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Automation versus "Mandraulics"

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Automation versus "Mandraulics"

Old 28th Feb 2009, 11:20
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Automation versus "Mandraulics"

To continue the theme started in another post, I thought it might be useful to start a discussion on the benefits, or otherwise, of automation versus good ol' hand-eye co-ordination.

My experience dates back to when automation was a system of linkages, levers and air driven valves that controlled your rotor rpm whenever you moved the collective. Things moved on quite quickly of course, and soon we had RNAV which, in the case of the offshore B212s at least, gave you a line to follow superimposed on the radar picture.
As soon as any automation is introdcuced, it is my experience that pilots were very quick to opt for relying on the automated items and "old fashioned" skills were quickly left to fester.

I was one of a small group of 212 pilots that were checked out to fly single-pilot IFR many moons ago. This included clearance to fly offshore, night at 200 ft with a 300 ft cloudbase, provided you could see your destination. The clearance was made possible by the judicious use of the usual instruments, including a Radalt, and a moving map display - Decca Danac!!
To say that we were being stretched is an understatement, but it most certainly honed up your night handling skills! Sadly, one of our number had a daytime accident. Perhaps we all thought that day flying, VFR or IFR, was easy by comparison, and I for one know that it could just have easily been me that had the accident.

In the other thread, several Rotorheads have mentioned the need to ensure that the handover between IF and Visual is properly managed. Not so easy when you are operating alone, unless you raise the limits substantially to ensure sufficient time to transfer.

Moving on to more recent automation. Many modern helicopters have the ability to fly hands-off down to whatever minima are imposed for the type of approach you are making. This includes some pretty tight minima when making a CAT3 approach. So what happens when one of the "automatic bits" fails at a critical time during the approach, ie just before minima. Are our manual skills still sufficiently honed to take over without prejudice to the safety of the flight? If not, how do we ensure that such skills are there and maintained?

Let battle commence........................
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 14:55
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Perhaps we should first compute the rate of occurrence for the kinds of failures that would result in the situation you describe.

As there are partial failures that adversely effect the aircraft but do not render the "automatic" portion of the flight controls totally unserviceable we will need to break out the various failure modes and determine what "human" actions would be needed to cope.

Then perhaps we can arrive at a determination of the procedures needed to cope with those situations and thus arrive at a minimum skill set determination.

Or....maybe we just go with the premise....human beings can rise to the occasion when called upon out of self preservation if for no other reason.
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 15:22
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My pennies worth before the great debate... Observations from a two crew environment including sim, flying the 139 with all the bells and whistles.... Far too much time spent by crews with their heads entrenched in the cockpit instead of looking outside.. Too many toy's to play with!!
As I keep reminding our guy's.... It's just a helicopter, fly first, f**k later
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 16:45
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flyer, as SAS says it depends on the reliability of the systems. On the 225 we have a 4-channel autopilot, a 3 channel AHRS, 3 channel air data system, and each control axis has 2 actuators (one electric, one hydraulic). So with any single failure, nothing adverse happens. Even with some double failures nothing much happens.

There comes a point when the danger of routine manual flying in bad weather exceeds the training benefit for being able to cope when the automation goes wrong.

The important thing to remember is that if it does start to malfunction, you go-around, discontinue the tricky flying bit etc and head for home

If you look at the fixed-wing world, who are 20 years ahead of us on this, many airlines prohibit manual flight below 10,000'

We will agree with them fairly soon, once the attitude adjustment has kicked in!

HC
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 18:06
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When I started fly SAR, we were in mountainous regions, at night, over water (frequently all three conditions together) with only an attitude indicator and a radalt to help us hover. No height hold, the only flight control augmentation was a SAS, no doppler, no NVG.

flyer43, please tell me you don't think the above is a better way to fly than a modern machine with coupled hover, NVG, etc.


If there is a lacking skill set amongst the pilots flying modern machines, it is not the technology that is at fault. It is the training.

With proper training and clear ops manuals, the pilot should have no difficulty in determining when the technology provides an overall benefit.


Lets not turn a low probability series of failures combined with poor training into an excuse for making this industry less safe.

