Flying in a plane might seem like secondnature, but it’s not that long ago that taking a flight was extremely risky.One of the reasons aircraft flights have gotten safer over the years is thanksto a device called the flight data recorder.

The flight data recorder, often also calledthe black box, records flight parameters and can be useful in the event of afatal crash. The most famous aspect of these recorders is the cockpit voicerecorder which can record what is said by the pilots just before a crash. Butwhy are these devices so important?

Read on to learn the history of flight datarecorders and why they are so critical to safe flight operation.


What is a Flight Data Recorder?

Even if you don’t recognize theterminology, you’ve likely heard of the flight data recorder before. It issometimes referred to in the news as the ‘black box’ as the device used to looklike a large black box from the outside. In present times, most flight datarecorders are painted orange to help them be located after a crash.

Flight data recorders are physicallyreinforced in the hopes that they will survive even the worst aircraftaccidents so the authorities can determine what went wrong to cause theaccident. Flight data recorders are also fireproof and waterproof for up to 30days.

The flight data recorder, abbreviated asFDR, is a device installed in a plane which records all the parameters of theflight. These parameters include the aircraft settings like altitude and speed,as well as control surface inputs by the pilot.

There are many parts to a flight datarecorder, but one of the most famous is the cockpit voice recorder, which records what the pilots say in the cockpit aswell as what they say to air traffic control. The cockpit voice recorder can bepart of a larger flight data recorder, or it can be installed separately fromthe main flight data recorder.

Flight data

What Do Flight Data Recorders Do?

Flight data recorders monitor all aspectsof a flight. These aspects include the plane’s initial settings, changedsettings, and the inputs put in by the cockpit crew.

The main performance metrics monitored bythe flight data recorder include:

  • Airspeed
  • Time
  • Altitude
  • Heading
  • Roll angle
  • Vertical acceleration
  • Engine power
  • Power settings
  • Aircraft pitch
  • Flight path
  • Ground speed
  • Wind direction and speed
  • Outside air temperature
  • Pilot inputs and screen settings   

The flight data recorder can also measuresmaller metrics, such as if a fire suppression system in the aircraft has beenused or if a certain warning system such as the low pressurization warningsystem was activated.

All these metrics are recorded on a tape ina protected area of the plane, which can be read by scientists and crashinvestigators to discover what was going on in a plane immediately prior to, orduring a crash. The information is especially valuable when studying a crashwhere there are no living witnesses to provide a detailed recount of events.

Even if there are living witnesses, FDRsprovide information which is much more reliable than eye-witness accounts. Theinformation provided by an FDR is unbiased which allows it to be used by engineersand aviation companies to increase aviation safety.  

FDR data can also be used by test pilots to“test out” the parameters of an aviation incident or event to evaluate if therewas another method of action than that taken by the pilot. The most famousincident of this occurring is Captain Sully’s landing on the Hudson River inNew York in 2012.


The History of a Flight Data Recorder

Believe it or not, the flight data recorderhas been around for over 70 years. The first flight data recorder was made in1939 by two French men, Francois Hussenot and Paul Beaudouin.

While this primitive first flight datarecorder didn’t have quite as much technology as the ones in production now,they were quite impressive for the time and these recorders continued to beused in test labs in France until 1970. They provided flight parameters, but norecording of audio as a present-day cockpit voice recorder provides.

The biggest problem with these earlyrecorders is that they couldn’t survive plane crashes or fires, which is amajor use of flight data recorders. During World War II the UK began makingtheir own flight data recorders out of a tougher material in the hopes it wouldbe able to survive a crash.

At the end of the war, the French andBritish joined forces and worked together on a joint FDR. These new devices,however, while better than the original, were still not quite what the aviationindustry is used to today as while it recorded flight parameters, it didn’t yethave a method for recording voice.

The first cockpit voice recorder wasinvented in 1957 by Tom Keeble, but it was only able to record 4 hours of voicebefore it would automatically erase and begin to re-record. Regardless, flightdata recorders became compulsory in Australia in 1963, and the United States in1967.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the modernflight data recorder was invented, as technology expanded to allow more metricsto be recorded, as well as for more information to be stored in a smallerspace. The final recent improvement to these devices came in 2021 when cockpitvoice recorders were required to record 25 hours instead of just 2.

While many people still picture a largemetal box when they think of a flight data recorder, modern flight datarecorders, thanks to chip technology, can be small, handheld devices about thesize of an iPad mini or large smartphone. These devices also no longer alwaysneed to be collected from crash sites as information can be reported remotelyusing internet and wireless technology.


The Different Types of Flight Data Recorders


Universal Quick Access Recorder (uQAR)

A universal quick access recorder or uQAR is a type of flight data recorderwhich can be installed into any aircraft. It’s completely wireless, meaning itcan be used in any fixed wing or rotary wing aircraft as long as the properport is available.

You don’t need to have prior experiencewith flight data recorders, or any other software installed on your aircraftfor the uQAR to work. It takes only two hours to install and doesn’t requireany panels to be opened to complete the installation.

Data will be recorded and reportedwirelessly during the flight with no requirements to collect the FDR from theaircraft. The uQAR is approved by the FAA and can be installed in any aircraftwith the filling out of FAA form 8130-3. You don’t need a supplemental typecertificate to install a uQAR on your aircraft.


ED-155 Crash Protected Recorder

An ED-155 is the minimum required flightdata recorder for smaller aircraft. These devices are small and lightweight yetrecord much of the same information as full flight data recorders.

An ED-155 requires a special interface linkfor information to be collected from the FDR. As long as this interface link isset up (ARINC 429) information can be exchanged and relayed digitally to thefix base operator.

This is a deployable type recorder and itis designed to come apart from the aircraft in the event of a crash but is notas protected from damage as other flight recorders, namely the ED-112A.



The ED-112A type flight data recorder isbuilt much the same as the ED-155 flight data recorder, but with increasedprotections to protect the recorder in the event of a crash.

Like the ED-155 recorders, the ED-112A isdeployable in the event of a crash and an interface link is required forinformation to be read and recorded. It will provide aircraft information aswell as cockpit audio.


Non-Crash Protected Flight Recorder

A non-crash protected flight recorder is adevice which is designed to record the data of a flight, but it is notreinforced for the purposes of surviving a crash. This type of data recorder isuseful for collecting information about aircraft performance or for insurancepremium information.

This category includes many types of datarecorders, but it is important to check operating requirements beforepurchasing one. Some operating certificates require a crash protected datarecorder, and these types will not meet the minimum requirement.


Why Wireless Recorders Are So Important

Aviation is a dangerous industry. The onlyway that aviation has gotten safer over the past few decades is thanks to datacollection which has allowed engineers to build bigger, better, and saferaircraft.

FDRs provide this valuable information, butin a non-wireless fixed recorder, you must wait until there is a crash or otherdangerous incident to collect valuable data. If the FDR is fixed in the planeand requires wired uploading, it is too much of a hassle to collect and reviewthe data between each flight, so most operators don’t do so, only relying onthe FDR in the event of a crash.

With the introduction of wirelessrecorders, fixed base operators can look at the information recorded on aflight data recorder in real time. This means that information can be recordedand analyzed from normal flights, as well as near misses—two situations whichwouldn’t yield data in the case of a non-wireless FDR.

Wireless flight data recorders put all theinformation back in control of the charter or airline, rather than relyingsolely on pilot or ATC reports. They also allow for easy adjustments tooperating practices to create safer operating practices.

Additionally, wireless recorders allowoperators to have a bird’s eye view in case something does begin to go wrongwith the aircraft, allowing the plane to be taken out of service for repairslong before causing a problem to business operations.


Why Your Aircraft Needs a High-Quality Data Recorder

Aircrafts are costly pieces of machineryand are considered an expensive asset in a business. Whether you are running asmall charter company or are a fixed-base operator allowing pilot students touse your aircraft, having an FDR in your aircraft is critical to protectingyour initial investment.

Receiving information about a variety offlights happening in your aircraft can help to monitor pilots and certifiedflight instructors to ensure the plane is being maneuvered and cared forproperly. If repeated mistakes are made by a particular pilot, they can beapproached regarding the information and counseled to prevent a future accidentor incident.

Not only that, but if an incident doesoccur in your aircraft, accurate information can be provided to your insuranceprovider about the incident. If someone else is at fault for the occurrence inyour aircraft, the proper party can be billed rather than costing your companyits deductible.  

In the worst of situations, if youraircraft is involved in a fatal accident, the FDR information can be reviewedto establish the cause of the occurrence and can provide valuable informationon how safety practices need to be improved by your company to prevent futureincidents.

If you waste money on a low-quality datarecorder, you may find that you are unable to use the data you record in any ofthe above situations. But if you take time to invest in a high-qualityrecorder, you can actively work to better your business’ safety practices andprevent incidents from occurring.

Even if you are a private operator, if youwish to rent your plane out to someone else, or even just lend it to a friend,an FDR can provide valuable information about how this individual is treatingyour prized aircraft. It can also help you make future lending decisions basedon past data and protect you from insurance increases in the event of anaccident.


Ready to Improve Your Aviation Safety?

No matter what type of aviation businessyou are running, flightdata recorders are a critical aspect of safe operation. Thanks tothe uQAR produced by Flight Data Technologies, collecting, and managing flightdata from the FDR doesn’t need to be difficult or cumbersome and can be donewirelessly.

Contact us today to discover if the uQARflight data recorder is right for your aircraft and to request a demo!


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