Retrieved flight data recorder

Just how important are recordings from an airplane’s black box?

Depending on the plane (and its story), recorded content from its black box could literally change the course of history.

The Black Box

Everyone knows that commercial airplanes are required to have a black box.

Lesser known, however, is that two components go into making a black box useful and effective. One piece is the cockpit voice recorder and the other records flight data.

Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney, Academy-award nominated film, “Sully” tells the story of how a black box proved the courageous actions of one Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger right.

There was no precedent for what happened that day when a bird strike crippled both of the aircraft’s engines, resulting in Captain Sully landing US Airways 1549 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. Data and audio recordings from the black box help tell the story of why everyone lived to tell the tale.

What Does a Cockpit Voice Recorder Do?

As we know, the black box (which is actually orange) had a great deal to do with better understanding what happened to Sully’s eventful flight.

The cockpit voice recorder for us in audio is particularly interesting.

In addition to recording whatever banter may be going on between the pilot and their co-pilot, the cockpit voice recorder also captures dialogue between the crew in the air and their ground crew.

The recorder also picks up conversations had between the aircraft in question and any other aircraft they are talking to.

When a black box is recovered from an aircraft, trained investigators listen thoroughly to the recording to identify sounds that may be related to why the plane crashed.

These could be sounds from the engine, stall warnings and other weird noises you might associate with malfunction. The recorder not only picks up sound but is also a reliable tool for knowing when something happened.

Audio Vindication

The black box recording revealed how the Miracle on the Hudson took place. Data found in the black box’s recordings proved Sully’s claim true (that both engines were affected) and also made way for an amazing story to be told on the silver screen.

Sully, fittingly enough, received a nomination in the Sound Editing category.

Here is US Airways 1549’s black box recording.

Landing on the Hudson River was a very emotional and difficult to comprehend decision for many people, not least of all the man responsible for helping to guide the aircraft to safety. Here’s his testimony from the congressional hearings.

If you’ve seen the film, you know how vital the role US Airways 1549’s black box recordings was for vindicating Sully’s decision to land where and when he did.

Just listening to the exchanges between the ground crew, the air crew and others is an experience in itself. This is real life and the cast of Sully nailed it, fully deserving of the 2017 Oscar nom for Sound Editing.

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