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Will pilots be redundant in 50 years?

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Will pilots be redundant in 50 years?

Old 18th Nov 2002, 18:58
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Why not ? Just as soon as they get radar and precision approaches into the Greek Islands.I reckon that gives us at least another 50 years !
Old 18th Nov 2002, 23:37
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From my archives...

"There is a very strong feeling, particularly on the part of the engineering community, that the way to get rid of human error is simply to get rid of the pilot. In fact I've seen a letter signed by a senior vice-president of maintenance, of a major airline, which said precisely that.
I don't think that we'll ever see a situation in which we've totally eliminated the human operator, or the pilot, from the flight deck. Because we need the capability to do what thus far only people can do and that is to be creative and to deal with ambiguous situations, new situations, un-anticipated situations in creative ways.
I have an example from the real world that I think vividly illustrates what the human brings to the situation and why we need to design systems so that the human is an integral part of it.
Severeral years ago a large three engined aircraft was taking off from L.A and there was a failure in the horizontal stabiliser - a very serious problem. They were able to gain control of the airplane and in fact bring it around for a successful landing by making use of the differential thrust between the tail mounted engine [which is up high and above the CG], and when thrust is applied tends to pitch the aircraft down, and the wing mounted engines [which are below the CG] , and when power is applied to them tends to pitch the aircraft up. What makes that interesting is that's not an explicit, approved or understood procedure, in fact the crew made use of an adverse characteristic - engineers try to design airplanes so that they don't have pitching moments with power changes. Here a human being, a flight crew, was able to make use of an adverse characteristic to save the day.

It's that kind of creative thinking, that only the human can do, and do effectively, that is going to dictate his continued presence for the foreseeable future in any kind of complex system".

Dr John K Lauber
[Currently the vice president-Safety and Technical Affairs, Airbus Industrie of North America. Dr. Lauber completed two terms as a member of the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, D.C. He has participated in investigations of major accidents involving all modes of transportation. Dr. Lauber has also served as chief of the Aeronautical Human Factors Research Office for NASA Ames Research Center, where he was instrumental in the development of advanced flight crew training concepts that are now used by airlines around the world.]

So give it a thought the next time you're flying. Are you better off in the hands of a human pilot, whose ability to mess it up is at least matched by his instinct for survival - or is there an alternative?

If we leave it to the computer, have we created the perfect pilot or could human error creep in another way? The old adage says 'it's the pilot who is always the first on the scene of an accident', but in a pilot-less aircraft the fault may lie with a software designer who is busy sipping his G&T at home in silicon valley - at the exact time your plane comes down in the Rockies!

Last edited by cy becker; 19th Nov 2002 at 05:38.
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Old 19th Nov 2002, 09:31
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Just a little note:

Many tube trains nowdays can be completely "driverless", yet tube companies worldwide still puts drivers in their trains. So that might explain a bit.

But what will happen to the co-pilot? I don't know.
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Old 19th Nov 2002, 12:21
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As a software developer and CPL holder I find this as laughable as the regular "robots about to take over the world" columns in the Daily Mail. It just shows to highlight the utter ignorance of the writer. Software development and computing technology is not and never will be equal to the complexity of the human brain.
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Old 19th Nov 2002, 15:25
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I guess an aircraft with no pilots, no cockpit and no flight controls, and locked on a pre-programmed route would be pretty difficult to hijack!
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Old 20th Nov 2002, 01:08
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150 Driver be mindful of UAVs. The largest of them is the Globalhawk. It is remotely flown from the USA to the Middle East, then lingers in the air (on station) 6 hours and returns back to the USA, unrefueled, computer controlled, operated and programmed, sometimes by non pilots!
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Old 20th Nov 2002, 14:59
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Squawk 7777 says that apparently engineers are delevoping an aircraft with video screens instead of flight deck windows-what would be the point of that?
A video screen can break down, a window can't. (Although it could perhaps fall out-as has happened, but they got it down alright.
The possibility of having a basically automated aircraft but with the ability to be controlled from the ground was mentioned.
Firstly, that would surely be very vunerable to terroist. A very high powered transmitter to block the signals, and / or send false signals?
Secondaly, without constant monitering, how would they know when they needed to take over? Of course, you could have a highly trained indivual monitering with another highly trained indivual (with perhaps less expereince than the first) also monitering to make sure the first doesn't miss anything or do something wrong, constantly during the flight. In which case, it may be better to have them on board where they can react quicker and be more motivated to keep the thing in the air...oh wait a minute, aren't we back where we are now?
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Old 20th Nov 2002, 15:28
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Software development and computing technology is not and never will be equal to the complexity of the human brain.

There are plenty of extremely distinguished nerds out there who would disagree with you. Although AI is not arriving as fast as some people have suggested, we really have no idea where we will be in 25 or 50 years time.

