• Bettina Ybarvia

    Bravo! Awesome post and very revealing! I consider the FAA findings interesting. But, rather than statistical numbers, nothing compares to a first hand feedback/report from the very subject itself—-the PILOT. I appreciate the coverage on both subjects, automation and manual operation. A well balanced report and a fair detail on its highlights and vantage points. What I’ve gathered here is a humbled admittance and acceptance that automation truly has its benefits. Yet not undermining your confidence in human experience, training and knowledge of which still greatly accounts for a safe and successful operation. Call it “conceit” Mr. “Jonas” but it is what I want to hear. It gives me the peace of mind that we have competent pilots flying our skies out there.

    Thank you for this post. I am learning that I need to look deeper into any study done by the FAA before taking it as the “ULTIMATE WORD”. To be suspicious about other reports before deeming it credible or merely”sensationalism”. Mr. Jonas, I guess, SUCKED in spelling and used the word “distraction” instead of “sensationalism”. Yet to discover or trust the “auto-correct” feature of your computer program Mr. Jonas? Pure arrogance and a total lack of understanding, comprehension his part. Yet Mr. Jonas would rather aim his ire towards your credible pilot “friends” ( thank you btw, glad to know you’re not the only one) because he wanted a link to the FAA report. Who needs to google now? There are so many flaws to JONAS’ comment, but I refuse to add anymore pain to his failed dream of being a pilot. And if in case he is..Please God..I hope he is not flying my plane!!” Go read your horoscope or something. You’re like a little boy who didn’t get his “quote for the day”. Here’s one for you, YEAH BABY by Austin Powers. That’s as far as I could describe the level of your comment post. Pure bullying zero intellect!

    • Eric Auxier

      Thank you, Bettina, for your comments.

      Jonas has his right to speak and make his points, though I am still usure as to what exactly they are. That is ok. I welcome the dialogue.

      Not sure I can work in an Austin Powers quote in my future articles, but I’ll try my darndest–yeah, baby! ;-)

      Thanks again for commenting.

  • JosephGuindi

    I think an interesting question is to determine the place of greater aircraft automation in pilot training. Automation is increasing in all areas of life as a means to increase safety at the cost of lower human agency.

    Take the calculator: it effortlessly calculates without error, requires only sunlight to operate, and is extremely fast. But does that mean we should teach students to use calculators instead of learning their tables? In primary school, we were forbidden from using calculators. In high school, we were forbidden from using scientific calculators, which would prevent you from cheating during calculus. In university, we were forbidden from using matrix-enabled calculators when solving a finite element problem. All of this helped me develop a “feel” for numbers if and when I made a mistake using a calculator, so that when I’m designing a mission-critical system that I would notice in my result that I forgot the decimal point.

    I like to think that it’s important to teach how the fundamentals work. But then again, an aircraft is a hell of a lot more complicated than a calculator. Is it best to focus on doing the basics, or to focus on proper trouble-shooting skills and flight physics such that the AF447 pilots would realise they were causing their own stall and leave the stickwork to the computer?

    • Eric Auxier

      Joseph,

      This is a fantastic analogy to the basic point that automation aids, but does not supplant, the human mind in the cockpit. Thank you for sharing! Believe me, I will be “borrowing” your analogy in any future articles about automation!

      I absolutely agree, one needs (in ANY field) a “feel” for the basics of operations. I cringe every time I offer up $5.02 to pay for my $4.77 burger, and the McDonald’s cashier looks at me like I’ve given him a moon rock! I just sigh and tell him, “Type in $5.02″…wa la! $.25 change! I can never tell if the light bulb even goes off! YES, we need fundamentals before punching those automatons!

      At the risk of further inciting Jonas’ ire, here’s a link to a blog post I wrote entitled, “The Future of U.S. Aviation,” that addresses our automation dilemma. One subsection is humorously entitled, “Automation, or, ‘Nothing Can go wrong…click! Go wrong…click! Go wrong…’”

      http://capnaux.blogspot.com/2013/07/happy-4th-future-of-us-aviation.html

      Thank you so much for your refreshing insight, Joseph!

