Investigating commercial airline crashes goes beyond the 'black box'

Popular Science | 3/11/2019 | Staff
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In the aftermath of a crash, investigators will begin trying to piece together what happened, like assembling a puzzle that may not have all its pieces, says Anthony Brickhouse, an associate professor of aerospace and occupational safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who teaches about accident investigation.

“They’re going to be looking into three main areas, and that’s going to be the human element, the machine element, and the environment that the plane was operating in,” he says.

Element - Flight - Crew - Factors - Maintenance

The human element doesn’t just involve looking at the flight crew, but also factors like the maintenance the plane received. The machine element is the plane and its wreckage, and the environment includes the weather.

“The physical wreckage on the ground in Ethiopia is going to tell a story, and then obviously the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder will tell a story,” Brickhouse says.

Cockpit - Voice - Recorder - Flight - Data

That cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder are the so-called “black boxes” and are located near the tail. The voice recorder has multiple channels: it can capture what the captain says, what the first officer says, and thanks to a “cockpit area microphone,” ambient sounds on the flight deck. That can include audio alarms, sounds from someone else speaking out loud to the pilots, or even noises coming from the rest of the plane.

For example, in a past crash, the ambient mic has picked up the sound of a tire explosion in the cargo hold, Brickhouse says,...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Science
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