Sunday, December 22, 2013

Flying Dinosaurs

Flying with Dinosaurs by mymindcircus
I remember a brief snippet of a conversation I had with my boss the day after I earned my PPL. He is a former military helicopter pilot. So he understood my exultation at finally earning my wings. He mentioned something in that conversation that surprised me though, something I remember to this day. He told me I am one of the last of the dinosaurs, the last of a dying breed. Someone who trained with so-called steam gauges for instruments instead of a glass panel.

I have to admit, sometimes I do feel a bit like a dinosaur. I have limited interest in the latest apps and aviation technology.  For VFR flying I could care less if a plane as a G1000 or a G430 or just a magnetic compass.  I prefer to look out the window over watching a screen. For IFR flying I care more about the GPS and other avionics and navigation aids in a plane. I would not fly in IMC without a fully functional IFR certified GPS in addition to my steam gauges. I know the steam gauges well and I know how they will fail, what they will do when they do and what I will do to continue the flight safely in that event.  I do use auto-pilot in IMC if my plane is so equipped but I turn the auto-pilot off between IAF and FAF, sometimes because I want to and sometimes because I don't know why the auto-pilot is doing what its doing but I do know how to fly the approach by hand correctly and safely so that's what I do. The thought of having a plane fly an entire approach "for me" does not excite me at all. I fly planes because I want to fly, not to be a passenger along for the ride.

When I look in the cockpit of new small jets and light planes with glass cockpits all I see is a faceless, blank pane of glass. No personality, no life to it without electricity. A plane with steam gauges has personality. Each plane is set up a slightly different way; every instrument with its own idiosyncrasies. The way the attitude indicator tends to lean to one side or the other when the gyros aren't running appears to be a plane at rest but with potential for flight. The other instruments seem frozen in time but ready to move at a moment's notice. I don't get that impression from a glass panel plane.

This doesn't mean people who fly glass panel planes don't love flying. I have a good friend with a very nice glass panel cockpit that loves flying just as much as I do. However, I do think there are new pilots, or even experienced pilots, that focus so much on flying the video game in the cockpit that they are missing out on the so called stick and rudder skills that are so important to safe flight. Especially pilots who have advanced autopilots they rely on to fly for them most of the time. Those pilots are really missing out and are becoming increasingly likely to have an incident or accident in the event of a systems failure or just a system not being set up right because they don't exercise the skills required to fly safely without the auto-pilots flying for them. A very painful case in point is the Asiana Airlines crash at SFO ( NTSB investigation site | wikipedia ) in July 2013.

From light GA planes with G1000 glass panels to complex passenger jets like the Boeing 777 that clipped the seawall at SFO crashed and killed 3 people in the process, pilots are in the cockpit to fly the plane, not watch the flight. If we don't want to become dinosaurs and eventually extinct as a career, it would do us all well to remember that.

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