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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."


Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

FAA and Automation

When I took my 757 type rating checkride I was told to keep the automation on. My entire checkride, less the airwork of steep turns and stalls, was done "managing" the autoflight system. 


When I was done with the checkride I told the FAA examiner that this was the easiest checkride I had ever taken. I also told him that I thought mandating automation was going to come back and haunt us. That we should not only continue to train pilots to fly their planes, but we should test those flying skills in the simulator without the automation, and also encourage our pilots to continue to hand fly on the line.

He chuckled and said something like... "The reliability on these planes is too great, and the probability of failure is highly unlikely. This is the future. There won't be a problem."

I said, "Never say never."


And there you have it. Almost 22 years later they have shifted their attitude. Guess what the FAA is recommending?  



Do you have a if only they would have listened story? It's kind of fun to go back through our lives and say, "I knew it!" But then again... sometimes it isn't. 

Enjoy the journey!
XO Karlene

28 comments:

  1. I love this post. It speaks to what I teach my students or underlings. Nothing takes the place of being a good aviator. That also mean being able to FLY the aircraft with one's own hands.

    While I truly appreciate the convenience of a good autopilot, when needed we must be able to take over when you can't use the automated systems. So many times I've read of accidents where the aircrew simply mis interpreted what their aircraft was telling them and as a result took the wrong action. This is not saying do not trust your automated systems. This is saying one must be able to fly along with managing these automated systems.

    Cheers

    Tom

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    1. Thank you for the great comment Tom. I was instructing on the 757 when the Cali accident happened. An accident where they had let the plane fly, and assumed it was doing what it was supposed to. Very sad. My focus was to teach the pilots to fly the plane and when the automation was on, to make sure the automation did what they expected it to do... not the other way around.

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  2. Karlene. I never really understood the use of automation especially auto land unless if the flight was coming into CATIII. During my playtime on FS I manually landed 95 percent of time. I am bringing this up because it has actually helped me in real life flying in the 172.

    People are starting to realize that relying on automation isn't the best solution.

    A 747 pilot for a Mid East airline once told me that he'd rather fly a 172 than a 747 because when he was in a 172 he felt like he was actually flying a plane. We are pilots and flying is what we are born to do.

    Thanks for the great post and mentioning the 757 as I am due to take a ride over to ORD on it this summer for my nephews 7th birthday.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Jeremy. Actually, the autopilot is a very good thing at the end of a long fatiguing day. But we normally kick off the autopilot to land. The thing is, nobody flies it beyond that. That's when the skills degrade.

      Funny on the 172 verses the 747. I always though the 747 flew like a big 172. All he had to do was fly it. Have a GREAT trip this summer for your nephew's birthday!

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  3. Hi, Karlene...

    The role of Cassandra is no fun at all!

    My current candidates are the folks trying to have their warnings regarding the potential for disastrous interactions between occupied aircraft and UAS's taken seriously. A sad "Told ya' so!" is, I fear, in their (OK, our) future.

    Regards,

    Frank

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    1. Frank, I couldn't agree with you more. Maybe reason will take hold? We can always hope, but don't hold your breath.

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  4. It's always debate we're having flying the Learjet as well.. It's a very capable aircraft, but I still love to handfly it especially during departures and approaches.

    Every once in a while I get reminded by my captain that the "rules" mandate the use of the autopilot for SIDs and down to minimums on approach... but then, how do you really know if you can handle the aircraft, the day the autopilot does something querky?

    I agree with you Karlene. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I think the next time your Captain reminds you of the rules, that the FAA is now recommending us to fly. And perhaps a reminder that AF447 was a clear example of what happens when you don't know how to fly your plane. The worse case example. I think it's more than knowing, it's the skill that degrades, too.

      So the rules say one thing and the FAA recommends something else. What do you do?
      Thank you for the great comment!

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  5. When the doo doo hits the fan, the pilot better have good flying skills. Some pilots no longer have the necessary skills

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    1. So true! Or they better be able to duck! Or fly like one at least.

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  6. This post and the comments above - I totally agree! It actually scares me a bit how bad the FAA were "back then" with regards to their attitude towards pilots flying without automation. We have seen several accidents over the years where lack of experience without automation available has been a major contributing factor.

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    1. It's amazing for sure. And surprising it took this long to come out with this statement. If only the FAA could be proactive and not so reactive. But unfortunately it's the system in which they work. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. I don't know how things are going at your airline, but I've seen some very positive steps lately towards fixing some of these issues. Many companies are stressing the need for hand-flying skills in the simulator. On that note, I don't think it's near enough and unfortunately the FAA probably won't do anything about it, even with more fatal accidents. Hopefully it doesn't come to this. Love your 757 pictures, one of my favorite airplanes ever and sure looked good in the last NWA paint!

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    1. Daniel, Thanks for the comment! Yes, I think many companies are changing many things in light of AF447. I recommended this exact thing on my blog prior to the CAA's recommendations...after the accident. It was not taken into consideration at the time. But now two years later, here we have it. Go figure.

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  8. I read something many years ago that stuck with me. If the autopilot is the best pilot on board, then the human pilot needs more training. Whenever I start to think that I should put on the a/p in my plane because it can do something better than I can, it's time to call a CFI and go take some lessons. The only thing it should be better than I am, is holding straight and level in IMC, and even then, only because I get tired.

