Top Letters And Comments, November 23, 2018
Technology is fine but has turned a lot of people into morons. I have fond memories of working out the solution to finding one's position at sea using the stars and a sextant as you described. This was one of the 100 great elementary problems in Heinrich Dorrie's great book. Also, it was very refreshing to fly my 1942 L-4B (piper cub) the 524 miles down to the Fort Henry, OK airshow on Sept 1st using only sectionals and the seat of my pants.
My first job in the USAF back in the late 60's was the ASQ-42 bomb/nav set on the B-58A Hustler. In order to do the task of taking out targets, first ya had to GET there. That was the nav part. The school for it was so complex that only people who had worked the B-52 could later apply for the special assignment. At the end in 1969, they decided to run a test and take six young honor grads of the B-52 school directly to B-58 field training. I was among them. They wanted to know if we could hack the program. We did but the airplane was phased out right when we finished. All bomb/nav types had to memorize the navigation equations for the electronic analog systems which consisted of synchros and servos, control transformers, gears, shafts and all manner of circuitry to figure out where the thing was from inertial inputs as augmented by an automated astro tracker and radar corrections put in by the navigator. I remember that as the thing approached the poles, the systems became overwhelmed by longitude changes so it compensated by rotating the earth by 90 degrees electronically. Back on the B-52 later, individual amplifiers the size of beer cans mounted in cooling racks handled similar small parts of the nav tasks. I specialized in the terrain avoidance computer which was a huge box that kept B-52's from CFIT using analog techniques and tiny little acorn tubes moving signals around. I have always laughed and said that you could take all that stuff and replace it with a $100 portable GPS and a laptop these days. The Aera660 I bought last year never ceases to amaze me. And all this happened in less than 50 years. I guess when they phased out all those little white flight service stations with teletype machines lining a wall covered by charts, the end was in sight.
Today's students are so accustomed to smart-phone travel guidance, that their only brief stumbling block to aerial "navigation" is the absence of roads. Not to fear - there's a handy magenta line in "an app for that." Sigh...
Knowing Automated Systems
In "Pilots Don't Need To Know About All Automatic Systems," Todd Insler's response is representative of a very high percentage of airline pilots whom I have known and flown with. Conversely, I have found that the existence of a system and at least a rudimentary understanding of what it does helps me prepare for any future event.
I strongly disagree that the pilots do not need to know about a hidden system. I would also strongly disagree with a requirement to be able to describe every detail of that system.
Yes, it is vital to know all means available to disconnect an automated system. Todd Insler's note that we are all trained to handle trim runaway is correct. Unfortunately, if that was involved in the Lion Air case, they did not handle the aircraft properly.
I retired from UAL after 30 years and was an ALPA member the whole time. I agree with Todd Insler, the Chairman of ALPA, that the pilots don’t need to know the intricate details of how the MCAS works. Pilots simply need to know and demonstrate how to conduct abnormal or emergency procedures for the issue. We don’t need to know how the iPhone is built and why, we just need to know how to operate it normally and abnormally. Training cost a lot of money under union rules. The pilots have to be taken off the line, paid for travel to the training facility, provided living facilities, given ground school, then trained and checked in the sim before reversing the process to be allowed back on the line to fly. This issue with the 737 Max can be handled manually like all other 737’s without learning a system that Boeing is having trouble understanding. KISS. Keep it simple, stupid!
"The 737 has stabilizer trim cutout switches that inhibit electric trim from functioning and pilots are trained to use these as a standard runaway trim response." Yes, but will these switches also cut off the MCAS system? Mr. Insler seems to be making a precarious assumption at this point.
Warren Webb Jr.
I wonder if Mr. Insler would think that this would apply: "Before beginning a flight, each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight." I bet the Lion Air pilots would have found this information...enlightening.
It's not necessary for pilots to know the nuts and bolts of every background system on the airplane. Thankfully we've gotten away from having to memorize pages and pages of details that will be forgotten an hour after the type rating oral exam. The emphasis in airline training now is – and should be – on flying the airplane, procedures, crew coordination, and error management. In the case of the Lion Air incident, if it turns out to be a case of runaway trim, the procedure for dealing with that has been the same at least since the 737-300/400 on which I was an airline Check Airman and Simulator Instructor. And, at the risk of sounding like a Monday morning quarterback, it is not a difficult or complicated procedure.
To oversimplify things, pilots need to know which buttons to push and when to push them. The Lion Air crew clearly failed to correctly understand and/or response to a trim runaway. That tells me that there was a lack in their understanding of the systems which. We don't need to know about everything... just everything we can fix from the flight deck.
If a pilot doesn't want to learn how the automated systems work, fine... But instrument proficiency checks in TAA should be performed with autopilot off. Recall the Colgan and Air France crashes. Even some ATPs can't fly by hand, much less a private pilot flying IFR a few times a month or year. I've spent decades designing/building/testing electronic/software-based systems - This stuff will occasionally fail, period. One experience with an autopilot that refused to couple on an ILS approach was enough to convince me.
CFI Renewal Process
What about renewing your CFI certificate using the 15 WINGS flight credits method as described in AC 61-91J? See paragraph 6(e). That's the equivalent of 5 flight reviews over the past 24 calendar months, or some other combination of flight credits for at least 5 pilots. Yeah, I know, it's another paperwork chase. But it gives you credit for something other than just 80% pass rate on practical tests.
Been doing online FIRCs since I got my CFI 13 years ago – some are better than others. I always hated the ones with timers. When I could avoid the timers they were much better. Was talking to a DPE a few years ago about the CFI renewal ride. If I remember the conversation right, he said it wasn't like the initial ride – I thought he said expect the flight to be about 0.7 hours or so. (I may remember wrong) I was surprised, my initial CFI was an ordeal – we started the oral at 7:00am and didn't go flying until 3:00pm – and the flight itself was not short. If the online FIRCs weren't available, I think I'd chose a 0.7-hour chedckride over 16 hours of "FAA-approved cyborg." Heck it might even be worth it over 2.7 hours of reading PowerPoints followed by 13.3 hours of moving a mouse to let the timer wind down...
The CFI renewal process leaves out recurrent training on one essential skill that all CFIs must pass on to their students; that is, the ability to locate the cheese-cracker vending machine at a remote FBO. Aside from finding a source of 100LL, finding a pack of Nabs at Acme County FBO on a dark Sunday night after closing time has to be one of the time-honored essential flying skills handed down from Orville Wright and Wiley Post!
Been doing online FIRCs nine times out of ten. Works for me. BTW: Good point on teaching students to fuel aircraft. I do it.