Matthew.
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 18:31
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MP

flyer43, please tell me you don't think the above is a better way to fly than a modern machine with coupled hover, NVG, etc.
Far from it, I was simply starting a discussion with reference to how things were in the past. When I look back at how I used to operate a million years ago, I think that I felt I had reached the pinacle. In truth, I was only just scratching the surface and was lucky to get away with not having an accident.
I'm all for improvements, provided they actually enhance safety! What I am concerned about is exactly what you and many other have stated - is the training sufficient to ensure that the pilots skills are adequate for the task, and how can the standards be maintained and ensured for all pilots?
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 18:36
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We Make Accidents with our Heads not our Hands

The age-old belief that we must continue to wiggle the sticks to prevent accidents flies in the face of the accident record, where at least 10 times the number of commercial accidents are the result of loss of situational awareness (where are you, what are you doing with this machine?) as opposed to precise stick wiggling (make the airplane go where you want accurately).

In other words, the inadvertant CFIT accident, or running out of gas, or flying into thunderstorms or a thousand big-picture causes are the cause of accidents.(Latest EC225 accident, anyone?)

If the pilot is meerly a meat-servo, chasing needles, he/she has less mental bandwidth to also fully monitor WHERE the machine is and WHAT it is doing, relative to what it SHOULD and COULD be doing.

In other words, stick manipulation is no longer the limiting thing, it is systems monitoring where we will make the biggest safety strides.

For those who doubt this, look to big airliners and EMS Helicopters, where the "systems breakdowns" are the single biggest accident causes, and stick wiggling causes are nearly nil.

The next gen controls will not be helicopter controls at all, they will be positional beepers that guide the machine to land by itself, as we command them with sticks that are a long shot better than what we have now.
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 18:43
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Hi flyer

I'll give you another example - at a recent meeting with a certain gentleman from the CAA, he explained that someone wanted to do some research on manual flying skills in the fixed-wing operators - it might have been as part of a CAA research project. A mainstream fixed-wing operator volunteered to take part, but rapidly realised that they were going to be embarrassed, and pulled out once it became apparent that their pilots could not maintain altitude within 100' without the automation.

But I say "So What if they can't maintain altitude within 100'!". That is a redundant skill. They fly using automation, which has considerable redundancy. If the automation completely fails once in a blue moon and they can't maintain alt within 100' does it matter? For en-route flying, normally separation is 1000' so if they go up or down a few hundred, so what? It only perhaps matters for MDA.

Times change, skills need to change otherwise we don't progress. There is too much of a culture of "real men fly manually, automation is for girls" (no offence to female readers intended - its just a turn of phrase), coming from all levels - JAA, EASA, CAA downwards. You only have to look at the LST/LPC proformas to see how much interest there is in the skill of managing the automation from the Authorities (though it is getting slightly better).

HC
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 18:53
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Grifthefrog,

I assume form your last post that you have never, ever flown over the sea at night, cos if you had, looking out can be very, very dis-orietating experience, especially in an oilfield with no moon, horizon and golfish bowl conditions.

Sometimes the platforms/rigs/boats look like they are above you and floating with the stars (and you at 1000 feet amsl)

Your post would be more relevant when over the land - IN VMC.

Thanks for your input.
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 18:58
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Mathew Parsons,

You make a good point about training, but, lets combine your call for more training, with a policy of mandated automatics.

Then where would we be!!

A lot safer than the situation you operated in.

Big respect though....you SAR guys in a steam driven helicopter knew your stuff.....but remember...you were all hand chosen from a cast of 1000s. We do not have that luxury.

Companring you with us is like comparing me with a fighter pilot (My willy is far larger).
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 19:01
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Helicompariter,

The CAA have issued a new Standards Doc 28 - guess what - includes policys and an appendix about the use of EFIS and Automatics, practically demanding full use during OPC/LPC.

It is we, the great unwashed who have not swallowed the bait. Just look at some of the posts above.
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 21:29
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I am no longer curent on the old 76A+ as of midnight tonight. Phew...

I have flown the 76 for the last 10 years and for the past two years been dual rated flying it alongside the AB139. Two ends of the spectrum you might say.

I am a huge and commited fan of the coupler/higher functions of the autopilot.

But as I wave good bye to the old mandraulics I bear one thing in mind. The ability to fly accurately on instruments without leaning too heavily on the automatics is a skill I wish to preserve. I will endevour to use the appropriate method at the appropriate time.

HC said

But I say "So What if they can't maintain altitude within 100'!". That is a redundant skill. They fly using automation, which has considerable redundancy. If the automation completely fails once in a blue moon and they can't maintain alt within 100' does it matter? For en-route flying, normally separation is 1000' so if they go up or down a few hundred, so what? It only perhaps matters for MDA.
The last sentence is the key. On the day I have an AFCS degrade, with no coupled functions available and the weather down to minima, the ability to fly accurately is vital. With a totally "automatics" environment how quickly do those perishable skills shrival? Suprisingly quickly is my bet.

