THE PRIV­I­LEGE OF BE­ING A PI­LOT

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Thanks to Martha Lunken for the great ar­ti­cle [July 2017] on the priv­i­lege of be­ing a pi­lot. I es­pe­cially like the sub­ti­tle: “What is chiefly needed is skill rather than ma­chin­ery.” This phrase speaks to some things that are hap­pen­ing in avi­a­tion and flight train­ing these days. I am quite per­plexed by the di­rec­tion the ad­min­is­tra­tor has cho­sen with the Air­man Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Stan­dards, for ex­am­ple. It was cu­ri­ous enough that the pro­posed cure for our num­ber one killer of pilots, loss-of-con­trol ac­ci­dents, is to be more em­pha­sis on risk man­age­ment. I mean, any­one with a lit­tle crit­i­cal-think­ing skill should be able to work out that if pilots and their pas­sen­gers are dy­ing be­cause they lose con­trol of air­planes, this war­rants more em­pha­sis on our fun­da­men­tal con­cept of air­craft con­trol and our ex­e­cu­tion of air­craft-con­trol tech­niques. Right? Now with the roll­out of the Com­mer­cial Pi­lot ACS, we have gone a step fur­ther down the rab­bit hole: stall re­cov­ery at the first in­di­ca­tion, mean­ing the stall-warn­ing horn, and, of course, slow flight at a speed where no dan­ger of a stall warn­ing ex­ists. It’s as if some­one worked out a quan­tum the­ory of avi­a­tion ed­u­ca­tion that, while mak­ing no sense when mea­sured against logic and his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge, some­how cre­ates more safety in the sky. The rea­son I bring this up in the con­text of your ar­ti­cle and its sub­ti­tle is that the real boo­gie man be­hind loss of con­trol is loss of un­der­stand­ing of how we con­trol the air­plane. And this is more than a lit­tle bit due to the sub­op­ti­mal way that ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy has been in­te­grated into our train­ing par­a­digms. We used to cas­ti­gate our stu­dents for “chas­ing the nee­dle,” which is short­hand for too much fo­cus on the de­vice that in­di­cates the po­si­tion of the air­plane, rather than cor­rect em­pha­sis on the ref­er­ences used to get it there. With mov­ing-map tech­nol­ogy ev­ery­where, it’s all about where the air­plane is. Mov­ing-map dis­plays force at­ten­tion on where the air­plane is right now, which al­though quite use­ful, is the an­tithe­sis of cor­rect at­ti­tude con­trol ref­er­ence. A few gen­er­a­tions of pilots spawn­ing a few gen­er­a­tions of in­struc­tors with this shift to at­ti­tude fly­ing con­cepts, en­abled by un­crit­i­cal ac­cep­tance of this tech­nol­ogy, and voila, we have a loss-of-con­trol prob­lem. Loss of con­trol isn’t an in­stru­men­ta­tion prob­lem, nor is it a risk-man­age­ment prob­lem. It’s a prob­lem of con­cept and skill. I found your ar­ti­cle both amus­ing and timely. — Charles Mc­dou­gal, via email

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