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Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 2:30 pm

Simple question - and probably a simple answer....

But why is the black box called black when it's really orange??? (No it's not a joke).....
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RE: Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 2:37 pm

Isn't one of the boxes black? I know there is like 3 boxes or something like that. It might have been back at one time and people decided orange would be easier to find in a bunch of wreckage. I have a 747 coming in a few minutes and the boxes are easy to see. Im going to take a look. I think its the voice recorder that is black....

[Edited 2003-11-10 06:40:58]
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RE: Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 2:48 pm

No the Black Box is definitely Orange. There was a TV show on a while back called "Black Box" that explained it all. I'm trying to find the website atm.
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RE: Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 2:54 pm

Apparntly the original Black Box was the colour Black and the name has stuck with it.

But I can't confirm this. Anyone alse???
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RE: Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 3:28 pm

I think its called the black box because you only look for it if there is a crash... ie a black day.
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RE: Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 3:38 pm

Actually, I think most of the commercial fleet has two "black boxes", the CVR (cockpit voice recorder) and the FDR (Flight data recorder), and yes they are orange. Now, one other box is painted orange, and it's the ELT (emergency location transmitter). The elt is used to broadcast the aircraft's position either manually turned on or automaticaly upon significant impact. The CVR is to record all the crew conversations in the cockpit on the radios and the various cockpit bells and whistles. The FDR records the different aircraft parameters, including speed, heading, altitude, engine trust, and so on. The list is very exhaustive, tough, if i'm correct, i think they can go to somewhere around 128 parameters. So that makes two black boxes, but three orange boxes!
if your flight goes MX in YUL, I might be called to fix it!
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RE: Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 5:14 pm

The term "Black Box" used to refer to almost any electrical apparatus installed in an aircraft.

It probably arose in the years just before World War 2 when new fangled radio and navigational equipment began to be installed in aeroplanes for the first time. For a generation of pilots brought up on aircraft that had the average technical sophistication of a pram, the notion of all these bits of equipment being partly in charge of the aircraft (especially autopilots) was all a bit weird and wonderful - hence "black (as in "mysterious"). Also, in those days most electrical gear WAS contained in black bakelite (an early form of plastic) boxes. Therefore, the element of wonder at what this equipment could do and the fact that these items were really "black" helped pilots coin the phrase "black box".

The first "Flight Data Recorders" were just like all the ther electrical bits and pieces - a tad mysterious and therefore "black" in nature.
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RE: Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 9:43 pm

Just to expand on the number of boxes. There are 3 boxes in most modern air transport aircraft:
1. CVR - Cockpit Voice Recorder, self explanatory and orange,
2. FDR - Flight Data Recorder, records pertinent flight data on a digital "tape", also orange and is absolutely useless in modern aircraft without the
3. DFDAU - Digital Flight Data Acquisition Unit. This little gem receive all the digital and analog signals from all the transmitters littered throughout the aircraft (again, depending on type) and converts it to storable data and then sends it to the FDR. This box is Black.
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RE: Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 10:57 pm

I think you'll find modern day flight recorders were invented by a man called James Black. His favourite fruit was the orange, and in his spare time he played the recorder.

The truth is out there

A comedian I saw once did a whole routine about black boxes. He finished by asking "If black boxes are just about indestructible, why don't they make the whole plane out of the same stuff?"  Smile

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana!
There are 10 types of people in the World - those that understand binary and those that don't.
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RE: Why Black Box?

Mon Nov 10, 2003 11:28 pm

Most radio and electronic equipment on airliners are contained in a "box". Usually a rectangular metal enclosure with one or more electrical connectors.

Technically, these removal boxes are referred to as "Line Replacable Units" or just "LRU". This essentially means they can be replaced with no special tools or procedures on the operational "line" for maintenance purposes.

The average A & P mechanic or AME or LAME (or whatever and airplane mechanic is called in your part of the world) has absolutely no idea what goes on inside the LRU at a component level and isn't authorized to do any repair to the box itself. This is reserved for specialized shops.