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    1. This is a great comment! I'm going to use it. There is nothing nicer than seeing a pilot fly and not know that the autopilot isn't on. Yes, fatigue is a factor...
      And today, I was cleared to land at 100 feet. All was good.

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    2. Hey that's interesting, I like that too. Well I just fly sims right now, but isn't it the case that in RVSM airspace, you must fly with the autopilot on? I think the rationale is that the autopilot can maintain assigned level better than a pilot hand flying, especially at altitude. So airliner-flyers, how hard is it to be as precise as the automation at keeping on heading and altitude, once you've leveled off?

      Related: I think I read somewhere, some types of IFR approaches, I guess perhaps just the RNAV (RNP) ones with radius-to-fix legs, also MUST be flown by the autopilot. Why because? It seems that only the autopilot is precise enough at matching up speeds and bank angles for turns that keep the indicated curving flightpath within a defined "lane" of airspace, especially if the altitude has to change along the curve. And to add one last element: I read someplace also that in future, greater emphasis would be placed upon time as well as horizontal and vertical flightpath. So one could expect future RNAV procedures where they are specified in four-dimensions. Only a computer could make the necessary ongoing calculations to determine if the aircraft's performance was going to place it in a position to commence and continue the approach on an ongoing basis.

      So the question from all that is: are we just now entering an era when desired efficiency starts to require performance maneuvers that are beyond routine human capability, yet always within the envelope of the automation?

      If so, then once again piloting skill will come back into play only when we need to "rescue" the aircraft from a non-normal that developed while the automation was engaged. You'd break off that computer-precision approach, recover from the upset and climb away safely onto a missed-approach path...and if the automation or aircraft is disabled in some way, you'll come back around using a simpler, human friendly approach.

      So then it's, how do you keep the skills topped-up, when your everyday flying may require automation to meet performance criteria? Set asides in certain flights or routes or system events where hand-flying is encouraged?

      Thanks for this post, I enjoyed it!

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    3. This is an excellent point! When do we have the opportunity?

      We will never fly in RVSM airspace without the autopilot,(unless we had to due to failure) even if we could. Flying level at cruise, is just not the time to be using up your energy when it will be needed for the landing. And you're right... we are required to use the autopilots.

      And we are moving to the next Gen. Flying RNP and RNAV approaches. Thus we must use it. So when will be be able to practice this flying? In the simulator?

      This FAA document someone contradicts what is happening in the next Gen world that they support. I'm thinking this is going to be another excellent discussion point.

      Thank you so much for the great comment!

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    4. Looking at the track of my last flight on Flightaware, it's a little more wiggly than usual. That's because my autopilot HDG and NAV tracking failed and I had to hand fly the whole way IFR. Boy, is it tiring to track within 5 degrees and 100 ft for 2 hours! And then there was the suicidal Ag pilot who tried to ram us at 50 feet up on take off...... (missed us by about 50 feet horizontally after I made a 60 degree plus steep turn (at 50 ft AGL) to avoid him)).

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    5. I think doing that is exhausting more than tiring...and you have the wiggles to prove it. And another suicidal pilot? Oh my! I am so glad you are here to tell us about this crazy flight! Time to rest!

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  9. I've seen a number of times in ATSB reports (The Aussie version of the NTSB) where crews have ended up with a bucket of snakes on their hands because they did not fully understand what the automation was doing. The automation is making it far to easy for very low hour cadets to end up in the right seat without earning their creds through the tried and true method of hard knocks flying Chieftains around the bush.

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    1. Captain Daags, this is so true. And in the US many are earning their credential by learning how to fly with the automation... Some of the equipment on those initial aircraft is more advanced than we had on the 747! It's going to be an interesting world in the future.
      If you would so like, we would love to hear about some of the findings of the low time pilots and errors from the ATSB. Email me!
      Thanks so much for your comment!

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  10. The good news is that UAVs will fix all of these problems.

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  11. With automation, I like the Ronald Reagan approach...

    "Trust but verify."

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    1. Absolutely! I'm with you on that one!

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  12. While we are on the subject of flying manually, I am really curious as to how pilots maintain altitude etc without the flight director on.

    After my unsuccessful attempt at Cathay's cadet selection program, I am really determined to get better at using joysticks and rudder and improve on my hand eye leg coordination because the whole aptitude test, math test, and technique stuffs were very easy but I wasn't familiar with the joystick and rudder since I only use a mouse at home for FS simulator.

    I tried to maintain the a/c at a specific level. The roll is not hard, but the altitude was a little bit tricky to keep it at a desired level. It keeps oscillating. How do professionals do it? With or without trimming...

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    1. Martin, the Airbus we don't trim. The plane trims itself. We put it where we want it and the plane does the rest. Flying level is easy.

      In a non-fly by wire plane where the pilot trims, put the plane on the pitch attitude for level flight, trim for hands free. You should be able to take your hands off the controls and the plane will stay where you put it.

      Here are some links:
      A330 Trim: http://karlenepetitt.blogspot.com/2013/03/a330-and-trim.html

      Flying the 747: http://karlenepetitt.blogspot.com/2011/11/tips-on-flying-boeing-747-and-other.html

      Hope these help!

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