Why are FDR's called "black boxes" when they are actually orange?

  • Why are FDR's called "black boxes" when they are actually orange? DISREGARD MODS ACQUIRE REP

    Why do they call flight data recorders a "black box" if it's orange in color?

    Just curious about this since I've seen several images of black boxes but they all come in orange colors, and not black. I can understand orange being used to help brightly identify the box , but then why call it a "black" box?

  • A black box (generally speaking) is a device or box whose internal working are not of as much interest or value but rather the input and output.

    Flight data recorders are orange so that they can be located easily in case of a crash. If they were black, they can be camouflaged by their surroundings.

    Bright orange color make them stand out easily, because nature didn't make many things orange, besides oranges.

    Another reason is that they are painted/coated with heat-resistant bright orange paint.

  • The Wikipedia article on Flight recorder offers a possible explanation for the origin of the term:

    ... they were essentially photograph-based flight recorders since the record was made on a scrolling photographic film. The latent image was made by a thin ray of light deviated by a mirror tilted according to the magnitude of the data to record (altitude, speed, etc.). Since the inside of the recorder was pitch black, this may be the origin of the "black box" name, often used as a synonym for a flight recorder.

    Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on Black box claims that the term entered the English language around 1945, which is a few years after the first flight data recorder was built.

  • The adjective "black" in "black box" means "opaque". Engineering also uses the phrase "black box testing", which means tests that are done without access to system internals.

    Similarly, "white box" means transparent, in which internal signals may be recorded or manipulated.

    A black box recorder is presumably recording pilot actions on the system as well as the state shown to the pilot on the instruments, but none of the avionics internal variables. I doubt any modern FDR would be designed this way, however, since without the internal variables diagnosis of failure could be very difficult.

  • One other theory I've heard (but been unable to verify) about the origin of the term "black box" in popular literature is that the boxes when found often tend to be black.
    Not as a result of being painted black, but as a result of having been inside a burning aircraft wreck, covered in soot and burnt paint.

    Whether that's the (or even one of the) reason for the term is probably lost in the mists of time. I seriously doubt it's ever been written down by the people inventing the term (newspaper journalists most likely) what their reasoning was.

  • The correct answer seems to be, "Nobody knows for sure" but here's some data.

    The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for the phrase "black box" referring specifically to a flight data recorder isn't until 1964, from the UK Daily Telegraph: "The flight recorder is an indestructible 'black box' which automatically records the key functions in the aircraft..."

    There are earlier uses of the phrase, with different meanings. Since 1932, it has been used to mean a device whose internal workings are unclear but which is specified by its inputs and outputs; since 1945, it has been used in the Royal Air Force to refer to various navigational devices which, according to Wikipedia sometimes were housed in literal boxes that were black.

    My interpretation/thoughts/speculation/whatever word you want to use:

    The use of quote marks in the Daily Telegraph seems significant. First, it suggests that we're not talking about a literal box which is black and you might imagine they'd say something like " 'black box' (which is now actually orange)" if they were formally literal black boxes. Second, "a 'black box' " suggests that the FDR might be just one of several devices on a plane that could be described as "black boxes". Unfortunately, that seems consistent with both of the other given definitions: you could perfectly well imagine it being RAF-style slang for "This electronic box of tricks does navigation, this one holds the autopilot and this one records flight data" or the input-output version of "I don't know exactly how the autopilot works, but I know what it does; ditto the navigation system; ditto the data recorder."

Related questions and answers
  • 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

  • Why do they call flight data recorders a "black box" if it's orange in color? Just curious about this since I've seen several images of black boxes but they all come in orange colors, and not black. I can understand orange being used to help brightly identify the box , but then why call it a "black" box?

  • This is related to the recent disappearance and the fact that some claim the plane's black box to be deeply under water and that's why it cannot be located

  • 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?

  • As I understand, there are two black boxes on-board an aircraft. One black box, the Cockpit Voice Recorder holds the cockpit conversations and the other, the Flight Data Recorder holds essential flight parameters. But why are the two black boxes holding separate data? Why don't both black boxes hold copies of both the FDR and the CVR data for extra redundancy in case the other box goes missing or is completely damaged by the crash? Are there any technical reasons for why this isn't possible or hasn't been attempted yet? Is there any benefit of having the CVR and FDR in separate boxes?

  • Black boxes put out a sonar ping at about 32kHz. From what I've read, depending on sea conditions the ping will be audible at the surface out to about 16 km, leaving a search area of around 1024 square km. By adding a little complexity to the ping circuit, you could encode within it the last received GPS position of the box, before it hits the water. With average sea depth and average sink angles of less than 45° that information would cut the search area down to about 10 square km. Is there some reason this tech is not used, or is it still in the rigorous testing pipeline these devices must

  • In too many cases of unfortunate incidents, hunting for FDR (or CVR also) is a major challenge. There are many or all answers recorded on that device. Why cannot a locator (GPS linked) be included in the black box? It has its battery which runs for several days and very rigid outer shell. Ordinary cell phones are GPS enabled which pinpoint their location with the accuracy of less than 10 feet or so. Cannot there be more sophisticated technology built-in black boxes?

  • At a frequency of 37.5 kHz a quarter wavelength is about 2 km long. How does the black box efficiently radiate anything if it is not attached to 2 km of antenna?

  • that radio beacon. We have not yet picked up anything, but that's typically what those black boxes contain." I was under the (potentially incorrect) impression that flight recorders, by nature...? If so, why? I know that flight recorders are equipped with underwater locator beacons. Are they also equipped with radio beacons (either an active transmitter or a some passive device like a corner... Fleet, which is taking part in the search, said he expected the plane's flight recorders to be floating in the water. He said the recorders, also known as "black boxes", are fitted with radio