Saturday, October 26, 2013

Automation vs. Pilots II

This past August 23rd I published a post titled: Automation vs. Pilots.  In it I discussed some of the fundamental errors made by the crews of Birgenair Flight 301 and Air France Flight 447.  Those errors were, in my opinion, the direct result of the aviation industry's insistence that flight crews utilize the automation to the maximum extent possible.  This philosophy on the surface appears to reduce risk and improve safety.  After all, most accidents are the result of human errors and reducing their workload would have the benefit of allowing pilots to pay maximum attention to the aircraft performance parameters and to foresee hazards. I agree with this provided we do not sacrifice the basic pilot skills in the process.  As we all know human skills are perishable and those which we do not practice on a regular basis fade away. This happens so gradually that we consider ourselves proficient long after we have lost a given unpracticed skill.  Airplane pilots do not have the luxury of allowing skills to fade.  We must practice all of our skills across the spectrum from easy to complex and we must do it regularly.

This chart attempts to demonstrate the disconnect; how we are using automation to erode pilot skills rather than reinforcing them.  The enclosed area represents the relationship between skill sets and practice (skill maintenance).  On the bottom the line moves from the easy spectrum to the difficult.  Start anywhere along that line and go up to the line sloping upward to the right.  Now move directly across to the right border to the line representing practice and effort.  You can see that for an easy task less practice is necessary for maintaining proficiency, while a more complex task requires more practice.  If all of our pilots operated within this envelope we would perform in the safest way.  Unfortunately, the industry accepted standard of maximizing the use of automation in all flight conditions works counter to skill maintenance.  That line sloping down to the right represents the actual manner in which our pilots are practicing skills.  Go up from the easy range to that automation line and across to the proficiency line and you see that the easiest skills get the majority of practice while the difficult skills almost never get practiced.  That area above the envelope and below the automation line is where we spend 99% of our time.  This is the area when we are watching the autopilot fly and we are bored stiff.  Here is where pilots look for distractions such as reading newspapers and magazines, playing with their smart phones, crossword puzzles.  I had one first officer ask me if he could address his Christmas cards while he was the pilot flying.  We should remember Northwest Airlines Flight 188 of October 21, 2009 which overflew Minneapolis, MN while the pilots were using personal laptops and oblivious of the time.  I once rode in the cockpit of a major airline, a Boeing-757, from Los Angeles, CA to Dallas/Fort Worth, TX.  Almost from the moment the landing gear came up to the moment the landing gear came down, the magazines were out.  It was interesting to watch that flight crew overshoot the turn to the final approach of DFWs runway 18R and blunder into the approach corridor of 18L after a few hours of mental detachment and attempting to use the autopilot to fly a visual approach in clear conditions.  This is the effect of workload reduction, a most predicable result of human nature.

Now look at that zone on the graph on the difficult side, the zone above the automation line and below the top of the envelope.  This is the dangerous shortfall area where we are banking on unpracticed skill sets to cope with difficult and even routine situations.  Like Birgenair 301 and Air France 447 we now can add Atlantic Coast Airlines Flight 6291 who crashed short of the Columbus, OH airport on a routine approach to landing on January 7, 1994, Colgan Air Flight 3407 which entered a fatal stall/spin while maneuvering for landing at Buffalo, NY on February 12, 2009 and Asiana Flight 214 who crashed short of the runway at San Francisco, CA on a normal, clear day approach on July 6, 2013.  Every one of these examples are crashes wherein flight crews lost control or misjudged their situation while attempting to rely on automation or poorly adjusting without.  Every one of these crashes involved wing stalls.

One other point: This high level of automation came to the largest airliners in the 1980s and the smaller ones in the 1990s.  Our older pilots transitioned from the earlier airplanes into these automated ones and have an experience background, while unpracticed and certainly rusty, which includes basic skill sets.  Our younger pilots only know the automated way.  They do not even know what they do not know.  As our old guys retire, and that is happening now, these foundational skills will fade even more drastically unless we change our habits.

Pilots, turn off the autopilot and the flight director regularly when you are below Flight Level 290.  Fly actual instrument approaches "raw data".  Use your minds and your hands.  Don't just go along for the ride, fly your airplanes.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Last October 5th I posted a piece labeled, Dear Congress.  In this posting I appealed to their rational sides and implored them to rein in this senseless, currency destroying spending spree which has symbolized our past three decades, especially the last five years, and threatens to ruin the next three decades.  It appeared that the Republicans were ready for the good fight, but alas, it was all showmanship and they acquiesced to their masters like the cheap whores they are.  They not only gave in, but they wrote BSBHO a blank check! There is no longer a limit to what he can borrow!  To add insult to injury, they also slammed the gate behind them by putting in a provision, that when the next "stop borrowing" deadline comes around, it will take a two-thirds majority in both houses to stop the monster.   My appeal has fallen on deaf ears.  So, what is the average Joe, who is on the hook for $53,125.00 of that debt today, to do?

