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Automation attraction

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Automation attraction

Old 2nd Jul 2016, 18:33
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Automation attraction

A recent news report describes an automobile (pun intended) accident. The headline reads:

"Tesla driver killed in Autopilot crash had praised safety of system"

And includes the passage:

A driver with a history of speeding who was so enamoured of his Tesla Model S sedan that he nicknamed the car "Tessy" and praised the safety benefits of its sophisticated Autopilot system has become the first U.S. fatality in a wreck involving a car in self-driving mode
And:

Joshua D. Brown of Canton, Ohio, the 40-year-old owner of a technology company, was killed May 7 in Williston, Florida, when his car's cameras failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn't automatically activate its brakes
Yes, this was a car accident. But, in the context of all the technology becoming available to GA, the same automation attractions are temping in aircraft, and equally unforgiving when the unexpected happens. We are at risk of loosing basic handling and judgement skills because we allow the technology to do it for us.

I understand that this fellow ignored a tractor trailer hazard, thinking his car would automatically take care of it for him. I was a back seat passenger in a hi tech Volvo, at highway speed on a narrow road in Norway last summer, when to all of our surprise, the brakes suddenly applied fully, and the car began to leave the lane under limited control (the driver had been, and continued to steer, but had not touched the brakes). I noticed a bird fly away, and realized that the bird had been detected as a collision hazard, and the car decided to stop itself.

My friend who owns a 182RG emailed me yesterday of the plane entering a "snap roll" on autopilot, when the artificial horizon instrument failed and toppled. He recovered safely, as he was in VMC, but with alarm.

In the world of incredible automation, and "labour saving" systems, we can't give up our basic skills in simply flying the plane well, and being the ultimate and primary safety system, to the exclusion of all other systems. Pilots fly planes, not the other way around....
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Old 2nd Jul 2016, 21:12
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Suggestion he may have been watching a video.
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Old 5th Jul 2016, 08:43
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This debate is already going on in the airlines, I find that my young first officers are discouraged from hand flying the aircraft and have become autopilot minders.

I resently had a ( very unusual ) major autopilot problem......... So I disengaged the autopilot and reverted to hand flying the aircraft........ No big deal.

After the techies had taken 24 hours to fix the thing the reaction from my colleagues was interesting with a number of "well done in a difficult situation" emails.

I did not think it was a big deal hand flying the aircraft but clearly. Some people are getting to feel that the autopilot is essential and the flip side of the coin is that manual flying skills are being eroded.
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Old 5th Jul 2016, 11:05
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There are many sides to this story, the rot started when they automated the FE out of a job.
With the introduction of RSVM a human pilot can no longer be trusted to maintain the correct level with the accuracy required for long periods so the autopilot becomes compulsary in the cruise. Aircraft have become more complicated with each innovation and have reached the point where the phrase "WTF is it doing now" has become common.
Someone needs to start implementing the KISS principle.

Getting back to our GA topic, lighter aircraft are less stable so I find that a basic autopilot is a great help in keeping everything pointed in the right direction but the magenta line is leading to an erosion of important skills.
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Old 5th Jul 2016, 13:07
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can't say how things are on your side of the Atlantic, but beyond the autopilot, "millennials" over here can barely decipher a paper map. Seriously, I've already heard from people who had to buy their kids a GPS when they went to college because they can't find their way home with a road map. Heck High school kids can't find their way around their home town when they start to drive because they grew up playing with their phone or ipad in the back Mom's car and never looked out the window to figure out where they were going.
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Old 5th Jul 2016, 13:58
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This is indeed becoming a societal issue. People tend to make themselves dependent on technology to a degree that I (speaking strictly for myself only) find totally unacceptable. Plus, they indeed teach their children to the same attitude.

