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David Warren

Dr David Warren AO, BSc (Sydney), PhD (London), DIC, DipEd (Melbourne), FAIE.

David Warren (1925-2010) was born in 1925 at a remote mission station on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, North Australia. He was the first European child to be born on Groote Eylandt. To ensure a good education, he was "sent south" at age four, to spend most of the next 12 years in boarding schools (mainly Launceston Grammar and Trinity Grammar, Sydney).

In 1934, David's father was killed in one of Australia's earliest air disasters, the loss of the Miss Hobart in Bass Strait. His last gift to David was a crystal set. David found he could listen to the set after lights-out in the school dormitory and became interested in electronics. He began building radios as a schoolboy hobby and enrolled for the public examination to become, he hoped, Australia's youngest "radio ham". When the sudden war-time ban on amateur radio dampened David's hopes, he turned to chemistry as a hobby and, ultimately, a life-time profession. However, his schoolboy knowledge of electronics stood him in good stead when, many years later, when he decided to design and build the world's first flight data recorder, now widely known as the "black box".

David was involved in the accident investigations related to the mysterious crash of the world’s first jet-powered aircraft, the Comet, in 1953. He argued that a cockpit voice recorder would be a useful means of solving otherwise unexplainable aircraft accidents. The idea initially raised little interest, so David decided to design and build an experimental unit to demonstrate the concept. It could continually store up to four hours of speech, prior to any accident, as well as flight instrument readings. It took five years before the value and practicality of the idea was finally accepted. It was another five years before it became mandatory to fit cockpit recorders in Australian aircraft. The modern-day equivalent of David’s device is now installed in passenger airlines around the world.

Professionally, David's interests have been divided between technical education and scientific research:

  • 1944-46 - Teacher of mathematics and chemistry, Geelong Grammar School, Victoria.
  • 1947-48 - Lecturer in chemistry, University of Sydney.
  • 1948-51 - Scientific Officer, Woomera Rocket Range and Imperial College, London.
  • 1952-83 - Principal Research Scientist, Aeronautical Research Laboratories, Melbourne, now part of Defence Science and Technology.
  • 1981-82 - Scientific Adviser (Energy) to the Victorian State Parliament.

David has also served in many voluntary positions, including as chairman of the Combustion Institute (Aust & NZ Section) for 25 years (1958-83), and as a committee member of the Chemical Society, the Institute of Fuel, and the Australian Institute of Energy.

David's other interests have included lecturing and organising meetings for the Council of Adult Education, Probus Groups, the Forum Society, the Rationalist Society, and the Morris Minor Car Club of Victoria, of which he has been founding chairman and patron for 25 years (1977-2002).

While a student at the University of Sydney, David met Ruth Meadows, who became his wife and lifetime supporter. Together, they have raised a family and shared an interest in science and education, arranging many educational tours in conjunction with international conferences. Now retired, David and Ruth live in Caulfield South, Victoria, in regular contact with their four children and seven grandchildren.

In recent years, David has received a number of awards in recognition of his contributions to aeronautics and energy research, including:

  • The Australian Institute of Energy Medal, 1999.
  • Hartnett Medal of the Royal Society of the Arts, 2000.
  • Lawrence Hargrave Award of the Aeronautical Society, 2001.

In 2002, he was officially recognised in the 2002 Australia Day Honours list, being appointed an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia for his "service to the aviation industry, particularly through the early conceptual work and prototype development of the black box flight data recorder".