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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

David Warren

c. 2004
an unknown artist

type C photograph on paper (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
Gift of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Commonwealth Department of Defence 2005

Artist and subject

David Warren AO (age 79 in 2004)

Subject professions

Science and technology

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Australian Visit

Previous exhibition, 2006

The exhibition will include works of art from the NPG Canberra's permanent collection with some inward loans and aims to highlight the achievements of notable Australians.

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The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency