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Merged: To hand fly, or use the automatics?

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Merged: To hand fly, or use the automatics?

Old 9th Jan 2010, 02:19
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Merged: To hand fly, or use the automatics?

Once again Australian domestic airlines are recruiting and general aviation pilots are realising their dreams of being in a front seat of a 737 or A320. A user-pays type rating follows. Chances are the new hire will never have seen such wonderfully accurate automation which makes the type rating a breeze providing he or she studies hard at the books. Of the total simulator lessons covering the type rating it is estimated ninety percent of each lesson will involve automation in some form or another. Mostly the type rating will be on automatic pilot because that's the way things are taught nowadays.

Inevitably, the new and enthusiastic hands-on former Metro or Chieftain pilot will learn to fly the 737 or A320 on autopilot with incredible skill. He will become an expert at the knack of fast typing, picture building on MAP and listening to the radio simultaneously. Within a few weeks of completing line training he will be flying into familiar airports around Australia and will learn how to type his way into downwind and fly a visual circuit all on autopilot.

Exciting new navigation systems allow him to "build" a circuit like an artist paints a canvas. A dob of speed paint here, a light brush of altitude restriction there, a joining of waypoint dots at the beginning of the downwind leg leading to another waypoint three miles abeam the threshold and a further VOR distance and bearing waypoint just before base and a beautifully placed waypoint on long final completes the MAP picture. Picasso could never match this MAP as a thing of beauty. No need to look outside on a sunny day. Trust the MAP and TCAS says one experienced captain. . . With a quiet gasp of wonder the new pilot watches the aircraft symbol slow up quite safely as the flaps extend and in-built slow speed protection keeps disaster away - not like some macho bogans who to risk lives of passengers by stupid hand flying.

The picture continues as final flap is selected and now the new pilot gets as near to hand flying as he dares by twiddling the VS mode wheel to hold the PAPI and watches the beautiful smooth operation of the thrust levers. Regretfully he lifts his eyes from the MAP and it's beautiful colours and sadly accepts that like a lovingly fashioned sand castle on the beach his MAP picture will vanish disappear forever after the touch down. He knows the critical moment must arrive when he must disconnect the autopilot at 300 feet and actually fly his way to the threshold with nervous fingers on the controls. . Commonsense prevails so he leaves the flight director and automatic throttle engaged - just in case of a go-around caused by a straying donkey cocking a leg on a runway light at the 1000 ft marker. I kid you not. This happened at Apia in Samoa not too many years back and the landing 737 was a wipe out not to mention the poor bloody beast who was hit to leg in more ways than one. So a new pilot can't be too careful if forced to actually hand fly on short final. If not a stray donkey it could be a stray drunk weaving across the runway to his village on Nauru.

This then is your future as an airline pilot. Good pay, beautiful female flight attendants (male if that is your preference), the cockpit door securely locked against the great thonged black singlet hairy leg mob down the back who pay your wages. And best of all beautiful and awe inspiring automation to make flying safer.

But a hint for the new pilot once lined trained. Never ask the captain if he minds if you try your hand at hand flying unless it is the first few hundred feet after lift off and the last few hundred feet on final. Some captains are so terrified of rocking the airline boat by allowing hand flying that even a meek request to turn off the flight director CAVOK will surely bring down God's wrath and the risk of censure.

Eventually your enthusiasm for the wonders of automation will wane. You will soon bore of jetting between Adelaide and Perth, Melbourne to Canberra or Cairns to Townsville. In the cockpit talk turns to mates now flying for Cathay, Emirates, Dragonair and Singapore Airlines. Great destinations, long stop-overs, big bucks salaries and a never ending supply of exotic nubiles at the end of the day. A rugged life style of course - but bearable.

Fond memories of when you were a real pilot in GA flogging a radarless, buggered, and unreliable autopilot equipped Chieftain into Black Stump airport back of Bourke in a dust storm, will come back to haunt you like mirage of beautiful women of which 72 were virgins of your choice. Very rare back of Bourke - virgins that is. Alas you are hooked forever on automation and it is with sadness you think that never again will you be a real pilot with real handling skills. You are now a three bar rank systems status monitor. Don't tell women that of course - they think you are still a pilot..

