Inventor of the aircraft "black box" dies at 85

Wed Jul 21, 2010 9:20am EDT
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CANBERRA (Reuters) - An Australian scientist who invented the flight data recorder famously known as the "black box" to help investigate aircraft accidents has died at the age of 85, defense officials said on Wednesday.

David Warren, whose own father was killed in a plane crash in 1934 in Australia, was a research scientist at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne.

He came up with the idea of a crash and fire-proof machine to record the crew's voices and instrument readings after helping to investigate the mysterious crash of the world's first jet airliner, the Comet, in 1953.

Warren designed and built the world's first flight data record prototype in 1956 which became known as the "black box" but it took five years before the value and practicality of his invention was realized.

It took another five years until authorities ruled that the flight-data recorders should be fitted to cockpits in Australian aircraft.

"The modern-day equivalent of Dr Warren's device, installed in passenger airlines around the world, is a testament to his pioneering work," said a statement from the Australian Department of Defense.

"It is now also used in other forms of road transport to capture information in the lead-up to accidents. Dr Warren's flight data recorder has made an invaluable contribution to safety in world aviation."

Warren was appointed an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2002 for service to the aviation industry and in 2008 Australia's national carrier, Qantas, named an Airbus A380 aircraft in his honor.

Warren, who died on Monday, is survived by his wife Ruth, four children and seven grandchildren.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Steve Addison)

<p>One of the flight recorders, commonly known as a black box, recovered from the TAM airlines Airbus A320 that crashed in Sao Paulo July 17 is seen on a desk in Washington in this handout photo released by CENIPA on July 23, 2007. REUTERS/CENIPA/Handout</p>