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Pilots, not computers, should fly planes

Submitted
As the National Transportation Safety Board begins public hearings on Wednesday into the crash of an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 in San Francisco in July, one question is certain to keep popping up: Have pilots become too dependent on computer systems to fly their airplanes? The simple answer is yes. (www.cnn.com) More...

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TandMGammon
TandM Gammon 7
I don't think it we need an extreme on one side or the other. Commercial pilots should be required to train on both the use of FMS as well as stick and rudder. I think it is a mistake to simply increase the hours required for a pilot. The FAA required recurrent training for MU2s to fix a safety problem. The same should be done for the rest of the industry. It isn't hours that make a pilot safe, it's the understanding of every aspect of the profession. It's not the hours but what you do with the hours. Airline pilots should be required to train proficiency in not only FMS approaches but also hand flown approaches. Required upset or acrobatic training in a turbine aircraft in addition to simulator training on the aircraft systems should be the standard.
preacher1
preacher1 2
Well Said!! Couldn't agree more!! Automation is a tool, not a crutch.
akayemm
Tool ! Dependence on 'tool', all the time ? Inability to fly without the 'tool' ?
I guess that's the main issue !
Aviation, as you guys have taught me, is NECESSARILY a combination of IFR and VFR, without defining which comes when. Right ?
Thus, in either situation, the pilot is paramount. Not the tool/crutch, call it by any name. Crutch connotes helplessness and tool implies convenience, which slowly becomes inseparable from the process involved.
Right ?
preacher1
preacher1 1
You're getting there. When the tool becomes the accepted way of life, rather than a helper, that is where the problems start coming in.
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
Use of good tools such as FMS, A/P, and so forth are great... But keep in mind that if you lean on a tool to hard it will break when you least expect it. But in some cases people also pick up the wrong tool. Instead of using their tools saying too low and too slow, they were using their visual tools (AKA EYE's) watch a visual approach and not paying quite as much attention as they should have been.

Great comment and well stated.
sparkie624
sparkie624 5
I have been saying that for along time as has been many of us... Pilots need a lot more hands on time. When pilots call me with a problem and I have to defer the A/P you would be surprised how many try to get us to take another route... Way too dependent on the automation.
captainjman
Jason Feldman 2
WOW - you are so right, and so wrong at the same time

As a captain I have always gotten my first officers to hand fly as much as possible. Too much of the 600feet autopilot on, 400 feet autopilot off pilots out there. In good weather I ask my FO and I myself fly to at least 18,000 feet, and usually 24,000. In bad weather when Icing is possible I insist on hands flying all the time, with breaks of a few minutes as needed.

ON THE OTHER HAND - it is a pain in the butt for pilots to hand fly straight and level for hours and hours. In fact, it would do the opposite of what more hand flying is supposed to achieve. When pilots hand fly approaches thats a good thing, when they hand fly all the climbs and descents thats a good thing, when they fly when ice could be forming that is a good thing, or when caught in a storm.

But flying straight and level for hours and hours it causes the pilot to be tired - eyes stressed. so when you say that pilots are not keeping up on their skills when they try to get out of fling a plane with an inop auto-pilot ALL DAY LONG - many of which are multiple leg days - many on long days up to 16 hours long..

It is for that very purpose that auto pilots were invented, and make the most amount of sense. It's when those autopilots started doing more than that- when it started doing holds, and approaches, and departure procedures, etc etc - thats when the flying skills really started degrading - when 777 captains only get 5 - 6 real hand flown landings a month - thats the problem.

And now that we have RVSM - and the planes are twice as close to one another at altitude, with closure rates as high as 1.8M and only 1000 feet separation (if all the equipment is working perfectly) - you combine a little turbulence plus hour 7 and you have a midair collision... or you are so tired at the end of your 16 hour day with 7.9 hours of flying that when you fly that approach by hand after flying by hand all day and night, that you just dip a couple dots on glide-slope during the approach... THAT is why we don't want to fly a plane all day that has no auto-pilot.

