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David Warren
, c. 2004

by an unknown artist

type C photograph (sheet: 50.6 cm x 60.8 cm, image: 40.5 cm x 41.0 cm)

David Warren AO (1925–2010), research scientist, invented the ‘black box’ flight data recorder. Warren attended university in Sydney and Melbourne before gaining his PhD in London, and taught at Geelong Grammar before becoming a lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Sydney in 1947. In 1949 he was appointed a principal research scientist with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, from which he retired thirty-four years later. In the mid-1950s, he was involved in investigations into the crash of the world’s first jet-powered aircraft, the Comet. He envisaged a machine placed in all aircraft, continually recording details and able to be recovered after a crash. His prototype attracted little local notice, but in 1958 he took it to England, where the Ministry of Aviation expressed strong interest in his idea; the device was also successfully demonstrated in Canada. A continuing lack of Australian support for its development saw other countries capture the growing market for the apparatus, which was recommended for installation in Australian aircraft only after the inquiry into the crash of a Fokker Friendship at Mackay (Queensland) in 1960. Australia was the first country in the world to make cockpit- voice recording compulsory. The ‘black box’ flight recorder (which is never, in fact, black) has since been universally adopted as a means to investigate accidents and to prevent their recurrence. Warren published many scientific papers on a variety of subjects besides cockpit recording and served on a number of scientific committees. A founder of the Australian and New Zealand chapters of the Combustion Institute, he was its president from 1959 to 1985. He was also the Founding Chairman and Patron from 1977 of the Morris Minor Club of Victoria. His awards include the Lawrence Hargrave Award of the Royal Aeronautical Society (2001) and the Hartnett Medal of the Royal Society for Arts and Communications (2000).

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Courtesy of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Commonwealth Department of Defence 2005
Accession number: 2005.119