Levity aside, a point needs to be made. There is no doubt that for the newly recruited airline pilot in Year 2010, like his compatriots in the years before, the total accent on automation in the cockpit means confidence in your own ability to pole a 737 or A320 by hand, will fade away.

The next step in this insidious process is you begin to believe what your check pilots and instructors will tell you - that your hand flying brings with it the risks of "overloading" the chap in the other seat. Think of the passengers down the back says the check captain. - would they appreciate your sad efforts at hand flying where your over-controlling on the wheel makes them airsick?

Soon you will find yourself knocking back the offer from another captain to hand fly a descent using the old fashioned DME versus descent profile. Rather than risk embarrassing yourself by admitting you haven't a clue how to fly a profile on basics (as against FMC derived), you will pretend that hand flying basics is for idiots or the overconfident.

By now the rot has set in. You have now lost confidence in yourself and you settle for the baby sitting comfort of the fabulous automatic pilot. Then one fine day you are at last promoted to captain. Small flecks of stiff white hair appear at your nostrils and your steely blue eyes take on the narrow killer look of the experienced autopilot monitor.

A young and new keen first officer just out of Alteon asks your permission to fly a visual approach into Hobart without FMC guidance. He was always a rebel at Alteon. In other words Mark 1 eyeball, DME versus height, eyes outside the cockpit looking for traffic and with flight director and autothrottle turned off. In the eyes of the new first officer you are Captain God and whatever you say must be the good gen. So he believes you when you say in that authoritive voice " Stick to the automatics son - its safer. Pure flying skills are for the birds".

Last edited by Tee Emm; 9th Jan 2010 at 02:54.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 02:45
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Pure gold mate, pure gold!
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 02:59
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So now I know I'm not paranoid - some *** has placed a bug my living room and has been recording all my rantings.

Well written, and all so distressingly true, Tee Emm.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 03:18
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Well written, and alarmingly accurate.

But it's saturday in the middle of summer mate, crack a beer and enjoy yourself for god's sake!
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 03:30
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RE: Stick to the automatics, son

Tee Emm,

A well put argument! I concur that pure piloting skills have been eroded but what has replaced them?

Could it be improved management skills, situational awareness and extra layers of protection?

Yes, I have done all the things to which you allude. I have flown, (and stuffed up) raw DME arrivals, manual climbs departures etc etc. Yes, it is possible to still do them but to what point? Yes, if my poor neglected ego required boosting I would get great satisfaction out of doing without all of the modern aids; and perhaps my companions on the flight deck might be admiring perhaps not. But what would I be missing?

Would I, whilst hand-flying the ENTRA departure out of YSSY with NADP1 procedure, 5000' level off with multiple TCAS traffic and weather be in risk of flap overspeed or missing the 5000' level off? These have both happened.

Would I be in danger of missing visual traffic at Cambridge or missing the Company speed restrictions because I'm too busy mentally calculating my DME distance versus altitude or "eyeballing" my profile to the runway. Both of these have happened too.

The point is that the days of requiring sublime raw piloting skills are gone, sadly, and nothing can bring them back. The trainers (and I am not one) are correct. Use the automatics to their full extent and manage the situation.

Become an expert if you like at flying the aircraft on finals and managing it everywhere else, because that is what we are paid to do...to reduce risk. Everytime we hand-fly we significantly reduce the monitoring we are providing of the situation and this increases the risk. These are not the 60's or the 70's or even the 80's. Move on and accept the need for change.

With best wishes,

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Old 9th Jan 2010, 04:04
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Does anyone think automation would have helped Chesley Sullenberger?

Rare as "the Hudson" event was his book offers, I think, valuable and incisive observations about piloting skills and their erosion in modern airline aviation.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 04:52
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Rare as "the Hudson" event was his book offers, I think, valuable and incisive observations about piloting skills and their erosion in modern airline aviation.
The book "Highest Duty" by the captain of the Hudson River A320 ditching, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger is worth every cent of it's cost to buy in Australia. He covers not only the tale of his ditching, but brings a depth of flying wisdom that all pilots should aspire to. If "Handling the Big Jets" by D.P Davies the British test pilot, is still considered one of the best flying books written, then Sullenberger's book is well up there, too.