On paper, it's real easy to say you agree that pilots are lazy because they don't want to fly a plane that has no working autopilot - and most people will agree with you - hell, lets all jump on the bandwagon here, lets all agree to agree with one another.... right up until you are on the plane with the over tired pilot who slips two dots below the glideslope after a full day like that.. then you want your crew to be well rested and alert... because I am telling you - hand flying straight and level all day (when you fly for a living) - turns your brain to mush.

Oh, and when you fly for a living, it becomes pretty clear - really quickly, you don't call in fatigued when you are tired or there will be hell to pay.
PhotoFinish
PhotoFinish 2
> "when 777 captains only get 5 - 6 real hand flown landings a month - thats the problem"

You seem to consider ONLY 5-6 stick landings a ninth too little. But if all pilots consistently performed 5-6 manual landings per month, the Asiana crash would not have happened.
akayemm
You can say that again dear friend PhotoFinish !
Asiana crash is one of the best examples to understand the importance of proficiency of VFR ,inspite of all the automation.
Take the case of flying in space as it stands today. Inspite of full remote control at ground the astronauts do their own manoeuvring.
Space travel at commercial level is just round the corner. How do you visualise its control and flying ?
There will be FMS no doubt. BUT there will be two additional 'pilots' to supervise the flight.
One(or two) in the cock pit and the other on the ground. Each one ready and electronically capable to take over from FMS ! Or from each other if need arises.
And that's what is needed in aviation as it stands today.
preacher1
preacher1 2
It is one thing to defer an AP until the next station, or any other piece of normal automated equipment for that matter, but it does need to stop and get fixed at that point, and even then, if it hasn't left the ground and is inop, it needs to be fixed before flight. If it is a short leg into a maintenance base, that is one thing but, as Jason says, if that crew is going to be hung with it a good while, it needs fixing.
captainjman
Jason Feldman 2
Thanks Preacher1 - I forgot to mention that yes, one leg - no biggie (assuming it's not a long flight or other weird situation) - but we have all flown for operators who will not use MEL's as they were intended to be used - and only fix the autopilot once the max number of days is up.. and in some cases - pencil whip it - and obviously have it break on the very next flight after a "ops check good" is written in the aircraft log.

it happened at Mesa airlines all the time... it happened at Avantair all the time too (and it finally caught up with them, but years later)
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
Sometimes that is not possible. I try not to let one get to drop dead, and rarely allow one to go 2 days, but then again, you get repeat offenders that you have to Trouble Shoot... Especially if the problem is intermittent. The FAA says a plane is good to fly 10 full days before it is parked for repairs. (don't shoot the messenger). I know that restricts for RVSM space, but we have to do what we have to do and get planes in and repaired as soon as possible. Right now with the number of planes that break, if one of them is an Autopilot, chances are good it will go to the 2nd or 3rd day, but I try to minimize this when I am working the plane. Right now, our entire fleet has zero inop autopilots, but RVSM restricted on 5 others for misc reasons (TCAS is a major one).
daveblevins52
Dave Blevins 2
Hands. Eyes. Ears. Nose. Butt. And possibly my "Spidey Sense" was all I needed for a safe helicopter career. If it didn't smell good, it wasn't. If it didn't look good, it wasn't. If it didn't feel good, it wasn't. Fear keeps us alive at times. And I was never embarrassed to say I had an uneasy feeling, or that I was fearful of a situation. I always flew another day. And those that were macho, or had smart-mouth, are mostly dead now.
WALLACE24
WALLACE24 3
They're late to the party. That conclusion was reached here on FA within 24 hours. Lol
wlatc
Rich Smith 1
I have just the opposite view. I think our focus ought to be on making the computer systems better and safer. People have been crashing machines for years. Computers will soon be far better at tasks such as driving planes, trains and automobiles. Want to fly? That's what Cessna 152s are for. Want to go from New York to Tokyo? Have a machine figure it out and run the system.
joelwiley
joel wiley 1
People have been crashing machines since the Hittites came up with the war chariot. Computers will be no better than the people who program them. Until people can conceive of all possible event interactions, computers will encounter situations that "don't compute". Do you really want to be presented with the equivalent of "Blue Screen Of Death (in M$ jargon)" on final?

I personally do not want to calculate the feed rate for my fuel injection engine. Nor do I want a computer to evaluate whether that object that moved into my path is a paper bag or small child.

