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Will pilots be redundant in 50 years?

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Will pilots be redundant in 50 years?

Old 17th Nov 2002, 19:22
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Unhappy Will pilots be redundant in 50 years?

For some time I have followed articles about the new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) mainly used by the USAF and DoD and I don't know if I'll break an "unwritten taboo" by simply asking if pilots will be needed in the future.

Those new UAVs or drones are carrying out tasks like electronic surveillance and even light attacks as we have seen in recent events in Afghanistan. The days of the proud military pilots representing their country might already be a future sign of the past. More and more UAVs are being developed - there are probably many more unknown to us - and their tasks are becoming more complex and degrade the pilot - or human - simply as a system monitor.

One day I believe this will break into commercial aviation - like it or not. Imagine yourself opening up the virtual pages of FI or AW&ST in 30 or 40 years. An advertisement of a transport category airplane manufacturer catches your attention.

"Introducing the new [...] We are the first that introduce the new pilotless 250 seat airliner. Intensive research and testing have shown that pilots are completely unnecessary. The risk of human error is entirely eliminated. No more worries about pilot hiring procedures, training, recurrencies, HR issues etc. Our new plane has sextuple redundancy systems with their respective back-up systems and circuitries."

I could go on writing this ad but I hope you are getting my point. Unfortunately, I believe that we are not too far from this day, since most of us pilots are flying airplanes with very sophisticated autopilots and systems etc. and we are already used to a high level of automation.

Most of you pilots - and I am one of you - will get up and say that this is complete rubbish. Forcing myself to think "out of the box" there's one issue that we will all have to face:

Economics

An airline will not have to face pilot pay rises, retirement issues, etc. Realistically, many times being a pilot, friends of mine and I have heard that we're overpaid and only push buttons up there etc. This "against pilots" list could go one for a few pages, but I am sure that you have heard one or the other insulting(?) argument.

How far away are we from this day X where a pilot is simply an individual who monitors a flight from a computer? Everything will be automatic; probably even ATC - so there's also one less thing to worry about: No more controller strikes etc.



When will it happen?
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Old 17th Nov 2002, 19:35
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I think most pilots would agree it's inevitable.

The only disagreement would be the timescale.

Hopefully not before I retire,
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Old 17th Nov 2002, 19:56
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No

No.

There are many good reasons for keeping human pilots; here are just three I humbly think the most important:
As now, we supervise.
There will always be a need for manual intervention and the flexibility this affords.
There will always be a need to satisfy, however ill founded, the passenger’s psychological resistance to automation monopoly.

“ …the Titanic is unsinkable… “
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Old 17th Nov 2002, 20:22
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YouNeverStopLearning:

Right now, there are good reasons for us to remain in the cockpit. But how would the new "virtual" generation see this - grown up by playing FS2020 and PlayStation 40?

There will always be a need for manual intervention and the flexibility this affords.
For how long? NASA is already developing and testing autopilots to analyse and solve system malfunctions on F-15. Given powerful computers and good written software, a computer could handle an emergency far better than a flight crew. There would be no emotional interferences etc.

All this technology will turn against us one day ...
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Old 17th Nov 2002, 20:48
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Right now, all the driverless passenger systems I know of are one-dimensional - vehicles running on rails. An example is a major part of the Lyon, France, Underground / Metro / Subway system.

I don't know of any large automated two-dimensional passenger systems even being seriously proposed, let alone three dimensional (flying) ones. At my age, I'm sure I'll never see a pilotless airline passenger plane.
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Old 17th Nov 2002, 21:01
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From the point of view of someone doing research in robotics, which this is essentially about : No.
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Old 17th Nov 2002, 22:21
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Just a quick thought.

Aren't these UAVs being piloted by flight crew?

There was something on another thread, think it was about the Hellfire missile taking out the 3 Al Quaida suspects in Yemen, that stated that flight crew were being employed for the task.

An argument for the other side of the coin is that the escape shuttle being planned for the International Space Station is to be completely automated and I understand that the present Shuttle can be recovered automatically. Its only that the pilots on board want to feel useful that they manually land the thing (with all of the electronics up and running).
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Old 17th Nov 2002, 22:46
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"there's one issue that we will all have to face: Economics "

True, and the economics are this: Who will pay to fly on this pilotless aircraft?

"Risk of human error entirely eliminated" - What about the humans who will design and build this aircraft? Or, what about the humans who will design the computers and robots that will design and build this pilotless aircraft?

"Sextuple redundancy systems with their respective back-up systems and circuitries." With all this, will there be any usable payload remaining?

