Like transponders, can flight data recorders be turned off?

Sufiyan Ghori
  • Like transponders, can flight data recorders be turned off? Sufiyan Ghori

    I never knew much about airplanes before the tragic incident of Malaysia 370. I have been spending a lot of time on Twitter reading various articles and investigations; in one of the articles I read, they stated that unlike transponders, "black boxes" cannot be turned off.

    However, each ELT is specifically designed for each aircraft, so it cannot be tampered with. You also cannot turn off the black box, as it runs throughout the flight, recording every 30 to 60 seconds.

    Is it really impossible to turn off the black boxes from within the plane?

  • Generally, I'm pretty sure there's no switch for a Flight Data Recorder on the overhead panel in most aircraft, since I think it switches on automatically. However, i'm pretty sure that you can pull the corresponding fuse behind the cockpit. It's a safety thing after all, since you don't want a short circuit from the FDR causing problems to the rest of the plane.

    While I'm not sure of how this works on the Boeing 777 as in MAS370, it was attempted on FedEx flight 705.

  • There is no switch for the FDR, but there is a circuit breaker and by pulling this you are removing aircraft power from the FDR. However, this does not mean you are necessarily turning it off, as some FDR can be equipped with an internal power supply as a backup to aircraft power.

    The quote in the question (bolded emphasis mine):

    You also cannot turn off the black box, as it runs throughout the flight, recording every 30 to 60 seconds.

    is a case of an "expert" or journalist confusing the lack of an on/off switch as an inability to turn something off. As you'll find many examples of in the media, they don't always get it right. The circuit breaker may not be a true on/off switch, but pulling it does accomplish de-powering (assuming no internal power supply) and thus turning off the FDR.

  • On most commercial aircraft there is a circuit breaker for the cockpit voice recorder. The recorder can record communication in the cockpit for 30 minutes or up to two hours on later model aircraft. They are continuous loops which will record over the oldest previous recordings. Whenever any incident occurs during the operation of a flight, the circuit breaker is pulled to keep the pertinent cockpit conversation on record and not be recorded over. I am unaware of any such circuit for the flight data recorder.

  • Neither the FDR CB nor the CVR CB are accessible from the B772 flight deck. The FDR is powered on at engine start. In the event of a mishap the CVR CB is pulled as a means of saving the data. The CVR CB is accessed from the E&E bay.

Related questions and answers
  • I never knew much about airplanes before the tragic incident of Malaysia 370. I have been spending a lot of time on Twitter reading various articles and investigations; in one of the articles I read, they stated that unlike transponders, "black boxes" cannot be turned off. However, each ELT is specifically designed for each aircraft, so it cannot be tampered with. You also cannot turn off the black box, as it runs throughout the flight, recording every 30 to 60 seconds. Is it really impossible to turn off the black boxes from within the plane?

  • Why is it that black boxes don't float? From what I gather the answer is: So they will not float away from a water crash site. The ping can be heard underwater with sonar. Finding the ping, finds the site. But why not have two black boxes one that floats and one that stays with the aircraft? That way if a plane is lost at sea, if we find the black box floating, we could use the data to find the other black box and the crash site. Plus the benefits of having a redundancy are enormous.

  • Do the manufacturers who build airplanes use their own "black boxes" in the planes, or are there companies whose sole purpose is to develop black boxes? For example, in 2010 in the Airblue Flight 202 incident, the black box had to be sent to Germany for data recovery: He stated that the box would be examined by "foreign experts" in Germany or France as Pakistan does not possess... to the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) in France. It is not clear who developed that black box. Was it the same company that manufactured the airplane? Also, can

  • These days, when reading news about missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, I keep coming across a scenario where pilot might have deliberately turned off the transponder which is used for the communication of flight with ATC. When there is a possibility that any bad thing can happen when pilot turn off transponder, why would one give the ability of turning off the transponder to a pilot when he/she usually depends on instructions from ATC or flight control. Is there anyway that ATC can turn on transponder back from ground?

  • Can an FDR on a Boeing 777 be interfered with or vandalised during flight? If this has happened on MH370 then the black boxes may not yield any data if found.

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  • . This is just so we can find plane crashes in the sea when we don't know precisely where they went down (and to get basic data when the black boxes are too deep to get to immediately). Malaysian flight 370 and Air France Flight 447 would have both been greatly aided if these floaties were in those planes. What do you think? ...Without getting into the mess of redesigning existing Flight Data Recorders, I have a simple proposal that I think would help in deep water crashes. I propose that several floating cushion sets

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