Often we hear about Cockpit Voice Recorders, but are there video recorders?

  • $\begingroup$ What would be the purpose of them? $\endgroup$ – Dave Gremlin Apr 9 '19 at 12:57

They're presently not in use.

The accident investigators don't generally clamor for them, since there are very few questions that they can't answer with FDR and CVR readouts, where a CIR would provide useful information. The voices proposing them as a great idea tend to come from elsewhere -- from those who think they'd be a cool idea, but who don't fully understand the capabilities investigators already have.

Pilots are, understandably, averse to the idea -- working where your every word is recorded every minute of every day isn't thrilling, but the protections for CVR recordings are pretty strong, since only transcripts (not the actual audio itself), and transcripts edited down to relevant portions only, are all that can be released, and those only in case of accidents (at least in the USA).

Video isn't nearly so easily transcribed as audio, and any such description of moving images opens up far more possibility of subjective or dramatic interpretation of what's shown, and ample opportunity for YouTube "experts" to craft alternate - if wildly implausible - narratives. The idea of a public outcry, or an aggressive lawyer, demanding the release of the full video of a crew's last minutes, or hours, opens up the unsettling possibility that families may see a loved one's final moments in far more detail than simply transcribed words on a page.

And let's be honest, in a full day at work, who doesn't have moments that, edited down to a few out-of-context three-second clips, wouldn't paint a poor - if utterly inaccurate - picture of who you are and how you work?

Until and unless actual accident investigators build a persuasive case for the need for such technology in our cockpits, such devices are likely to remain in the realm of the hypothetical. There is simply no evidence that they would do anything to make aviation any safer.

  • $\begingroup$ Nothing a well placed sticky note can't solve! $\endgroup$ – acpilot Apr 7 '19 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ @acpilot very valid point. Unfortunately, there'd be no time to remove said sticky note when you hit a situation where a CIR would be actually helpful (if such a situation arose - Ralph makes a strong case against it - at least for now.) $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Apr 8 '19 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ Whether it will matter in an investigation is irrelevant. Those cameras would be getting covered. An uppity fed could use a small clip to cause a lot of problems for a pilot, covering the camera would probably only be a slap on the wrist..."Constant surveillance and the resulting need to perform for the camera causes my crew to focus on things other than the safety of the passengers. The constant need to worry about how they may appear their body language, and how the most innocuous gesture could be construed as an indication of incompetence is a dangerous distraction." $\endgroup$ – acpilot Apr 8 '19 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ @acpilot Pilots routinely disabling the CVR/FDR wouldn't be a slap on the wrist offence; why would disabling the hypothetical CIR be any different? $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Apr 9 '19 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ How would anyone find out? How would anyone know the pilots disabled the system vs it just being inop? $\endgroup$ – acpilot Apr 9 '19 at 13:25

Air Crash Investigation (Mayday) series 18 episode 6 covers the crash of the VSS Enterprise. During the episode, it showed that investigators not only had access to full telemetry data, CVR and external cameras footage, but also views from within the cockpit, looking over the pilots shoulders

It showed the pilots operating controls, but ultimately simply confirmed the telemetry data; they already knew the feather control was unlocked and when, so added little detail.

It was interesting to see the differences between footage showing similar actions in a simulator vs that in a real flight with vibration and g-forces making pilot actions more complex.

To the question, this aircraft does have a cockpit video recorder, footage can be seen, and may have added some small amount of additional insight into this particular crash.


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