Would we, private pilots, become the prophets of the 21st century, by pointing out the importance of relying/depending only on things we can master by ourselves?
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Old 6th Jul 2016, 06:24
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We had for some time been flying aircraft with electronic clocks. Along came a new aircraft fitted with the century old eight day clock, when it came to the checklist item "wind clock" the co-pilot was flummoxed and had no idea. Wind that little knob there clockwise son.
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Old 6th Jul 2016, 09:47
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If one looks at this a bit more long term. IMHO we are at the transition between human flown aircraft and computer flown ones. Currently it's a toss up as to which is more reliable. The robots are getting better quite quickly, the humans are not.
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Old 6th Jul 2016, 10:38
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You may well be right and I accept that for efficient long cruise conditions the autopilot is an obvious choice, BUT...I'm 'old school', OK, I'm old, and if things go wrong I want a 'hands on' capable human being up front and in charge.
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Old 6th Jul 2016, 11:34
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Well yes .... but, as devil's advocate, things don't go wrong much these rule based, check-list driven days. When things do they maybe better dealt with by cold logic backed by an experienced remote team rather than some 22 year old who has not hand flown an aircraft for years if much at all.

Obviously robots won't be so good at bush flying ..... yet ....
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Old 6th Jul 2016, 12:26
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Well yes .... but, as devil's advocate, things don't go wrong much these rule based, check-list driven days. When things do they maybe better dealt with by cold logic backed by an experienced remote team rather than some 22 year old who has not hand flown an aircraft for years if much at all.
And how would a remote team have handled QF32?
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Old 6th Jul 2016, 14:02
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I think a robot would have coped with a little help from some remote team. Deciding on landing at the nearest airfield after an uncontained engine failure (and the other failures) would be part of the standard programming even if the remote team did not command it. The difficult bit would be deciding on the evacuation etc without someone competent to make those decisions on the scene.

I am not saying a robot would be best in all circumstances. But we should remember that there have been plenty of cases where the human was the problem (eg Air France 447). The question is which setup would kill more people, humans with autopilot or robots assisted by humans? I'm saying that as robots get better the balance point will be soon if it has not passed already.
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Old 6th Jul 2016, 14:44
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And where's the limit between an autopilot and a robot?
I feel inclined to say that the current developments in robot techniques might and could as well be applied to autopilots. Actually, not in the least hindered by any in-depth knowledge of autopilots, nor by profound study of the sad story, I never understood how any autopilot allowed the AF disaster over the South Atlantic to happen.
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Old 10th Jul 2016, 17:08
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I think that automation has great benefit for mundane tasks. We should depend upon the human to be the higher authority when things start going wrong. A well trained human will do a better job.

The automation programmer would like everyone to believe that they have though of everything, but I don't believe it. I have flown some planes, whose autopilots seem to be designed to disengage if an unusual attitude is reached, along with an audible warning to the pilot that the autopilot is no longer flying the plane. I think this is a great design element - the automation should warn the pilot that they might be expected to suddenly fly if things keep going [toward worse], or become worse. Give the pilot the time available to prepare to hand fly (though they were paying attention anyway - right?).

If the pilot really feels that they need the automation help in those abnormal circumstances, let them re-engage the autopilot for that purpose. That re-engagement was their warning that the conditions might be beyond the capacity of the automation.

Thereafter, as basic as it sounds, I opine that every pilot should hand land the aircraft, with zero automation, on a regular basis, simply for currency. If this is a problem, there's a bigger problem!
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Old 10th Jul 2016, 18:03
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Automation is OK provided you know its limitations and know them well.

This fellow in Tesla car probably did not bother to read the litany of limitations in his car's manual and that's very unfortunate and stupid. I just purchased a Lexus (no autopilot here) and in its manual it has pages of disclaimers and limitations about BSM (blind spot monitor), parking assist, adaptive cruise control, etc.

There is an irony in all this - I recall the famous court battle between a family of a killed VFR-only pilot and Cirrus Aircraft Corporation alleging that during the standard Cirrus training the pilot was never shown how to press the blue button to engage the autopilot - family lawyers insisted that this would have saved pilot's life ( ) and jury agreed ( ).
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Old 10th Jul 2016, 22:34
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I love the automatic ignition "advance and retard" and automatic mixture control on my car, compared to the steering wheel hand controls for them on the 1922 Albion lorry (truck in USspeak).
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Old 11th Jul 2016, 07:51
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In this context we should remember an autopilot is designed to be an assistant. The human is in charge and the autopilot is easily overridden and does not usually act fast enough to get ahead of the human.

An autonomous robot aircraft is something different.
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