Forgive me if a quote a few extracts from "Sully's" book that I feel is pertinent to this thread on automation. In some instances they are edited for brevity and PPRuNe space but this does not dilute their valuable sentiments.
Here goes: Quote in part:

"I've come across a number of people over the years who think that modern airplanes, with all their technology and automation, can almost fly themselves. That's simply not true. Automation can lower the workload in some cases. But in other situations, using automation when it is not appropriate can increase one's workload. A pilot has to know how to use a level of automation that is appropriate.....one well known USAF pilot renowned for his work in helping us understand aviation safety made an appearance at a forum in which another speakers topic was "the role of the pilot in the automated cockpit". When it was Dr Wiener's turn to speak (he was the former USAF pilot), he noted, wryly but rightly, that the session should have been called "the role of automation in the piloted cockpit".

How many different levels of technology do you want to place between your brain and the control surfaces? The plane is never going somewhere on its own without you. It's always going where you tell it to go. A computer can only do what it is told what to do. The choice is: Do I tell it to do something by pushing on a control stick with my hand, or do I tell it to do something by using some intervening technology?

Take for instance a last minute runway change. In the old days you could easily tune your radio navigation receiver to the frequency for the approach to a different runway. Now it might take ten or twelve presses of buttons on the computer to arrange for a runway change. Automated airplanes with the highest technologies do not eliminate errors. They change the nature of the errors made. For example, in terms of navigational errors, automation enables pilots to make huge navigation errors very precisely. I am not not anti-technology. But technology is no substitute for experience, skill and judgement..".
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 05:02
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Yes, if my poor neglected ego required boosting
Some may say the issue of hand flying is about a pilot's personal ego trip. Horses for courses. Others may see it as the pursuit of excellence - surely a more worthy cause?
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 05:19
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So true what the man says, but airspace today is not designed around hand flying. Try a missed approach at some airports (Macau runway 34), it's a challenge simply reading it out let alone doing it manually even in an EFIS equipped aircraft. Analogue instruments ? Good luck

I have been picked up by Hong Kong ATC because our mode C altitude read out was ONE HUNDRED FEET off the assigned level. RVSM, RNP and saturated airspace around major airports all favour automatics.

Flying a B707 into New York Idlewild airport in the early 1960s was the time for manual flying. Complex arrival into Hong Kong, number nine in sequence ? I'd rather everyone was using their automatics to their full capability.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 05:34
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Train drivers in my city use lovely high(ish) tech semi-automatic brakes but are required to use the old style direct acting ones at least once a trip to ensure competency if they're required. Relevant?
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 06:59
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In one Australian capital city two very talented engineering graduates have built a B737 simulator. They used a cockpit salvaged from a yard in the US and hooked the computers up themselves. It is fixed but has a vision system and has a world wide data base.

Now to the point. It is interesting to note the number of pilots who while overnighting in said city avail themselves of this simulator, which is now on offer to the public, to have pure fun.

The skill level shown in hand flying circuits in such places as Queenstown, Kai Tak (yes its still got that one in it) is quite astonishing.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 07:48
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Now to the point. It is interesting to note the number of pilots who while overnighting in said city avail themselves of this simulator, which is now on offer to the public, to have pure fun.
Interesting indeed...... Beer and boobie bars are my idea of "pure fun" on overnights.

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Old 9th Jan 2010, 08:00
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Hard to let go of the dream but too many guys tell me this story and for a little more than I'm on now its worth giving up on the airlines.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 08:15
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So with all this reliance on automation in the piloted flight deck...

Why then is the Autopilot and the Autothrottle INCLUDED in the dispatch deviation guide. We are allowed to dispatch an aircraft (B737 NG), although with some limitations, without these systems which many, now days, find to be such critical systems. Maybe the way things are going, We won't be able to dispatch without these systems.

When the time comes when one has to dispatch without said systems, is that the time to be having to 'relearn' such skills again at such short notice. Or would it be better to keep honing such skills for when they are needed.

Nobody is saying hand fly the departure out of Sydney or the missed approach out of Macau. Yes, they are complicated procedures, and the use of automation is warranted.. Common sense one would hope would mean that one would pick the best time and place to practice such skills, not during the thick of it.

