The missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, now thought to have crashed in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, is triggering plenty of questions. The plane turned off-course two times in less than an hour after departing from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport for the Beijing Capital International Airport, and flew several hours before disappearing with 239 passengers on board.

How, where and why? The mystery is proving to be a hard nut to crack, at least until the most important component of flight MH370 is found: the Black Box. But as search operations enter their third week, hope is fading. The battery-powered device will stop emitting signals in around two weeks.

What is a black box? A tech piece that speaks the plain truth!

The black box is an Australian invention comprising two distinct but complementary devices – the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and the Flight Data Recorder (FDR). The box is just around 12 inches long.

How exactly does the Cockpit Voice Recorder contribute?

The CVR records everything and anything happening in the cockpit of a plane – pilots` conversations, trivial noises and sounds that can indicate to a listener whether switches and knobs have been activated/adjusted.

And what about the Flight Data Recorder?

The FDR logs hundreds of data items pertaining to the flight including time, pressure altitude, airspeed, vertical acceleration, magnetic heading, control-column position, rudder-pedal position and control-wheel position.

But the black box is orange, isn’t it?

Orange indeed appears to be the ‘new’ black of the aeronautic industry! The technical term is ‘black’ box but actually it is painted in bright orange to make it noticeable in difficult-to-access areas.

So, a black box can survive an airplane crash! Can it be black magic?

To use the right jargon, they have been built to be “crash-survivable memory units” (CSMUs). Simply put, the black boxes have been engineered with dry-silica materials, stainless steel and titanium to resist shocks, intense heat and pressure.

The materials are heavy, and obviously, the black box will not float

The box can be as heavy as 10kg and since the Indian Ocean is deep, even sonar devices cannot get to it easily in the event of an aircraft disaster in the area. Regarding the Malaysian airline, the Navy is already sending an underwater robot equipped with a side-scanning sonar that can go as deep as 15,000 feet.

So, how easily can it be found after an airplane crash?

If its bright orange colour is not enough, to spot the black box more easily, experts have stitched an Underwater Locator Beacon (ULB) to the CVR and FDR. When the recorders get in contact with water, the ULB starts emitting signals of 37.5 kHz at an interval of once per second, as deep as 14,000 feet.

However, the battery life is a headache!

Some equipment can emit signals for 90 days but others only for 30 days like the missing Malaysian airline. After Air France flight 447 crashed on June 1, 2009 in the Atlantic Ocean, the industry recommended airliners to upgrade planes’ ULB to make search easier.

Hopefully a draining battery does not affect data storage

The battery life of the ULB does not affect data housed by CVR and FDR.

Cloud’s the future

Mark Rosenker, the former chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board, believes that “It’s time to move the black box to ‘the cloud’, at least for essential limited flight recorder data for long flights over the Indian Ocean, or other remote areas across large land masses like across the Brazilian Amazon.”

Source: Mirror, Nat Geo