In the mid-1960s, airplanes began carrying a new piece of technology: data recorders. Commonly known as “black boxes,” they are designed to survive any type of crash or incident, providing investigators with vital clues about what caused a disaster. In Sarasota, L-3 Aviation Products manufactures around 5,000 recorders each year. Its dominant model is the FA2100—now standard equipment on most commercial aircraft.
100% success rate in recovering data after a crash.
60% of recorders are used by commercial airlines.
25% are used by business aviation.
15% are used by the military.
Recorders are mostly made out of lightweight aluminum. A small titanium or stainless steel housing and thick layers of thermal insulation protect the memory device.
L-3 recorders function in temperatures ranging from minus 67 degrees Fahrenheit to 158 degrees Fahrenheit and can survive exposure to a 2,012-degree fire for 60 minutes.
The devices record all cockpit communication and a second-by-second record of 100-plus parameters, including speed, altitude, heading, engine status and fuel flow.
An ultrasonic beacon activates when submerged underwater and sends out a pulse (or “ping”) that can be heard from depths of 14,000 feet for up to 90 days.
Unrecovered aviation data recorders include those from the two planes that flew into the World Trade Center.
The bright-orange covers help recovery teams locate the recorders after a crash.
$30,000: cost of a typical recorder.