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黑匣子的故事

2019年08月30日 奇闻轶事 暂无评论 阅读 57 次

1934年10月19日,一架从塔斯马尼亚岛飞往澳大利亚的小型飞机不幸坠海,机上12人全部遇难,其中有一位33岁的英国传教士休伯特·沃伦牧师。

他的儿子大卫·沃伦那时只有八岁,父亲留给他的最后一件礼物是一个电子管收音机,但是坏掉了。这激发了大卫对科学的兴趣,后来他通过自学,设法修好了收音机。

1920年代,大卫·沃伦在悉尼大学读完本科,然后在伦敦帝国理工学院获得化学博士学位。毕业后,他去了航空研究实验室(简称 ARL),作为一名研究员。那是澳大利亚国防部的一个下属单位,专门研究飞机。

1953年,ARL 接到了一个任务:协助调查最新的英国喷气式客机----彗星飞机接连坠毁的原因。

由于资料很少,很难分析出什么原因导致飞机坠毁。大卫·沃伦不禁想到,如果有一个记录器,能够保存飞行过程的所有参数,以及飞行员的录音,并且还能在事故里幸存下来,那该多好。

他把这个想法告诉他的上司,结果却被泼了冷水。上司告诉他:"你是一名化学家,专业是化学和燃料。这种事情就交给仪器组,你不需要插手。"

没有官方的支持,大卫个人不可能实现这个发明。所幸这位上司后来调走了,新上司对大卫的想法很感兴趣,愿意让大卫投入研究。但是,因为这不是政府批准的项目,也不是可以用于战争的新武器,所以只能偷偷研究。

大卫受到鼓舞,在一份题为《协助调查航空器事故的装置》的报告中写下了自己的想法,并将其发送给整个行业。飞行员工会立刻表示反对,不愿意在飞行过程中被录音。澳大利亚民航局则表示,这种装置"没有实际意义"。

这种情况下,大卫决定在自己的车库里,组装出一个原型装置。这将是有史以来第一个飞行记录仪,又称"黑匣子"。

(图片:大卫·沃伦一家)

大卫把这个装置赠送给了英国人。由于本国彗星飞机的接连失事,英国对这个装置的接受程度比较高。一家飞机公司愿意生产它。

这个装置的正式名称是"飞行记录单元"。当时,一个记者在报道中称其为"黑匣子"(black box,黑箱),这个术语来自电工学,后来成为它的通用名称,尽管它并不是黑色。为了在事故后更容易发现,该装置做成了橙色,今天依然如此。

1960年,澳大利亚成为世界第一个强制飞机驾驶舱必须录音的国家。

今天,黑匣子安装在了每一个商业航班上面,能够防火、防海水,外层是坚固的钢铁。

大卫·沃伦在 ARL 工作直到1983年退休,成为其首席科学家。他于2010年7月19日去世,享年85岁。他从来没有从黑匣子的发明里面,得到一分钱的特许使用费。

他的棺材上写着"飞行记录器发明者:不要打开"。

 

原文:

A black and white picture showing the Reverend Hubert Warren with his wife and three of his childrenImage copyrightWARREN FAMILY COLLECTION
Image captionHubert Warren (left) died in one of Australia's first major plane accidents
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On Friday 19 October, 1934, the passenger plane Miss Hobart fell from the sky to the sea.

Eight men, three women and a baby boy fell with her, swallowed - it's believed - by the waters of the Bass Strait that lies between Tasmania and mainland Australia.

The plane's wreckage was never found.

One of those on board was a 33-year-old Anglican missionary, Rev Hubert Warren, who had been travelling to his new parish in Enfield, Sydney. His wife Ellie and four children had stayed behind, intending to follow by boat.

The reverend's last present to his eight-year-old son, David, had been a crystal radio set that the boy treasured deeply.

As a boarder at Launceston Boys' Grammar School in Tasmania, David Warren tinkered with the machine after lessons, learning what made it work. He charged friends a penny to listen to cricket matches, and within a few years was selling home-made copies at five shillings each.

David pictured as a boy, wearing headphones and using his radio equipmentImage copyrightWARREN FAMILY COLLECTION
Image captionAs a schoolboy, David was fascinated by electronics and learned to build his own radio sets
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Young David was charismatic and a wonderful orator - a boy with star quality. His family, who were deeply religious, dreamed he would become an evangelical preacher.

But that was not to be. The gift from Rev Hubert, Man of God, had launched a love affair with Science.

It would prove to be of life-saving significance.

