Black Boxes

It can withstand temperatures up to 2,000°F and impact forces of 100 Gs. It reveals secrets of airplane crashes, including what went wrong and why. And it's not black at all — it's actually orange

MICHAEL REYNOLDS / epa / Corbis

The flight-data recorder, front, and cockpit-voice recorder, back, of Continental Connection Flight 3407, which crashed near Buffalo, N.Y., on Feb. 12, 2009

You never see them, but they're with you every time you fly. They record where you're going, how fast you're traveling and whether everything on your airplane is functioning normally. Their ability to withstand almost any disaster makes them seem like something out of a comic book. Known as the mysterious "black box," these flight-data recorders are actually not black but orange — and when a plane falls from the sky, they're sometimes the only thing that can help authorities discover exactly what happened and why.

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