Computers can make our lives easier, but i can't agree that computers will necessarily make transportation safer.
preacher1
preacher1 1
My 2cts worth, and as I replied above to TandM Gammon, automation is a tool, not a crutch. I personally like to hand fly in and out, unless wx is a problem, around 10 grand. The automation is nice on a long flight, doing away with a lot of repetitive stuff, but it still has to be monitored. That said, if something goes blinkey, you need to know what to do. In my career, I have see most of this automation come into the cockpit, but I pride myself in knowing how to fly without it and I am sure there are many senior pilots out there that feel and can do the same. The problem that all this is directed to is the young guns that are coming into the arena now that have never known anything but this automation. In 36 years of steady flying on a 707 and 757, and now 4 years of fill in, this last year being with my old company and having a 767, CRJ200 and KA90 to play with, I haven't put a scratch on one. Again, there are many senior pilots out there with the same type record. I love to fly but I'd rather be upstairs at FL380 than tooling around in a 150.
joelwiley
joel wiley 1
There is the adage "Those who do not learn the lessons of history..."
But what happens when they stop teaching history, even as an elective?
preacher1
preacher1 1
Well, sad part is, most everyone learns basic stick and rudder as they get their license and work thru the various stages of it and those serve them well as they are flying around in the 152/82/King Air or whatever. Problem is, when they sit down in the right seat of an RJ and progress on through the chairs, and into big iron all that automation hits them square in the face and over the course of time winds up in the majority and becomes the norm, and that stick/rudder that was learned earlier goes way in the background. As you say about History, those that do not learn/remember history and those lessons may have a problem down the line, because truthfully, all the controls do the same thing, whether a 150 or 747. It's just a little different getting to them.
joelwiley
joel wiley 1
There was a recent thread about flight schools training Asian pilots with zero prior air experience. One mentioned was in N. Calif, so a bit close to home. There was something about as little as 150 total flight hrs over the year which seemed underwhelming to me. It reminded me of an incident at work where co-worker was assigned to familiarize a new employee with the 4x4 PU used by the Dept. The first hurdle was the new EE's question of 'what is that', pointing to the clutch pedal.

Are 'basic skills' today subtly different than those of our tender years?
preacher1
preacher1 1
prolly so. LOL. I remember that particular thing started going away in the late 60's. Our driver ed in High School got a dodge with an automatic tranny cause they didn't want to spend the time teaching them how to drive a stick, and at that time, about 95% of everything was standard shift. LOL
joelwiley
joel wiley 1
63-64 Dodge dart 4-dr sedan, 3 pedals, 3rd was brake pedal on passenger side for IP (Instructor, Praying). I think the ran a whole line of them somewhere....
Chortle
preacher1
preacher1 1
We was high class. We got us a Coronet. LOL
akayemm
It's not surprising that if you have a comfort or facility you are tempted to use it and slowly invoking these become a second habit, whether needed or not !
Superimpose the need for errorless performance or uniform level of output compels some systems to heavily depend or promote automation. I have automation industry in mind who employ robot machines in abundance.
How far can one deny use of automation in aviation ?
More important will be to reintroduce strictures for reduction of dependence on automation.
As far as fatigue factor is concerned, how much was automation helpful in this crash ? We all know the facts.
Did we not hear that despite reinforced crew strength ,the pilots complained or used the bogey of fatigue ? What were they doing all along during this long haul flight ?
It's not unimaginable that too much use of automation adversely decreases human response to fluctuations or variations.
It's simply a matter of time when the demon lethargy spreads its wings to more areas or regions or applications !
Ways and means must be found to reduce use and/or dependence on automation, especially in areas like aviation.
JENNYJET
Regulars here will have read my thoughts upon this matter previously so forgive me please if I do not re-run the dialogue.

To have one of the most technically advanced aircraft 'running' almost the entire 'flight' from launch to touchdown worries me. This could be the most recent of Airbus frames or the newest of the Boeing Dreamships ( dreams indeed! ), if the pilot in command does not have a Doctorate in computer sciences or happened to be one of those writing the 'code' that runs the avionics suite, then I have no confidence in the likelihood of a 99.9999% survival of a landing.

