Clinging to Skills or to the Past?

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As is often the case, this week's blog on simulator training drew a little trickle of e-mail in the background from readers who don't feel like engaging in the forum. One was from a long-time contributor railing about the inadequacies of modern training and, especially the alarming attitude of some pilots who rely entirely on cutting-edge systems, never giving a second thought to the underlying skills required to survive if those systems fail. He was talking about over reliance on glass and GPS, but it could be any cutting-edge system in the modern airplane. He has a point.

And we have been having this conversation for 200 years. It is the classic confrontation between the traditionalists and the modernists. The sail captains had it when steam arrived, the railroad hogheads had it when diesels evolved and the piston drivers had when the first jets showed up, although that particular conversation didn't last long. At the juncture of one technology eclipsing another, there is always a period of turbulence when the proponents of each throw mud at each other until progress puts it all to rest.

The simulator story I wrote about earlier this week is a version of that, but it got me wondering how you can tell if your insistence that the old way of doing things is a vital primary skill or if you're just clinging to some ancient procedure in defiance of progress that has rendered it obsolete. In other words, you've crossed the line into old fartism.

I can think of two examples. Not too long after GPS approaches became common, I stopped bothering with NBD approaches on instrument proficiency checks. I arrived at this for several rational reasons. I rode along with the FAA doing flight checks and when I told the technician I flew these in actual with my students, he jokingly made the sign of the cross and showed me a plot of typical error tracks for NDBs. Oh.

GPS was so much more accurate and safer and it required more time to teach it. So I dropped NDBs unless the pilot insisted and had the time. I also stopped believing the drivel I was feeding myself about the likelihood of an NDB pulling someone's fat out the fire some dark and stormy night when all else failed. So would a parachute.

Then there's the dead reckoning fantasy. We still spend time teaching primary students to plot a course and build a nav log, something that few will ever use. Maybe none will ever use. It's a warm and familiar process that we imagine to be a fundamental airman skill — but we don't use it, so why teach it?

To be fair, the practical test standards have evolved to include modern nav systems on the checkride and that's a good thing. What we should be teaching is high-level paper map reading in conjunction with GPS—you know, the way we actually fly these days. Throw in a smattering of time and distance work. That might get some heads out of the glass cockpit.

As an instructor, I have also tended to resist the weirder extremes of training exercises, like doing a single-engine hold in a twin. I have done these. I have taught them. Then one night, I realized how pointless it was. In the real world, I'd be declaring an emergency and landing, not holding in my hobbled twin.

Silly stuff like that does build some skill, but it's questionable whether it's worth the effort. The other side of the knife is that it gets in the way of spending time on what really matters: basic aircraft control, basic instrument work and landings. Yes, landings.

Every month I review about 100 NTSB accident records for a particular model for our Used Aircraft Guides. The last one I did was for the Cessna 182. An astonishing 58 percent of Skylane accidents relate to runway loss of control. Some takeoffs, but mainly landings. That's just terrible.

So coming full circle to the last blog, I was assuming airline pilots generally know how to land, which is why the idea of reprogramming simulators for stiffer crosswinds struck me as like single-engine holding. Well, maybe not. Maybe they're just like everyone else; skills erode and they get lazy. The game falls off.

It sure seems to for Skylane drivers.

Comments (33)

I sometimes wonder if you say these things just to be provocative because one assumes that you can't believe these thoughts come from an experienced pilot. You give the impression that GPS is mana from heaven which it is. However we still have failures, Jeppesen still screw up the database with the missed approach holding point being located a couple of oceans away in Australia or Japan which will be NOTAMed sometime in the future. The old pilots rather than the bold pilots arrive because they respect the possibility of equipment failures, they respect the redundancy of additional skills like the ability to use an ADF if fitted. If your aircraft has de-icing equipment but you don't know how to use correctly because you only fly VFR who are you kidding? Paul you might just start a great slanging match between the Luddites and the real world ! But will aviation benefit with a lower accident rate ??

