Plane Crash And The Magic ‘Black Box’

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Whenever there is an air disaster, there are many unanswered questions as to why it happened. The first thing? however, that comes to mind after a plane crash? is the ‘black box’ which is expected to reveal what went wrong. RALIAT YUSUF writes about this vital pieces of equipment and why it is so important.

But for recent unfortunate air crash, the ‘black box’ flight recorder would probably not have featured as the subject of this write up, if at all, at least, not now.

The reason is simple –? though it is a very vital piece of equipment in all commercial aircrafts,(given its function),it is nevertheless inconspicuously located and no one mentions it except in the event of an air crash because that? is exactly the reason why it is placed somewhere in the engine of the plane because either sooner or later due to engine failure, human error, either by accident or by design (negligence),a crash will occur and there would be need to find out what caused it and hopefully learn from it! .

Most of what we have been hearing about the probable cause or causes of the crash is nothing but mere assumptions or hearsay, not based on any empirical, logical or scientific reasoning.

In the event of a pane crash, the ill fated plane’s ‘black box’, when its data is fully analysed will solve all the puzzles on the direct and remote cause of why the plane went down.

The ‘black box’ is an electronic device used by investigators to discover the cause of a crash and may be, prevent others. It was invented by an Australian, Dr.David Warren in the 1950s solve the mystery? of air disasters. Whenever the name black box is mentioned what immediately come to most people’s mind is a black container with a flat base and sides, typically square or rectangular and having a lid.

This is not so, as an airplane’s ‘black box’ is actually orange in colour and not black as thought by most people. This makes it easier to find a brightly coloured item in wreckage when everything around is black and burnt from the fire.

The ‘black box’ is built in such a way that it is indestructible : it can? withstand heat of up to 2,000?F(1093.33 ?C) for one hour, salt water for at least 30 days, immersion in a variety of liquids such as jet fuel and lubricants, and an impact of 3,400 g’s (3400 times the force of gravity).

It is mandatory for any commercial airplane to be equipped with a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder. It is these two items of separate equipment that are referred to as a ‘Black Box’. While they cannot help in averting air crash, these two pieces of equipment are very important should the plane crash, as they help crash investigators find out what happened just before the crash.

This crash and fire-proof equipment records the flight crew’s conversation along with a few instrument readings.

This is how the two devices (cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder) work:

Cockpit Voice Recorder
The main function of the Cockpit Voice Recorder is to record the conversation of crew members and monitor the sounds that occur within the cockpit. It has a small cassette tape in it which runs continuously like that in an answering machine. It has an endless loop of tape, which keeps recording each and every message.

In analyzing the ‘black box’, investigators are interested in what went on just before an explosion or plane malfunction, they also try to pick up on sounds such as engine noise, stall warnings or emergency pings and pops.

The Cockpit Voice Recorder is also extremely important for determining the timing of events as it contains information such as communication between the crew and ground control and other aircraft. The Cockpit Voice Recorder is usually located in the tail of a plane.

Flight Data Recorder
Of very big significance is the flight data recorder. It registers the aircraft’s speed, direction, altitude and other important information throughout the flight.They? are also able to monitor countless other actions undertaken by the plane, such as the movement of individual flaps on the wings, auto-pilot and fuel gauge.

The data stored on the recorders helps Air Crash Investigators generate computer video reconstructions of a flight, so that they can visualise how a plane was handling shortly before a crash.

Used together the cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder can help investigators find the cause of a crash, and more importantly, make recommendations that may prevent a future disaster.

These all important device? will continue to play a major role in finding out the causes of aviation accidents, as well as offering plane manufacturers and governments considerable ideas to help make air travel as safe as possible.


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