Journey of birth of aircraft ‘black box’

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The idea of ​​cockpit recording equipment was not initially accepted, but now it has become an indispensable item on civilian flights.

On October 19, 1934, the Miss Hobart passenger plane crashed into the waters of the Bass Strait between Tasmania and Australia. The plane crashed when carrying 8 men, three women and a boy. Aircraft fragments were never found.

One of the victims was British cleric Hubert Warren, who was on his journey to his new parish in Enfield, Sydney. Ellie, his wife, and four children are still staying in England and planning to go to Sydney by ship.

The last gift he left for his 8-year-old son, David, was a radio he always regarded as a treasure. At Launceston Boys boarding school in Tasmania, David Warren spends most of his time tinkering with the after-school machine.

David is a charismatic and inspirational orator, a star boy. His family, devout people, wanted David to become a missionary. But that’s not what he wants. The gift from his late father gave David endless passion for science.

At the age of 20, David Warren has a degree in science from the University of Sydney, a teaching degree at the University of Melbourne and a doctorate in chemistry from the Royal College of London. His specialty is rocket science and David was a researcher at the Australian Air Defense Laboratory (ARL).

In 1953, David joined an expert panel to find an answer to the question of why the British de Havilland Comet, the world’s first commercial jet, the new hope of the aviation era, rejoined. keep falling.

David thought the cause was fuel tank but there were still dozens of other reasons and he didn’t have any evidence in his hand other than human bodies and fragments. The council sat together to discuss what they knew.

“People are talking about the possibility of errors in the training of aviation staff and pilots with a lot of other things that I don’t understand,” recalls Professor David Warren 50 years later. “I just thought about what I saw a week ago at Sydney’s first post-war trade conference, the Miniphon, the device from Germany, which is considered the world’s first pocket recorder.” .

Miniphon is advertised as a dictation machine for entrepreneurs. They just need to sit at the table, on the train or the plane, collect the information they want to save and then put the sound for the secretary to retype. David, who loves swing music and plays the clarinet, only wants one to record jazz pieces by artist Woody Herman.

However, when a scientist suggested that the latest Comet plane crash might be due to a hijacking attack, David felt something motivated him.

The ability of a recorder to be carried on a plane and not destroyed when an accident occurs is rare. But what if all the planes operating in the sky have a small recording device in the cockpit? If it can withstand a collision, the accident investigators will not be embarrassed to find the solution as it is now because they will have the recording right at the time before the plane falls. At the very least, they could know what the pilot said and heard.

The idea made David excited. Returning to the ARL, he immediately presented it to his superiors. However, Alas, his superior didn’t show interest. “It has nothing to do with fuel or chemistry. You are a chemist. Give that idea to equipment research groups and continue to study fuel tanks,” he told David.

David knew his idea of ​​the cockpit recording device was feasible. Without support from the agency, he could not do much to realize the idea but he could not escape thinking about it.

When David’s superior was promoted, he continued to present his ideas to the new leader. He and Dr. Laurie Coombes, general director of ARL, felt it was extremely attractive and promising. They urged him to continue to deploy but to be discreet. Because not a government-approved project or a war weapon, David’s idea was not to use time and money from the lab.

“If I find you talking about it to anyone, including me, I’ll have to fire you,” Dr. Coombes warned Warren. However, Coombes supported David so much that he bought a new dictation recorder for him and listed it as a “laboratory equipment”.

Encouraged, David recorded his idea in a report titled “Equipment for aircraft crash investigation” and sent it to all stakeholders in the aviation industry.

The angry aviation federation, calling David’s recorder a snooping device, said “no plane is allowed to take off from Australia if it has a tape recorder”.

Australia’s civil aviation authorities say the device “does not make sense immediately” and the air force fears it will be opposed more than approved.

One day in 1958, when the device was recording The cockpit has been completed and operated smoothly, the laboratory is welcomed by an unusual guest from England, the friend of Coombes director.

“Dave! Tell him what you’re doing,” Coombes urged David.

He began to explain his device. Basically, his first prototype used steel wire to store four hours of the pilot’s voice and a reading device and automatically deleted the old records so that it could be reused.

The guest thought for a moment and said, “I told Coombes this is a great idea. Put it on some plane and we’ll show it in London.”

The selected aircraft is a Hastings aircraft on its way to England. David is not sure who this person is but he knows only very powerful people have chairs on bombing Hastings. And that person is Robert Hardingham, head of the British Aviation Registration Commission, former deputy Marshal of the Royal Air Force.

A few weeks later, David boarded a plane to England with clear instructions that he was not allowed to speak to the Australian Defense Department about his plan to work in the UK because “someone would frown”.

In an unbelievably irony situation, the plane lost an engine while flying through the Mediterranean but they still tried to fly. David recorded the entire flight with the thought that if he died, at least he could prove “those idiots were wrong!”. Last but not least, the flight landed safely.

In the UK, David introduced the “ARL flight memorization device” to the British Royal Aviation Authority and a number of equipment manufacturers.

British people like the machine. The BBC ran TV and radio programs on it and the British civil aviation agency began working to enforce regulations requiring aircraft to install cockpit recording equipment if they wanted to take off. S Davall and Sons, a Middlesex company, went to ARL to apply for a license and immediately started production.

Although the device was called a “black box”, the first ones in the production line were painted orange to make it easier to find them when an accident occurred. This is still maintained today.

Peter, son of David Warren, believes the name “black box” comes from an interview in 1958 between his father and the BBC.

“As soon as the interview ended, a reporter called it a ‘black box.’ This is a common word in electrical engineering but it reminds people,” Peter said.

In 1960, Australia became the first country to regulate aircraft required to have cockpit recording equipment after an unidentified plane crash in Queensland that killed 29 people. The verdict comes from a judicial investigation and takes three years to become law.

Today, black box aircraft are fire resistant, water resistant and coated in steel. It is a must-have device on every commercial flight.

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