David Warren, a name that few will recognize outside the realm of the avionic industry, passed away Monday at the age of 85 in his native Australia. Warren, who developed a device that is now commonplace in every commercial flight that leaves the ground, possessed quite a fascinating story, and the inspiration behind his invention was remarkably personal.
Warren’s father was killed in 1934 in one of Australia’s earliest air disasters, yet before his death he gave to his son the gift of a crystal radio set. It became a hobby and a passionate interest, but something that Warren would have to set aside during World War II as all amateur radios were banned. Regardless, David had already become well known and respected as an expert on the technology.
In 1953, one of the world’s first commercial airliners, the Comet, crashed shortly after take off, and left a mystery surrounding the reason behind the crash. The aircraft was flying through a tropical storm, yet was supposed to have been ready and able to fly through such conditions.
As part of the investigation, David Warren was summoned. It was at that point that Warren stated that a cock-pit voice recorder would be instrumental in understanding what might have happened during such a crash. At the time, his idea proved to spur little interest.
Undeterred, Warren constructed a prototype of his design, believing it could be highly effective in the furtherance of avionic science. He created a device that was capable of recording four continuous hours of flight logged instrument panel readings and conversation. Within five years, his “black box” had been widely accepted, and within the next five it became a mandatory fixture in Australian aircraft.
The black box flight/data recorders, which are now actually orange, are installed in every commercial aircraft throughout the world.
(Image via: National Portrait Gallery)