I don't think I'll be buying any tickets to fly on anything like this. Who would?
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Old 17th Nov 2002, 23:10
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Future cockpit will have a pilot and a dog.
The dog's job is to make sure the pilot don't touch any buttons,
The pilot's job is to feed the damn dog!!
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Old 17th Nov 2002, 23:36
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Single pilot will come first. That could last 25 years until they realise that all the pilots have retired and no more have been trained via the F/O route. Then we may see pilotless airliners!
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 00:23
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This is a very interesting discussion and no-one can tell what will happen. Having studied Aerospace Engineering and done a little research into future passenger transport, I make note that most passenger airliners that fly in the skies today are already computer controlled and could probably be programmed to fly whole routes all by themselves, the only problem at the moment is system reliability, but over time this will get better. As someone who is studying/training to be a pilot I have asked myself this question many times, I am 23 and I wonder what kind of planes will be around in 20-30 years time. Most of the new passenger airliners in development now e.g. A380, Somic Cruiser etc are predicted to have a service life of anywhere between 10-20 years. Although these planes will be nearly 100% computer controlled with the pilot in a roll of systems administrator there will still be a need for someone in a supervisory role to oversee that all the systems are functioning effectively and correctly. The role of the pilot will become even more boring that what it is now but I don't think we will see a pilot-less passenger aircraft for a very long time. I don't think airlines will be willing to take the risk of having say 500passengers in the sky and not even a single soul on board who has any idea how to control the thing. This is faith in technology gone mad, and as the old saying goes, technology always fails. So although a computer system may be backed up six other systems, I believe any smart engineer/scientist will always allow an opening for manual control. Most pilots I've spoken to, say that the computer flies the plane most of the time, so in a sense that time is already upon us, economics will dictate that the cabin door remains locked at all times and the pilots watch the systems, if any of the computer systems malfuction the pilot or pilots will assume full or partial control. I would not get on something that goes 30,000ft plus in the air, cruises at just below the speed of sound, is pressurised and carries thousands of Ilbs of fuel without there being someone on board who knows how to control it, pilot or systems administrator, that is the future.
Smoothk.
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 01:33
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Exclamation

PLovett: I am not really sure who and how those UAVs are piloted. The ugly truth is that they t/o, cruise, attack and land without having a pilot on board. There are different types of UAVs, the Predator is powered by a pusher-prop and it carried out light attacks in Afghanistan. Not sure if it was used on the attack in Yemen.

Chinthe: At this point in time no one will by tickets for a pilotless transport category aircraft. But times change. I rememeber my first airline flight in 1990; FRA-JFK with Pan Am in an A300 or 310. Upon landing everybody cheered and applauded. Nowadays, this will be very unlikely unless most pax are intoxicated. If children grow up in a fully automated world, why would they see a need for a human in a cockpit? I don't want to offend anyone, but I have previously seen FS2002 "pilots" posting and replying to threads. 10 years ago this would have been unthinkable. As for multiple redundancy systems, we all know that technology has -so far - always increased power and cut weight. Jet engines, computers, etc. Who knows what we'll have in 20+ years?

seacue: There're already fully-automated two-dimensional vehicles out there - no public transport. I think that it is in either Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Hamburg. Those vehicles transport huge containers to and from the ships and the warehouses. Saw that on TV a few years ago. Don't know more about it - sorry.

Last year I read a report that engineers were working on aircrafts without windshields. Instead they were replaced by two large video screens.

This making-the-pilot-redundant development will not occur in huge steps, but in smaller ones. At the end it depends what the people (pax) are willing to accept. If a plane is developed that can outperform any human pilot in normal and abnormal preocedures, how will a society react that was raised in a virtual environment?
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 05:55
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Post UAV's

SQ7777..

The UAV's that fly around here (middle east), also give position reports have their transponder code changed, can be vectored, climbed and descended like any other aircraft.

All done from over 5000 miles away, with very little lag time.

So I think that the answer is yes, it can be done, it's just a matter of selling pilotless aircraft to the public.
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 06:21
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There's no question that technology could make it happen but whether the public would accept it is something completely different.

Given that the pilot's role becomes (even) more of a monitor, when will the number of pilots be reduced from two to one?
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 06:52
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As the role of the pilot changes and he becomes just a 'system monitor' rather than a 'bus driver' - is there any reason why he has to be onboard at all?

As divingduck said, the present day UAV's are already controlled from the ground - why not a normal aircraft?

Putting the crew/monitor on the ground would also have the added benefit on removing the flight deck and prevent any possibility of hi-jack - thereby making flying even safer.

As for the argument about pax not wanting to fly on these aircraft - if the economics of removing the flight crew mean that the ticket price is reduced - people will fly on it. If you make something cheap enough people will always buy it.

I seem to remember in the dim, distant past that many of the safety arguments and 'passengers will never fly it' were also advanced when we started long range, overwater ETOPS.
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 13:30
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Economics plays a part in the military UAVs in that the pilot and life support systems is a major component of aircraft weight (notice I didn't say payload). Eliminating the on-board human can add 25% capability (my guess) just in payload as well as eliminating the risk of having the pilot killed or captured, not to mention the expanded mission envelope.
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 13:41
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But the real question is whether the persons operating the UAVs are getting flight skins or are really pilots. Believe most are not pilots (wear wings, large wristwatches, small etc).



Video game operators for sure, and maybe good technicians. But when it gets all quiet and there are no fans for anything to hit is the person on the ground going to (1) be able to talk to the air vehicle and (2) be quite as "invested" in getting it on the ground in one piece? I think somebody said that the prospect of your imediate demise wonderfully sharpens the senses and attention
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 14:28
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Fifty years from now there'll be just one pilot/systems' monitor and five heavily armed Air Marshals aboard each jet.
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 16:05
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Would you fly on an aircraft with no pilot? I wouldn't, I know I'm not alone!
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Old 18th Nov 2002, 17:39
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Urrrr... Pilots aside, will there be any JP-1 left in 50 years?
And if not, what will we be using? Hydrogen is awfully bulky.
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