Every time a plane crashes, there is frequently a lot of media coverage. The actual causes of the catastrophe are revealed long later, usually after the public’s perceptions have been shaped by the media. It normally takes too long for network television, let alone social media, to generate the same amount of excitement and hoopla when the black boxes are finally cracked when it is originally disclosed. Even though the general public is no longer interested in the material, this is when the actual experts begin to work.

There is little doubt that armchair pilots and safety experts emerge from nowhere. Every single one of them is aware of the cause of the accident. Some of these “intellectuals” quickly research the accident on Wikipedia and then make a nonchalant statement about it. Sadly, television has not yet caught up to the Internet in tuning out publicity lovers, which is the worst part about these “experts” feeding complete nonsense to the eager audience as they make their way from their armchairs to their screens.

The objective of the actual specialists is to identify the true causes of the tragedy and, based on a careful examination of the data acquired, hopefully, ensure that it does not occur again. This goal has nothing to do with generating massive amounts of traffic for the news portals. Even the phrase “deciphering a black box” is actually extremely misleading.

First off, these so-called “black boxes” are neither black nor necessarily box-shaped. The term “black box” refers to a system or object in science, computing, and engineering that can only be understood in terms of its inputs and outputs without knowledge of its underlying workings. This is how the device received its common nickname. The proper term for what we’re talking about is a “flight recorder,” or FR.

A common flight recorder is typically orange in color to help it stand out among the wreckage and has a robust, cylindrical, or spherical shape. Besides, the device is heat-, water-, shock-, and water-proof to protect the priceless insides for additional research. Additionally, in the event of a ditch, the flight recorder makes use of a unique beacon called an Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB), which activates and broadcasts a signal over 37.5 KHz (ultrasound) waves when it comes into contact with water. As a result, it is simpler to get a bearing on it and eventually find the object.

Flight recorders must meet a number of design specifications, including the ability to withstand 3400G acceleration force for 6.5 milliseconds, 30 minutes of exposure to an open flame (enough time, in theory, to burn everything in its path down and put out the fire), and 30 days of submersion in a deep body of water at 20,000 feet (about 6000 meters).

Modern devices use flash memory to store data instead of the magnet tape or wire used in older flight recorders. Therefore, the black box can be thought of as a giant, excessively secure “thumb drive.” The only real distinction between those two examples has to do with the type of memory used: black boxes are built using industrial-grade chips, which can withstand greater temperature variations and sustain more read/write cycles.

Information is redundant because of the storage’s RAID-like array configuration. In order to prevent the complete loss of data, flight recorders are also built to be redundant and there are many copies on each aircraft. It is quite unlikely that any recorders would still be around after the occurrence. The information is not encrypted so it will be accessible to whoever discovers the black box. This is the very concept behind the black box: the data should be readable by whoever eventually finds the black box.

As a result, when someone talks about “deciphering” a black box, what they truly mean is loading off the recorded data and organizing it for further research and analysis. Sometimes the black box needs to be physically repaired (up to the point of soldering pins to memory chips) before the experts can access the data.

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