Posted by: Brian Souter | September 8, 2010 4:49 AM    Report this comment

Do we use dead reckoning in today's modern airspace system? Not really, or at least not if we are over land. Over water flights are a different story. Airline crews and General aviation crews use plotting charts when flying such routes as the North Atlantic. This provides a navigational backup in case of system failure, but more importantly it provides a means of catching programming errors. It was enlightening to brush off the rust and create a navigation log 20 years after doing it as a student pilot.

Posted by: Timothy Hisnay | September 8, 2010 7:11 AM    Report this comment

First up: 'be provocative' is the central theme of Journalism 101 - Paul Bertorelli IS provocative: its his job (although I do wonder how much his significant other tolerates before telling him to...).

The real issue here is the design footprint of the GPS system. Im only speaking 'with some knowledge of Australia, but I imagine that parts of Canada and Alaska are similarly affected by cyclic RAIM outages because a particular geographic area is not seen as important by the US DoD (the real GPS customers). That's understandable, but it does mean that GPS RAIM may be spotty. An example NOTAM extract is given below for Flinders Island in Bass Straight (a very inhospitable place in a light plane).

FLINDERS ISLAND (YFLI) RAIM GPS RAIM PREDICTION 071401 YFLI TSO-C129 (AND EQUIVALENT) FAULT DETECTION NO GPS RAIM FD OUTAGES FOR NPA TSO-C146A (AND EQUIVALENT) FAULT DETECTION NO GPS RAIM FD OUTAGES FOR NPA FAULT DETECTION AND EXCLUSION 09080558 TIL 09080608 09090554 TIL 09090604 09100549 TIL 09100600 GPS RAIM FDE UNAVBL FOR NPA

If you're flying to or via YFLI and the GPS FDE is unavailable for the Non Precision Approach then you be betting your life on your skills using the AFD. All YFLI runways have an over-ocean approach terminating in cumulo-granitis...

My point is that sometimes the old-technology stuff is crude but reliable. After all, how many Toyota's were recently recalled with braking hardware/software problems???

Posted by: Larry Burrows | September 8, 2010 7:35 AM    Report this comment

Paul you might just start a great slanging match between the Luddites and the real world ! But will aviation benefit with a lower accident rate ??<<

It could if GA pilots spent less time worrying about flyspeck eventualities and more time learning to land. Plus other basics that get shortchanged while worrying and preparing for things that are low percentage occurrences.

If accident patterns are a mirror of skill deficit--and they are--the biggies are inability to land in challenging conditions, running out of gas, inability to succeed at an emergency landing after an engine failure, VFR into IMC and CFIT. The order varies, but that's a good summary. Icing and thunderstorms aren't biggies.

Haven't seen too many--any--where the inability to use a legacy system like ADF was a factor. Nor do I know of any direct situations where such saved the day. I'm speaking of the lower 48 here, not Canada and oceanic, which require training beyond the scope of this discussion.

I'd argue that GA pilots ought to train first on what's likely to bite them: runway loss of control. It's grand to be skilled in ADF work "just in case," but rather useless when the larger percentage is that you'll run into a ditch on landing.

With flight hours way down, no one has the time or dollars to do it all. That makes sense to do the basics.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 8, 2010 8:40 AM    Report this comment

Just thought of this. Interview I did with Elrey Jeppesen in 1991, when my hair was still black.

http://www.avweb.com/news/system/183198-1.html

A couple of things he said not mentioned in the text is that in those days, the belief that some pilots had the ability to fly in IMC by the seat of the pants was very real. They thought some could do it and others couldn't, so some were mistrustful when gyro instruments were introduced. Seat of the pants was the legacy skill set. The gyros were for the punk kids who didn't know anything.

When LF ranges arrived, some pilots stuck to the old visual light beacon ranges. For the "non-bold" pilots, that was the thing you had to know and stay alive.

