Letter of the Week: Flying the Airplane
I had been flying the Airbus A320 for a supplemental 121 carrier when I was furloughed and had to scramble to find any flying job. I interviewed for a job which required a sim check in a B727 simulator. I had not flown an aircraft with manual thrust levers, a yoke or a trim switch for several years and had never flown a 727 or a 727 sim.
My hand-flying skills were atrocious. I could interpret the steam gauges okay, but I couldn’t keep up with the trim, and I ham-fisted the thrust levers badly. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, and I didn’t blame them a bit.
It’s important we don’t mix it all up, for we will be killing the patient with the medicine. The use of technology (moving map displays, INS, GPS, Flight Management Systems, FADEC) has increased pilots’ situational awareness, aircraft performance and fuel savings by orders of magnitude and therefore incredibly improved aviation safety in all flying activities. There is no question technology’s contribution to aviation has been outstanding.
The issues surrounding recent accidents are being incredibly distorted by partial opinions and incomplete reports (in the case of the A330 accident).
The Buffalo accident was at least in part caused by the practice of advanced flight instruction in many flight schools to have multi-engine and complex aircraft “fly out of the stall,” as opposed to immediately reducing angle of attack by at least slightly reducing pitch.
I have been subjected to a demonstration by an advanced instructor of how to perform “a stall by ATP standards,” in which he basically used power and pitch up to fly out of the stall. This practice is in use today. Some students know enough about aerodynamics to understand angle of attack, but unfortunately many will simply mimic the actions demonstrated by their instructors because this is how they learn (i.e., “by doing” as opposed to by understanding).
The Air France A330 accident investigation has not yet been completed, but it all seems to point clearly in the direction of poor systems design having effectively caused the “blackout” of all speed and attitude indications in the cockpit, rendering the pilots powerless to recover.
The fact that they raised the nose is purely academic, as it can be clearly seen that the pilots (all three of them) spent three or four minutes discussing whether they were going up or down.
I have over 2,500 hours, and, of those, less than 50 are in an autopilot-equipped aircraft. I believe that hours do not give an accurate account of flight experience. Most of my time is crop-dusting. I believe a 2,500-hour pilot can easily exceed the flying ability of a 20,000-hour instrument monitor.
There is no question that the new breed of airline pilots relies too much on automation. How many times have I seen their heads stuck in the cockpit programming one thing after another and never looking outside for traffic, etc.? After watching this scenario time after time, I can’t help but think of this quote: “Real Pilots Can’t Type!”
Capt. Robert Burns
I observed early in a 40-year airline career that some managers assumed that automation was the key to safety. In particular, where those managers’ skills were weak, they would try to enforce minimal training and minimal use of basic skills.
After instructing on several generations of jet transports, I would find some pilots who simply refused to fly the aircraft with any automation turned off. Airbus Industry — and, to a lesser extent, Boeing, Lockheed and Douglas — have fallen victim to the myth that automation is infallible. Boeing and Airbus are now calling for more emphasis on basic skills, a long-overdue recognition of the problem.
The new multi-pilot licenses are a concern. Some of these pilots have no real experience in basic skills and therefore nothing to fall back on. The recent Air France accident is only one of many where a perfectly flyable aircraft stalled at altitude and crashed because the pilots had no idea how to fly.
With 42 years of experience, I just recently retired out of the B767. It was always my policy and pleasure to hand-fly the aircraft below 10,000 feet: no auto throttles, no autopilot, no nothing. The airplane was just a pleasure to fly.
When I would suggest it to my first officers, some were very reluctant to hand-fly and others would downright refuse, afraid they would screw up. Some were just too lazy. Yes, in my opinion, the new generation is becoming too addicted to automation.
We received dozens of letters about the topic of automation and would have loved to run them all (though, obviously, we can’t). Instead we’ve tried to pick a representative sampling of the comments that came in.