A captain once said to me "The public pays for LNAV/VNAV with an autocoupled ILS..."
My response to that is "That the public pays for a competent pilot"

And I think that one thing a competent pilot has is manual flying skills that can be called upon when required and bring them [the public] down safely when the worse case scenairo happens.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 08:23
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[QUOTE]Interesting indeed...... Beer and boobie bars are my idea of "pure fun" on overnights./QUOTE]

Couldn't agree more. And with regards to the automatics sentiments, whatever makes my job easier the better I say. If you want to hand fly all the time, take up gliding or something.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 09:30
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with regards to the automatics sentiments, whatever makes my job easier the better I say. If you want to hand fly all the time, take up gliding or something.
I'll second that! It's not that I can't hand-fly a jet (because I can), nevertheless after being up since 4AM and doing a 12-hr tour of duty with four to five sectors, or maybe the SYD-PER-MEL "redeye" to quote another example, quite frankly I'm too knackered.

That said, I agree that over-reliance on automatics can be fraught with danger. An example that comes to mind is on descent to the destination (whilst already hot and high), only to be given track shortening at the last moment. I've seen more than a few of my partners in crime work themselves into a frenzy, with fingers moving at light-speed across the myriad of buttons on the glareshield as they try to salvage the descent/approach profile. All of a sudden, an already high workload is pushed over the edge - and personally I find it much easier to just disconnect everything at that point and do it the old-fashioned way (although that typically means the other guy is working pretty hard to keep up with mode selections whilst you hand-fly, but such is life).

On the other hand, I'm only too happy to build a circuit in the "box" for a late arrival into Hobart, as my faith in LNAV/VNAV at that time of night is a lot stronger than faith in my own ability to fly a safe and tidy circuit when I'm struggling to keep my eyes open due to fatigue.

In the end, I believe good airmanship dictates that a pilot be able to utilise EVERY available resource to do his/her job to the highest possible standard - whether manual or automatic.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 10:29
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In order to get yourself out of trouble, on a dirty wet night, on something like a B737-200 then Yes, a high degree of hand flying skills is necessary as the 'automatics' on a -200 are laughable.

The more sophisticated/automated the aircraft then the more knowledge and use of automatics is desirable as such an aircraft is designed to be flown automatically and recovery from abnormal ops. will be written around use of automatics, manual input could screw the whole thing up!

That said, most glass cockpits have the ability to show an HSI, DME and NDB and any pilot should maintain competency and be able to fly even the most complicated SID or approach and arrival, in IMC, by hand, provided they get the necessary support from the other seat, who must also be up to speed, unless, of course, a big heavy type note on the chart actually says word to the effect, "To be flown using only the automated systems" - Never seen such a note yet!.

Last edited by parabellum; 9th Jan 2010 at 10:40.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 11:33
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I agree with the ability to hand fly concept.
But when in a 30K endoresment from the lowest bidder, teach yourself, late at night sim course from the aircraft makers syllabus do you get to practice this art.
You don't.
Do you practice for the first time in the jet with 100 plus pax on board?
As it turns out you do, but often enough to keep current? And if it does go wrong what support will you get from the CEO?
As someone who has taught I thought the training I got in the sim was, well, to be nice could have been better......by a BIG margin
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 11:36
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Thumbs up

The over reliance on automatics that bungle rat talks about can often contribute to examples such as this:

Would I, whilst hand-flying the ENTRA departure out of YSSY with NADP1 procedure, 5000' level off with multiple TCAS traffic and weather be in risk of flap overspeed or missing the 5000' level off? These have both happened.
They've also happened because people have had it drummed into them that they need to have the automatics in for these types of departures and so they've gone for them and not been able to cope with the multiple mode changes and/or capture parameters. What drives me nuts is watching people play like liberace on the MCP when a disconnect and hand fly would deliver them a far better outcome much more quickly and with much less fuss.

So I've got no problems with people utilising the automatics to their fullest extent when appropriate but I also like people knowing how to fly the aeroplane and most importantly, knowing which of the options they should be going for given the circumstances they're faced with.

Thought provoking post by Tee Emm. Not completely right but closer to that than completely wrong.
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Old 9th Jan 2010, 13:06
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you handed in the fun chips when you signed up for your 1st sim supported aircraft...

If you want to be a hand flying legend spend some of that big paycheck on a ultralight, LSA, homebuilt, whatever machine and go mad to your hearts content....

Hand flying is an essential skill and those that have respect for it will always find a way to practice..
but flying a modern RPT machine designed with FMS etc probably aint the best time...

Captain Sully I think did so well not for what he did at work but what he did in aviation outside the jet world over the years...
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