back to article Aircraft now so automated pilots have forgotten how to fly

The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is failing to ensure that American pilots can manually fly passenger jets if the automated systems controlling the aircraft fail, a report by the US Department of Transportation Inspector General has found. "While airlines have long used automation safely to improve efficiency and reduce …

Anonymous Coward

Pilots?

Many years ago a friend of mine who was a pilot for KLM flying 747s joked that soon there would only be a pilot and a dog in the cockpit. The pilot was there to keep the dog company, and the dog was there to bite the pilot if he touched anything.

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Re: Pilots?

Sounds like it's time to remove some gold braid from so-called pilots' uniforms.

I expect more from someone with 4 stripes on their cuffs or epaulets.

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Re: Pilots?

perhaps he picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pilots?

I heard (probably from the same pilot) that the pilot was there to feed the dog. So he did have some purpose. The dog's function remained the same.

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Thumb Up

Re: Pilots?

Works for me. I'm happy to fly in a plane completely controlled by the computer. Or even the dog!

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Re: Pilots?

> Was that van Zanten, may I ask ?

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Boffin

Re: Pilots?

This same issue will occur on a massive scale when self driving cars become common. When situations arise where the legally required driver has to take over, they won't have the skills nor the awareness to do so.

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Facepalm

Re: Pilots?

When situations arise where the legally required driver has to take over, they won't have the skills nor the awareness to do so.

How would anyone tell the difference? We're already at this point.

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Re: Pilots?

"The Dog and Pilot" would be a fine pub name.

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Sil

Re: Pilots?

More than 30 years ago, a school friend whose father was a pilot in a big international airline, told me that the mandatory exams that pilots had to undertake every few years, were a complete joke and that cheating was the norm.

His father gave him the Playboys and other fancy magazines he had access to (can't remember if in planes or elsewhere), which he discretely sold at school, so he always had hadsome amounts of pocket money.

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Re: Pilots?

Was that van Zanten, may I ask ?

Nope. Klaas ...

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Re: Pilots?

So what if people can't drive self driving cars? It'll just pull over and wait for someone who can. Whereas planes have a tendency to fall out of the sky at that point.

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Re: drivers?

Two weeks ago, on the Barnet Highway, a four lane divided road near Vancouver, I saw a Nissan 360 that was probably attempting to cross the road at a traffic light ahead of oncoming traffic do two slow spins before sliding off the road into a ditch about five or six feet below the road. Likely could not catch a slide in a rwd car. Excess of money over skill.

Don't know if that car has an electronic stability control system.

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Re: Pilots?

In the cockpit, nobody knows that you are just a dog.

Nobody.

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Re: Pilots?

My experience is too many people sitting at the wheel of a moving automobile already lack the skills and awareness to be in control of the vehicle. What makes you believe self-driving cars won't be an improvement?

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Re: drivers?

@DanceMan It was probably off so the tool could do some circle work

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Pint

The human pilots just do the easy bits...

Yeah, taking off and landing. Leave the tricky cruise phase to the computers.

But yes, there's an element of truth in the concern.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

"Yeah, taking off and landing."

It would be interesting to know how many landings are fully automatic.The technology has existed for some time for situations like fog. Has taking off ever been fully automated - rather than just having technological "assists"?

As the pyramid of technology advances - people in all walks of life become less able to do even the "simple" jobs that the technology has taken over. The IT industry is on an interesting cusp as people who joined the industry in the still-pioneering 1960/70s are now retiring. With them goes a lot of wide and deep knowledge about what the evolved technology does - and why.

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

I think you'll find that most of the pioneers from the 1960s and 70s are already retired. A lot of them are dead and buried.

Things are very thin in IT. How many people can design silicon chips? Hardly anyone. Even Intel struggle. A lot of their designs are Israeli, because that's where the guys who can do it live.

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Boffin

Re: ...how many landings are fully automatic...

Years ago (more than ten, at least) I was on a flight to Cape Town, landing in driving rain with a gusting cross-wind, in deep dusk. Having experienced a couple, let's say, "interesting" landings, I paid particular attention to how the pilot was handling the plane. There were some very nervous passengers around me and flight attendants were going up and down the aisles reassuring people that they need not worry.

In the event the landing was one of the smoothest I have experienced, as if there was no wind at all.

I ws mightily impressed by his skill and passengers broke out in spontaneous applause and cheering all around me. When the noise abated, the pilot announced "Thank you for the applause, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate it, but the credit must go to the plane, as it landed itself".

