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92/297 Flight recorder, 'Davall Recycling Recorder', sectioned, metal / plastic / electrical components, designed by Dr David Warren, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1960, made by S Davall & Sons Ltd, Greenford, Middlesex, England, 1968-1978. Click to enlarge.

Flight recorder designed by Dr David Warren

This 'black box' flight recorder was designed to continuously record data from aircraft instruments, and to survive a crash. The flight recorder is an Australian innovation that has had significant impact on safety in the international aviation industry by providing valuable assistance to air crash investigators. It was invented by chemist and electronics enthusiast Dr David Warren when he was employed by the Australian Aeronautical Research Laboratories. Although no Australian manufacturer …


Object No.


Object Statement

Flight recorder, 'Davall Recycling Recorder', sectioned, metal / plastic / electrical components, designed by Dr David Warren, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1960, made by S Davall & Sons Ltd, Greenford, Middlesex, England, 1968-1978

Physical Description

Metal base acting as cradle for circular bright red/ orange egg shaped metal flight recorder. Held in place by black metal / plastic strapping. One side is sectioned to reveal works. Written on maker's plate: "DAVALL/ RECYCLING RECORDER/ serial no 133/ S DAVALL & SONS LTD GREENFORD/ MIDDLESEX, ENGLAND/ WEIGHT 15 lbs 8 ozs/ voltage 115 - 400 Hz - wattage 6/ voltage 28DC/ wattage 3/ PATENTS APPLIED FOR".


Near the top of one side: arrows pointing in opposite directions, one labelled "BRAKE ON / TRANSIT" and the other "BRAKE OFF / RECORD".



230 mm


225 mm


230 mm


7.8 kg



In 1953 David Warren, an expert on aviation fuel, joined an Australian team investigating a series of Comet jet airliner crashes. He had the idea of building a device that recorded both data from flight instruments and what was said in the cockpit. He knew that, if the device survived a crash, it could play back the final moments of a flight to help investigators discover what went wrong.

Warren, assisted by Ken Fraser, Lane Sear and Wally Boswell, designed the first prototype at the Australian Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne, using a Minifon wire voice recorder (see object 98/2/1-3/1) inside a thick asbestos box. Warren also worked out how to convert instrument readings to dots and dashes so they could be encoded on wire. Short-sighted management and government officials dismissed Warren's idea as unnecessary.

British officials were interested, and Warren was invited to help Davall & Sons develop and market the invention. The road to regulatory approval and successful manufacture was tortuous, but by 1963 the company was ready to go into production. Warren's only financial reward was the trip to England with the Australian prototype. His consolation was that he helped make flying a safer way to travel.

'Black box' recorders were manufactured in the UK and USA from 1963 onwards. 'Black box' is a metaphor for a machine or device whose workings we don't understand or need to understand, but whose output is interesting.

David Warren was born in 1925 and died in 2010. Tragedy struck his family when he was nine years old: his father died when a De Havilland plane travelling from Launceston to Melbourne was lost over Bass Strait. There were no survivors and no clues as to why the plane went down, leaving just an oil slick and unidentifiable pieces of wreckage floating briefly on the water's surface.

While Warren claimed that losing his father in a plane crash did not spur his invention of the flight recorder, the last gift from his father did prove crucial. It was a crystal set, a basic type of radio receiver, and it led to his lifelong interest in electronics. He studied chemistry to PhD level and in 1949 went to England for training in rocket science. While he was there, he saw the world's first jet airliner (earlier jets having been made only for military use), the De Havilland Comet, at Farnborough air show. The Comet promised faster travel and a shrinking of Australian's sense of isolation from the rest of the world. In 1953 the first Comet set off for Australia, but it crashed on take-off from Karachi airport en route. Other Comet crashes followed, and finding the reasons became essential for the manufacturer, airlines and travellers.

In 2016 David Ronald de Mey Warren was posthumously awarded the forty-first Edward Warner Award by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN agency. This award is the greatest single honour bestowed by the international civil aviation community. David Warren won the award for the vision and tenacity exemplified in his conceptual work and prototype development of the black box flight recorder.



This sectioned flight recorder was used by Davall in England to demonstrate flight recorder functions to airline staff. In 1984 Davall was taken over by W Vinten Ltd, which made aerial reconnaissance equipment. In 1992 curators asked Dave Warren to help them acquire an early flight recorder; in response to his request, the red egg was found in a corner of Vinten's factory and donated to the Museum by the company.


Credit Line

Gift of W Vinten Limited, 1992

Acquisition Date

30 March 1992

Cite this Object


Flight recorder designed by Dr David Warren 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 26 June 2022, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Flight recorder designed by Dr David Warren |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=26 June 2022 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}