Anyway, there is a whole lot of difference between a computer being able to produce the complete works of Shakespear, and being able to fly an aeroplane. The latter is eminently computer controllable even now, computers are very safe, and can only get safer. Pilots in transport jets are no longer there primarily to move control surfaces, and carbon based computers have nasty failure modes too.

There is another thread out there debating the merits of having a 250 hour guy flying RHS on a 737. Personally, I'd rather have an experienced captain and a computer.
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Old 20th Nov 2002, 15:59
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Jump Complete As far as I recall the video screens were thought to be a good way around the problems designing cockpit windows. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I read it, I believe this article might have been in Aviation Week & Space Technology . Engineers - I beleive - would appreciate a system like this on the next generation SST. No more tilting nose to worry about ...

slim_slag There have been a lot of discussions before about low time RHS pilots. The last intense one was about the Crossair 146 crash. Based from my experience it all depends on the individual and the training she or he had. Additionally, you cannot draw a line between good training, good piloting skills and flight experience. A few airlines put low time pilots in the RHS. Moreover, how many flight hours does a F-16 pilot have, the first time he flies solo? Besides all this, I suppose military pilots should be the first ones concerned by those UAVs. Last I read, Boeing is working on a UCAR - R standing for rotorcraft.

I am not favouring the idea of pilotless travel. I have started this thread because of the increasing number of articles and reports in the last few years.

7 7 7 7

Last edited by Squawk7777; 21st Nov 2002 at 00:48.
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Old 20th Nov 2002, 18:10
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I'm not sure why people keep throwing out the F-16 pilot as a reason why 250hr pilots are fine to fly RHS in a 737. An F-16 pilot truly is la creme de la creme, would tend to be a risk taker, doesn't have 100+ people behind him, his plane is automated to the extreme, and there is an attrition rate of F-16 pilots which would be unnaceptable in civil aviation.

But what do I know.

I used my example to illustrate how far we have come since the days when cockpits needed three or more crew in them - and regulations were written accordingly. I didn't say computers are yet able to replace the experienced captain. The checks and balances they already provide, and ability to precisely move control surfaces and fly to/from a radio emitter, maybe make them capable of replacing the inexperienced FO - no matter how well trained. Who knows what the future has in store. unwiseowl describes a realistic scenario, IMHO.

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Old 20th Nov 2002, 18:39
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Nothing can .... or ever will ... go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong ..... go wrong, ....go wroooonnnnnng, ... go wroonnn,.... go wwwwrrrrroooo .......


Nuff said!

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Old 21st Nov 2002, 00:46
  #32 (permalink)  
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slim_slag you can use the example of the 250 hr F-16 pilot for and against the discussion whether to put a low-time pilot into the RHS of an airliner. Then there are arguments about too much SE time in your career etc. etc.

I agree with unwiseowl's scenario, too.

I haven't heard anything about the future A380 cockpit design philosophy. Anybody know?

7 7 7 7
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Old 21st Nov 2002, 08:34
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Several of the postings on this forum have put forward the view that the pilot is essential so that he can 'think out of the box' when the automated systems fail - and thus prevent an accident.

Surely we should look at this from a purely statistical point of view - yes there are incidents where flight crew have saved the aircraft from disaster after a mechanical failure but there are also many incidents where flight crew, through incompetance or failure to follow operating procedures have caused major incidents/accidents.

We should investigate to see if the amount of incidents that would be prevented by NOT having flight crews controlling the aircraft is outwhieged by the amount of incidents prvented by having flight crew who can overide the aircraft systems when they fail.

After a quick search I found this report on accidents causes
Improving the Continued
Airworthiness of Civil Aircraft

This report seems to show that the causes of accidents are mainly (2/3rds) the result of pilot error and only 10% aircraft system failure.

I am aware that you can make statitics show anything however I also note that in the worst of weather you can only do a CAT 3 approach if the computer is flying the plane - not the pilot!
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Old 22nd Nov 2002, 06:05
  #34 (permalink)  
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7 7 7 7

Yep, I've noticed that different people will use the same example to push their own agenda.

Maybe to add to unwiseowl's scenario. Computers eventually deemed reliable enough to replace FO when monitored by experienced captain, but at more critical times (statistics would suggest take off, descent, landing appear to be risky) you bring in a specially trained member of the cabin crew. This appears to be the way other professions are moving, eg Practice nurses, physicians assistants and para-legals. They can do most things safely only under the supervision of the experienced expert (whatever that is) If captain snuffs it in cruise, computer can get plane down at closest airport with ILS with assistance of para-pilot. Actually GPS should do the trick too.

I guess not long ago that would have been considered herecy in the medical profession, but the docs eventually accepted it. Pilots might not like it, but you should never say never. Pay the existing pilots more, and they would go for it. Worked on the London Buses when they wanted to phase out conductors, union solidarity soon collapsed when drivers got offered extra cash.