The over-reliance on machines and loss of skills is a worrying factor to me. One can have a long discussion about self-drive cars, for instance (and whilst I very much prefer my car to be under my control (I do not like even ABS and traction control), I do appreciate the benefits that they bring), but I still feel that people want to compensate with automation for something that is largely a lack of proper training.

(Drifting ever so slightly off-topic here). As far as self-drive cars are concerned, whilst my initial reaction was that it represent a huge mistake, upon reflection I came to the conclusion that there is at least one good case to be made for them, in the case of elderly people or people with physical (and even mental) disabilities who would gain independence without endangering themselves or other road users. And then there are people who should never be allowed near the controls of a car and who definitely need a vicious dog with them, as they have absolutely no clue about what they are or should be doing, who obliviously waft themselves along public roads daily. Self-drive cars should be compulsory for them.

Mixing wet-ware and silicon-driven cars on the same roads, however, is a recipe for disaster as far as I am concerned. Ideally there should be seperate roadways for each mode of transport, but that is unfortunately completely out of the question.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ...how many landings are fully automatic...

"And then there are people who should never be allowed near the controls of a car and who definitely need a vicious dog with them, as they have absolutely no clue about what they are or should be doing, who obliviously waft themselves along public roads daily"

Yes, it's always some other guy.

In my experience, pretty much everybody should never be allowed near the controls of a car. Definitly including myself.

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

The landing part is more interesting.

Computer aid is now used to way under 500 feet on some large airports in low visibility conditions - LHR (on a foggy day), BJS (smoggy day), etc. They simply cannot operate if the pilots do not use it as they have to close.

So the idea to switch to manual at 500 rings rather hollow.

From this perspective, you gotta love Luftwaffe's operating practice. There, the pilots from the long haul fleet regularly take a rota to fly a Junkers Ju-52 http://www.dlbs.de/en/Fleet/Junkers-JU-52/ to remind them that what does it mean to fly a passenger airplane with no computer aids.

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

So far as I know there is no fully automated take-off.

As for fully automated landings there are however very strict rules before a airport, plane and crew are allowed to facilitate or execute a fully automated landing in fog or general bad visibility conditions. Under normal visibility landing is not automated, if one of the minimal two autopilots fails landing can not be fully automated etc.

As for the comment by Airbus, interesting bit is that even if the pilot takes manual control it's still a computer (partially) flying the plane because of the fly-by-wire system, Boeing planes at least have a "very heavy" according to a airline captain (friend of mine) back-up cable system which fully works on manual aka crew power to move the control services.

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Coat

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

"which fully works on manual aka crew power to move the control services."

The stewardesses on stationary bicycles? Or rowing machines?

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Re: ...how many landings are fully automatic...

Aren't the separate roads called railways?

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

pilots from the long haul fleet regularly take a rota to fly a Junkers Ju-52

Are the rumours true that the short haul pilots have to take a spin in a 109?

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

From this perspective, you gotta love Luftwaffe's operating practice.

The Luftwaffe? That would certainly explain the guns on their planes.

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Happy

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

Are the rumours true that the short haul pilots have to take a spin in a 109?

To stay with Junkers, they could perhaps also try a Stuka

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

>Has taking off ever been fully automated - rather than just having technological "assists"?

I found out recently the first fully automated flight - take off, cruise, landing, no human input of any kind [1] - was made by a Lockheed Tristar. In 1972.

Planes could easily be flown by a mix of automation and remote control for the occasional tricky bits.

The reason no one wants this are political. Humans are terrified of potentially dangerous situations that seem out of their control. Human pilots provide a reassuring illusion that someone competent is in charge. Machines and remote pilots don't.

[1] Except handing out the peanuts.

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Re: ...how many landings are fully automatic...

"Mixing wet-ware and silicon-driven cars on the same roads, however, is a recipe for disaster as far as I am concerned. Ideally there should be seperate roadways for each mode of transport, but that is unfortunately completely out of the question."

Your suggestion answers itself in the previous few paragraphs. People are bad enough on the ground, but automated systems can manage flight quite adequately.

Self-driving flying cars it is. Problem solved.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

"even if the pilot takes manual control it's still a computer (partially) flying the plane because of the fly-by-wire system,"

The engines on most modern passenger jets are computer controlled with no mechanical alternative.

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Happy

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

"Are the rumours true that the short haul pilots have to take a spin in a 109?"

Almost certainly not. If they were then the pilots concerned would get a real workout. Bf109s are notorious for their takeoffs. Narrow undercarriage, gyroscopic effect of the prop and so on made handling one a real challenge.

