What Is the Black Box in Airplanes and Helicopters?

Posted on June 14, 2021 in Aviation

In an effort to make the causes of aviation accidents less of a mystery, the black box was created. The black box – which, despite its name, is actually orange in color – is a data recording device that stores information about the aircraft and parameters of the flight. It is designed to be almost indestructible so that it can be retrieved after any kind of impact. In use since the 1960s, the black box is a critical piece of information and evidence that can be used in an aviation accident claim. Read on to learn more from our experienced Phoenix personal injury lawyers.

What Is the Black Box?

The black box, technically named the Digital Flight Data Recorder or DFDR, is a sophisticated piece of technology that is equipped to record as much information as possible, resist damage in almost any kind of impact and be locatable after an aviation accident – even after an explosion or if the plane is underwater. It is installed on the tail of the plane, which is usually the last part of an aircraft to go down. There are technically two black boxes aboard all airplanes and other aircraft: the DFDR and the CVR (Cockpit Voice Recorder). Together, these two black boxes can record up to 2 hours of audio data and 25 hours of flight data.

What Information Does the Black Box Store?

The black boxes store information in stacked memory boards that are protected within a crash-survivable memory unit. The black boxes are designed to cover as many parameters as possible when collecting data. The information you can expect to find within the two black boxes includes:

  • Aircraft acceleration and airspeed
  • Vertical acceleration
  • Altitude
  • Control-column position
  • Exterior temperature
  • Cabin temperature
  • Flap settings
  • Magnetic heading
  • Horizontal stabilizer
  • Fuel flow
  • Engine performance
  • Cabin pressure
  • Voices in the cockpit
  • Crew conversations
  • Ambient noises in the cockpit
  • Interphone communications
  • Public address (PA) system messages


The DFDR collects and stores information using special aircraft sensors that are automatically sent to a flight data acquisition unit for processing. Then, the center sends the information back to the black box. CVRs use several microphones placed throughout the cockpit to record sound. Older models of CVRs only stored the last 30 minutes of sound before an aviation accident. Newer models, however, utilize solid-state storage, which can keep up to two hours of audiotapes.

How Can a Black Box Help an Aviation Accident Injury Claim?

Black boxes are vital for aviation accident investigations. The data stored in these boxes can help investigators piece together what happened in the final minutes of an aircraft’s flight. In some cases, the black box is the only thing that survives an aviation accident. Upon retrieving a plane’s black box, investigators and specialists use tools to repair any damage – if necessary – and download the data to try to recreate the events of the accident. This process can take weeks or even months. Information from the black box can help investigators, experts and attorneys piece together what caused or contributed to the accident.

How Do You Access the Black Box’s Information?

In general, civilians cannot access the data found in a plane’s black box. Instead, they must wait for the official investigation report to be published by the organization in charge of the crash investigation, such as the National Transportation Safety Board or the Federal Aviation Administration. Even the police cannot download crash data from a black box without a warrant to do so.

How Can an Aviation Accident Lawyer Help?

If you get injured or a loved one dies in an aviation accident, an aviation accident attorney can help you bring a civil suit. Although nothing can make up for the losses you suffer in an aviation disaster, a lawsuit can hold someone accountable and give you the financial compensation you need to pay for related expenses.

An attorney can help with every aspect of an injury lawsuit, including investigating the aviation accident on your behalf. Your lawyer can obtain reports from outside investigators that may shed light on the cause of the crash, such as information stored in the black box, to help prove who or what caused the disaster.