Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 29, 2019

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“Black box” is a common term used for a flight data recorder (FDR), which is an electronic unit located in the cockpit of an airplane or helicopter. The black box is a recording system, which is designed to record various actions, movements, and other details of the performance of the aircraft as it flies.

Understanding the Black Box

It’s a common misconception that the black box records voices as well. It doesn’t. A similar device, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), does perform this function. Thus, the term “black box” as commonly used actually refers to two “black boxes” – the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. These instruments record a wide variety of information, such as speed and altitude or the voice communication within the cockpit. The black boxes are also equipped with beacons that aid rescuers in locating them.

The point of the black box is that should an accident occur and the aircraft crashes, leaving no survivors in the cockpit, the recording will help determine exactly what took place leading to the crash. This is both for accident investigation purposes and for air safety reasons, to prevent the same thing from taking place as well as to determine liability.

What is the Black Box Made of?

The black box is made of a very resilient material that’s designed to withstand major heat and impact, so that it can survive even the worst crash. It’s not, in fact, a black box, however. The box is painted bright orange so that it will be easier to find amidst the wreckage of the aircraft, but the term has stuck for a variety of reasons, and is sometimes used as a metaphor in the English language for anything with unknown, mysterious inner workings.

The Black Box and Aviation Accidents

If you are involved in an aviation accident, the information in the black box may be useful in determining what has happened and who should be held responsible. You will want to consult with a lawyer to understand how the black box works to help your accident claim, and also for general advice and guidance on the process of aviation litigation.