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