“Old Eagles” Examined
Flying adults aren’t going to change the bleak picture we have for the future. The truth of the matter is that overregulation of the industry has driven the cost of flying well beyond the means of the average guy.
Those with the time and money to fly are generally already flying or they won’t start flying because of advancing age and medical concerns.
Young Eagles add to the pool, but not at sufficient rates, mostly because they dream of military flight service or commercial wings. These inspired youth will get in the air regardless, but it will be decades, if ever, before they enter the true ranks of GA.
Sadly, I believe that, as with too many other things in America today, we’re presiding over the end of the aviation world as we have known it and as it has been, mostly, since the Wright Brothers.
The times are tough, and I don’t think people can afford to get into an expensive hobby like flying. The expense of flying is its own worst enemy.
I don’t know where you folks got the idea that the new Young Eagles for adults was intended to increase the number of pilots to solve some “pilot gap” as asked in your “Question of the Week.” I don’t think this new EAA program is oriented that way at all.
I think the new program is intended to interest adults in the EAA and its signature programs related to Experimental Aircraft activities. To the extent this requires developing an interest in becoming a pilot, the program does do that – but it also is intended to go a lot further than just creating pilots.
The EAA Young Eagles program is oriented toward interesting young people in flying. However, it turns out the payback for the EAA in generating aircraft builders is extremely small and only a possible very-long-term gain. The problem is that children just aren’t at a stage in life when building airplanes is a practical activity. They don’t have the time, money, experience, and general disposition to take on a project that requires daily attention for many years to complete.
Amateur aircraft building, in my opinion, is an activity that really works best for retired folks. Those who are working full-time and trying to build a family along with improving their careers just don’t have enough time to do this kind of intense work. While some working-age people do complete aircraft projects, it puts a heavy load on them.
Retired people who have spent a lifetime in technical activities really benefit from having a hobby that keeps them mentally active rather than having a retirement of fishing and watching TV. It is these people and ones who will soon be in this category that the new “Eagles” program is targeting.
No Offense Intended
By the title of the article “U.S. Military Runs From Mother Nature,” you seem to imply that military pilots are a bunch of sissies. You failed to mention that during the Haiti operation, my squadron was the first on the scene. You also fail to mention that these same men and women that were “running from Mother Nature” don’t run away when the RPG and tracer rounds start exploding around them.
What, pray tell, is the point of an article that compares military pilots (whose primary mission is national defense) and civil pilots with a completely different mission?
We would never imply that you or anyone in uniform a sissy, Greg. The point of the story was to highlight the power of the storm and give some credit to those who volunteered in its aftermath. Certainly, no offense was intended.
I looked at the included pictures today and saw a brand new airplane. My dad worked at Aeronca from 1937 to 1965 so I was thoroughly familiar with the Aeronca Chief.
I was not aware that Piper built an aircraft called Chief until I saw today’s photo of one.
John A. Totten
Actually, John, we hear the Chinese are copying the Chief, too. Nice catch and sorry to all those Chief fans who were confused.
Banner Week for “POTW”
As a group, the photos this week are the best I’ve seen in a long time. Usually there are one or two that are very good, but this week brought several oohs and aahs as I sat here at the computer, coffee in hand. Kudos to the editors and the photographers.
787 Photo Confusion
Your semi-weekly issue of AVwebFlash is always informative and accurate. It is by far the best electronic aviation news magazine out there.
This week, there is a photo attached to the article on the 787. It appears to have been taken from the cockpit of a Christen Eagle and is presumably focused on the 787. However, the aircraft in question has four engines. The Dreamliner is a twin-engine aircraft.
Am I missing something here?
Just a couple of engines, Ed. The photo does, indeed, show a Boeing 747-8 on final for Paine Field, taken by Robert Bismuth from his Christen Eagle. What we forgot to do was include captions with the photos, which were intended to show the dozens of 787s on the ramp and on one runway awaiting certification so they could be delivered. Our apologies for the confusion and to Robert for not crediting him properly.