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Science & Technology

Black Box on Aircraft

  • 20 Aug 2020
  • 5 min read

Why in News

The black boxes of the Boeing 737-800 aircraft which recently crashed in Kozhikode (Kerala) have been found.

  • These boxes will help investigators gather information about the crucial events that led to the crash.

Key Points

  • About: A black box, technically known as an Electronic Flight Data Recorder, is an orange-coloured heavily protected recording device placed in a flight. It is used to investigate the details of the events immediately preceding an accident.
    • Black Boxes are compulsory on any commercial flight or corporate jet where they are usually kept in the tail of an aircraft, where they are more likely to survive a crash.
    • It usually takes at least 10-15 days to analyse the data recovered from the black boxes.
    • Black boxes are also used in vehicles other than planes like railways, cars etc.
  • Invention: Australian Scientist David Warren was the first to build a FDR/CVR prototype in 1958.
  • Parts: The "black box" is made up of two separate pieces of equipment: the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and a Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR).
    • FDR records things like airspeed, altitude, vertical acceleration and fuel flow.
    • CVR records the conversations in the cockpit.
  • Technology:
    • Older black boxes used magnetic tape, a technology that was first introduced in the 1960s. Magnetic tape works like any tape recorder.
    • These days, black boxes use solid-state memory boards, which came along in the 1990s. Solid state memory boards use stacked arrays of memory chips, and are stronger.
    • The FDR contains Crash-Survivable Memory Units (CSMUs) which are engineered to withstand extreme heat, jarring crashes and tons of pressure.
    • To make black boxes discoverable in situations where they are under water, they are equipped with a Beacon that sends out ultrasound signals for 30 days.
  • Other Methods to Investigate an Aircrash
    • Accounts from Air Traffic Control (ATC) personnel.
    • Recordings of the conversation between ATC and the pilots moments before the crash.
    • Various data recorders at the airport, which would tell about the precise point and speed of touchdown on the runway.
  • Limitations:
    • In certain cases – like the Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight, they are not found.
    • They still lack video recording capabilities.
  • Alternatives: It is being tried to stream all of their essential data directly to a ground-based station in realtime which would eliminate the desperate search for a box that may have been destroyed in a crash, and will be more dependable.

Aircraft Security

  • The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a UN specialized agency, established in 1944 to manage the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention).
    • The Chicago Convention was signed on 7th December, 1944 in Chicago (USA) by 52 signatory states including India.
    • It coordinates international air travel, establishes rules of airspace, aircraft registration and safety, security, and sustainability, and details the rights of the signatories in relation to air travel.
  • The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) is an attached office of the Ministry of Civil Aviation (India).
    • It is the regulatory authority for civil aviation security in India.
  • The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) is a division of the Ministry of Civil Aviation which investigates aircraft accidents and incidents in India.
  • Recently, the Lok Sabha passed the Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which seeks to amend the Aircraft Act, 1934.

Source: IE

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