So yes, maybe a good test of a pilot's skill but one using a very rare, expensive and irreplaceable aircraft to do it with.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

"Planes could easily be flown by a mix of automation and remote control for the occasional tricky bits."

Errrrr...

Apart from anything else, many (most?) airlines won't even pay for the comms bandwidth to have a realtime(ish) air to ground link for aircraft position and status updates, let alone a secure low latency reasonable bandwidth high reliability bidirectional link carrying all the data the aircrew (on the ground) might need to be able to see or to control either in normal operation or when Bad Things happen.

Not every pilot is a Sullenberger or even anywhere close, which is probably a shame. (For those who don't know the name, look it up, read, admire, and wonder where today's equivalents are coming from).

Equally, not every control systems supplier has the quality standards that that Toyota used for some of their safety-critical in-car systems[1]. We should probably be grateful for that.

It's a matter of balance. Maybe at the moment it's about right in general, with a few unfortunate exceptions that we need to learn from (actually learn, not just spout "lessons will be learnt").

That said, there is plenty of evidence (from aircraft and elsewhere) that de-skilling the pilot's/driver's job can bring its own new set of previously unexplored challenges.

[1] http://users.ece.cmu.edu/~koopman/pubs/koopman14_toyota_ua_slides.pdf

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

"The engines on most modern passenger jets are computer controlled with no mechanical alternative."

I hope all of them. A modern aircraft engine (and a modern car engine for that matter) is too complex to be controlled by mechanical systems.

I certainly would not want to be riding the Velocette I had as a kid on modern roads, with its manual A/R to worry about as well as the gears and the throttle. In those days there was time to play with the lever safely in traffic. Not so nowadays.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ...how many landings are fully automatic...

I do not like even ABS and traction control

Never had traction control, but I am convinced ABS contributed to an accident I once had.

Driving down a local lane, I failed to stop before hitting the car in front. Under normal circumstances I would have stopped with plenty of clearance (wasn't driving that fast and quite far back), but in this case as I applied the brakes the car drove onto a patch of gravel / mud and instead of locking up and ploughing through the stuff to hit tarmac underneath, the ABS basically refused to let me brake at all. I've had better traction on ice. Fortunately, the car I hit was the wife's and damage was minimal (I said it was slow) so the insurance company wasn't involved.

I'm also half-convinced that the ABS in "low end" cars isn't all we are lead to believe. The early ABS systems insisted on disc brakes on all four wheels because (apparently) drums couldn't operate quickly enough, yet now this isn't a problem. My suspicion is that what is actually happening is that ABS simply doesn't apply to the rear wheels of such cars. I'm also half-convinced that the brake modulation on these low-end cars is "all or nothing" rather than per-wheel. In the accident I mentioned, two wheels (one front, one rear) were still on tarmac and yet they appeared to add nothing to the braking effort.

I've never been able to find out for sure though. Does anyone here know?

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Anonymous Coward

bazza?

What about ARM?

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Re: ...how many landings are fully automatic...

"In my experience, pretty much everybody should never be allowed near the controls of a car. Definitly including myself."

Given how many miles are driven every day the number of accidents are actually remarkably small. We humans are actually pretty good at driving, but take away that practice and then suddenly expect someone to take control of an automated car in an emergency at 70mph after maybe having not driven for 10 years IS a recipe for disater.

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

"I hope all of them. A modern aircraft engine (and a modern car engine for that matter) is too complex to be controlled by mechanical systems."

Err, the electronics ARE the complexity, they're not a side effect of it! Fuel injection and ignition timing could still be done by mechanical systems if you're prepared for worse emissions and fuel economy.

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

@nematoad

Almost certainly not. If they were then the pilots concerned would get a real workout. Bf109s are notorious for their takeoffs. Narrow undercarriage, gyroscopic effect of the prop and so on made handling one a real challenge.

There are plenty of aircraft available today that can provide a challenge - just try some of the tow aircraft that are used to take gliders up. You really will understand what it is like to fly an aircraft with a ludicrously powerful engine for it's size.

I am type rated for, and have occasional access to a replica of a Sopwith Camel. And yes, I can confirm that it is easier to do a 270 turn in one direction, than 90 in the other.

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Re: ...how many landings are fully automatic...

If there is a considerable loss of resistance on one side of the car (both wheels on gravel) then I can imaging the total braking effort would be reduced. To maintain full effort on the tarmac side could result in a spin.

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Re: ...how many landings are fully automatic...

You're probably correct.

