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The trouble with autopilot: With the advance of technology, there is now too much auto and not enough pilot

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We now know that Air Asia flight QZ8501 crashed. And while we cannot be absolutely certain why it did so, the recent history of aviation disasters, which I have studied as a safety analyst for the last three decades, gives us a very good idea.... (news.nationalpost.com) Mehr...

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nasdisco
Chris B 7
Trouble with this article is that someone had a discussion paper on the merits of Pilots versus flight operators ready to go and used QZ8501 as the hook to sell it.

And did it absent any knowledge as to the actual cause of QZ8501 crash.

I hate speculative journalism and there is an epidemic of it today.
WtfWtf
WtfWtf 1
There is also a problem with blaming pilots and fixing reports to legally protect aerospace companies, etc. Easier to blame the dead guy and sneak in some changes.
WALLACE24
WALLACE24 3
There is certainly reason to believe that FMS(computers) have added another layer to the game of "Who do you trust".
silverzdfltrack
Bob Ziehm 3
John, I appreciate you stated study of aircraft mishaps, but am concerned that you are arriving at conclusions not supported by fact, concerning this accident. True accident professionals hold back on opinion until the facts are in.
canuck44
canuck44 1
This is not my article nor my conclusions...I just pasted the first paragraph. It is written by David Learmount, operations and safety editor for Flightglobal. I didn't read him as stating this was necessarily the problem with QZ8501. Personally, I would be inclined to suspect this was a pitch up, but like everyone else will await the analysis which should not take all that long as we are not dealing with extreme depths and recovery of the recorders should be relatively easy once the weather clears.
preacher1
preacher1 1
I suspect a pitchup also as there was a rise in altitude w/o clearance, either that or an explosion that blew off the nose as with TWA800. The fuselage on it continued to rise for a while there before going down.
allench1
allench1 0
LOOKS LIKE COFFIN CORNER TO ME PREACH
bentwing60
bentwing60 2
In my day of flying 20 series Learjets at FL450 on a regular basis IAS was around 215 Knts. and .80 mach. Stall speed was around 165 depending on temperature and MMo. is .82, or about 220-225 indicated. That's a fairly wide coffin corner, I would call it a margin, and I bet someone with an A320 performance manual could verify that its at least that and probably twice that in the mid 30's. Pitch up to stall, maybe, and the boxes will tell. Coffin corner, not a factor IMO. As well he would or should be operating at design maneuvering speed in or around turbulence and that would assure some margin above stall and below MMo. I have heard the U2 margin was 6 knts. You can barely discern that on the average airspeed indicator! This is not to second guess this crew, wasn't there. It's part of my experience in high performance jets. They are fun and they are deadly, and that's part of the deal.
preacher1
preacher1 2
I have always heard that the U2 was 5-6 kts. Airliners.net does say 10 so idk for sure, but as you say, that is hardly discernible. I don't think the 320 or other big iron had that much margin but can't remember for sure. Slept since then. At any rate, it's down, and a bunch of folks dead. R.I.P.
joelwiley
joel wiley 1
"Some aircraft, such as the Lockheed U-2, routinely operate in the "coffin corner". In the case of the U-2, the aircraft is required to be flown on autopilot at such conditions.[3] The U-2's speed margin, at high altitude, between 1-G stall and Mach buffet can be as small as 5 knots.[4]"
from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffin_corner_%28aerodynamics%29
I know it's wiki, but that just means it's not gospel.
preacher1
preacher1 1
either way, it ain't much, of course that ain't a race horse either
bentwing60
bentwing60 1
Chuckle, chuckle. You are right of coarse about the race horse thing, but me thinks anything at FL700 would require a lot more finesse than brute strength and awkwardness. Raining up there yet?
preacher1
preacher1 1
yeah, real light, cold
preacher1
preacher1 1
and regarding the finesse, I was in at 100SRW in Tucson back in 69 when they were based there; one lost their enging over OKC. 1/2 dozen bases to divert to if needed. Nah bring him on in, just monitor
canuck44
canuck44 1
Wiki is actually pretty good for hard science, math, medicine, pharmacology, geography, etc. Its weakness is on "flexible" topics such as politics, history, economics, etc. This article is pretty much explanatory.
joelwiley
joel wiley 3
The problem with wiki as I see it is that most anyone can edit it. By and large I find the information accurate, credible and usually a good starting source. I'd not stake my life on it without backup. Some people discount it for the above reasons. Like autopilot, it's a tool. Happy New Year John
canuck44
canuck44 1
Thanx, Joel...have a great year.
annellandfrank
John Taylor 1
Yes! Your exp is similar to all military jets of the time also. We regularly flew safely above FL400 in that IAS between stall and compressability; it had to be to get the required range. Thank God, or somebody, for the "limiting mach indicator". Even this dumb 2cnd Lt. knew not to "cross the needles".
allench1
allench1 0
As I understand it going from 32 grand to 37 grand and not increasing your airspeed that he was reported at would stall the aircraft. But can't be sure as air France did.
allench1
allench1 0
looks like coffin corner to me preach
linbb
linbb 1
Like I said on another post a U2 at altitude had 10 knots between stall and overspeed. Not much room for error.
preacher1
preacher1 1
I didn't think it was that much. It may have ben different for the different models, but I was a thinkin' it was about half that.
btweston
btweston 2
"We have no idea why this plane crashed. I will now make something up."
joelwiley
joel wiley 2
just as long as it doesn't end in -stan ;-0
bbabis
bbabis 1
Thunderstorm penetration; massive updraft; hail takes off antennas, radome, windshields, snuffs engines, and lightning kills avionics. Game over. Just MHO. RIP all aboard.
pilot62
Scott Campbell 1
I'm thinking what most suspect frozen tubes, and attempting to fix the issues logically, hand fly her and just let the airplane ride out the turbulence, arm chair I know, but outside of the Asiana triple 7 (Pilot culture without a doubt) , Airbus has had many incidents and crashes which are baffling in this day and age. Something is up and we better figure out how to correct all the issues at hand.
preacher1
preacher1 2
Could be but these tubes have not had any previous trouble the Thales units on AF447. Everybody starting to armchair updraft now, due to climb, in absence of any other hard data.
pilot62
Scott Campbell 1
Yea i think its easy to assume, and I'm not a hi time pilot with any extreme weather flying.
Learning in So Cal and only getting as far as Vegas on my own, but I still think innovation comes with its on set of unknown problems we've yet to discover, and unfortunately people have to die for us to figure some of then out,

[This poster has been suspended.]

preacher1
preacher1 2
Well, AP's are notorious for disengaging at the slightest thing, in essence saying
"I quit, your airplane". You had best know where you are at in the flight and able to take control.
annellandfrank
John Taylor 1
About the "8501" crash. Can someone help me a bit? I'm retired AF so I have limited knowledge of commercial aircraft. But.....I thought most of the current "heavies" had on-board and real-time computer connection to their base-stations? If so......surely such a capability includes not just eng performance,fuel flow,etc... but also flight factors such as IAS,GS,AOA,"G",etc?? My point is....why so much dependence upon the "black-boxes" when real-time data is right there? Or is it??
pirahna432
pirahna432 2
It isn't. There is satellite communication, but it's far from real time, and usually limited to company messages and maintenance reports.
annellandfrank
John Taylor 2
I suspected that...thank you Michael.
klimchuk
klimchuk 1
I saw price tag around $120,000 for one aircraft to be equipped with real-time tracking via satellite. And it's not 100% reliable link anyway.
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
That price tag of $120,000 is cheap... A CRJ Throttle Quadrant is $500,000... Avionics are expensive. Many of the items are very costly and not because of what it takes to build them, but how much it cost to get hem approved and certified.
annellandfrank
John Taylor 1
I find it amazing; or more correctly......appalling, that in this high tech world "real time" (or "near real time) "total monitor" systems aren't common-place. At least over land and/or high density airspace where comm is good.
OR, maybe in addition to cost cocerns, could it be that Boeing/Airbus may not always want to know the exact cause of some accidents?? As we all know....when in doubt it's usually the aircrew the hangs!
akayemm
Er.A.K. Mittal 1
The first officially accepted flight lasted 12 sec. and covered 120 ft. and another on the same day, 17th Dec. 1903 , lasted 59 sec. and covered 852 ft.
And now we are covering billions of miles lasting months .
All a matter of " auto " , remotely controlled and suitably augmented by human interface where ever possible or necessary .
The ' auto ' will keep proliferating and there will always be ' pilot ' present every where and all the time , in some form or the other.
And this will not be unusual .
So , no problem with 'too much of auto' because there will always be 'enough pilot' .
IMHO
joelwiley
joel wiley 4
The pilot must keep in mind that he/she is always in the game waiting for the autopilot to kick off and tell the pilot "tag, you're it". There appears to be some concern that some pilots may be forgetting that in their reliance on 'Otto'.
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
You are exactly right.... However, many are not... Take the example of the NWA crew that were on their laptops working out their flight schedule, did not hear ATC calling them and then only realized after the FA knocked on the door to see how much longer the flight was going to be... If that A/P had kicked off, I doubt that they would have noticed....
akayemm
Er.A.K. Mittal 1
U said it, my friend joel wiley
annellandfrank
John Taylor 1
Just a WAG, and I hope I'm wrong. But to see the future for air travel just look at military drone technology and the speed at which it has prevailed. Or.....are we already close to being there? No point in having a pilot if he's either too timid or incompetent to subjugate "George"!
paultrubits
paul trubits 1
While not all of us fly "big iron", all of us drive cars. In ten years some forum will be having this same discussion about autos. All cars have cruise control, but I bet most of us don't use it. But in a few years, the roadways will be populated by inexperienced drivers rolling down the road texting away while the collision avoidance, lane incursion and whatever computer aided technology on the car makes them feel safe. You have seen the future. At least in a car, you might get lucky and run into a ditch. We need pilots who like to fly the same way I like to drive.
silverzdfltrack
Bob Ziehm 1
OK. Thanks.
klimchuk
klimchuk 1
Poor article. Makes impression like jumping to manual flying right away would allow to avoid disasters. It is not. That's why checklists were introduced. To avoid rush/urge to play with controls unnecessarily. Pilot errors do happen due to lack of training but also due to lack of information like airspeed, weather and so on. Controlling aircraft without reliable information requires a lot of thinking and somewhat gambling. Often in very short period of time. It's easy to discuss what went wrong 5+ years after AF447 but I'm wondering how many pilots would make outcome different in that situation.
