The Secret Sauce of an Airplane's Black Box

A flight data recorder—the "black box" in every commercial airplane—is a crucial tool for dissecting what went wrong in the aftermath of a crash. Here's the key to its survival.

The black box dismantled here by Prof. Bill Hammack is a Sundstrand FA-542, likely used on a Delta DC-9 in the 1970s. And what makes it so indestructible is Inconel, a superalloy typically found in furnaces, gas turbine blades, NASCAR exhaust systems, and other XXXtreme heat environments. Flight parameters are engraved onto an Inconel sheet throughout the trip, ensuring their survival no matter what.

And for those who wonder why they don't just make the whole plane out of what the black box is made of: among other things, Inconel's a terribly difficult metal to shape and machine and weld and, well, do pretty much anything with. Basically all the things that make it so good for survival make it bad for any other practical use. [Engineering Guy via Presurfer, GawkerTV]


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Couldn't they just stream tons of data to a server somewhere now? Just have it push all the flight data and a bunch of video streams from the cabin and cockpit to a server and then if the flight goes well, delete the data.