Like I said, we've been having this conversation for 100 years.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 8, 2010 9:03 AM    Report this comment

Just because some pilots use ded reckoning(20 years after learning it) and some actually use NDBs proves Paul's point. For the average IFR pilot in the continental US they are a waste on training time and money. We should teach people how to avoid the things that kill pilots regularly. And have a few people around who can teach "advanced" skills like ded reckoning, NDB approaches, VOR usage, and 4 course range.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | September 8, 2010 9:08 AM    Report this comment

Dead Reckoning isn't "dead" as a navigational tool. It's basic elements of Direction, Speed, Time and Distance are the foundations for every nav "system", whether those elements are manipulated manually by the pilot using ADF, VOR or ILS, or by computer with GPS, INS or other RNAV system. Point the aircraft to the one correct heading, for a specific time, at a specific ground speed, and you WILL arrive at a specific location, regardless of how your course guidance information is displayed. NASA put men on the moon and sent probes to the rest of our solar system using the the fundamentals of DR. Only pure pilotage doesn't rely on DR. The only weakness with Dead Reckoning is the accuracy of the basic elements, and electronic nav systems exist for accuracy verification.

Used by someone who really understands navigation, GPS is a fantastically accurate and versatile navigational tool. However, far too many pilots rely on GPS primarily for the moving map, and their navigation "skills" consist of moving the aircraft symbol back and forth to the magenta line, which is nothing more than the high tech equivalent of "chasing-the-needle" on the VOR or ILS.

All aircraft systems, nav included, have failure modes, both partial and total. Sullenberger and Skiles "Miracle-on-the-Hudson" success story didn't happen because of their GPS/FMS training and experience. They pulled it off primarily with ancient, fundamental pilot skills that won't be obsolete as long as humans pilot aircraft.

Posted by: Don Eck | September 8, 2010 9:28 AM    Report this comment

Paul, The question of "should we cling to approaches and procedures we seldom or no longer use" is really an exercise in Risk Management. Just look at The Nall Report. If you wish to lower the accident rate, emphasize training in Cross-Wind Landings, Density Altitude and ADM (especially in relation to Fuel Management).

We "Olde Pharts" still teach old fashioned procedures and such because they are still required in the testing procedures. Change the testing requirements and the issue becomes mute.

The use of Advanced Avionics requires a different mindset than using an E6B, but the information they generate is the same. A case can be made that we must still teach "old skills", but with new techniques.

Posted by: Robert Wood | September 8, 2010 9:50 AM    Report this comment

Don: Your mentioning the Hudson ditching makes Paul's point for him - the successful outcome was based on the skill set he would like to see being emphasized versus the ones he thinks are pointless hangovers of outdated technologies.

To me it seems unexceptionable that training should be guided by actual accident rates. The idea that we should train to retain skills sets that have no practical utility for the vast majority of pilots seems obviously flawed. I can only think of it as a 'macho' reaction - that these skills are seen as 'real' and 'manly' (ok, 'pilotly' if we're avoiding sexism). But skills are either useful in preventing accidents (crosswind landings, using a GPS) or they're not (NDBs, single engine holds). As Paul said, there isn't time to be equally proficient at everything, and you have to choose where to spend your training dollars.

Posted by: Ceri Reid | September 8, 2010 10:08 AM    Report this comment

I am reminded of concerns about modern pilots spending a lot of time learning how to run their G-1000's (or whatever), but not getting a lot of crosswind landing experience. That is what is concerning here.

The ADF vs GPS is a legitimate situation. I can remember flying ADF approaches with the GPS in the Pacific, for the simple reason that it was much more accurate and more likely safer, even if the authorities had not yet blessed it as an "overlay" approach.

We need to be careful about what we discard or diminish in an effort to teach the "New Technology" that will not land the aircraft safely in a significant crosswind, or navigate the aircraft to a safe landing in IFR if the power fails or a circuit breaker pops and refuses to reset.

I am reminded of a high powered "Class A" hard driving type who flew his Bonanza on the autopilot in IFR. He did not ask for or do any training beyond his instrument rating some years earlier and did not think recurrent training necessary. After all, he had his autopilot. He launched in IFR on a familiar trip, lost his autopilot and lost his aircraft. We are seeing some of these types of accidents in the Air Carrier Venue. What will we do about that?

