My Grandfather’s Flight Data Recorder

My grandfather, Elwood Jack Rosenbauer, passed away yesterday. What many of you probably don’t know, because it is sadly under-documented, is that he lead the team at Lockheed Aircraft Service Company which pioneered the reusable and highly durable flight data recorder that is still in use on commercial and private aircraft today.

The flight data recorder is always on for the duration of the flight, recording cockpit and radio conversations, as well as metrics like altitude, airspeed, and fuel flow. Able to survive the most extreme of crashes, the flight data recorder is invaluable in investigating and preventing aircraft accidents.

Regarding their advances in the field of flight data recorders, my grandfather published Modern Aircraft Accident Investigation Equipment and Techniques in the Winter 1981/82 issue of Lockheed Horizons. Considering that these were only printed once, and that I can’t find a single copy of this particular issue online, Sarah and I have transcribed his article for historical purposes. A copy of the original article can be downloaded from the same page.

“[T]he overall activity of accident investigation, and particularly the role of the airborne flight recorder, are of vital concern to aviation. The accurate recording of critical factors of aircraft performance has proven invaluable in aircraft accident investigation in helping to pinpoint the cause of an accident and in instigating measures to prevent future recurrences.”

So, the next time you’re on an airplane, remember that something my grandfather helped to design is watching over you, improving your safety on future flights, and avenging you should anything tragic happen (though I hope it will never come to that).

James and Grandpa Jack

20 responses

  1. My deepest condolences, my friend. I think you know my feelings about flight in general, and so I will indeed be thinking about him each and every time I fly and will be thanking him for all of the lessons which have been learned and applied to keeping that death trap still in the air (against all possible reason and logic!).

    Let me know if you need anything.

    1. Thank for the condolences, much appreciated.

      I’m glad his work will be filling you with some additional confidence the next time you sit in the magical flying tube. 🙂

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss! (hug) and here’s to what sounds like a really amazing guy!

    1. Thanks for the hugs, he really was a great guy.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. Of all the geeks in the world, aviation geeks are the coolest. Great picture.

    1. Thanks! The things they do to keep those tubes in the air sure are amazing.

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    That’s nice to think that your grandfather’s invention will follow you everywhere you go, flying with you!

    1. Thanks, it’s hard to imagine, but part of him really is watching us whenever we travel in airplanes. 🙂

  5. I’m so sorry for your loss, James. My most sincere condolences. Sending hugs and love to you, Sarah, and all of the family.

    That’s quite the legacy, count me among those who’ll think about it whenever she gets on a plane from now on.

    I’m just a ping away, always.

    1. Thanks, Hanni! You do get on planes quite often. 🙂

  6. I’m very sorry for your loss, James. I love knowing that little bit of history about flight recorders (very cool!). And I must say that I can’t help but notice what a great photo that is of the two of you! It looks like you had a lot of good times together.

    1. Thanks, we really did have some great times. 🙂

  7. My condolences, James. Thinking about you and your family during this sad time. I *love* the picture of you and your grandfather – what a strong resemblance! I’ll be thinking of your grandfather the next time I board a plane (Thursday). Hugs.

    1. Thanks, enjoy your flight! 🙂

  8. Wow, what a legacy, but I’m very sorry to hear he has passed away. You must be very proud of what he did! That’s a great photo too. I’m glad you shared the story and the photo with us.

    1. Thanks, I’m very proud of the legacy he left behind. 🙂

  9. James, I’m very sorry to hear that your grandfather has passed away. At the same time, as an aviation buff, I’m amazed of his contribution to making our skies a little safer each time. You must be proud of him.

    1. Thanks, I’m very proud of the contributions he made. 🙂

  10. Sorry for your loss. I worked at Lockheed Aircraft Service Company in Ontario from 84 to the end of 96…fantastic company, which did amazing work. And the FDR was truly one of the best. I hated to see them become Lockheed-Martin Aircraft…but merges were inevitable in that industry I suppose. Now I am a Hercules buff die-hard to the end. Got there from fighters though…never thought I would see the day I would have so much respect for that trash-hauler…but it’s an amazing plane. Wish I would have known your grandfather.

    1. Thanks!

      If you worked in Ontario, I bet you ran into him a few times, though he did keep to himself. 🙂