I'm sure its all been said before, interesting times we live in.....
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Old 22nd Nov 2002, 11:23
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A view from the design office....

I suspect strongly that the job of the bomber pilot is on it's way out for most roles, there may well remain a role for certain types of local ground attack - the Harrier / Apache role, where close-in identification and decision making need to be made in real time. The death of the fighter pilot was forecast in a well publicised UK government paper in 1957, and hasn't happened yet. Again however, I think the role of controlling an aircraft, controlling the weapons, rather than dogfighting is almost inevitable - so the machines will start to take the main risks more and more.

I doubt very much that the job of transport pilot will ever die - but it is already becoming much more of a management role and less of a hands-on role, and I suspect that won't change. Who will ever want to fly as pax on a totally automated machine? Who will make the decisions on diversions, throwing pissed pax out the door, etc?

I can't see any way in which certain flying roles can ever be totally automated. For example - SAR, small local transport routes between semi-prepared strips in the back of beyond, sightseeing - and of course flight testing the non-automated aircraft.

So far as I can see the jobs of both pilots and engineers can only get more interesting. Except for that of airline captains, who presumably will continue to be paid more than anybody else for reading page 3 and occasionally checking the dials or dealing with a badly behaved passenger to relieve the boredom.

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Old 23rd Nov 2002, 02:00
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I'd like to see a computer control an aircraft like United 232. An engine disintegration that severed all hydraulic lines. How many lines of code would it take to do what Haynes and crew did?

Put me in the camp of unbelievers. The moment a pilot considers himself nothing more than a system manager is the moment he's set himself on a course for disaster.

There are countless instances of the crew saved a deteriorating situation casued by the machine, ATC or design oversight. They don't make for lasting headlines. For example, I'm trying to remember the L1011 flight out of SAN where the crew had no idea the horizontal stab had gone full nose up on them while taxiing out. The stab setting was green in the cockpit but a mechanical problem put it full nose up unbeknown to the crew. They took off and both pilots went full forward with the elevators and trim to no effect. The Captain defaulted to the stick and rudder skills of a fighter pilot, as he repeatedly rolled the lift vector off the aircraft to get the nose down. Using differential thrust and moving pax forward they were able to save the day. And they were quickly forgotten. I searched the NTSB database and could not find this incident. Is it possible to program these kinds of problem solving skills into a computer? I really doubt it. Not in my lifetime.

How would a computer cope with erroenous glidpath, false LOC capture, and other simple anomilies in visual conditions that is obvious to a pilot? Weather hazard recognition that demands interpetation and action between competing objectives. TILT!
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Old 23rd Nov 2002, 11:48
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Would be instructive to see a survey of low time F16 pilots accident/ incident rates. On the other hand if it all goes to grubs he can bang out in his fully automated ejector seat!100 percent loss of aircraft guaranteed. Statistics and damn lies
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Old 24th Nov 2002, 06:14
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in one of the other threads on the Eurofighter crash, one of the drivers stated that in the event of a double engine failure...eject!

That says something about designing an aircraft to be inherently unstable and using a computer to basically fly it.
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Old 24th Nov 2002, 15:25
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It's as simple as this.

Flight, among many other human endeavours, is just that...a human endeavour. If you design humans out of the equation it becomes completely non worthwhile.

Just because something is technically feasible doesn't make it a good idea.

At what point do we stop designing people out of life?

The ultimate computer known to mankind is the human brain..infinitely more capable than anything some loser who designs ultimate digital computers, and believes them infallible because unlike women they don't reject him, could ever come up with.

It seems to me very few 'airline pilots' have so far contributed to this thread...we do actually make many, MANY decisions each and every flight.

The reason airline travel is the safest way from A to B is because of the humans in the front...not the gadgets!

And be very carefull of assigning all human error in aircraft crashes to 'pilot error'...the pilots are often having to cope with the errors of others...notably 'Engineers'.

One 'Captain' on board?

How many sectors do you want to fly between A and B?

I have 15 to 20 years left 'airline flying' and this is my prognosis for my remaining career.

Aircraft will not travel significantly faster.
You can forget superfast 'lifting bodies' full of pax skipping across the atmosphere between Sydney and London in a few hours.
Aircraft will not be significantly more automated than they currently are. They may in fact be less so..or at least be designed to interface with the pilot better than some are at present.

After that I don't really care...I'll hop in my Bonanza and fly the way flying should be... when that is not possible I'll go sailing...with a sextant, chart and log and all the computer programmers can go fark themselves.

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Old 25th Nov 2002, 09:44
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Arent pilots redundant now in heavy jets ????
Maybe the title should have been will there still be humans onboard to operate/supervise systems ??

Just another stick and rudder man (cropduster)
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