I guess some might shoot me down saying "well how often do the automatics fail". My answer... "Computers and a moist salt laden environment, watch this space". I guess we have more avionic failures than say engine failures.

My point is broaden your skills of course, by honeing best pracitce with the coupler. But don't be to hasty to de-skill. You might be bitten in the a**e by just as big a beast, maybe just a little closer to home.

I seem to remember a fixed wing well below the glide path, passed about 120 feet, IMC, from the blocks of flats on the aproach to 16 in ABZ just a few years ago. Clearly that wasn't coupled. But was it being flown manually by choice or because the coupler went inop? Or was it being flown by a little practiced pilot being monitored by another human being? Maybe someone will remember.


Fly safe. Or monitor safe. Either way say safe.
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Old 28th Feb 2009, 22:33
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The CAA have issued a new Standards Doc 28 - guess what - includes policys and an appendix about the use of EFIS and Automatics, practically demanding full use during OPC/LPC
And they did so after lobbying by trainers in industry, such as HC and myself, who have a pretty firm grasp of how automation should be used. I can assure you that the new CAA perspective is 180 degrees out from where it was only 5 years ago, and that is also assisted by the fact that the FOTIs and FOIs are now getting real world experience on these new types.

I agree with HC - a slightly less accurately flown manual element is generally not a problem. On the other hand, letting someone who can fly an entire check ride manually, to perfection loose, in an automated machine and who then decides to "push a few buttons to help out" one dark and dingy night, is a recipe for disaster.

Helicopter pilots will always get a lot more handling time than their FW cousins, so the degradation of skills argument is lfar ess valid. I've just stepped off a 17 hour A340 flight from LAX-SIN, with a 4 man crew and one landing, so clearly the issue is different there.

The keys to automation use are standardisation, logical use and understanding (by the pilot.) There is no need to reinvent the wheel either - the FW world already have some pretty clear guidelines that are generally equally applicable, such as the "Golden Rules of Automation" published by Airbus, but based on those agreed by the Flight Safety Foundation.

Remember also, that it's not just the use of 'automatics' that's the issue - it's the use of displays and overlays that's equally important, as they are the key to situational awareness which in itself should be enhanced by the reduced flying load of automation. It's situational awareness that stops you flying into the ground, other a/c, running out of fuel, landing at the wrong destination etc etc.

Interestingly enough, one of the 'Golden Rules' is that the best level of automation to use may be no automation at all i.e. hand flying! It depends on the situation.

(sorry for typos - it's 0600 on Sunday but my body thinks it's 1400 Saturday!)
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Old 1st Mar 2009, 00:26
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212 Man,

That is one of the best, balanced posts I have read on the combined threads (super puma down...) and this one.

I think we have a lot to learn about automarics, the philosophy and appropriateness of their use.

We need an expert...someone call Jim Ferguson!!!
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Old 1st Mar 2009, 04:12
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Mmmmm ...

Double B ....

You jump to conclusions very well ....

....realize you have experience of your own which is no doubt valuable in your own mind ... but please do not disparage that of others ....

I happen to know "Griffo" has much experience at Night, Offshore, Mountain and in IMC conditions where an approach in Low Vis in still air high humidity with Calm sea conditions which is most likely the most challenging situ one might encounter!

Cheers
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Old 1st Mar 2009, 08:18
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My two cents worth - I could point to several accidents in the US where the pilot either wasn't using the automatics when they should have been used, or didn't use them properly.
A rough estimate is that 25% of pilots who have autopilots in their helicopter in the USA don't use them. Go figure.
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Old 1st Mar 2009, 08:48
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It is still a helicopter

flyer, as SAS says it depends on the reliability of the systems. On the 225 we have a 4-channel autopilot, a 3 channel AHRS, 3 channel air data system, and each control axis has 2 actuators (one electric, one hydraulic). So with any single failure, nothing adverse happens. Even with some double failures nothing much happens.

There comes a point when the danger of routine manual flying in bad weather exceeds the training benefit for being able to cope when the automation goes wrong.

The important thing to remember is that if it does start to malfunction, you go-around, discontinue the tricky flying bit etc and head for home

If you look at the fixed-wing world, who are 20 years ahead of us on this, many airlines prohibit manual flight below 10,000'

We will agree with them fairly soon, once the attitude adjustment has kicked in!

