What's In The Black Box ?


The FDAU or "black box" records a variety of flight parameters that can help investigators determine what happens when an airplane crashes
The FDAU or “black box” records a variety of flight parameters that can help investigators determine what happens when an airplane crashes

Reprise: Over a  year ago, we published an article on the “black box” that contains flight data on airlines and the data it would contain. The article was produced in response to the massive coverage around the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flt.370. One year later, that plane is still missing, and, tragically, the world is learning about a new air disaster and another hunt for another black box. Here’s the original post….a quick scan of the data parameters it collects will give a much more thorough understanding of what the “black box” is always so important. 
Paying Attention: With INMARSAT providing information that predicts that Malaysia Flt. 370 did, indeed, go down in the South Indian Ocean, the hunt now narrows down to two elements: find the debris field for the airplane in  the sharply restricted area laid out by satellite analysis and then find the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the “black box” or Flight Data Acquisition Unit (FDAU). Both units should be with the wreckage of the plane. The “black box”–which is not actually black but colored international orange to make visual location easier–records at least 88 different flight parameters and sometimes more, depending upon the configuration of the FDAU, the airplane, and the systems installed. Over the next few weeks there will be an intense amount of media coverage on the “black box” and its contents, but you can get way ahead of the game if you just read the list below, which details the flight parameters that an FDAU will contain. After you take a look at the data involved in flight, you’ll have a new appreciation for just how complex a modern airliner is and the skill level of the pilots who fly them. Here’s the list, sourced from the Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute:
1. Time
2. Pressure altitude
3. Indicated Airspeed
4. Heading
5. Normal (Vertical) acceleration
6. Pitch attitude
7. Roll attitude
8. Manual Radio Keyeing
9. Autopilot engagement status
10. Thrust or Power of Each Engine (Pilot Reference)
11.Longitudinal Acceleration
12. Pitch Control Input
13. Lateral Control Input
14. Rudder Control Input
15.Primary Pitch Control Surface Position
16.Primary Lateral Control Surface Position
17.Primary Yaw Control Surface Position
18.Lateral acceleration
19.Pitch Trim Surface Position
20. Trailing Edge Flap or Cockpit Flap Control Selection
21.Leading Edge Flap or Cockpit Flap Control Selection
22.Each Thrust Reverser Position
23.Ground Spoiler Position or Speed Brake Position
24. Outside air temperature
25. Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) Modes and Engagement Status, including Autothrottle
26.  Radio Altitude
27. Localizer Deviation, MLS Azimuth
28. Glideslope Deviation, MLS Elevation
29. Marker Beacon Passage
30. Master Warning
31. Air/Ground Sensor
32. Angle of Attack
33. Hydraulic Pressure Low (for each system)
34. Ground Speed
35. Ground Proximity Warning System
36. Landing Gear position or landing gear cockpit control selection
37. Drift Angle
38. Wind speed and direction
39. Lattitude and longitude
40. Stick shaker/pusher
41. Windshear
42. Throttle/power level position
43. Additional engine parameters
44. Traffic alert and collision avoidance system
45. DME 1 and 2 distances
46. Nav 1 and 2 Selected Frequency
47. Selected Barometer Setting
48. Selected altitude
49. Selected Speed
50. Selected mach
51. Selected vertical speed
52. Selected heading
53. Selected flight path
54. Selected decision height
55. EFIS Display Format
56. Multi-function/engine/alerts display format
57. Thrust command
58. Thrust Target
59. Fuel Quantity
60.Primary Navigation System Reference
61. Icing
62. Engine warning each engine vibration
63. Engine warning each engine over temperature
64. Engine warning each engine oil pressure
65. Engine warning each engine over speed
66. Yaw trim surface position
67. Roll trim surface position
68. Brake pressure
69. Brake pedal application
70. Yaw or side slip angle
71. Engine bleed valve position
72. De-icing or anti-icing system selection
73. Computed center of gravity
74. AC electrical bus status
75. DC electrical bus status
76. APU bleed valve position
77. Hydraulic pressure for each system
78. Loss of cabin pressure
79. Computer failure
80. Heads up display
81. Para-visual display
82. Cockpit trim control input position-pitch
83. Cockpit trim control input position-roll
84. Cockpit trim control input position-yaw
85. Trailing edge flap and cockpit flap control position
86. Leading edge flap and cockpit flap control position
87. Ground spoiler position and speed brake selection
88. All cockpit flight control input forces (control wheel, control column, rudder pedal)
89. Yaw damper status
90. Yaw damper command
91. Standby rudder valve status
Source: Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute, 14 CFR 121.344 Digital Flight Data Recorders for Transport Category Airplanes
Originally published on 26 March 2014. 

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