from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A device or theoretical construct with known or specified performance characteristics but unknown or unspecified constituents and means of operation.
  • n. Something that is mysterious, especially as to function.
  • n. See flight recorder.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Informal name for the brightly colored cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders in an aircraft designed to aid in determining the cause of an accident.
  • n. A theoretical construct or device with known input and output characteristics but unknown method of operation.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. any electronic instrument or part of an instrument whose function is defined, but which is treated as a unit without consideration of the internal mechanisms; broadly, any device whose internal workings are considered as incomprehensible or mysterious by the user.
  • n. a device which maintains a record of cockpit conversations and the readings of many of the instruments on board an aircraft, continuously or at frequent time intervals during a flight. It is of rugged design to withstand a violent crash, and is used to determine the causes of aircraft accidents.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. equipment that records information about the performance of an aircraft during flight


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • Would an engine failure at precisely T+1:13 in conjunction with an unexpected wind sheer at 65,000-feet altitude cause a software switch in some black box to flip to a different polarity and sendColumbia out of control?

    Riding Rockets

  • Rolling over, he reached down and pulled open the closest of the underbed storage drawers, withdrawing a thin black box from beneath a pile of shirts.


  • I believed in a kind of prewritten story: I would meet a boy, probably at the age of the teenagers at Glenside Pool, who sat on one big blanket in a tangle of bikinis, gold chains, black box radios with spiky antennae.

    Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume

  • I sat eyeing the tangle of wires with the black box in its centre until he returned with my neighbour’s bottle and two of her magnificent glasses.

    The Beekeeper's Apprentice

  • It resembled a large, high-roofed black box with a net stretched across the middle.

    Mary Queen Of Scotland And The Isles

  • Two more of the hand-attendants came forward, bearing a sturdy black box with runes engraved in a band around its lid.

    Chainer's Torment

  • Mal segued from his brother to Danny Upshaw, the black box canyon surrounding him, spent ammunition sliding under his feet.

    The Big Nowhere


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  • Term for the various modular units that plug into appropriate receptacles in an aircraft electronics bay which do everything from make the coffee to pilot the aircraft (via the autopilot).

    January 2, 2007