The Importance Of Flight Recorders And Air Crash Investigations

What are Flight Recorders? (Commercial Aircraft Flight Recorders)

1.What are Flight Recorders? (Commercial Aircraft Flight Recorders)

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The commercial aircraft flight recorders refer to an instrument usually found at the tail of the aircraft and which takes records of the condition and the performance of an aircraft which is in flight. The aircraft flight recorders are essential on the commercial aircrafts since they ease the probability of any unexpected occurrences such as aircraft crash. Usually, they are grouped into two. I.e. the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder which can either be packed differently or just within the same unit. They are also known as the black box (Arora, 2005).

What is its purpose?

Since the flight recorders are made up of two functional units i.e. the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, the purpose which consists of looking and the units each separately but in a more combined manner.  The flight data recorder does the function of taking the records of a variety of aircraft variables such as the vertical acceleration, attitude, pitch, airspeed and other environmental condition within the aircraft. On the other hand, the cockpit voice recorder does the function of taking verbal communication records of the aircraft crew member’s present ant the aircraft cockpit. In addition, it also records the voice transmissions by radio device and the audible aircraft sounds. Below is a diagram showing how the flight recorders look like (Arora, 2005)


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The importance of flight recorders

The flight recorders or tor the black box plays a significant role in the aviation field, more so during the aviation disaster since it makes it easy and efficient for the persons doing investigations to determine or come up with the main cause of the air crash. This is because of the units comprising it i.e. the cockpit voice records and the flight data recorder which electronically takes the aircraft’s performance variables and the voice data and then sends them to an external system.  On the cockpit, there is the presence of microphones which listens to the conversation of the crew as well as tracking any kind of noise for instance thuds, knocks and switches. Generally, these microphones  transmit the audio to the cockpit that in turn digitize the signals and then store them. In addition, there is the associated control unit in the cockpit that pre-amplifies the audio which is being transmitted to the cockpit (Barreveld, 2015).

Different Parts – What do they do? How they do it? Materials used

How does it work?

Powered by one of the two plane engine generators, the cockpit voice records and the flight data recorder primarily does the work of recording the data. Thereafter, the data which is stored in the two units get stored on the memory boards which are stacked within the memory unit. These memory boards usually have a wider space much enough to digitally accommodate data within two hours for the commercial aircrafts. The data is gathered by the help of sensors including the altitude, outside temperature, cabin temperature, accelerations, pressure, and airspeed among other variables (Barreveld, 2015).

Different Parts – What do they do? How they do it? Materials used

The flight recorders consists of various parts such as memory unit, Input devices, Power supply, Electronic controller, and Signal beacon

  • Power supply

The power supply is enabled by two voltage lines which are 28 DC and 115VAC and primarily provides the flight recorder with the energy to operate. Besides, the batteries are usually made in such a ways that they can operate for nearly a month continually.

  • Crash Survivable Memory Unit

This is a memory unit which is designed to keep information for at most 25 hours digitally. The memory units are designed in a high tech mode such that it is able to hold data in uncompressed form.

  • Integrated Controller and Circuitry Board

This is a board which comprises of various circuits that play the role of a switchboard for the data which is being relayed to the board (Bennett, 2001).

The aircraft interface refers to the port which provides connection means for the input devices hence enabling the obtaining of information from the fight does the work of receiving and processing the incoming signals from the various instruments such as warning alarms, Crash, engine noise and airspeed indicator. The installed interface thereafter. Additionally, the microphone picks up sound which may be utilized in obtaining the possible cause of aircraft crashes, clicks, and gear extension among others. Finally, the microphone performs a relay duty of the weather briefings, crew conversations and air traffic control.

  • Underwater Locator Beacon

The Underwater Locator Beacon is a locator equipment which helps in identifying the location of the flight in the event that there is an underwater accident. Also referred to as pinger, the locator gets activated once the flight recorder is immersed in water and by so doing, it transmits acoustical signal which can be sensed by the use of a special receiver. This device has the possibility of transmitting data from very high depths for instance 4,200 m.