The "blackness" of the box has historically represented the mystery of the electronics inside the unit. So, not only flight recorders have been tagged with this "black box" name. Pretty much every LRU is called a black box.

Of course the media likes buzz words, so they latched on to the mysterious "black box" moniker and use it whenever they can. Of course the public loves the trivia associated with the fact that these particular black boxes are orange....or yellow. The standard allows for yellow but as far as I know, only B and D ever made a yellow flight recorder.

Like anything else in aviation, there is no single answer. So the number of boxes representing the flight recorders vary. For example, an airplane like the King Air 200 only needs a CVR. So there is one black box. If you want to include the audio summing unit that mixes the hot microphone signal, you can add another.

Many light aircraft that require a CVR and FDR will have 2 LRUs as the FDR is typically a type that has built in data conditioning circuits. This is an ARINC standard 542(a) unit. So all the data parameters get fed to it directly.

Larger aircraft typically require a CVR and FDR but due to the desire for fleet compatibility, they use a "dumb" FDR that only records data. An FDAU is fed the data from the various places and converts it in a format that the FDR can record. So this type of aircaft will use 3 black boxes.

Still other aircraft have dual FDR and/or CVR installations to allow for dispatch following the failure of one system.

And still another variation, is the dual recorder that houses voice and flight data recorders. So you would think that an airplane that uses one of these wonderful units would have ONE black box. Guess again....the authorities don't really like these single units because it cuts the chances of finding at least one of the black boxes in half. Therefore aircraft using these have to have TWO installed!
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RE: Why Black Box?

Tue Nov 11, 2003 8:14 am

Let's not forget the QAR and QDR. These are installed most normally in the avionics compartment and used to retrieve data for trend analysis, troubleshooting, and enforcement actions. (There's a quickly removable tape or disk that may be taken for analysis) The DGAC and a couple of others mandate their installation. They may be grey or black (or blue or pink pr purple...).
The DAU may or may not be installed depending on the type and quantity of parameters recorded and it (or they) are normally located at a convenient, central location to the data they're collecting. (I know of one airline with five DAU's in their 747's)

The way I heard the story in my previous life was that there were some reporters snooping around an accident investigation, back in 1976 or thereabouts, and a couple of the inspectors decided to have a little fun. When they knew the reporters were within earshot they started talking about the "black box recorders" and how important it was to find them as that was the only way they'd ever figure out what happened to cause the crash.
They talked about them in that night's stories and the name stuck.

The way it was explained to me...

Electronics is infinitely complicated and troubleshooting can take a long time.
If there's a problem with the roll channel of an autopilot, you can save a lot of time and keep the passengers happier if all you need to do is swap out a box full of electronic magic and let someone on a bench do the actual troubleshooting later. Most things electronic have been historically black. Be it because of the bake-o-lite container or because of the color of the paint. (Who knows, maybe it was because once the smoke gets out of the box it won't work anymore and the color would hide that fact from someone just taking a quick look in the avionics bay...)
I don't recall any american units being anything other than black before 1978 or so... Then Sunstrand had to go and ruin everything with their blue boxes and Honeywell with their Grey stuff....BRING BACK THE GOOD OLD DAYS!!! (but I digress)
At any rate, the birth of Avionics (aviation electronics - get it?) came about when they started putting more complicated systems in planes and there was a need to shorten the troubleshooting time.

Oh well, I've said enough and Airplay did a very good job before me...
One may educate the ignorance from the unknowing but stupid is forever. Boswell; ca: 1533
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RE: Why Black Box?

Tue Nov 11, 2003 5:39 pm

We're on the ball us Aussies ay!.... Big grin
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RE: Why Black Box?

Wed Nov 12, 2003 7:21 am

In the 50s, All Electronic Equipment with a black lathel finish. and that is why the name stuck to Black Box. IT was painted Day-Glo Orange so that it would be easier to find in crashes, and if Divers went underwater with Blacklights, it would shine brightly.

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