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Black box inventor honoured with ICAO award

written by australianaviation.com.au | September 28, 2016

A file image of Dr David Warren with a prototype of the black box recorder. (Defence)
A file image of Dr David Warren with a prototype of the black box recorder. (Defence)

Australian scientist David Warren AO has been recognised for his work that led to the development of the flight recorder or “black box” with an award from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

ICAO has posthumously conferred the Edward Warner Award to Dr Warren at its 39th assembly meetings in Montreal. Dr Warren died in 2010. He was 85.

The official citation of the award said the development of the flight recorder had created an “legacy of safety for the travelling public”.

The 'Black box' was invented by Dr David Warren in the 1950s while working at a DSTO predecessor organisation. (Defence)
The ‘black box’ was invented by Dr David Warren in the 1950s while working at a DSTG predecessor organisation. (Defence)

“The international aviation community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dr Warren for the vision and tenacity exemplified in his conceptual work and prototype development of what is known today as the aircraft ‘black box’ flight recorder,” the official citation read.

“Dr Warren’s innovative work continues to this day to influence ICAO’s initiatives in the field of aircraft accident and incident investigation.


Dr Warren, who joined the Department of Defence in 1949 and became principal research scientist at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in 1951.

At the official award presentation, ICAO president doctor Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu outlined how Dr Warren came up with the idea of the flight recorder during an investigation into mid-air explosions being experienced by the world’s first commercial jet aircraft, the de Havilland Comet.

File image of Qantas A380 VH-OQI taking off from Sydney. (Seth Jaworski)
A file image of Qantas A380 VH-OQI, named David Warren, taking off from Sydney. (Seth Jaworski)

“Having recently observed one of the world’s first miniature recorders being demonstrated at a trade fair, he began to imagine how such a device could be adapted for use in the cockpits of aircraft, continually recording details which could be recovered after an accident,” Dr Aliu said.

“While today we all understand and appreciate the safety benefits of Dr Warren’s inspiration, like many innovations his was first met was skepticism.

“But consistent with his passion for innovation and his commitment to help present aircraft accidents and save lives, Dr Warren preserved with his idea and designed and built a first demonstration unit using steel wire as the recording medium.

“This original ‘ARL Flight Memory Unit’, as it became known, was successfully demonstrated in the United Kingdom, and it was so well-reviewed that the British authorities soon made his recorder mandatory in their civil aircraft.”

The new DSTO Canberra headquarters named after Dr David Warren. (Defence)
The DSTG Canberra headquarters was named after Dr David Warren in 2014. (Defence)

Dr Aliu presented the award – comprising a medal and a diploma – to Dr Warren’s two sons Graham and Peter and daughter Jenny.

Dr Warren was admitted as an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2002. His name also appears on the fuselage of one of Qantas’s Airbus A380s – VH-OQI – and on a Defence building in Canberra.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester described Dr Warren’s invention as one of the greatest single innovations to improve aviation safety around the world.

“This award highlights Australia’s long history of innovation and invention, with the black box flight recorder among the most recognised and used technologies throughout the world,” Chester said in a statement.

The award, established 41 years ago, is named after ICAO’s first president Edward Warner.

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Comments (6)

  • Diony


    Proud to be Australian

  • Stu Bee


    A very well deserved accolade.

  • James from Sydney


    So many lives saved because of what this box has told us

  • Anil Kattula


    Where would aviation be without this incredible invention? A long deserved honor!

  • Craigy


    Innovation at its best. A fantastic invention and a great Australian

  • Barry Walters


    Few of us will have the privilege of leaving such a far sighted, productive legacy and the well deserved honour that came with it.

    Was the Recorder patent licensed to Bendix in lieu of any attempt at production in Australia?

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