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Cockpit Voice Recorders

By Patrick Mondout

The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) records the flight crew's voices, as well as other sounds inside the cockpit. The recorder's "cockpit area microphone" is usually located on the overhead instrument panel between the two pilots. Sounds of interest to an investigator could be engine noise, stall warnings, landing gear extension and retraction, and other clicks and pops. From these sounds, parameters such as engine rpm, system failures, speed, and the time at which certain events occur can often be determined. Communications with Air Traffic Control, automated radio weather briefings, and conversation between the pilots and ground or cabin crew are also recorded.

A CVR committee usually consisting of members from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), operator of the aircraft, manufacturer of the airplane, manufacturer of the engines, and the pilots union, is formed to listen to the recording. This committee creates a written transcript of the tape to be used during the investigation. FAA air traffic control tapes with their associated time codes are used to help determine the local standard time of one or more events during the accident sequence. These times are applied to the transcript using a computer process which provides a local time for every event on the transcript. More precise timing for critical events can be obtained using a digital spectrum analyzer. This transcript contains all pertinent portions of the recording and can be released to the public at the time of the NTSB's public hearing.

The CVR recordings are treated differently than the other factual information obtained in an accident investigation. Due to the highly sensitive nature of the verbal communications inside the cockpit, Congress has required that the Safety Board not release any part of a CVR tape recording. Because of this sensitivity, a high degree of security is provided for the CVR tape and its transcript. The content and timing of release of the written transcript are strictly regulated: under federal law, transcripts of pertinent portions of cockpit voice recordings are released at a Safety Board public hearing on the accident or, if no hearing is held, when a majority of the factual reports are made public.

See also: Flight Data Recorder

Source: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).


Air Safety References:
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Faith, Nicholas. Black Box: The Air-Crash Detectives-Why Air Safety Is No Accident. Motorbooks International, 1997.
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Krause, Shari Stamford. Aircraft Safety: Accident Investigations, Analyses & Applications. McGraw Hill, New York, 1996.
Macpherson, Malcolm. The Black Box : All-New Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts Of In-flight Accidents. New York: William Morrow, 1998.
Macpherson, Malcolm. On a Wing and a Prayer: Interviews with Airline Disaster Survivors. Perennial, 2002.
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Stewart, Stanley. Emergency! - Crisis on the Flight Deck, 2nd Edition. Airlife Publishing, England, 2003.
Walters, James M. Aircraft Accident Analysis: Final Reports. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000.
Wells, Alexander T. Commercial Aviation Safety, 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2001.


 

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