Beyond the "Black Box": How Curtiss-Wright Flight Data Recorders Meet Varied Needs

September 02, 2013 | BY: Paul Hart

Just about everyone knows that airplanes carry "black boxes" to record data that can help investigators determine the sequence of events leading up to an accident. Some people know that "black boxes" are really orange and many may be aware that the Federal Aviation Administration, and other international aviation governing bodies, have steadily increased the amount of data that must be gathered by flight data recorders (FDRs). As an insider in the aviation industry, I can tell you that flight data recorders go far beyond the crucial task of recording data to be used by investigators after an incident.

Versatility in flight data recording

Flight data recorders today can provide valuable data for other applications such as Flight Data Monitoring (FDM), Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) and other health monitoring programs. FDM or FOQA recorders monitor the actions of the aircraft in flight. This information can be used to inform operators of specific flying behaviors, warn of possible future maintenance tasks or provide information for any anomalous events. FOQA programs are voluntary in the United States but mandatory on larger planes operated in the EASA European jurisdiction. Another similar program, specifically for helicopters operating in areas without "Assured Safe Forced Landing Capability", could also be served with an FDR. Another application FDRs are often found in is for flight testing – here critical parameters are recorded in a crash protected recorder to ensure vital development data is available in the event of an accident.

In future, Flight Data recorders could be used for many other airborne data acquisition programs as the storage capacity increases over time. One example would be an aircraft engine monitoring recorder – these provide data to help ensure there is no anomalous activity that could indicate an impending failure. They can also log events when the normal parameters of engine operation are exceeded, such as excessive turbine speed. Another possible application is mission recording which typically provides a range of options for data visualization. This could be some time off however as mission recorders typically require large amounts of storage capacity due to large amounts of data from multiple video sources. I’d say dedicated mission recorders will be around for some time, but some applications in the future, or even now, may be well served by FDRs.

The company I work for, Curtiss-Wright, is a recognized leader in this field and has been making flight data recorders since 1957. The company is also an innovator, introducing the first combined flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder (FDR/CVR) unit in 1986. Curtiss-Wright also makes several other kinds of units to meet diverse aviation demands. What I’ve discussed are just some of the specialized flight data recording capabilities provided by the avionics industry. You can be sure that whatever data you need to collect, there are a full range of data recorders available for maximum safety and efficiency in the air.

Paul Hart

Author’s Biography

Paul Hart

Chief Technology Officer

Paul Hart joined Curtiss-Wright in 1982 as a graduate engineer and has worked for 18 years in the flight recorder business. Paul also worked for Thales for 2.5 years in helicopter flight management and was responsible for the mission systems group at Cobham Aviation Services for 7 years. In 2011 Paul re-joined Curtiss-Wright as the Director of Avionics Engineering and transitioned to the Avionics CTO.

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