In most instances, manuals for cars suggest turning such driving aids off in trying to move in snow, mud etc.

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Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

" am type rated for, and have occasional access to a replica of a Sopwith Camel"

You are Biggles and I claim my 10 pounds...

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Coat

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

C'mon Drs. Security, we all know there is fierce competition between Boeing and Airbus, as there should be. I have no problem with Americans supporting Boeing and Europeans supporting Airbus, I, for instance, rather operate my own penis than somebody others. But the fly-by-wire is just stupid, if it was the other way around Americans would claim fly-by-wire is the modern way and Airbus is far behind using old technology. We both know this. As for your imaginary, or not, friend he certainly was not talking about the Dreamliner as that is fly-by-wire like are most fighter planes, probably all.

As for the title "pilots have forgotten how to fly", looking at all the "air crash investigation" programs it seems to me it is more about "pilots who forget to fly" fucking around with light bulbs and similar.

We also know that competition is a pain in the arse for companies like Boeing and Airbus, Coca-Cola and Pepsi and all the rest. For us consumers competition is good, but like always there is a drawback too behind each and every word. Just look at the internal traffic in the USA operated by the oldest fleet of aircraft in the western world by pilots who would have shorter hours and more or less the same pay working for McDonald's was it not for their dream of becoming pilots, and their lack of strong trade unions if any. Then again in Europe they go on strike every now and then witch of course is very annoying for consumers.

As for the automation, there is no way back, and I suppose pilots, very much fucked by all the bean counters, have been left behind. Eventually pilots will not be needed in the air and on the plus side it will be impossible to repeat any 9/11 event.

Regards Lars

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Vic

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

Fuel injection and ignition timing could still be done by mechanical systems

Gas turbines don't tend to have breaker ignitions...

Vic.

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JLV
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Joke

JU-52s

Ah, so the Germans are going for world domination again?

They pulled the old Ju-52 trick in the 1930s already, pretending they were running airliners rather than dodging the Versailles Treaty.

Come to think of it, did you mean Lufthansa or Luftwaffe? "Long haul fleet" & Luftwaffe sounds a bit odd. I know, confusingly similar names and that's all part of the plan.

p.s. don't mention the war!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

"Human pilots provide a reassuring illusion that someone competent is in charge."

Now why did that trigger a vision of the movie "Airplane"? Shirley unwarranted?

There was an accident in South Africa in the 1970s. A short haul passenger DC-3 had to ditch in the sea just off the shore. A passenger later said that before the flight the pilot had asked a few of them to help him straighten a propeller blade.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

"[..] fly-by-wire like are most fighter planes [...]"

IIRC to make a fighter very manoeuvrable then it needs to be intrinsically very unstable. It then needs computer control to keep it stable - a pilot could not do it unaided. A virtue of drones is that they can handle more Gs than a human when turning sharply.

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d2

Re: JU-52s

awww,just a wee tidbit about the Nagging Nachthexen, WWll aviatrix Witches of Stalingrad 'Any German pilot who downed a "witch" was automatically awarded an Iron Cross.--MEGAN GARBER,

Night Witches: The Female Fighter Pilots of World War II Members of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment

decorated their planes with flowers... and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/night-witches-the-female-fighter-pilots-of-world-war-ii/277779/

https://alexpowellauthor.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/po2.jpg

http://www.seizethesky.com/nwitches/nitewtch.html

The Witches developed the technique of flying close to their intended targets,

then cutting their engines.

Silently they would glide to their targets and release their bombs.

[...a rustling sound above, almost like wind through a broomstick.

Before you can investigate,

the darkness lights up with a blinding flash and a deafening explosion.

The Night Witches have struck again!

...The planes’ tiny engines ... tended to stall easily,

requiring the pilot

to climb out

and turn the propeller by hand

to get it started again.

--Miss Cellania ]

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Re: ...how many landings are fully automatic...

@ Vociferous Time Waster

Depends on where in the world you are. Here where I live lack of vision and political will has over many years (and different governments) led to a serious deterioration in railways. Building a viable, efficient and cost-effective (not necessarily profitable, but the subsidies would be orders of magnitude less than the cost to the economy as a whole of having to transport most goods and people by road) will now be an extremely expensive and hence unpopular option. It would also take much longer than any politician would care to plan for.

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Boffin

Re: The human pilots just do the easy bits...

Close, but no cigar. The first aircraft to do a completely hands off flight was the DH Trident, but regulations did not permit the use of the system as such, and it was only demonstrated on passenger free proving flights. The first hands off landing was done by a Trident in 1965.

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