The History of Flight Recorders

The History of flight recorders

            The history of the flight recorders dates back to 1957 when the young scientist from the Australian origin by the name David Warren invented the first black box. This later led to the mandatory inclusion of the device in all the Australian aircrafts after the Queensland aeroplane crash in the year 1960.later professor James of the Minnesota University invented and patented the coding apparatus of the flight recorders whereas the cockpit sound recorder got patented by Edmund Boniface in the same year (Corda, 2017).

Also, Edmund came up with an improved version of the cockpit that had a spring loaded with a switch in order to allow the pilot to delete the recording once the plane had safely landed. On the 19th of July, 2005, a flight enactment act was introduced by the infrastructure and transportation committee of the house of representatives of United States of America. The act ensured that two cockpit voice recorder are installed which are digitally enabled together with a locator transmitter which applies the recorded technology to carry the deployable recorders.


Air crash investigations refer to the investigations which are carried out by the air raft investigation professionals immediately after an incident of a plane crash. The investigations are normally aimed at determining the actual cause of an accident or what factors that may have led to a certain air crash collapsing.  Usually, the investigations are carried out by involving various techniques such as analysing the maintenance records of a flight, conducting of interviews to the survivors, examining the flight engine, studying of the human performance among other techniques.

 Importance of air crash investigations

The air crash investigations are significant since it helps in figuring out what and how the crash transpired so that any possible occurrence may be avoided in the coming future.  The group that is usually tasked with conducting the investigations is called BEA “bureau of investigation and analysis for civil aviation safety “and NTSB “National Transportation Safety Board “apart from conducting the investigations, these two bodies are; also tasked with ensuring the onboard safety of the flight as well as providing some recommendations that may assist in averting any possible future accidents of similar case. The two bodies operate independently (Tunney, 2010)

Research and analyse statistics of previous commercial aircraft accidents

            In the past, there have been various commercial aircraft accidents experienced across the world. Prior to looking at various aircraft accident, it is imperial to understand the various five categories of these accidents. The categories include

What are Air Crash Investigations? Why are They Important? (Mention BEA and NTSB)

Runway excursion – This refers to a longitudinal overrun or a lateral veer off the surface of the runway and it not necessarily depends on neither the component failure nor system failure

Abnormal runway contact -This refers to unexpected or unobvious landing that leads to an accident. It also depends on neither the system failure nor the component failure.

Controlled flight into terrain- This refers to a collision with an obstacle such as terrain or water without any kind of loss of control notice.

Loss of Control in Flight- This refers to a loss of control of the aircraft while it is still in flight as a result of the component or system failure (Barreveld, 2015).

System/Component Failure -This refers to aircraft accident as a result of a failure in the system or the component of the aircraft. This may be traced to poor design or the manufacturing process of the aircraft system is in question. Besides, the software or the database may also lead to the component or system failure of the aircraft.

The below graphs shows the distribution of the accidents by the above categories. 


From the graph above, it is evident that the accidents caused by the runway excursion are less than 15% while the other factors such as component and system failures.

For the hull loses, the percentage is as shown below


For the past 3 years, it has been noted that the rate of the accidents caused by component and system failure has greatly reduced by a factor of 7.

Accidents in 2016 and beyond

In the year 2016, there was an averagely low performance in the sector of safety thereby leading to a total number of five accidents, which were fatal. Most of these five fatal accidents were experienced as a result of lack of proper surveillance and the operation performance, both human and the system. Besides, the operating environment also played a role in the contributing to the accidents (University, 2009).

In terms of the hull loses the accidents increase with a margin of 0.4 from the previous year as demonstrated below.


Research and Analyse Statistics of Previous Commercial Aircraft Accidents

 The figure below describes the annual trend in the hull loss accidents


The figure below shows the rate of hull loss per million flights


Accidents since advent of jet age

Since the evolution of the aircraft, there has been no significant growth in the number of the aircraft accidents. Besides, the constant advancement in the aviation sector has largely contributed towards ensuring that the number of the accidents are minimized. 

The figure below describes the annual trend of the fatal accidents experienced in the aviation profession (Bennett, 2001)


The figure below shows the rate of the Yearly fatal accident per million flights


As evidenced in the above graph, the peak rate of the accidents was experienced in the 1960s, which was at a time that the number of the flights were a bit lower than the present number of flights.

