not Open" (a play off of the "FLIGHT RECORDER DO NOT OPEN" label on his recorders).[18][19]

In June 2012, the ACT Government named a road, David Warren Road, in the suburb of Hume.[20]

David Warren was inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame on 16 November 2013.[21]

On 25 March 2014, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation renamed their Canberra headquarters the "David Warren Building".[22]

On 20 March 2021, Google showed a Doodle on its home page in some countries for David Warren's 96th birthday.[23]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder functionalities were originally combined inside one box.
  2. ^ Seales, Rebecca (18 July 2019). "This little-known inventor has probably saved your life". BBC. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  3. ^ "Black box inventor David Warren dies". Sydney Morning Herald. 22 July 2010. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  4. ^ Heath, Phillip (1990). Trinity the Daring of Your Name, A History of Trinity Grammar Schoo, Sydney. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. p. 284. ISBN 0044422245.
  5. ^ a b Coopes, Amy (20 July 2010). "Aircraft 'black box' inventor dies in Australia". AFP. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  6. ^ a b c Dave Warren – Biography Archived 10 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, www.dsto.defence.gov.au, retrieved 30 November 2012.
  7. ^ "Black box inventor dies, age 85". Telegraph. 21 July 2010. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  8. ^ "Data Collection and Improved Technologies". National Transportation Safety Board. 20 May 1998. We were able to derive the speed of the engines based on a sound spectrum analysis of the engine sounds recorded on the CVR. That information, in combination with conversations between the crew enabled us to determine that the engines were not at high thrust as the pilots believed.
  9. ^ Australian medals for achievement in Science and Technology Archived 28 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Australian Academy of Science
  10. ^ a b Ken Fraser (2008) Black Box, From Black Box to Black Hawk, www.kenblackbox.com
  11. ^ Joe Rich, 'Hartnett, Sir Laurence John (1898–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed 1 December 2012. First published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007
  12. ^ Centenary Medal, Warren, David Ronald, It's an Honour, 2001.
  13. ^ Officer of the Order of Australia, Warren, David Ronald, It's an Honour, 2002.
  14. ^ ICAO news release Black box inventor and air safety pioneer Dr David Warren named 2016 ICAO Edward Warner Award recipient
  15. ^ ATSB newsroom "Black box" pioneer posthumously awarded aviation's highest honour
  16. ^ Qantas Media Releases (16 November 2008). "Qantas A380s to Honour Our Aviation Pioneers". Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  17. ^ Schudel, Matt (22 July 2010). "David Warren, inventor of 'black box' flight data recorder, dies at 85". Washington Post. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
  18. ^ Seales, Rebecca (18 July 2019). "This little-known inventor has probably saved your life". Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  19. ^ Tsikas, Mick (22 July 2010). "History Recorder Remembered". Reuters/Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 26 July 2010. (photo)
  20. ^ Simon Corbell MLA Media Releases (15 June 2012). "Canberra champions honoured with street names". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  21. ^ "Dr David Ronald de Mey Warren". Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  22. ^ Defence Science and Technology Organisation Media Releases (26 March 2014). "Black box inventor honoured with building name". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  23. ^ "David Warren's 96th Birthday". Google. 20 March 2021.

External links[edit]