July 25, 2019•799 words
When I read this story the first time around, it was entertaining and I learned something new, when I read it the second time around, I couldn't help but notice the way this man chose to lead his life, and how that impacted the people immediately around him, and the world at large.
The story is beautifully written, so I'll wait for you to read it, the link is up there, the BBC article. Feel free to join me back here when you're done.
So here are the parts that fascinated me:
1. when "The panel sat down to discuss what they knew." he said they were "...rattling on about staff training and pilots' errors, and did a fin break off the tail, and all sorts of things that I knew nothing about," and that "I found myself dreaming of something I'd seen the week before The Miniphon was marketed as a dictation machine for businessmen, who could sit at their desks (or on trains and planes) recording letters that would later be typed up by their secretaries. David, who loved swing music and played the clarinet, only wanted one so he could make bootleg recordings of the jazz musician Woody Herman."
- It's telling that he actively engaged his imagination to pursue things he appreciated, even at important meetings, and that it was in the pursuit of fulfilling self that "something clicked for him."
2. "What if every plane in the sky had a mini recorder in the cockpit? If it was tough enough, accident investigators would never be this confused again...he rushed to tell his boss about it...his superior didn't share his enthusiasm. Dr Warren said he was told: "It's nothing to do with chemistry or fuels. You're a chemist. Give that to the instruments group and get on with blowing up fuel tanks and 'Talk about it and I'll have to sack you'" David knew his idea for a cockpit recorder was a good one. Without official support, there was little he could do about it - but he couldn't get it out of his mind.
- Here, David demonstrates tenacity and resilience, even though he was shut down a few times, he didn't give up on an idea that could save a lot of people. It also had me wondering whether his father dying due to a crashed plane had anything to do with him not giving up.
3. "When his boss was promoted, David pitched his invention again. His new superior was intrigued, and so was Dr Laurie Coombes, ARL's chief superintendent. They urged him to keep working on it - but discreetly. Since it wasn't a government-approved venture or a war-winning weapon, it couldn't be seen to take up lab time or money.Dr Warren said the chief superintendent had cautioned him: "If I find you talking to anyone, including me, about this matter, I will have to sack you."
- Here, I was reminded how we're never really alone, even within a stifling cultural environment, there will be people who you can rely on. It helps to take risks and to trust people to have your back, especially if it's something you believe in bringing out into the world. So watch the political winds, and when they shift in your favour, take them!
4. "Encouraged, Dr Warren wrote up his idea in a report, titled "A Device for Assisting Investigation into Aircraft Accidents", and sent it out across the industry."
- Put your work out there, but target it to the appropriate audience, even if they don't like it, it'll make it real
5. "The pilots' union responded with fury, branding the recorder a snooping device ,and insisted "no plane would take off in Australia with Big Brother listening". Dr Warren was tempted to pack it all in. But his eldest son, Peter, says his father was stubborn, with a non-conformist streak that coloured his whole worldview." It was in that spirit that Dr Warren took to his garage and assembled his 20-year old radio parts. He'd decided the only way to overcome his critics' mockery and suspicion was to build a solid prototype. It would be the first ever "black box" flight recorder.
- This one made me smile, I personally have the non-conformist streak, but it's not strong enough to have the confidence to follow through and build something. I really appreciated and could imagine David thinking 'I'll show them!' and literally doing so.
I appreciated that David didn't allow for the lack of recognition, or being cheated on royalties to affect the rest of his life, knowing that he lived a full life with loved ones I think is a testament to his character, his imagination, and his desire to help others. We can only hope to recognize our "black box" when we stumble upon it.