Reader Mail : Where Does The Term “Black Box” Come From?

At the end of January I had written that I wish I received more reader mail with questions I could answer on Flying With Fish rather than those better responded to in one-to-one e-mail … and last night I received an email from Laura O’Connell that fit that comment.

Laura asks “In all the news photos of the of airplane black boxes the black box is always orange. Why is it called a black box?

Well Laura, I’m glad you asked! The term “black box” likely originates from Paul Beaudouin and François Hussenot’s original Type HB Flight Data Recorder dating back to 1939. The Type HB Flight Data Recorder was a photographic based system that recorded instrument data on a scrolling 8-meter by 88-millimeter single piece of photographic film.

The Type HB Flight Data Recorders were quite literally “Black Boxes” that needed to be free from light leaks to preserve the photographic film.

Modern “black boxes”, or Flight Data Recorders (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVR), are painted bright orange with heat resistant paint so they are easily visible at the site of an aircraft crash. “Black boxes” are most commonly installed in the rear of the aircraft where they are more likely to survive the impact of a crash.

Hopefully that answers the origins of why the bright orange Flight Data Recorders is commonly referred to as the ‘black box.’

Below is a graphic of The Black Box

Happy Flying!


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