      As for your AF447 question, I shall yield the floor to our resident expert, Bill Palmer, should he choose to chime in.

      Thank you again!

      Eric

  • Keith Mendoza

    From a software engineer with 10 years experience, and a private pilot, I completely understand why the FAA pointed out that pilots needs to keep up on their manual flying. Let’s admit it, computer software are only as good as the input they receive. Any software engineer worth their salt knows that one cannot think of every possible scenario that the software must be ready to handle, so you put a “catch-all” which is to inevitably hand it back to the human operator. Considering that there are programmers out there who cannot explain how a portion of software they wrote indented to handle a specific use case suddenly just started working, it’s safe to say that if that section would stop working that there’s no “exception handler” to recover from it if some invalid input is given to it.

    Let me ask you a few questions: are autopilot capable of recovering if the aircraft somehow gets flipped upside down by the wake vortex of the aircraft that went past that’s landing on the parallel runway? Assuming that the aircraft has enough control authority to recover, what would a pilot whose never had any aerobatics exposure (no, having seen the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds perform doesn’t count) do instinctively in that situation? What about if the pilot on that aircraft has won a few IAC unlimited category aerobatics contest?

    I ask these questions because if I were the software engineer tasked with handling upset recovery for an autopilot that would be the types of questions that I would be asking. I only know to ask these questions because I happen to have gone to a flight school where spin recovery training is mandatory before you can solo. I also have been fortunate to have had some aerobatics training, so I know how to execute a loop, barrel roll, wing-over, and spins. If the software engineer that doesn’t even know what “control authority” means how can you guarantee that they will even ask the right questions?

    • Eric Auxier

      Keith,
      I apologize for the tardy reply. The thread was “fizzling,” so I have not checked up on it in some time.

      I can only answer for my aircraft, the A320. However, the basic concept is, as you pointed out earlier, that “catch-all”, or “fail-safe” that is built in. At least initially, we have had “upset recovery” training as well. We do have it occasionally in Recurrent training, but not often. Perhaps an area we could beef up?

      In a nutshell, the autopilot does indeed kick off (past specific parameters, such as 75° bank, etc.), handing it back to–what did you call it?–the “exception handler” to recover (a new great name for the auotpilot-babysitting flight crew!)

      As for the design of this, I am wondering just how much “code” really goes into it. Rather than training a software engineer in spin recovery, it seems there are simpler, mechanical (i.e., laws of physics-defined) parameters built in. In Normal Law (normal flight in the Airbus), the stick controls, believe it or not, g-force. Again, when it exceeds straightforward parameters–speed, attitude, etc.–things start kicking off (grossly oversimplifying here), and you have a more “direct” stick-to-control relationship–in other words, more control authority to better recover from an upset. This same direct control phases in for the flare and landing.

      I always loved teaching my students spins, but have yet to execute loops, barrel rolls and wing-overs. Aerobatics is most definitely on my Bucket List!

      Thanks so much for the comments and questions, Keith!

  • ewrcap

    Thank you for the fine article. Somehow your name reminds me of another great writer with a French name, St. Exupéry!

    I wanted to add that the AF 447 accident was not really related to the other failures to monitor such as Asiana 214. It was more a matter of lack of situational awareness. Long before fly-by-wire and highly automated flight control systems there were several crashes due to pressure instruments. NWA 6231 in 1973, Birgenair 301 and Aeroperú 603 in 1996 all resulted in fatal loss of control.

    I disagree with the assumption that training for recovery from low speed situations is more important that training crews to constantly monitor and verify. Teaching a student pilot to do great spin recoveries is useless if he fails to monitor his airspeed and attitude while buzzing his friends house. In the case of Asiana, the pilot ultimately DID attempt a stall recovery. The plane hit just as max thrust kicked in. It was just too late. Once again, not an inability to execute a stall recovery, but a failure of all three crew to monitor airspeed.

    • Eric Auxier

      ewrcap
      Thank you for your comments and input!

      I will not turn down an opportunity to be associated with the great Antoine de St. Exupéry!

      I agree with you on the AF 447. Perhaps Captain Palmer can chime in here, but I do have my suspicions that the erroneous data was possibly overriding pilot input. It’s simply hard to believe experienced pilots would ride a stalled airplane all the way down without trying a simple stall recovery.

