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Dr David Warren, AO, Research Scientist & Inventor (1925-2010)

Dr David Warren AO

Image: Dr David Warren AO

Source: Museum Victoria

Dr David Ronald de Mey Warren (1925-2010) was the Australian inventor of the flight data recorder device commonly known as 'the black box' which is now fitted to commercial aircraft to assist aviation accident investigation. He was born at a Church of England Mission on Groote Eylandt on 20 March 1925. His father the well-known missionary Rev Hubert Warren later died in an aircraft accident in 1934 when the Holyman Airways DH86 'Miss Hobart' disappeared over Bass Strait. Educated at Launceston Grammar School and Trinity Grammar in Sydney, David Warren completed an honours degree in Science from Sydney University, a diploma of teaching from Melbourne University and a PhD in fuels and energy research at Imperial College, London.

After a period as a teacher at Geelong Grammar and chemistry lecturer at Sydney University, Warren joined the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera in 1948, soon after marrying Ruth Meadows, but after training he was not sent to Woomera. He was sent to the Commonwealth's Aeronautical Research Laboratories (ARL) to work on jet fuel combustion matters thought to be associated with the loss of several de Havilland Comet airliners. It was at this time that he developed his idea for a flight memory recorder to capture flight and voice data on wire to assist accident investigators based on a small Minifon wire recorder he saw at a Melbourne trade show. A prototype unit was ready by 1958 but initially met with little official enthusiasm in Australia. The interest of British authorities led to production of the unit by S. Davall & Sons from 1963. The loss of a TAA Fokker Friendship at Mackay in Queensland in 1960 led to a recommendation that Australian airlines fit flight data recorders to their aircraft, later made compulsory by the Federal government.

Dr Warren was Principal Research Scientist with ARL from 1952 to 1981. He and Ruth had four children during the 1950s. After he left ARL he worked for the Victorian government as an adviser on energy resources in 1982-83 and continued to work on combustion research. Among many accolades for his work Dr Warren received the Royal Aeronautical Society's Lawrence Hargrave Award in 2001 and he became an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2002. He was also founding President and a long serving patron of the Morris Minor Car Club of Victoria. Dr Warren died in Melbourne on 19 July 2010.

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