Link #158: A Plane’s Black Box Is Actually Orange!

Black Box
Image credit: Rameshng/CC BY-SA 3.0


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Link #158: A Plane’s Black Box Is Actually Orange!

Black Box
Image credit: Rameshng/CC BY-SA 3.0

In our last post, we explained how Jupiter alternatively protects Earth from potential asteroid and comet hits and endangers it. There have been instances where comets and asteroids have crashed into Jupiter even though they were heading towards Earth.

While everyone knows when a crash like this happens on Jupiter (patches visible from Earth), nobody knows the actual scenario. In fact, we wouldn’t even know how our own planes crashed, if there weren’t those wonderful Black Boxes to record everything.

However, did you know these Black Boxes aren’t even black in colour? They’re actually orange or bright red in colour! How and why? Read on!

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Are Black Boxes Actually Orange?

Black Box
Image credit: Brazilian Air Force/CC BY 3.0 BR

Black Boxes are, indeed, orange in colour. This is not an oversight. They’re deliberately made to be orange in colour. The reason why bright orange or red colour is chosen for Black Boxes is that it makes them stand out.

When a plane crashes, there’s a lot of fire and destruction. This means that the debris is usually charred black or covered in dirt which makes it dark brown. In such wreckage, a bright orange object could be spotted easily.

What Is A Black Box?

A Flight Data Recorder (left) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (right)
Image credit: No Author Info/CC BY-SA 3.0

A Black Box is a device that records data about the plane on which it is installed. It isn’t crucial to the normal workings of the plane but is vital if a plane crashes. In such a scenario, the data contained in the Black Box can be used to figure out why the plane crashed.

The modern day Black Box consists of three devices. The first is the Flight Data Recorder or FDR. This device records physical metrics such as aircraft pitch, vertical acceleration, heading, airspeed, altitude, and other flight conditions.

The second is the Cockpit Voice Recorder or CVR. The CVR is responsible for recording the sounds coming from the cockpit. The third is a beacon. The beacon’s purpose is to help searchers locate the Black Box if it is submerged in water.

It does this by emitting a sonar pulse the moment its sensor touches water. The FDR and the CVR are covered with numerous layers of insulation and steel to prevent the Black Box from getting damaged.

Why Are They Called Black Boxes?

Flight Recorder Black Box
Image credit: No machine-readable author provided/CC0

The exact origin of the term ‘Black Box’ isn’t clear. However, what is known is that the term ‘Black Box’ was popularised media. There are various theories as to how the term got famous.

One of the theories says that the term ‘Black Box’ came because of the earliest designs of these devices. These earlier versions of the Black Box required the box to be completely dark inside to prevent light from damaging the film inside.

Similarly, another theory says that the term came from a journalist saying this about one of the earlier versions of this device: ‘this is a wonderful black box’.

The final theory about the origins of the term ‘Black Box’ is rooted in WWII jargon. During the WWII, a lot of new devices were added to planes and all of them were put in a standard black box. This is possibly why the term was used for this device too.

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