I had the sad moment of reading that the last airline operating the most wonderful DC-10 were soon to finally 'retire' the ship from passenger revenue service. To purists, this was a simple aircraft to fly as a pilot because he/she knew how the aircraft behaved, could read and understand every instrument in front of them and knew exactly what to do and knew exactly how to react in an emergency situation.

Question folks.....could those DC-10 captains recover a common PC running XP if it 'crashed' whilst running MS Flightsim X? I do not wish to trivialise but did not the flightcrew have difficulty in landing safely the Asiana B777 at SFO?
jjdenike
james denike 1
find it hard to believe that besides ignoring the PAPI the Asiana crew failed to set up the avionics to give a avionics readout to the approach end of the runway. The old thumb rule of 300'/mile and the violation thereof would have given them plenty of warning to either go around or correct early enough to present this disaster.
Neglected in all this controversy and discussion is the insistence by the airlines to allow simulator visuals to suffice for real visuals in the airplane. To save a few thousand dollars in fuel costs, they instead lost three lives and tens of millions of dollars in aircraft value. Not a good trade.
satterwhite777
How about, if your airspeed is low, push the throttles forward…..or lower the nose…..look at the phase of flight you're in and make the airplane do what you want! Engage what mode of auto-flight that is appropriate, or hand-fly.
gbcotten
greg cotten 1
Computer use should be a priveledge after mastering good old fashioned rudder and stick flying. As I tell all the gamers playing "shooter" games, there is no re-spawning in the safe zone in real life.
Nrice91
Noah Rice 1
I understand that many of the air routes have to be flown with a certain degree of accuracy, but is it required to fly an RNAV DP or STAR using the auto pilot? can pilots hand fly and meet crossing restrictions and speed restrictions without the auto pilot. How much of auto pilot use is required by company and how much of it is just personal preference?
preacher1
preacher1 2
That is a heavily loaded question, but the short answer is that the AP use is determined by the individual carrier. As far as the other, the same thing applies from the carrier standpoint. Most of those requirements are for in flight and not on any particular routes, at least that I know of. As far as the crossings/speed restrictions, it depends on the pilot and AP is used in a lot of places due to it's exactness. A lot there depends on location, pilot skills, and in particular congestion. Whole lot more but hopefully that gets the basics.
BaronG58
BaronG58 1
Rich...has your computer ever crashed at home or office? Bet it has
BaronG58
BaronG58 1
Allench1...you are "spot-on". Back in the day we called this a " Dirt
BaronG58
BaronG58 1
Let me try again allench1. I hit wrong button. Back in the day we called this a "Dirty Spot" landing. Find a dirty spot on windscreen match it up with spot on runway...works just as well as any vasi or papi.
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
I always called that my "Navigation Spot" :)
k2lck
Ed Mentz 1
dirty spot also works really well out west when approaching uncontrolled intersections.
crk112
crk112 1
THANK YOU.

It's a shame that all these so-called pilots can't handle a good old stick-and-rudder plane anymore..

You people can keep your glass cockpits and fancy shit... I'll stick to my round gauges and bendix-king IFR stack.
JENNYJET
The Glass cockpit is fine so long as one has electricity for them to operate. It may never occur but sometimes in the back of my mind, the old fashioned steam powered guages with wires can become the saviour of us all simply because it will work if everything else fails and if even that backup fails then we should not have been messing with flying in the first instance.
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
Sometimes I think you are right... As impossible as it sounds we had one crew for an unknown reason on Take Off Roll lost ALL electrical power 2 times and aborted T/O. FDR confirmed this really happened. All AC and DC. We could not duplicate but replace ALL the Generator Control units and have not had any further issues with this a/c. So yes it can happen... What would have happened if that was an Airbus in flight. How is he going to turn the Flight Controls with ALL Electical power (back up power included) leaves the a/c.