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | September 8, 2010 10:09 AM    Report this comment

If every flight was in the IFR system AND ATC consistenly questioned aircraft routing, then pilotage skills would probably be redundant. Unfortunately, we continue to see both IFR and VFR flights where pilots lose situational awareness (they are lost) even though they have the GPS, moving map, and so on. Why? Because they screwed up the programming and lacked the skills to check their work. The electronic flight bag is a wonderful tool most of the time. We all know that 100% reliability is still the holy grail. Equipment failures can be as simple as a bad key stroke resulting in incorrect input. Data base errors (which occur with great regularity) are more insidious. Stick and rudder skills might save a botched landing. Basic pilotage skills may prevent CFIT, fuel exhaustion, and other accidents with near certain fatal consequences. "Trust, but Verify" is impossible without basic pilotage skills.

Posted by: John townsley | September 8, 2010 10:09 AM    Report this comment

Speaking of ROL accidents, are tricycle gear pilots no longer taught to flare? For the last few years it seems the norm is just to fly down to the runway at whatever speed and drive it on three point or sometimes nosewheel first.

Posted by: Richard Montague | September 8, 2010 10:39 AM    Report this comment

The only thing about Paul’s blog that I find provocative is that some apparently find it provocative. Does anyone really disagree that GA pilot training ought to spend proportionally greater time on the skill deficits reflected in the accident record that Paul identified -- inability to land in challenging conditions, running out of gas, inability to succeed at an emergency landing after an engine failure, VFR into IMC and CFIT – and less time on things that might be useful for most only in very rare circumstances? (Heck, at my airport I’d settle for just putting an end to training pilots to land with a tailwind.) I’d argue, though, that the reason pilots aren’t trained as well as they should be in aircraft control on take-off and landing isn’t that they’re spending too much time learning how to use ADF or GPS, but because ultimately it requires training in actual adverse conditions, such as crosswinds or wind gusts, which are uncomfortable and involve greater risk than other training tasks. I know for myself when the date scheduled to do my BFR in a taildragger turned out to be a day of strong crosswinds, I thought about re-scheduling, then caught myself and thought this is exactly a good time to improve my technique, and it was. Maybe it’s just me, but I think students, pilots, and flight instructors all have a tendency to avoid uncomfortable and inherently more risky training situations.

Posted by: Robert Davison | September 8, 2010 10:49 AM    Report this comment

Ceri: I endorse both of Paul's views that teaching "obsolete" info is essentially unproductive and that much more emphasis should be placed on the areas that break aircraft and hurt their human contents. Most of those areas involve Aviating, which is where the greatest amount of accidents originate, and which lead to the most pain, suffering and litigation costs.

My point was about the reference to Dead Reckoning, which is Navigating, the second highest priority. It's not obsolete, and never will be. It's also not about filling out an elaborate navigation log by hand each time you fly. DUATS, AOPA's Flight Planner, and other resources do a great job of the "grunt work", but just like GPS, you have to know how to utilize them to get the maximum value from them. Navigation isn't spelled G-P-S, and failure to navigate still leads to CFIT accidents, and puts pilots in airspace where they shouldn't go.

I think the real debate should be about separating what is truly "obsolete", and what is old, but still very much fundamental and still critical for flight safety, particularly about keeping the priorities of Aviate, Navigate and Communicate in the right order. Technological advances come and go, but fundamentals never change.

Posted by: Don Eck | September 8, 2010 12:20 PM    Report this comment

For those that believe we should keep the ADF--were you also against getting rid of the 4-course ranges? There was a time when we taught DF steers--but that seems to have gone away. How about time to station based on bearing change off the wing? Anybody done one of those lately--ADF or VOR? Did you oppose the change from "primary panel" to gyro instruments as primary for instrument flight? All USED to be staples of IFR.

The advocates of the ADF seem to make their point that "It would be useful if the GPS failed." I spend a lot of time in the Arctic--and I can tell you that the NDBs are much more prone to outages than GPS.

For all of those who oppose change, where were you when the Administration shut down Loran? It was a perfect backup--our blended nav system typically had an error of less than .04 miles. Shutting down the system saved a reported paltry $6 million a year--and obsoleted FAR MORE than that in equipment!

Posted by: jim hanson | September 8, 2010 12:42 PM    Report this comment

In response to Mr. Davidson's advocacy of not teaching landings with a tailwind, tailwind landings are the norm at my home airport, 7A8, and a number of other small strips I use. But then I still think everyone should get spin training.

