Built to Survive
In many airline accidents, the only devices that survive are the crash-survivable memory units (CSMUs) of the flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders. Typically, the rest of the recorders' chassis and inner components are mangled. The CSMU is a large cylinder that bolts onto the flat portion of the recorder. This device is engineered to withstand extreme heat, violent crashes and tons of pressure. In older magnetic-tape recorders, the CSMU is inside a rectangular box.
Source: L-3 Communication Aviation Recorders
Using three layers of materials, the CSMU in a solid-state black box insulates and protects the stack of memory boards that store the digitized information. We will talk more about the memory and electronics in the next section. Here's a closer look at the materials that provide a barrier for the memory boards, starting at the innermost barrier and working our way outward:
- Aluminum housing - There is a thin layer of aluminum around the stack of memory cards.
- High-temperature insulation - This dry-silica material is 1 inch (2.54 cm) thick and provides high-temperature thermal protection. This is what keeps the memory boards safe during post-accident fires.
- Stainless-steel shell- The high-temperature insulation material is contained within a stainless-steel cast shell that is about 0.25 inches (0.64 cm) thick. Titanium can be used to create this outer armor as well.