HC
I quoted this as a typical post on this subject. While there is a lot we can learn from the fixed-wing operators, and by this I mean the scheduled airlines flying large aircraft because that is what people are referring to, they don't operate in the same environment as we do. Their runway stays in one place, both pilots can see it during the landing, and it doesn't have variable slopes, obstacles, and altitudes.

Apples to apples, oranges to oranges. Enough of the bananas to potatoes.

There are 2 arguments going on here:
1. How much automation should we be using?
2. What effect will that have on our skill sets?

1. We should use all the automation that can help us operate more safely and not use any automation that interferes with the safe operation of the aircraft. Our SOP's, checklists, manuals, and everything else we use to get the job done should give us guidance on how to judge which category each system falls into at any one time.

2. The more automation we use the rustier our hands and feet will get. Of course. This will also be affected by how much experience we had, and our level of skill, before we were introduced to the automation. For most of our operations this will have negligable (sp?) effects but I firmly believe that we are a long way off from Cat III approaches to a floating platform in the middle of the ocean, the side of a mountain at 9500', or a road intersection in downtown metropolis. For that reason we must continue to be highly skilled at the manual flying of the aircraft.

------------------------------------------------------------------

In the training role I have been involved in the last few years, I have observed that pilots coming from a VFR, single, unautomated background bring with them a soft skillset in basic aircraft handling that allows them to spend very little time manipulating the controls and still get the job done when needed. Pilots who have gone from flight school to an automated, IFR twin very quickly lose those same skills and need regular practice to build it back up. This must be recognized as we assess our training needs and write our procedures.

Very few helicopters are operating in a sched airline role and taking all the SOP's from that industry is, in my opinion, inappropriate. We have different needs and only but addressing our own environment will we find an appropriate solution.
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Old 1st Mar 2009, 12:16
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In the training role I have been involved in the last few years, I have observed that pilots coming from a VFR, single, unautomated background bring with them a soft skillset in basic aircraft handling that allows them to spend very little time manipulating the controls and still get the job done when needed. Pilots who have gone from flight school to an automated, IFR twin very quickly lose those same skills and need regular practice to build it back up. This must be recognized as we assess our training needs and write our procedure
Swamp76
Surely then you are saying that operators requiring multi crew, should only be looking at recruiting pilots with considerably more than minimum CPL/IR hours as these will have a better "basic skill set" they may have the paperwork but can they do the job when things go wrong/ bad Wx, out of the sim?

I know that N Sea operators generally do only accept those with greater hours, presumably for this reason, BUT as the number of pilots available falls, they are lowering their requirements and this may lead to problems in the future, " a strong building requires good foundations"

I personally think that such operators would be better of recruiting pilots with more hours and no IR, (or Faa IR so it at least shows some ability) rather than someone who has minimum hours and a shiny new JAA IR (and higher debt).At least these would have no problems flying without thinking about it.

If what Swamp76 says is correct then surely this would increase the safety and reduce the statistics.
Just my two pence worth.

Chester
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Old 1st Mar 2009, 12:33
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I know that N Sea operators generally do only accept those with greater hours, presumably for this reason, BUT as the number of pilots available falls, they are lowering their requirements and this may lead to problems in the future, " a strong building requires good foundations"
Although you may think that they are lowering their requirements, what you should find is that there is a move towards competency rather than experience. To say that a pilot with thousands of hours experience is much better than one with only a few hundred is not exactly true. Unless the training and checking of any pilot is "up to scratch", you can only really say that a pilot has x amount of experience.
I'm not saying that experience doesn't count, it just depends what sort of experience it is. As some say about computers, rubbish in = rubbish out!
Competency based training programmes do require a certain amount of experience but also require training and testing in excedence of the statutory minimums laid down by the authority. As others have already said on this thread, there is a difference between the required standards and best practices.
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Old 1st Mar 2009, 12:44
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Night flying offshore..

DOUBLE BOGEY...

Ok I'll take the bait! I think you are correct and my post was more relevant to day onshore, but it was just my small input to keep the thread rolling and not designed to make any major impact. I thought that was what PPRuNe encouraged... Don't you?

As for your comments directed to me about offshore flying at night , as an ex N.Sea, SNS, Irish Sea, Capt. flying single/multi pilot day/night ops in the days before all the gizmo's, I have to say you have really got me there....... Even as a line training Captain teaching night deck landings offshore, I have NEVER seen rigs/boats floating with the stars from a thousand feet....... I HAVE however seen the Iolair dissapear below the waves on my final approach at night

Take care mate and safe flying, I know you guy's are going through a difficult time there at the moment and doing a great job.
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