Black boxes and big objects: Life at the National Museum of Flight

As you might guess from the job title, I’m based at the National Museum of Flight. In fact, I’m the only curator on site. This can be challenging when I need to move an object that’s too large or heavy for one person to move on their own. So I rely on a lot of goodwill from other colleagues on site!

So what do I do? As a curator I deal with objects, which means everything from collecting, cataloguing, storing, interpreting, displaying and probably a few other things that I can’t think of right now. As with most museums, we have a lot of uncatalogued objects in store and I spend a lot of time identifying them and then giving them a unique number (otherwise known as accessioning). This means we can keep track of it and know where the object is stored or displayed, but also all information about the history and use of the object can be recorded with it.

One interesting object I’ve been working with recently is a Flight Data Recorder, often called a ‘black box’. This is a real misnomer as they are usually orange, so that they can be found easily after aircraft crashes. They started to be introduced as a result of a series of crashes by de Havilland Comets, the first jet airliners, in the mid-1950s. The example we have was made in France by Ateliers de Construction Beaudouin and is a Hussenot-Beaudouin Type A1323. The history of this object proved something of a mystery until dogged research revealed that it likely dates from around 1960. It appears this is actually quite an early Flight Data Recorder, having been produced probably within a year or two of such devices going into service. It’s quite a revelation!

Hussenot Beaudouin Flight Data Recorder
The Hussenot-Beaudouin Flight Data Recorder – otherwise known as a ‘black box’, despite being orange!

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