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Why airplanes might soon have just one pilot

If you boarded a passenger plane in 1950 and peeked into the cockpit, you would have seen five people in there (almost certainly men): two pilots, a radio operator, a navigator and a flight engineer. ( More...

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George Lane 2
Did any airliners in the 1950s ever actually have a crew of five? I'm aware of some models (DC-8, maybe?) having four (captain/FO/FE/navigator) but never heard of radio operator being a separate position, except on WWII bombers
wx1996 3
British Airways used a crew of 6 on the Stratocruiser.
hal pushpak 2
Some international airlines had a radio operator. He was way back in the cockpit area with no windows but keeping warm with hot valve tubes on HF. The Navigator had a plexiglas dome on top to look through with a sextant at the night sky. Some vintage photos of the Connies show the dome on some models. (I was a little kid then but I remember my Dad's cockpit being a crowded place, though I don't remember a dome--perhaps those were on the earlier 749 models.)
jbermo 1
Yes, radio operators were very common on those transatlantic flights of the post-war '40s era.
Highflyer1950 3
Single pilot airliners? in a two dimensional setting an automobile with an incapacitated driver may kill some, in a 3 dimensional environment like flying, incapacitating the one pilot will kill everyone. Bad idea, so far.
tlfys1 4
"you would have seen five people in there (almost certainly men)", Wow cnn, you could not even write an article about airplanes having one pilot without adding your self righteous slur about men. Guess it should not be a surprise however coming from such a fine and outstanding "NEWS" organization like yours...
jbermo 2
Yes, they were mostly men back then, but times have/are changing and that was their point.
I totally remember 3 guys in the cockpit.....I flew from 1969 to 2009. I also flew with the first woman pilot, Bonny Terbusi and then the first Captain, Beverly Bass. As for no pilots in the pit.....doubt I'd feel really comfortable with that.
Mark Paladino 1
As soon as I read that I stopped reading.
linbb -4
Love that off loading to the ground seems there is a saying it does no good to talk on the radio to someone who cannot at that moment do you any good. With one pilot and has an event which takes that persons abilty to do anything away they need to also include in the seat back ahead of everyone bibles or ever what they use to pray with. The next stop will kill everyone on board. How are they going to take care of that event. Miliatry had single pilot twin engine bombers during WW2 and Koren war.
patrick baker 2
modern jet liners with one pilot only- sounds foolish and shortsighted. Been flying for50 years and have been in crewed airlines some of that. Many times it takes two to be safe. It takes one pilot to make the executives and their accountants dangerously happy.
Stefan Sobol 1
But there are also times where the crew IS the problem. If they were not in the picture or did nothing some accidents would not have happened. I'm guessing that the number of accidents caused by a crew and those that are saved by crew action are probably about even.
Rico van Dijk 2
Of course you can eliminate the first officer, but where do you find your experienced captain? Exactly, that’s the first officer 10 years later.
So in reality in this scenario you eliminate the experienced captain and all you have in the front is an inexperienced just graduated student pilot.
Not saying it’s impossible, I’ve flown single pilot IFR in the past, but even on the twinotter we had a second pilot simply because it’s só much safer and a training ground for the juniors.
Single pilot airliners? Not with todays generation jets. Bad idea.
Bayouflier 0
Your mistake Rico, is assuming that the technology remains constant. By the time copilots go the way of the engineer, the technology will be such that you won't need an experienced Captain, just a systems monitor. As the article stated, there used to be 5 in the cockpit, one is next, and zero will be in our kid's lifetime. AI is the future. Get used to it.
ADXbear 2
That's all they really do now 95% of the time.. its that 5% you really need a human mind there
Robert Peskin 1
I am reminded of the old joke about the "Cockpit of the Future". It is crewed by 1 man and 1 dog. The man's job is to fly the airplane; the dog's job is to bite the man's hand if he touches anything.
Greg S 1
When everything works perfectly, maybe a future, more automated system could get away with a single pilot. But when something breaks or someone somewhere in the chain makes a mistake you'll need at least two pilots to troubleshoot. Even today with two pilots when I read some of these accident reports I sometimes think a third person in the cockpit might have made the difference and saved the day.
ADXbear 1
As a Dispatcher with a private instrument license, I'd say A super dispatcher would cost hundreds of thousands in training costs per SD.. dispatchers don't make flight crew wages.. that would have to change..

Today's dispatchers can have upwards of 65 flights during their 10 hours shift.. that would have to change... I fail to see how all these changes, costs etc would save the companies money over having a FO on the flight deck..

I can see it now, I spin over from my dispatch chair, whip my Microsoft flight sim out, grab the joystick and go fly an approach in emergency conditions, with 300 lives in the back.. not!
Highflyer1950 1
5 person crew……wireless operator for communications, Navigator to keep from getting lost, Flight engineer who could do limited repairs while away from base & re-rack the radios, First Officer to raise and lower the gear, Captain to fly the aircraft and when tired hand control to F/O in cruise. Now we have Datalink, FMS, MEL’s, a co-pilot with just 250 hrs. and shiny new licence and a Captain newly promoted because of rapid expansion and poor working conditions. LOL
jbermo 1
Technology will chisel away until it finds eventual success . . . Today's pushing trend of modern advancements dictates it.
rmchambers 1
How is AI going to handle an uncontained engine failure? I'd hate to think what Al Haynes flight would have done if there were just one pilot up front, let alone zero.
Stefan Sobol 1
Garmin can put a system in a GA airplane that in case of pilot incapacitation anyone onboard can press a big red button that will automatically have the plane head to and land at the nearest suitable airport, notify ATC of the emergency, announce to the passengers what it is doing, and stop the aircraft on the runway so emergency services can respond. How hard could it be to put such a system into a modern jet aircraft that is pretty much fully automated already? The hardest part will be convincing the public that it is safe and overcoming the pilot union work actions if such a system is implemented.
rmchambers 2
When everything is working well, sure. what happens when you have an engine fail, or a control system issue, or a gear malfunction. You think some Garmin box is going to have the wherewithal to deal with those types of issues?
Stefan Sobol 1
There have been accidents were a trained crew could not handle these situations either. Heck, airplanes have crashed because an entire crew was distracted by single burned out lightbulb. Another accident would have been avoided if the entire crew had just sat on their hands for a minute. So, crews in the cockpit are not the magic answer in all situations.
How quickly some people would like to just airbrush away what happened with Germanwings.
Bayouflier 2
Actually, when pilots are replaced by AI, you eliminate the Germanwings problem.
pjshield 1
Even with 2 pilots working on MH370, wackos do what wackos do.
Before this is implimented, all flights on government aircraft, by members of Congress, should be the norm for a five year period! If there are no problems, then it could be considered for the masses!


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