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The inventor of the "black box"


The pilot and manufacturer Colonel François Hussenot was a French engineer who was responsible for inventing the first flight recorder back in the late 1930s. The celebrated "black box" was manufactured by Safran Electronics & Defense (formerly Sagem) until 2005.

The École Polytechnique graduate François Hussenot began his career in 1935 as a test engineer at the Centre d’Essais de Matériels Aériens (CEMA) in Villacoublay, then at the Centre d’Essais en Vol (CEV) in Marignane. He specialized in studying, manufacturing and fine-tuning flight test instrumentation. In 1939, he designed a flight data recorder using photographs. Named the "Hussenographe", it is considered to be the forerunner of modern black boxes.

After spending two years working as an engineer at the Centre d’Essais en Vol in Brétigny-sur-Orge, he founded, in 1947, along with his associate Marcel Ramolfo, from Société de Fabrication d’Instruments de Mesure (SFIM) in Massy (Essonne department). He patented a new recorder which projected parameters such as speed, altitude, vibrations and temperatures onto film. Very soon, SFIM experienced strong growth with the manufacturing of "HB" – for "Hussenot and Beaudouin" the name of the engineers who helped to develop the system – photographic flight recorders. In 1999, SFIM was acquired by Sagem, which is now Safran Electronics & Defense. Since 2010, the new facility in Massy houses "François Hussenot" R&D center, named after the inventor as a tribute.


In June 1940, fearful that the Germans would seize his invention, François Hussenot, posted in the Aquitaine region, decided to hide his machine… by burying it in a dune in the Arcachon basin. Unfortunately, the machine would never see the light of day again, as it was swallowed up by the incessant movement of sand and wind.


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