Expect inflation...massive, mind boggling inflation.  This means that any money you have saved will become worthless.  All of those 401ks, government pension plans, health insurance plans, bond and stock portfolios...POOF! On the plus side, if you are saving cash, it will be good for one thing, paying off past debts.  It won't be much good for buying goods with, so stock up now.

Friday, October 11, 2013


It kills me the way our judges have deified “the law” all the while ignoring our actual all powerful God and that thing called Truth.

A short anecdote which illustrates this syndrome:  In Findlay, Ohio back in 1994 Mr. Donald Miller Jr. was declared legally dead.  We were not told the reason for that other than his people had no idea where he was for a very long time.  This month, Mr. Miller appealed to the court to reverse that previous declaration due to the salient fact that he remains very much alive.  Judge Allan Davis denied that request on the grounds that such an appeal must be made, according to the law, within three years of the declaration, and Mr. Miller is too late.  In other words, to heck with the truth of the matter, the law has spoken and must be honored!  So, alas, poor Mr. Donald Miller Jr. is still “dead”.

If only they were so scrupulous about birth certificates…

Monday, October 7, 2013

...and it comes to pass...

"I am worried by the Blessed Virgin's messages to Lucy of
Fatima. This persistence of Mary about the dangers which 
menace the Church is a divine warning against the suicide
 of altering the Faith, in Her liturgy, Her theology and Her 
soul. … I hear all around me innovators who wish to 
dismantle the Sacred Chapel, destroy the universal flame 
of the Church, reject Her ornaments and make Her feel 
remorse for Her historical past.

"A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God,
 when the Church will doubt as Peter doubted. She will be 
tempted to believe that man has become God. In our 
churches, Christians will search in vain for the red lamp 
where God awaits them. Like Mary Magdalene, weeping 
before the empty tomb, they will ask, 'Where have they 
taken Him?'"
Eugenio Pacelli, future Pius XII.
Roche, "Pie XII Devant L'Historie", p. 52-53

Sunday, October 6, 2013


One of the most remarkable stories of World War II is that of the De Havilland Mosquito Fighter-Bomber.  This little airplane was faster, smarter, more aggressive and useful than any other two types employed by the allied air forces.  This You-Tube segment tells the tale.  In the blistering technological pace of development during the war years the Mosquito spent five years as "the Best" and finished the war obsolete.  Today there are only around seven Mosquito airframes known to exist.

My father, my son and I visited the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach this past weekend.  They have the only airworthy Mosquito in the world.  It was eight years in refurbishment and is beautiful.  I envy the pilots who are so privileged to fly it today. 

I hope you watch the video and come to admire the remarkable feats of airmanship that this wonderful airplane inspired in her short flight of glory.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Dear Congress:

Dear Congress:

Do not raise the debt.  Let it stop here, now.  Let us begin a period wherein we live within our means and responsibly pay our way.  Let it be said, two generations from now when the dollar is once again the strongest currency on the planet and the United States has the strongest economy; when the debt is once again a measly one trillion dollars, that we went through our selfish years but thankfully, we out grew those times.  Let it start now!  Today, let us resolve to never raise the debt ceiling again and to enact legislation to reduce our debt by five percent per year until it is at one trillion dollars.  Let this legislation stipulate that deficits can never be run again unless we are involved in a congressional declared war, and even then the debt is paid down following such war at five percent per year.

I understand that this is impossible when we consider the obligations we face as a country.  When I talk of the national debt most people roll their eyes and say something silly like, "We just owe it to ourselves.", as if this eliminates the seriousness of the situation.  It is true that the vast majority of the future obligations are to "ourselves" in such programs as Social Security, Medi-care, Obama-care, Pharma-care, welfare programs, on and on and on...  OK.  I'll go along with that thought.  Let us resolve not to pay "ourselves" anymore.  If we shut down all of those self-centered "gimme" programs we might have a slim chance of avoiding a catastrophic failure of the dollar.  If we don't, then we won't see those monies anyway due to the inevitable dollar melt-down.

If we eliminate the social programs we should be able to protect the bond holders, those who are owed the sixteen-trillion dollars.  If we protect them, we show the world that we are a nation who can be trusted, a nation who will not weasel out of an obligation.  If we demonstrate that kind of solvency the European Union and China will hear the "giant sucking sound of jobs" coming back to us, the newly great United States of America!

If we fail to do this, now, we will face ruin.  I will state for the record that I am solemnly resolved never to take any money from a federal government source other than a tax refund.  I will not collect Social Security, take advantage of any medical program, or any other social program.  My reason is simple.  If I collect from Social Security "the money I paid in" I am not getting the same money I paid in; I am taking it from my children and their children.  The money I paid is already gone, spent, vanished, poof!  To demand what is "mine" will only press our country into default and suffering.

We always laud the "greatest generation" for their sacrifices in economic hardship and war.  Let us now rise to their example and stop this insanity now, so help us God!  NO MORE DEBT!

October 5, 2013 A.R.S.H.
Anno Reparatae Salutis Humanae