carbone2994
Alex Smith 3
Not to mention AAL587, which was all caused my pilot error through manual flying...
preacher1
preacher1 1
I still lay 587 at the feet of Airbus. They accepted the problem but, while issuing an AD, they have made no physical changes to keep it from happening again.
pilot62
Scott Campbell 1
Exactly and it will continue with Airbus
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
There are a lot of technology that we have, and the Auto Pilot where it relives a lot of work load, and is a necessity for RVSM Airspace, it has really lowered the piloting skills of today's pilots... I had a write up from a pilot that had his FMS deferred (on MEL) and he made the follow discrepancy in the logbook: "Upon station crossing both VHF Nav Needles went Hard to the left and then hard to the right and then back to center" and yes, this was from an Airline Captain. He then left the plane without calling Maintenance Control. On coming crew called to see what was going on and then we had to have a contract mechanic come out and do a NAV Check and sign it off.. There are a lot of things like that... Another captain stated that every time he would transmit to ATC that it would go over the PA, his Audio Selector was selected to PA... The basic piloting skills are being lost and much of that is due to the autopilot... I once had to MEL an autopilot for a captain and he thanked me saying that he needed some hands on stick time.... We need more pilots like that rather than those who cry every time we have to MEL the Autopilot.
bentwing60
bentwing60 2
The automation is not the only reason for degraded pilot skills! It is a symptom of an industry that tries to adhere to PC business practices in an industry that doesn't suffer fools well. The day of the ex-military auto hire is long gone and the demand for airplane drivers is at an all time high. Can you say "we lower the standards"? It is symptomatic of the world at large. Do you think that all those people that buy a Harley really know how to ride one? The automation is designed to take the pilot out of control as much as possible IMHO. Airbus for sure, Boeing to a degree. If you think the computer separates the pilot from the airplane, what do you think the no tactile feel sticks in an Airbus do with no Captain override? So, with all due respect, I finally got a smart phone when none of the younger guys would call me back. It's text or nothing. We antiques will probably not live long enough for the last laugh. Time marches on.
preacher1
preacher1 1
I will agree that automation has degraded a bunch of manual flying skills, but gang, let's not blame it all on the auto pilot. That thing has been around for years. There is plenty to look at starting with the entire FMS and other stuff that use to not be there. As with anything, it is to be used as a tool and not a crutch, and that seems to be where the problem lies.
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
Yeah, I had one crew upset at me... With Their A/P MEL'd I also had to defer their FMS.... They hating flying the green needles by hand. I guess at that point they have to pay too much attention to what they are doing.. But it is good practice for them...
pilot62
Scott Campbell 1
I cant spell check either
pirahna432
pirahna432 1
Pure speculation. I also love all the broad genarilsms about "my generation" of pilots. I fly 80 hours a month, and hand fly 3/4 of the time, and don't shoot coupled approaches.
bentwing60
bentwing60 1
Agreed on the speculation. e. "An automatic altitude-control system should be operative and engaged during level cruise, except when circumstances such as the need to retrim the aircraft or turbulence require disengagement. In any event, adherence to cruise altitude should be done by reference to one of the two primary altimeters". A.C. 9-85 appendix-4, sec. 5 Do you really hand fly that much in RVSM airspace?
annellandfrank
John Taylor 1
Auto alt "hold" is the last thing you want in severe turb!!
bentwing60
bentwing60 1
Agreed! My quote from the AC was in reference to the Michael Proulx comment that he hand flies the aircraft 75 percent of the time. The implication that he does the same in RVSM airspace goes against the Advisory Circular recommendations that are not regulatory, or his company manual that may or may not require that the autopilot be engaged in RVSM airspace. And the company manual is an approved document and is regulatory and many quote the AC as operating practice. So reread that sentence that says "or turbulence" in the AC. It's what I practice.

