96 years since the birth of David Warren, the inventor of the black box

After researching the fallout of the first commercial jet plane, the Comet, as part of the Aeronautics Research Laboratory in Sydney, and after seeing a small recording device at a trade fair, he decided to combine the two and thus the “black box” was born.

David Warren with the prototype of the black box. From Wikipedia

David Warren (1925–2010), an Australian research scientist, invented the ‘black box’ flight data recorder.

Warren attended university in Sydney and Melbourne and completed a doctorate in London. In 1947 he became a lecturer in chemistry at the University of Sydney.

Warren was a researcher at the Australian Aeronautical Research Laboratory (ARL) in Melbourne. In the mid-1950s he was involved in the investigations into accidents related to the mysterious crash of the first jet-powered commercial aircraft, the Comet. After the incident it occurred to him that it would be most useful if there was a record of what happened on the plane just before the crash. Then David recalled the first miniature recorder in the world he had recently seen at a trade fair. Suddenly he could imagine such a recorder being placed in all the planes, while constantly recording details and able to recover after a crash.

He predicted a machine that would be placed in all the planes, and which would constantly document details in such a way that they could be quickly recovered after a crash.

Its first prototype attracted little local attention. In 1958, during an unofficial visit to Sir Robert Hardingham’s ARL, the former British Air Marshal began the break-in. Warren was asked to present his ‘unofficial project’ during lunch. Immediately Sir Robert saw the potential. David and his black box boarded a flight to England almost immediately. The reception there was most encouraging. The Ministry of Aviation has announced that it will soon be required to install the black box flight recorder for reading devices. The black box has been successfully demonstrated in Canada as well. In America, authorities have rejected an invitation from the Australian embassy to introduce the device.

It was only after a crash investigation that took place in Queensland in May 1960 that Australia became the first country in the world to require voice recording in the cockpit. The flight recorder known as the ‘black box’ has since been adopted as a means of investigating accidents and preventing their recurrence.

It should be noted that the color of the black box is never black, but bright orange to make it easy to locate at the crash scene.

Warren has published numerous scientific papers on a variety of topics and has won awards including the Royal Airways Lawrence Award (2001) and the Royal Society of Arts and Communications’ Retent Medal (2000).

The black box may not be useful in the case of missing planes, such as the Malaysian Airlines 370 flight that disappeared over the Indian Ocean in 2014, although it turns out that one of the devices was in regular contact with the manufacturer, and the last signal was from it.

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