      Again I agree, monitoring and verifying are a constant human factor challenge to instill and continue to enforce, for hours of boredom on the line. As captains, we have some of that responsibility to do so.

      Thanks for bringing up some great points!

  • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

    If there was one thing I’d like to see more of in airline/corporate recurrent training, it’d be a discussion of our decision making processes about when to use the automation and when to turn it off and hand-fly.

    The days of hand-flying these kinds of airplanes all the time are long gone, but we also must maintain sufficient manual flying skill for those times when the automation either fails or doesn’t do what we want it to. What I’m realizing is that this balance is not easy to maintain. We’re left to our own devices (no pun intended) and from what I’ve seen, we often underestimate how our skills have degraded.

    –Ron

    • Eric Auxier

      Ron,
      100% agree! And I think those discussions are coming. Nice to see you here!

  • Peter Son

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    Software
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  • Woman Voter

    Dateline: March 26, 2014 and I find it hard to believe just with what I’ve heard to believe that a homicidal 28 year old German co-pilot deliberately rammed into the Alps. How about answering some more questions: 1) who were the people who listened to the recording and interpreted what it meant? what is their experience? 2) isn’t it a coincidence that the co-pilot did what the pilot explained they were going to do (lower altitude) as they neared their destination 3) who advocates for the co-pilot? does he have an upstanding, credible family who can vouch for him?
    Yes, call me cynical, but you have an airplane that is unforgiving when it comes to human error–yes, ironic since all of that automation usually makes flying the Airbus such a relief for pilots. But remember the AF 447 flight? The co-pilot had what, half the experience of the pilot (who had 110,000 hours under his belt) and this Germanwings co-pilot had 6,000 hours? 4? why don’t we look at the things that were obviously not best practice? You won’t find a single person in the cockpit of US planes? why is that? and here you have a relatively inexpereinced co-pilot alone. couldn’t something have gone wrong? I wouldn’t put it past governement and Airbus to rather have us think we were victims of a homicidal maniac rather than Germanwings pilot flying Airbus crashed a plane because they don’t have best-practice procedures/ safeguards.

  • Woman Voter

    Today is March 27, 2014 and honestly what I am hearing on the news today still does not confirm for me that the 28 year old co-pilot of the Germanwings Airbus flight was a homicidal nut!
    More questions: Why haven’t we even gotten the name of the pilot? Who is he and what is his background? Obviously Lufthansa and Airbus are digging into his past as well. How could this pilot not be able to get back into the cockpit?
    Isn’t it still possible to think that this crash was due to incapacitation or stupidity or a combination?
    Once a best practice is established how can others not adopt it?
    Never solo in the cockpit! Hard way for Lufthansa to learn this lesson.
    The media, and therefore, the public is being manipulated to believe that the co-pilot was mentally ill and crashed this plane on purpose. This will be the story line for the next few days until the public is bored with the story. If and when the real story ever comes out no one will ever care anymore.
    But we can never learn from our experiences unless they are truthfully understood.
    I am starting to believe that the true story may be that crashes can happen to nice guys, decent pilots when they don’t know all the things they are supposed to know and why all these issues on Airbus, just coincidence? Or does taking control out of the pilot’s hands like Airbus does mean it’s much harder to recover from mistakes?
    So today we still ask–the “prosecutors” who listened to the voice recorder–how did they reach their conclusions? Precisely and step by step. And who are they? And why do we not know anything about the pilot? What do others in the industry have to say about Lufthansa not following the extablished best practice of “no solo in the cockpit?” Was this a cost issue at Lufthansa?
    Didn’t the pilot tell the co-pilot about making the descent as they neared Dusseldorf? Isn’t it odd that to crash the plane the co-pilot instead of simply crashing the damn plane immediately just followed the pilot’s order albeit too early? Why couldn’t the pilot access the cockpit with the secret code? Did he not know it? What happened to that little safety back-up?
    Lots of unanswered questions.
    Willing to bet that Andreas has no prominent spokesperson advocating for him now. But seems like the pilot does.

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