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Given the histories of flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders, I somewhat understand their origins as two separate physical devices. Given their separate tracks of development, regulatory requirements, and storage mechanisms, it stands to reason that they historically existed as two separate "things".

However, I'm under the impression that the vast majority of the commercial airliners operating today are utilizing solid state memory to store both flight data and cockpit voice recordings. Both devices share many similar requirements in regards to being capable of withstanding extreme heat, g-forces, impact resistance, submersion in water, etc. Both devices are equipped with underwater locator beacons. Even the bright orange color of both recorders are the same!

The Wikipedia article on flight recorders briefly mentions that "the FDR and CVR can be manufactured in one fireproof, shock proof, and waterproof container as a combined digital Cockpit Voice and Data Recorder (CVDR)". However, whenever I read about modern aviation accident investigations--1990s, 2000s, 2010s--investigators are always searching for and analyzing the two separate black boxes. I don't think I've ever heard of an accident that involved a single combined black box, so their usage still doesn't appear to be very widespread.

Why not? Since the only thing I can see that distinguishes a modern CVR from a modern FDR is the type of data being stored, why didn't the integration of these separate devices become the norm decades ago? The best explanation I can come up with is some sort of notion of redundancy, but this doesn't make sense if they're storing two separate sets of data.

Even if a single combined recorder was deemed to be too risky, how hard could it be to just record both sets of data on two identical recorders? At least that way, there's true redundancy being maintained. The fact that "flight data" and "cockpit voice" data are still being stored on two separate physical devices seems rather absurd in this day and age.

It seems about as logical as buying and maintaining two separate external hard drives--one for my music collection, one for my movie collection. It'd be closer to life in the early 90s, when I had a collection of VHS tapes and a collection of cassettes. But now that everything is digital, it makes sense (logically and financially) to just use one device to store both collections. Why isn't it the same with modern-day FDRs and CVRs?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Aviation.SE! Excellently done first question, well thought out and written. Shows your research. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Aug 24 '14 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ Well presented facts and analogies. This question was briefly asked and answered in past, but your version is detailed. $\endgroup$ – Farhan Aug 25 '14 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ While this is a very well written question, this is also a duplicate of Why don't both black boxes hold the same data?. I hope that you stick around and continue to ask such high quality questions, however please search the site first to see if it hasn't already been answered. :) $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jan 20 '18 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger This user last logged in about 3.5 years ago. :) $\endgroup$ – reirab Jan 20 '18 at 6:44
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab Haha, I guess he won't be sticking around then. Hopefully he comes back!! $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jan 21 '18 at 12:06
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You probably wouldn't believe the effort needed to certify anything that flies on an aircraft. This is a multi-year process, especially if it is so much security-related as the CVR and FDR. And it needs to be done with all national authorities of your intended customers.

This is a case of good-enough. The advantage from combining both is real, but so small, that nobody so far thought it worthwhile to go through the certification process. And regarding redundancy, transmitting the recorded data to some ground station would be even better than recording twice on the same aircraft. If that would have been installed in MH370, most of the search effort could have been saved.

I expect something to happen with the transmitting of data, and then both devices could conceivably merged into one.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's odd to call CVR and FDR 'security' related, since they don't really protect passengers from accidents. $\endgroup$ – florisla Aug 25 '14 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ @florisla They do protect passengers. Not of the affected flight, but of all future flights if a serious flaw is found. $\endgroup$ – yo' Aug 25 '14 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ Also, if one is damaged (or can't be found) and can't be read, chances are good the other may still be able to yield data. Combine both into a single device and you lose that. So it adds a bit of redundancy. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Aug 25 '14 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, it's happening already -- transport helicopters have used a combined CVFDR for ages now, and newer generations of CVDRs have made inroads in VLJ/light bizjet apps where previously, there may have been a CVR but no FDR or no recorders whatsoever. The Embraer Phenom 500 that went down in Gaithersburg, MD not long ago had a combined CVDR that was used by the investigators as part of the reconstruction of the crash, for instance. $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Jun 9 '16 at 1:07
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting Yes, redundancy is important - that's why I would expect they record all signals in one type of device, and use two of them. $\endgroup$ – Volker Siegel Apr 3 at 8:56
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Many new aircraft, starting with the Boeing 787, are equipped with enhanced airborne flight recorders (EAFR). EAFRs are designed to the ARINC 767 architecture (described here). They combine the functions of the legacy FDRs and CVRs.

The EAFR is designed to be compatible with aircraft using the ARINC 664 network for their avionics. As a result they are capable of recording a very large number of parameters. They are not typically retrofit to older aircraft due to the complexity of routing data from the large number of independent data busses.

For maximum survivability, each aircraft is equipped with two EAFRs located in different parts of the airframe. Both EAFRs record the same flight data as well as cockpit audio.

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The Cockpit Voice Recorder and Flight Data Recorder are the same unit on many modern aircraft and are widely available at vendors such as this resale outlet and direct from vendors like Universal.

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