Posted by: Richard Montague | September 8, 2010 12:44 PM    Report this comment

How about some sanity in equipment used for training? We USED to be able to use 200 hp. aircraft for "high performance"--but a change in the FARs makes that "more than 200 h.p."--and Arrows, Mooneys, and Sierras can no longer be used. FAA allows fixed gear turbine airplanes to be used as "complex"--why not a Cirrus SR-22? THAT'S certainly complex (except the gear doesn't go up and down! A Seminole has 2- 180 h.p. engines--360 hp combined--but can't be used as a "high performance airplane" because the engines are less than 201 h.p.--but a 182 qualifies. Does THAT make sense?

What is the sense of having a "single engine commercial" and a "multi engine commercial"? If you have a multi-engine commercial, does the gear go up and down differently on a single? Why two seperate flight checks?

The FAA is notoriously slow to implement change. It wasn't that long ago that commercial pilots that wore glasses had to carry a second pair--for the possibility that their glasses would be carried away in the slipstream!

Posted by: jim hanson | September 8, 2010 12:52 PM    Report this comment

Though most comments are on IFR training, we need to re-think the requirements for Private, Commercial, and ATP ratings. Do Commercial pilots REALLY need to be skilled at the 1080 overhead spiral--a throwback to the days when non-instrument rated pilots would be forced to spiral down through a hole in the clouds, and divine the winds for a possible forced landing at the bottom from the changing angle of bank? How useful are 8s on pylons? Chandelles and Lazy 8s--ESPECIALLY as the maneuvers have been corrupted from what they used to be? Commercial pilots would be far better served by having REAL WORLD training--icing, thunderstorms, turbulence, high altitude operations (or low altitude, for pipeline patrollers and crop dusters). How about more training on aircraft loaded to the max--short or soft strips, high density altitudes? Most training is done with only 2 people on board--it doesn't prepare the student for the real world--and the accident record shows it.

For Private pilots--we have high performance and complex aircraft endorsements--but the record for certificated Private Pilots in low-performance LSA's is not good, either. The low inertia, poor gliding penetration, and operation in crosswinds that exceed half the stall speed of these aircraft isn't taught to most Private Pilots--and it SHOULD be if they are to fly these airplanes.

Posted by: jim hanson | September 8, 2010 1:01 PM    Report this comment

I am reminded of the fatal accident of a high powered “Class A” personality type who always flew his GA aircraft on the autopilot whenever IFR conditions were present and let his hand-flying instrument skills deteriorate. His last flight resulted in a fatal accident when the autopilot failed in IMC and he was unable to control his aircraft. He evidently considered maintaining hand flying instrument skills as obsolete.

Are we seeing the deterioration in basic flying skills because the TAA equipment installed in a typical modern basic training aircraft is a detriment to the devlopment of basic flying skills?

It seems to me that meeting all the FAR, PTS and basic flying skills requirements takes all the available time. Isn’t the acquisition of basic flying skills more important than the operation of the TAA equipment? Knowledge in the operation of the TAA equipment doesn’t count for anything in a stiff crosswind.

A basic student should get almost all of the instructor’s attention on basic flying skills. If basic flying skills are emphasized over the technology, the student pilot has a better chance of remembering that being practiced and skilled in basic flying operations is extremely important to safety.

On the other hand, a student pilot who focuses on the struggles and successes with the TAA equipment, is not as likely to value his basic flying skills. That pilot is less likely to understand how important those skills should be in his aviation priorities.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | September 8, 2010 1:10 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Bertorelli, I think most would agree that training needs to keep up with technology changes, yet still focus on the basics. The argument is what do the basics consist of? There are still a lot of aircraft flying regularly that have yester-year equipped instrument panels. I'd guess thousands of flights are made every night with aircraft that have an ADF in the panel, and these are going to be what entry level professional pilots fly. When to transition from teaching NDB procedures is a legit discussion with valid points on both sides. Last year I got laid off from my pilot position where I had flown behind a G1000 for a few years. This year I picked up some contract flying ferrying aircraft overseas. On my second flight into Ankara, Turkey, I was assigned an NDB-DME by approach control.