[This poster has been suspended.]

preacher1
preacher1 3
I really wonder how many of these oriental and Southeast Asian pilots actually have that full 101 experience. Most of those countries don't have an established GA program like the U.S. does. That, coupled with the fact that high altitude stall recovery is just not practiced, live or in SIM, could totally overwhelm a crew.
linbb
linbb 1
Very true as don't know how many hours they really have working up the ladder. Same with pilots in the armed forces as they get shuffled quite quickly into the next AC towards there final or posting AC. I learned in a C150 but then got time in tail draggers which require flying with all controls unlike a C150.
sparkie624
sparkie624 1
Sometimes I wonder about the pilots over here in our country!
wopri
According to reports in our local paper the pilot of QZ8501 was an ex-airforce aviator, so he should have learned stall recovery.
wopri
As my local paper is in French, I found a report in English that also mentions is Air Force experience. Here's the link:

http://www.firstpost.com/world/airasia-flight-qz8501-pilot-made-emergency-water-landing-plane-sunk-waves-2026101.html

[This poster has been suspended.]

annellandfrank
John Taylor 1
Say what?? Civ jets? Tell that to AF One and the hundreds of other jet transports and tankers ranging from 707s to the 747s that the AF flies daily, on both scheduled and non-scheduled routes, all over the world!!
preacher1
preacher1 1
He may have learned it as all do, but he had 20000+hours and normally not practiced it. idk

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