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David Warren, invented 'black box' flight recorder, dies

SYDNEY, Australia - David Warren, an Australian scientist who invented the "black box" flight data recorder, has died, defense officials said Wednesday. He was 85.

Warren, who died Monday, came up with the idea for the cockpit voice recorder after investigating the crash of the world's first commercial jet airliner, the Comet, in 1953, the Australian Department of Defence said in a statement. He thought it would be helpful for airline accident investigators to have a recording of voices in the cockpit.

He designed and constructed a black box prototype in 1956, but it took several years before officials understood just how valuable the device could be and began installing them in commercial airlines worldwide.

The idea was slow to catch on, with Australia's Department of Civil Aviation advising Warren that his "instrument has little immediate direct use in civil aviation."

Military authorities went further still, with the Royal Australian Air Force dismissing it as unnecessary and likely to "yield more expletives than explanations."

It took a lunchtime demonstration of the device to a visiting British official in 1958 for the potential of his design to be recognized and christened the "black box" - a reference to its technical mastery.

"One of the people in the discussion afterwards said, 'This is a wonderful black box,' " Warren said. "A black box was a gadget box. You didn't have to understand it but it did wonderful things."

It was 10 years before black boxes - in fact, brightly painted to make them easy to spot at crash sites - were made mandatory in Australian aircraft.

Warren was born in 1925 in a remote part of northeast Australia. In 1934, his father was killed in a plane crash in Australia.

He became the principal research scientist at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation's Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne from 1952 to 1983.

In 2002, Warren was awarded the Order of Australia - among the nation's highest civilian honors. Warren is survived by his wife, four children and seven grandchildren.- From wire reports

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