I was glad I knew NDB procedures, and I'm glad to know how to use glass. Is it time to quit teaching the old?

Posted by: Timothy Holloway | September 8, 2010 5:28 PM    Report this comment

Perhaps the compromise should be "If it is installed in the airplane, you should know how to use it."

If an owner sees value in keeping the old equipment, let them--but then require them to be proficient in the use of the equipment. If an owner subsequently wants to remove it, that's OK, too.

Should EVERY instrument pilot be required to demonstrate ADF proficiency? No--they aren't required to demonstrate it NOW.

Posted by: jim hanson | September 8, 2010 6:21 PM    Report this comment

I agree with your comments. We are teaching in 21st century airplanes and using a 20th century syllabus. While I am old enough to be a "Old Fart" (CFII in 1968) I believe we should teach AOPA Flight Planner or FltPlan.com and cover the theory of manual flight plans. Teaching VOR or ADF approaches when RNAV is more accurate makes no sense. What purpose is served by using requiring the use of a actual VOR signal when the GPS overlay is much more accurate. I understand that in the event of war and all GPS satelites have been destroyed by our enemy, VOR appraoches may again become necessary - but that will be the least of our problems.

Posted by: Leo Breckenridge | September 8, 2010 6:27 PM    Report this comment

If you're flying into Ankara, no. Anniston, yes. Stay with me here...I said U.S.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 8, 2010 6:40 PM    Report this comment

I can understand the point on the title. I agree I suffered through NDB training and I might have done one on the check ride, but can't remember. However, looking back now with some years of experience, that training was about a lot more than NDB. It was about mental math, flying the airplane, managing the radios, and other distractions. Frankly the lessons learned had little to do with NDB. I love my certied gps ifr capabilities but it also makes one lazy. Anybody who has been doing this for a few years has had the occasion to need other skills, such as mental math, decision making, under pressure, I don't care what your panel has in it. I think that is why us new old farts,, consider eliminating the fundamental building blocks as a bad idea. I have nothing against simulators, I trained in one and found it to be more challenging than actual flight, but I was in there doing the fundamentals.

Posted by: John Fulton | September 9, 2010 7:32 AM    Report this comment

As for equipment, I always figured if it's installed, it's fair game that the pilot should know how to use it. The ADF is pretty easy - the biggest problem I see are instrument pilots who have a new Garmin 430 who can't do anything but direct-to.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 9, 2010 9:13 AM    Report this comment

Josh--an excellent point about the "Direct to", but the confusion isn't limited to pilots with a NEW Garmin installed--there are a lot of pilots out there that can't operate the thing. The Garmin is capable of so much more than that. Worse than that, watch the confusion with many pilots if ATC gives a re-route or changes an approach--those items should be part of any instrument training syllabus or proficiency check.

The inability to use the GPS when directed by ATC is a bigger problem than the inability to use NDB approaches.

Posted by: jim hanson | September 9, 2010 11:52 AM    Report this comment

I learned to fly finally, late in life within the last ten years, and fly pilotage with GPS backup mostly since I'm a private with an LSA. My solution to the GPS skillset is, as PIC I focus on my basic flying skills and always try and flare, but bring along my teen son for the GPS operation. Works flawlessly. Probably should learn how to use it soon tho before he gets his own license.

Just a friendly note to Thomas if you find youself outside of aviation circles and want to impress that certain someone, we use the term Type A to describe the type of personality you are talking about. You are correct about the description 'high powered' though, it's the kindlier representation of the type...

Posted by: Dave Miller | September 9, 2010 2:39 PM    Report this comment

This conversation reminds me of one I had with my grandmother - born in a sod shack that her parents built after arriving at the site in a covered wagon. In her life, she'd progressed from learning to drive a team to flying (with her favorite grandson). Her comment to me was something to the effect of "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater"... and "does it work?" Even though she had to drop out of school to work on the farm, she was one of the most intelligent people I've ever known (I hold two earned doctorates and deal with similar people most of the day).