Short presentational grey line

By his mid-twenties, David Warren had studied his way to a science degree from the University of Sydney, a diploma in education from Melbourne University and a PhD in chemistry from Imperial College, London.

His specialty was rocket science, and he went to work as a researcher for the Aeronautical Research Laboratories (ARL), a part of Australia's Defence Department that focused on planes.

In 1953, the department loaned him to an expert panel trying to solve a costly and distressing mystery: why did the British de Havilland Comet, the world's first commercial jet airliner and the great hope of the new Jet Age, keep crashing?

He thought it might be the fuel tanks; but there were dozens of possible causes and nothing but death and debris as evidence. The panel sat down to discuss what they knew.

"People were rattling on about staff training and pilots' errors, and did a fin break off the tail, and all sorts of things that I knew nothing about," Dr Warren recalled more than 50 years later.

"I found myself dreaming of something I'd seen the week before at Sydney's first post-war trade fair. And that is - what claimed to be the first pocket recorder, the Miniphon. A German device. There'd been nothing before like it…"

The Miniphon was marketed as a dictation machine for businessmen, who could sit at their desks (or on trains and planes) recording letters that would later be typed up by their secretaries. David, who loved swing music and played the clarinet, only wanted one so he could make bootleg recordings of the jazz musician Woody Herman.

However, when one of his fellow scientists suggested the latest doomed Comet might have been hijacked, something clicked for him.

The chances that a recorder had been on board - and survived the fiery wreck - were basically nil. But what if every plane in the sky had a mini recorder in the cockpit? If it was tough enough, accident investigators would never be this confused again, because they'd have audio right up to the moment of the crash. At the very least, they'd know what the pilots had said and heard.

The idea fascinated him. Back at ARL, he rushed to tell his boss about it.

Alas, his superior didn't share his enthusiasm. Dr Warren said he was told: "It's nothing to do with chemistry or fuels. You're a chemist. Give that to the instruments group and get on with blowing up fuel tanks."

'Talk about it and I'll have to sack you'

David knew his idea for a cockpit recorder was a good one. Without official support, there was little he could do about it - but he couldn't get it out of his mind.

When his boss was promoted, David pitched his invention again. His new superior was intrigued, and so was Dr Laurie Coombes, ARL's chief superintendent. They urged him to keep working on it - but discreetly. Since it wasn't a government-approved venture or a war-winning weapon, it couldn't be seen to take up lab time or money.

Dr Warren said the chief superintendent had cautioned him: "If I find you talking to anyone, including me, about this matter, I will have to sack you."

It was a sobering thought for a young man with a wife and two children.

But his boss's backing extended to sneakily buying one of the precious new dictation recorders, and chalking it up as "an instrument required for the laboratory…"

David pictured with staff from the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in 1958Image copyrightDEFENCE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, AUSTRALIA
Image captionDavid holding forth at ARL in 1958

Encouraged, Dr Warren wrote up his idea in a report, titled "A Device for Assisting Investigation into Aircraft Accidents", and sent it out across the industry.

The pilots' union responded with fury, branding the recorder a snooping device, and insisted "no plane would take off in Australia with Big Brother listening".

That was one of his better reviews.

Australia's civilian aviation authorities declared it had "no immediate significance", and the air force feared it would "yield more expletives than explanations".

Dr Warren was tempted to pack it all in.

But his eldest son, Peter, says his father was stubborn, with a non-conformist streak that coloured his whole worldview.

"He took us skiing," he recalls, "but he did the skiing in washing-up gloves, because he wasn't going to pay $30 for a pair of ski gloves. He wasn't the least bit afraid. He wasn't going to wait and follow the herd at all."

It was in that spirit that Dr Warren took to his garage and assembled his 20-year-old radio parts. He'd decided the only way to overcome his critics' mockery and suspicion was to build a solid prototype.

It would be the first ever "black box" flight recorder.

'Put that lad on the next courier!'

One day in 1958, when the little flight recorder had been finished and finessed, the lab received an unusual visitor. Dr Coombes, the chief superintendent, was showing round a friend from England.

"Dave!" he said, "Tell him what you're doing!"

Dr Warren explained: his world-first prototype used steel wire to store four hours of pilot voices plus instrument readings and automatically erased older records so it was reusable.

There was a pause, then the visitor said: "I say Coombes old chap, that's a damn good idea. Put that lad on the next courier, and we'll show it in London."

The courier was a Hastings transport aircraft, making a run to England. You had to know somebody pretty powerful to get a seat on it. Dr Warren wondered who this man was who was giving away tickets round the world to somebody he'd never met.

