Flight Data Recorder


Dr David Warren with the first prototype FDR.

The invention of the flight data recorder was made by David Warren, an invention which has transformed the amount of information available in air accident investigations.

David Warren was born on Groote Eylandt in 1925 to missionary parents. The family later moved to Tasmania, but David's father was tragically killed in 1934 in one of Australia's earliest air disasters. His father was among 12 people on board the "Miss Hobart" mail plane that vanished over the southern Bass Strait. David was only nine years old at the time. The last gift he received from his father was a crystal radio set, which triggered David's lifelong interest in electronics. Warren received a PHD in England.

After an initial lack of interest from authorities, Warren built a prototype "black box" in 1956. It was able to store four hours of voice recordings and instrument readings.

The idea was slow to catch on, with Australia's Department of Civil Aviation advising Warren that his "instrument has little immediate direct use in civil aviation". In “Black Box”, Janice Peterson Witham reveals for the first time the real-life drama of how the 'black box' Cockpit Voice Recorder was formally inaugrated in England during 1958.

The 28-year-old Australian rocket scientist David Warren thought up the idea of recording cockpit conversation as a tool for air accident investigation working at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Fishermens Bend. This brilliant insight eventually changed the course of aviation history, but it set David Warren on a journey marked by disappointment, struggle and, worst of all, indifference.

The first units were actually called “The ARL Flight Memory Unit". The recorder was well received in England (where the name "Black Box" was coined by a journalist at a briefing) and also in Canada where the idea was seen as a potential addition to beacons being developed there. The boxes were in fact yellow/red in colour.

In the book “Black Box”, Janice Peterson Witham chronicles the human aspects of the Cockpit Voice Recorder story—the inspiration, the setbacks, the encouragement and disappointment, the initial lack of interest in Australia and the enthusiastic reception overseas.

His invention was officially recognised with the Engineers Australia Lawrence Hargrave Award in February 2002.

David Warren was 85, when he passed away on July 19, 2010 at a nursing home in Melbourne, Australia.


Black Box: David Warren and the Creation of the Cockpit Voice Recorder
Witham, Janice Peterson
Publisher: Lothian Books
ISBN-10: LT000184
ISBN-13: 073440770X
Year Published: 2005