Is there a legitimate argument against having a black box on helicopters? I'm assuming there must be reasons beyond financial ones?

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    $\begingroup$ Is financial not legitimate? $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2020 at 6:48
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    $\begingroup$ They're not always mandatory. $\endgroup$
    – Koyovis
    Jan 30, 2020 at 7:12
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    $\begingroup$ This kind of goes hand in hand with the media publishing articles about the helicopter not having GPWS, and saying it could have prevented everything. It wouldn’t have, mainly because he was flying SVFR and very low to the ground, therefore it would have been turned off. Just in case you were curious about this issue too. $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2020 at 8:34

3 Answers 3


Airline and commuter type aircraft are required to have cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders. There are no requirements for any other type of aircraft to have them.

Most helicopters are actually small or light aircraft. The helicopter in which Kobe Bryant and others died would be considered a medium sized helicopter, but a small aircraft.

You will find VERY few non-airliner or non-commuter aircraft have any type of “black boxes” as they’re commonly (and erroneously) called. They are not required to, either. Expense, weight, complexity, and maintenance are all reasons. The smaller number of lives at risk might be another. After all, they carry the same number of people as between a sports car and a passenger van. School and passenger buses carry more people.

Saying that, technology has become cheaper and more compact in order to provide de facto recorders. Some modern avionics have that function built in. With the proper app, iPhones and iPads have that function. Some pilots will go the extra step and buy their own sensors to provide more accurate data on Attitude, Heading, Position, Altitude, Ground Speed, Carbon Monoxide presence, and Traffic Data. Add-on apps will even record voice transmissions picked up by the headsets and audio system. This is not mandated by the FAA. It is more for the pilots Situational Awareness and review for training purposes. ForeFlight, CloudAhoy, Stratus, Sentry, and Lightspeed are some common devices and apps used to record data.

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    $\begingroup$ You are partially right and I am partially wrong. The link still describes the requirements for airline and commuter type aircraft. If the aircraft is below 12500 pounds, and has less than 10 passenger seat, and not be certified to require more than 1 pilot, it does not require recorders. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Jan 30, 2020 at 8:01
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    $\begingroup$ I'd argue that calling it a black box is not an error. That's just the generic term for it at this point. It's not super accurate, but everyone knows what you mean when you ask about "the black box". $\endgroup$
    – JPhi1618
    Jan 30, 2020 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ The black box is orange. A green card is pinkish. You park on a driveway. You drive on a parkway. Military intelligence isn’t. Neither is common sense. Laurel is actually pronounced Yanni. English. Go figure. 😜 $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Jan 30, 2020 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ @DeanF. you can run on a walkway, but don't try to walk on a runway. $\endgroup$ Jan 30, 2020 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ A quick review of this site will show a marked increase in helicopter, SVFR and black box questions right after the crash. The questions, answers and comments all tend to mention this accident in one way or another. Every US news outlet and sporting event has made mention of Kobe everyday since. Even before the crash, I have seen people wearing his sports jersey in countries as far away as China, the Philippines, South Africa, England, Germany, Italy, and Spain. These facts, plus the fact that StackExchange is located in Kobe’s home country, make the Kobe crash one of particular interest here. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Feb 3, 2020 at 14:24

To elaborate on Dean's points:

  • Weight is important in an aircraft. Small items matter more in a smaller aircraft. Large aircraft can more easily afford the several extra kilograms added by the weight of a recording device, its crash/fire protection, mounting, interconnection with the aircraft's power and other wiring to feed the data it is to record.
  • Cost is important in small aircraft. Not just the recording device itself, but every parameter to be recorded has to come from a sensor or instrument designed to output a signal the recorder can use; it all comes at a price.
  • Certification. Every piece of equipment installed in an aircraft must meet certification requirements so that it doesn't cause a safety issue and ultimately become the reason an aircraft crashes or otherwise harms its occupants. Certification processes take a lot of time and money. For a flight recorder, its value comes from its ability to work reliably and provide recoverable data after a crash. It all adds up to an expensive undertaking.
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    $\begingroup$ Anthony, Much thanks for the thoughtful, insightful response, especially informative is the 2nd para, and the 3rd reminds me of life out west in Canada years ago. A mutual friend owned a small aircraft company and would complain that only when the weight of the paperwork equaled the weight of the aircraft would Transport Canada allow it to fly. All the best and cheer from Paris! $\endgroup$
    – Paris60
    Jan 31, 2020 at 9:21

Most of the arguments against flight data recorders are moot - because of technology developed in the past decade. The same technology in a "smart-watch" that allows it to be a telephone, a camera, a computer, and more....is what now makes it possible to have a FDR and CVR that weighs about 6 oz.......one that also has computing power sufficient to contain the entire digital terrain database.....and an algorithm that tells the pilot when he flies too close to the ground.....even when that pilot has no idea where the ground is. As for wiring every instrument into a data recorder, the Army in 2008-9 worked with a small avionic company to build a camera that took photos of the cockpit instruments -- it cost only $3900 and weighed less than 1 lb. It's standard equipment on some small helicopters today....and has been used by NTSB in several crashes to determine causes. Such devices are FAA/EASA approved. Most arguments against helicopter FDRs and CVRs are based on unsupported claims of "too heavy, too big, too expensive". Not today, folks, not today! Wake up to 21st century technology!

  • $\begingroup$ Technology has nothing to do with it. Even if you could build a $5 FDR, it would cost millions to certify it per model of aircraft, which has to be spread across the tiny number of units sold. You’re also assuming the aircraft has the dozens of sensors required to feed your FDR, which most small aircraft don’t, and adding them could easily double or triple the cost of those aircraft for the same reason. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Sep 8, 2020 at 15:59

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