There was another one where a crew lost ALL of his EFIS Screens at night. He was on departure, thankfully it was a clear VFR night and he did a quick ATB. He did have an ISIS but that was it. So yes, there are advantage to Steam Gauges.
preacher1
preacher1 1
Well, I will say one more thing, as you mentioned it; I lost my entire panel one time on a 757. I mean just plumb dark. As luck would have it, I was only about 8 miles out on a straight in, VFR final for FSM, our home base. I was hand flying anyway so it was a piece of cake. Can't remember what the problem was but very minor. Had it happened out somewhere and up at an FL somewhere or in wx, it would have been very dicey and my mx chief and/or ATC would probably have been getting a panic call. Sometimes you just got to check that gut and go on. LOL
preacher1
preacher1 1
Well, my 2cts worth and I am outa here; Ain't nothing wrong with a computer or automation of any kid in the cockpit. Over the last 20 years I have seen a lot of it come into being and as a laborsaving tool it was nice. As I said, I saw a lot of it come into being, and I was flying before we had it, and did my best to remember how to fly without it and that is what we all should do. As far as big iron goes, I think the biggest single transition was going to glass panels on the 57/67 back in the day. Had the world stayed with steam gauges on the o7's and the like, there may have been some more familiarity from our learning days. No excuses, just opinion.
Billb2001
Bill Baird 1
I am an old stick and rudder guy with a great love of actually flying an airplane. There is nothing as satisfying as a well executed, hand flown descent, approach and landing. Too bad so many "pilots" have either lost or really never learned these basic skills. This was a concern at American airline years ago and was addressed. Unfortunately it was not followed up on over the years. Enclosed is a fifteen year old recurrent lecture I call 25 minutes of common sense. Take a peek: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3kREPMzMLk
joelwiley
joel wiley 1
Link appears out of date, or pulled rather fast.

Message Reads:
"Children o..." This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by American Airlines, Inc..

It wasn't, by chance, the so-named Children of the Magenta lecture?
Billb2001
Bill Baird 1
Yes, it was/is the Children of the Magenta lecture. It is so on point and well presented. There is little doubt left that the industry knew they were creating a huge problem back then with automation replacing the pilot. The results are in our face today. Asiana SFO shows the results of great computer programmers in the cockpit who could not recognize and correct a stall situation on short final.
joelwiley
joel wiley 1
As of 11:05 PST 131215 this one works.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0rYX-Jn6o8
levyharaivan
These are Asian pilots we are talking about (whose culture tells them whatever a "teacher" teaches them is correct and should not be challenged), not American where we actually get hands on flying (maybe even too much now)
preacher1
preacher1 3
And also teaches that if you are older, as the PF was, you are to no be challenged or corrected.
Musketeer1
Musketeer1 1
What we really need are check 'check airmen' airmen to check the check airmen checking the pilots. Possibly in addition to this we could also use automated throttle monitoring to monitor the automated throttles.

If those don't improve the absolutely disastrous safety record of airline travel then perhaps we should bubble wrap our children and stay inside of our underground houses.
preacher1
preacher1 2
preacher1
preacher1 1
A tad of sarcasm there I do believe. LOL
allench1
allench1 3
simple rule 1 and 2: 1. monitor your airspeed. 2. pick a spot on the runway to land on and if it moves up you are getting below your glide path. and if it moves down you are above your glide path.= no crash
gsmith4151
harold smith 1
That's just so much silly talk. We learned that in kindergarten. Surely as the super pilots we are, there is a better way.....or not...
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
Where @@
sparkie624
sparkie624 2
But who will check the " check 'check airmen' airmen" ? :)
joelwiley
joel wiley 1
It can be done as a correspondence course- "the check is in the mail"
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Musketeer1
Musketeer1 1
I was thinking it could be some sort of shovel ready job pork in an amnesty bill, solely affirmative action candidates need apply.
akayemm
Dear friend sparkie624, we have schools for teaching teachers how to teach. All over the world.
We have special police to supervise police.
We have higher courts to check and rectify lower courts.
And so on.
sparkie624
sparkie624 2
Hmm... Who Checks the Supreme Court :)
THRUSTT
THRUSTT 3
Lucifer
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
LOL... Best answer yet
joelwiley
joel wiley 1
One hint: their funds reside in the Caiman Islands
akayemm
Some where finality has to reached.
Buck got stop somewhere .
No my friend sparkie624 ?

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