2010 CET-4 article “Brief History of Black Boxes” taken from Time Magazine

Below is an analysis of an article from the 2010 CET-4 exam. The original of this article, dated July 2009, was taken from the American news magazine, Time.

If CET test designers are using real news media articles for their testing material, then the best strategy for preparing our students for the CET would be extensive reading of similar news articles.

Text that is crossed out (sample) was omitted from the exam. Text that is in bold (sample) was added.

A Brief History of
Black Boxes
By Claire Suddath Thursday, Jul. 02, 2009

You never see them, but they’re with you every time you fly. They record where you’re going, how fast you’re traveling and whether everything on your airplane is functioning normally. Their ability to withstand almost any disaster makes them seem like something out of a comic book. Known They’re known as the mysterious “black box,” these flight-data recorders are actually not black but orange — and when a plane falls from the sky, they’re sometimes the only thing that can help authorities discover exactly what happened and why.

When planes fall from the sky, as a Yemeni airliner did on its way to Comoros Islands in the India ocean June 30, 2009, the black box is the best bet for identifying what went wrong. So when a French submarine detected the device’s homing signal five days later, the discovery marked a huge step toward determining the cause of a tragedy in which 152 passengers were killed.

The June 1 Air France wreck in Brazil inspired the largest marine search for a black box in aviation history (which so far has turned up nothing), and now another sea crash has experts scanning the Indian Ocean for the flight recorders to the Yemenia Airbus A310 jet that went down near the Comoros Islands in the early morning hours of June 30.

In 1953 1958, Australian scientist David Warren was investigating the crash of a De Havilland Comet in India. Warren couldn’t determine the cause of the accident — in which the jet went down six minutes after takeoff, killing all 43 people onboard — because there wasn’t any useful information preserved in the crash. Over the next few years, he developed a prototype for a flight-memory recorder that would track basic information like altitude and direction. Encased in asbestos and metal, the data and sound recorder was nicknamed the “black box,” after the general term for a seemingly magical gadget that no one knows how to work.

Airlines were using black boxes by the end of the the 1950s, but the instruments didn’t become a mandatory feature until 1960, when the Federal Aviation Administration required all commercial planes to carry them. Initial versions contained literal tape recorders and were about the size and shape of a basketball. After a number of black boxes were destroyed in crashes (the tapes melted in fire), they were movedin 1965 from their original position in the landing wells to the rear of the plane, the area most likely to survive an impact. That was the first mode for a black box, which became a requirement on all U.S. commercial flights by 1960. Early models often failed to withstand crashes, however, so in 1965 the device was completely redesigned and moved to the rear of the plane – the area least subject to impact – from its original position in the landing wells. That The same year, the Federal Aviation Authority they were also required that the boxes, which were never actually black, to be painted orange or yellow to aid visibility.

These days, Modern airplanes actually have two black boxes,: the a voice recorder, which tracks pilots’ conversations, and the a flightdata recorder. which monitors They can withstand temperatures up to 2,000°F and impact forces up to 100 Gs. (A G is equal to the force of the earth’s gravity.) They track pilots’ conversations, engine noises, air-traffic-control commands, fuel levels,  engine noises and other operating functions that help investigators reconstruct the aircraft’s final moments. landing-gear extension and retraction and dozens of other clicks and pops that might offer insights about a plane’s final moments. Placed in an insulated case and surrounded by a The boxes are made out of quarter-inch-thick panels of stainless steel. the boxes can withstand massive force and temperatures up to 2,000℉. When submerged, they’re also able to emit signals from depths of 20,000 ft. And in case you’re wondering, an entire airplane can’t be made out of the same material or it would be too heavy to fly. Experts believe the boxes from Air France Flight 447, which crashed near Brazil on June 1,2009, are in water nearly that deep, but statistics say they’re still likely to turn up.

Since the 1960s, black boxes have recorded some astonishing things. In a 1990 incident, a pilot was sucked halfway out of a broken windshield on a British Airways flight; a flight attendant held on to his legs as the co-pilot landed the plane (the pilot survived). In 1994, an Aeroflot pilot allowed his 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son to play with the plane’s controls during a Moscow-to–Hong Kong flight. “Can I turn [the wheel]?” the black box recorded the boy saying. “Turn it.” The pilot replied. “Watch the ground as you turn. Let’s go left.” Moments later, the plane crashed into the Siberian wilderness, and all 75 people onboard died. (Read “How to Survive a Plane Crash.”)

And of course, there was the black box of United Flight 93, which recorded 30 minutes of fearful struggle as passengers overpowered terrorist hijackers and crashed the plane into a Pennsylvania cornfield on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. United 93’s passenger voice recordings were the only tapes ever to be made available to victims’ family members.

Both the Air France and Yemenia Airbus flights crashed into the ocean, which makes their black boxes incredibly hard to recover. The devices are built to withstand depths to well more than the 15,000 ft. in which Air France flight 447’s boxes probably now find themselves. The boxes send out a homing signal, activated on impact, that lasts for 30 days. The time is pretty much up for Air France’s beacons, but it’s a good bet they’ll turn up eventually; of the In the approximately 20 airplanes that have crashed into water  deep-sea crashes over the past 30 years, only one is known to have lost its black box forever plane’s black boxes were never recovered. Even the South African Airlines Boeing 747 that went down between Taiwan and Johannesburg in 1987 had its voice and data recorders recovered from an ocean depth of 14,000 ft. And it took only 14 months.

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