The advances in the technology have greatly minimized the rate of the accidents for the subsequent years. The below graph illustrates this.


Statistical analysis of commercial aircraft flight recorder

Case Studies

The Air Malaysia Flight MH370 is one of the deadlines aeroplane crash in the history of aviation accidents since it disappeared without any trace left. There have been various controversies in relation to the accident with some of the aviation authorities claiming that the aircraft advertently changed its course and trajected in a direction which is opposite to the direction that it was meant to follow (Pascoe, 2003). 

Besides, some other experts try to explain that the aircraft flew above the Indian ocean when most of the passengers on boards were already unconscious due to the lack of enough oxygen, and thereafter crashed due depletion of fuel. Attempt to find the flight recorder or the black box to at least give details of what transpired before the crash has failed.

  • An incident where the flight recorders took a while to find (Air France Flight 447)

Case Studies of Previous Aircraft Accidents (Commercial Aircraft Only)

The Air France Flight 447 took place in 2009 in the Atlantic Ocean as noted by France’s bureau of investigation and analysis. All the 228 passengers on board died and it is believed that the main cause of the crash may be related to some human technical errors caused by the inexperienced pilot. The flight recorder was found after the second day of operation despite the memory unit gone missing. It’s the memory that contains the data which would be used to determine the main cause of the crash.

  • An incident where the flight recorder was destroyed (United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11)

 The United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11 was a passenger flight that got hijacked by a terrorist of the al-Qaeda group in the year 2001 and then deliberately crashed it claiming the lives of 87 persons in the New York City. By so doing, the flight recorder got damaged thereby eliminating the evidence of the data that may have been recorded just before the flight (Barreveld, 2015).

  • An incident where the flight recorder was damaged (EgyptAir Flight 804)

An Egyptian committee said that the flight recorder of the EgyptAir Flight 804 was found but had been damaged. The aircraft had 66 persons on board and all died. The investigators are trying to at least gather the slightest information from the damaged recorder in order to determine the main cause of the crash.

3.Existing projects or existing ideas to improve commercial aircraft Flight recorders

Floatation Devices

            The introduction of floatation devices on the commercial aircraft would greatly assist in enhancing the aircraft redundancy for purposes of data recovery as well as improving the location of the aircraft in situations that an underwater accident has occurred. An existing project on this is being done by the L3 technologies company in collaboration with the airbus liner programmes. The project is aimed at deploying data recorders which are audio duplicate and that can be used in overwater flight operations.  In the event of a crash, the deployable recorder gets released automatically


                                                                                 Improved range underwater beacons

            The Improved range underwater beacons as designed by the Dukane season have a low frequency and are made of acoustic material. Besides, they emit a signal of frequency 8.8 kHz. These improved locating beacon substantially extends the rate of recording and transition of the signal. The European Commission has enacted this idea into law such that all the larger aircrafts are equipped with the improved locator beacons. Moreover, there was a proposal of coming up with even a more powerful gadget that would be able to detect the exact location that an accident has taken place with a quite larger accuracy of 6 nm(Erjavec, 2003).

Deployed out of the aircraft (like used in military aircraft and helicopters)

-Jettisoned out of aircraft

Jettison refers to the process of emergency procedure whereby the external parts or fuel gets released or discarded for some emergency purposes.  The design of aircraft with flight recorders which can be jettisoned by some sensors upon detecting that there might be some accident ahead will generally help in obtaining the possible cause of the crash since the flight recorders will not get destroyed (Filippone, 2007).

-Improved materials to resist fire or damage upon impact

The damage of the flight recorder majorly depends on the heat resistance factors as well as the damage upon impact. Coming up with improved materials which are more resistant to fire, heat and impact will greatly help in seeing that the data in the flight recorders are not lost.
-Include various other existing projects or existing ideas

 Some of the existing ideas which help in improving the commercial flight recorder includes

  • Image recorders – these are type of recorders which stores aircraft external images of the engine, landing gear and control surfaces, general images as well as the cockpit images
  • Independent power supply recorder – this helps in providing some additional power when the electrical power is lost
  • Combi-recorders – this refers to a combination of both the CVR and FDR recorders instead of separately installing them (Barreveld, 2015)