The answer was Robert Hardingham (later Sir Robert), the secretary of the British Air Registration Board and a former Air Vice-Marshal in the RAF.

In David's words: "He was a hero. And he was a friend of Coombes, and if he gave away a seat, you took it."

A few weeks later, Dr Warren was on a plane bound for England - with strict instructions not to tell Australia's Department of Defence what he was really doing there, because "somebody would frown on it".

In a near-unbelievable irony, the plane lost an engine over the Mediterranean.

Dr Warren recalled: "I said, 'Chaps, we seem to have lost a donk - does anyone want to go back?' But we'd come from Tunisia and it was about 45 degrees overnight. We didn't want to go back to that hellhole."

They decided they could make it if they ploughed on.

He recorded the rest of the flight, thinking that even if he died in that limping transport plane, "at least I'd have proved the bastards wrong!"

"But unfortunately we didn't prang - we just landed safely…"

The Warren family pictured in 1958Image copyrightWARREN FAMILY COLLECTION
Image captionBy 1958, David and his wife Ruth had four children. The eldest, Peter, remembers him flying off to England
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In England, Dr Warren presented "the ARL Flight Memory Unit" to the Royal Aeronautical Establishment and some commercial instrument-makers.

The Brits loved it. The BBC ran TV and radio programmes examining it, and the British civil aviation authority started work to make the device mandatory in civil aircraft. A Middlesex firm, S Davall and Sons, approached ARL about the production rights, and kicked off manufacturing.

Though the device started to be called "the black box", the first ones off the line were orange so they'd be easier to find after a crash - and they remain so today.

Peter Warren believes the name dates from a 1958 interview his father gave the BBC.

"Right at the end there was a journalist who referred to this as a 'black box'. It's a generic word from electronics engineering, and the name stuck."

Media captionIn footage from 1958, David Warren explains his invention to the BBC
Indonesian officials give a press conference next to the flight data recorder of a crashed passenger jet on May 31, 2012.Image copyrightAFP/GETTYIMAGES
Image captionThe so-called "black box" is in fact a strident orange colour

In 1960, Australia became the first country to make cockpit voice recorders mandatory, after an unexplained plane crash in Queensland killed 29 people. The ruling came from a judicial inquiry, and took a further three years to become law.

Today, black boxes are fire-proof, ocean-proof and encased in steel. And they are compulsory on every commercial flight.

It's impossible to say how many people owe their lives to data captured in the death throes of a failing plane - to the flaws exposed, and the safety innovations that followed.

'I'm a lucky bastard'

David Warren worked at ARL until his retirement in 1983, becoming its principal research scientist. He died on 19 July, 2010, at the age of 85.

David Warren, pictured in 2002, holds the first combined voice/data recorderImage copyrightFAIRFAX MEDIA VIA GETTY IMAGES
Image captionDavid Warren pictured in 2002 with a Miniphon, which inspired the first combined voice and data recorder

For more than 50 years, his pioneering work on the black box went almost unacknowledged. Finally in 1999, he was awarded the Australian Institute of Energy Medal, and then in 2002 was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his service to the aviation industry.

Asked why it took so long for him to be recognised, his daughter Jenny observes: "His battle was inertia. He had this huge enquiring mind, scientifically visionary, and could see how it would work - how it would play out.

"He was sitting there in 1958, saying 'this device can make this happen.'"

Peter Warren blames "a 1950s colonial mindset which said nothing good could come out of this country, and everything good would get invented in either the UK, or Germany or America".

The historic secrecy surrounding ARL's work, which is now more widely understood, is another likely factor.

Dr Warren lived to see Qantas name an Airbus A380 after him in 2008. Jenny Warren says she's been trying to get a seat on it ever since.

But he never saw a penny in royalties from the black box.

Family members carry the coffin of scientist David Warren at his funeral in Melbourne July 23, 2010.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionDavid Warren's funeral featured a tongue-in-cheek nod to his legacy

He was often asked if he felt hard done by. Peter says his standard response was: "Yes, the government got the results of what I did. But then, they also didn't charge me for the other hundred ideas that didn't work."

David's children inherited his sense of humour.

At Peter's urging, Dr Warren's death notice included his personal catchphrase: "I'm a lucky bastard."

At Jenny's request, he was buried in a casket labelled: "Flight Recorder Inventor: Do Not Open."

Do they think of their dad when flying?

His daughter replies simply: "Every time."

Dr David Warren pictured smiling in the cockpit of a Boeing 747, on 26 August 1998.

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