My first exposure to GPS was with an ex-military pilot who could absolutely nail an NDB approach, but got seriously lost in CAVU when the batteries in his GPS went flat.

I realize that flat batteries are a bit of a stretch for this discourse, but I think that the principle is valid. Some things, e.g. the relationship between AOA and stalls never change, no matter how many gee whiz gizmos we have. Others really do change. Training needs to be based upon what is _likely_ to happen, and what _has_ happened. Pilots tend to be a fairly conservative bunch, and its justified. After all, who wants to be the first kid on the block to demonstrate a new way to wreck an airplane?

Posted by: Merl Raisbeck | September 9, 2010 7:15 PM    Report this comment

Well, whenever I think about the luddites holding on to the "old ways," I go back to a Delta flight between Atlanta and Tulsa on which I was riding the jump seat. I was an Air Traffic Controller back in 1977 or 78 when the Delta DC-9 I was in was quickly handed off from Atlanta Tower, to Atlanta Departure, to Atlanta Center. It was around midnight and there wasn't much traffic, so Atlanta Center cleared us direct to Tulsa. The pilot picked up the mike and said, "Roger."

Aside from "Roger" perhaps not being the appropriate phraseology to acknowledge the clearance, there was absolutely NOTHING on the instrument panel of that DC-9 that would allow the crew to fly "present position, direct Tulsa." I didn't mean to be a fussbudget pain in the derriere, but I was genuinely curious as to how the captain planned on getting us to Tulsa, so I tapped him on the shoulder to ask. He gave me one of those looks like I was nuts, held out five fingers towards the center windshield and flicked his wrist while saying, "Tulsa is that way."

So, we flew "that way," getting no guidance from Atlanta, Memphis, or Fort Worth Centers on our way. The pilot obviously knew where Tulsa was, knew how long it took a DC-9 to get there. Granted, the weather was severe VFR all the way, but we made the entire trip without the need for anything more than the North Star, a fairly good sense of direction, a little knowledge of U.S. geography and a watch.

Posted by: Gary Kerr | September 9, 2010 10:58 PM    Report this comment

If hand flying skills are no longer relevant, then neither is "see and avoid", and voice communication. This ties into the view that we are moving toward totally automated airplanes, ie. no pilot on board. This will advance growth of a "flivver" in every garage where no pilot is required.

However, we are not quite there yet. I say hand flying skills are still required, navigation by eyeball is still required because our current aircraft have systems that can and do fail. This is true no matter what size airplane you fly. I still hand fly my Airbus every time I fly it. I do not want the the first time I hand fly any airplane be the first time some system(s) failure requires me to do so. The same thing with navigation. That is why we still carry paper charts in our airplane. When the geewhizbangsuperduper device fails, we can revert to the old fashioned method. It was foolish to abolish spin training because people still stall and spin into the ground. There are many pilots who are not intimate with the slow side of their airspeed indicator, or the yellow portion of their AOA indicator and thus are prime candidates for stall and spin.

It is at our own peril we let piloting skills atrophy when our aircraft are yet half in the stone age and half in the automated age.

Posted by: David Heberling | September 11, 2010 12:07 AM    Report this comment

I think it would be useful to point out that hand-flying skills become very relevant when the automation quits, or is misprogrammed.

If you can't fly it competently without the automation, you are not fulifilling your responsibilities as a pilot.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | September 12, 2010 4:55 PM    Report this comment

In this whole argument, recast it this way: If you were specifying equipment for a new airplane today, would you install an ADF?

The case for an ADF can still be made for remote areas--but hardly for the U.S. Not many new ADFs being sold--the consumer has spoken.

I still have an ADF in my airplane--I haven't used it domestically for years. I'm not bothering to take it out, either--but if it needs maintenance, I'll probably not put the money into it.

Posted by: jim hanson | September 12, 2010 5:08 PM    Report this comment

Lessee--removed the ADF from our Mooney in...2000. Ten years ago. Since then, I have given IPCs and left it up the owner whether to train NDBs. I can't recall that any did, because they all had GPS with overlays for everything.

I'd never insist they show competence on these relics just because it's in the panel. I respect that others might.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 12, 2010 7:06 PM    Report this comment

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