Updated February 18, 2020

What Are Black Boxes?

Any movie or television show featuring an airplane crash is going to mention one item: the black box. This essential tool is one of the first things aviation accident investigators search for after a crash and can help determine what happened in the moments before the tragedy.

However, black boxes are a bit of a misnomer: They aren’t black, and they aren’t boxes.

How do Black Boxes Work?

All large commercial airplanes and corporate jets are required to have what are commonly referred to as “black boxes.” In reality, though, black boxes are two separate pieces of bright orange equipment: a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and a flight data recorder (FDR).

Cockpit Voice Recorders

CVRs record essential audio data in the cockpit, including what the pilot and co-pilot said as well as background noise that the plane made. Investigators can use information stored in the CVR—such as emergency warnings, the sound of the engine, and flight crew conversation—to determine why the aircraft crashed.

Located in the tail of the plane, CVRs are designed to be damage-resistant, but they aren’t foolproof. The data is also written on memory chips in case the CVR doesn’t survive impact.

Flight Data Recorders

FDRs monitor data concerning the operation of the plane: the altitude, direction, and speed of the aircraft as well as information such as whether the plane was on autopilot and how much fuel was in the tank. Using data from the FDR, investigators can construct a computer visualization of the flight to simulate when and how the crash occurred.

What happens when an Airplane Crashes?

When an airplane crashes, investigators immediately locate and remove the CVR and FDR from the accident scene and send them to the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) headquarters, where the data is extracted and analyzed. Unfortunately, the recorders are sometimes damaged or lost. If the plane crashed in the ocean or caught on fire, for example, investigators may not be able to find or use the data.

Black box data can be used to show how an aviation accident happened and if negligence was at play. Did the crew make mistakes? Did pilot error cause the crash? Was mechanical error at fault? Information retrieved from the recording devices could be used in an aviation accident lawsuit.

Contact an Aviation Accident Attorney Today

Our staff attorneys include two licensed pilots, each with a commercial license, flight engineer certificate, and instrument and multi-engine aircraft ratings. They also have experience flying Boeing 727s and many private aircraft.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of an aviation accident, you are urged to contact the Indianapolis Aviation Accident Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you with the next steps in pursuing an aviation accident case. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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