Investigators are sifting through black box data from the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max to unlock the cause behind the crash. Here's what a black box really is.

  • Ethiopian transport minister Dagmawit Moge told reporters on Sunday that an evaluation of the black boxes from crashed Boeing 737 Max 8 jets in Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 and Lion Air Flight JT610 showed “clear similarities.”
  • Flight ET302’s black boxes were flown last week to Paris for evaluation by the BEA, France’s highly-respect aviation accident investigation agency.
  • An airliner’s black boxes refer to its flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.
  • They are bright orange instead of black.

Ethiopian transport minister Dagmawit Moge told reporters on Sunday that an evaluation of the black boxes from Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 and Lion Air Flight JT610 showed “clear similarities.”

Flight ET302’s black box was flown last week to Paris for evaluation by the BEA, France’s highly-respect aviation accident investigation agency.

Even though the subject of aeroplane black boxes often pops up in reference to plane crashes or other mishaps, the public is seldom offered much detail as what exactly is a black box.

So, here’s a closer look at aeroplane black boxes.

For starters, an aeroplane’s black boxes refer to its flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR).

Interestingly, they aren’t actually black. Just the opposite, they are painted bright orange. Both the CVR and the FDR are stored near the tail of the aircraft.

The invention of the aeroplane black box is most often attributed to Australian scientist David Warren who created the ancestor of the modern flight recorders back in 1957.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, modern aircraft FDRs are required by law to records at least eight key parameters including time, altitude, airspeed, and the plane’s attitude. However, more advanced recorders can monitors more than 1,000 parameters.

Read more: Two Boeing 737 MAX airliners have crashed since October – here are the airlines that fly the plane.

Older units used magnetic tape to record data, however, modern FDRs use digital technology that can record as much as 25 hours.

The modern L-3 chip in Lion Air Flight JT610’s FDR can track 1,790 parameters over 19 flights, Reuters reported.

Ethiopia Airlines ET302  Flight Data RecorderTwitter/BEAThe flight data recorder from Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302.

The cockpit voice recorder does just that. It records what’s going on in the cockpit including radio transmissions, background noise, alarms, pilot’s voices, and engine noises for as long as two hours.

Both recorders are stored in reinforced shells that are designed to survive 30 minutes in 2000-degree Fahrenheit heat and be submerged in 20,000 feet of water.

The recorders also each equipped with a 37.5 KHz locator beacon that can last up to 30 days when activated after a crash.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 crashed last week shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. The incident, which killed all 157 passengers and crew on board, marked the second nearly-brand new Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner to crash in four months. Lion Air Flight JT610 crashed after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia on October 28.

The 737 Max has since been grounded around the world.

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