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Author Topic: Autopilot vs the Captain
extwacaptain
Prop Wash
Member # 381

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Ever since the loss of AF 447, there has been much discussion about automated flight and how/if this affects the skills of airline pilots. We've already heard the opinion of many members of this message board. The results were almost unanimous.........Most of those who command our airliners like to fly. Actually "hand fly" the plane.

A recent news report (a few evenings ago) mentioned a requirement that the autopilot be engaged above 24,000'. Is this really true? I do not know. Just how this will enhance the safety of the operation was not explained. However, since at that altitude and above normally does not require a great amount of skill (mostly straight and level climbing, cruising and descent) that would be as good a time as any to satisfy the company's desire to exercise the equipment to determine its ability to function normally.

Bottom line....Other than the need to satisfy the requirement for the use of the autopilot during minimum weather condition approaches, WHO should dictate when a captain shall or shall not use his own judgement to safely operate his flight.

Certainly, a bunch of us old retired guys have nothing to contribute, but our best wishes for each of you to cling tightly to your captain's authority.

If we are not careful, next thing we know, the regulators will be following pilots around the golf course, telling them which club to use and maybe requiring
someone else to do the putting for you.

And to think that the president of Eastern airlines, Captain Eddy Rickenbacker, could have prevented this problem had he succeeded in his desire to not equip his planes with an "Iron Mike". (This last comment is from hearsay only.)

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Bob Ritchie
Post Captain
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AP: Pilots "Forgetting How To Fly"

The airline industry is suffering from "automation addiction," Rory Kay, co-chair of an FAA committee that is examining pilot training, said in an Associated Press story published on Tuesday. "We're seeing a new breed of accident with these state-of-the-art planes," said Kay. "We're forgetting how to fly." Pilot skills have been cited by investigators in two recent major accidents, the Buffalo crash of a regional airliner in 2009, and the 2009 Air France crash of an Airbus A330. How pilots respond to the sudden loss of automated aircraft systems "is the big issue that we can no longer hide from in aviation," Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, told the AP. "We've been very slow to recognize the consequence of it and deal with it."

Voss said the solution will require changes in cockpit procedures, not just in training, where pilots spend just a few days a year. Paul Railsback, operations director at the Air Transport Association, told the AP that airlines are aware of these issues. "We think the best way to handle this is through the policies and training of the airlines to ensure they stipulate that the pilots devote a fair amount of time to manually flying," Railsback said. "We want to encourage pilots to do that and not rely 100 percent on the automation. I think many airlines are moving in that direction." Kathy Abbott, an FAA researcher studying these issues, found last year that "pilots sometimes abdicate too much responsibility to … automated systems." She added that sometimes pilots don't get enough practice in hand-flying and will hesitate to take control away from the computer in an emergency.


Or,

As the V.P. of Flight at AA told us during my first training class with them...."Children of the Magenta Line are making smoking holes all over the earth."

"Guys" he said...."CLICK, CLICK" "Turn of the autopilot, turn off the autothrottles, FLY THE DAMNED AIRPLANE."

First time I had heard a management pilot say that in 15 years.

[ 09-04-2011, 20:30: Message edited by: Bob Ritchie ]

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Jeff I.
Post Captain
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Just want to say that as a non-pilot, I've been thoroughly enjoying the recent threads (including this one) on this issue. Thank you Randy and Bob on this thread ....... and everyone else on the other threads who are contributing to the dialogue.

Jeff I.

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Subsonic Transport
Post Captain
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While I agree in principle that you should manually fly the plane to keep current vs letting the auto pilot do it all...are you sure?

How many of you have driven the highways of LAX and/or NYC? How many of you have encountered good and bad drivers. How may of us have a boat? Anybody get cut off by a jet skier? Same applies to flying.

What I"m getting at is, how many pilots are good pilots and how many are not? Who can really fly the plane and one who may not do well with it and rely on the computer.

Do you want someone to really fly the plane while crossing the Atlantic? Someone who's skills can't keep the altimeter within 50 feet? It's pretty cramped up there.

But, I also would want the pilot to know how to fly the plane so we don't collide if the auto-pilot craps out in IFR conditions.

Should a pilot be allowed to choose to flip off the switch anytime, anywhwere?

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extwacaptain
Prop Wash
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Sub,

Well, we hand-flew across the Atlantic at 200 miles an hour
in DC-4s and didn't bump into one another....Also flew across the Pacific at that same speed without any known mid-air collisions........The flight across the Pacific to Tokyo was approximately worth 85 hours round trip with several stops. (no auto pilots)

About the good and bad drivers in LA and New York....Haven't been to New York recently, but the LA drivers years ago were pretty good. Many of them today are a bit on the rude side and are preoccupied with their sophisticated electronic gadgets. (Maybe trying to take advantage of all of today's technology by multi or triple tasking) Or, maybe they're pilots on a day off.

Back to auto pilots.....One of my best friends, who many of you knew as an air race pilot, air show promoter and WWII fighter pilot (Col. Richard Sykes) might have been on top of this subject. He had this philosophy of assigning the most qualified individual to each task. For 25 years my job was cutting the lawn around our Squadron building. [Wink] Dick never flew some of the modern airliners. If he had, there is no doubt in my mind, he would have assigned the auto pilot to what it does best.......fly straight and level and if necessary, make smooth turns.....period.


Since this is Labor Day, let's be honest, hand flying really isn't that much work. Remember when we went out to the local airport and PAID just for that thrill and pleasure? [Big Grin]


Stay Happy

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ss278
Post Captain
Member # 244

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I remember a flight I was on around 1971, TWA 707 LHR-JFK. About an hour and a half or so into the trip the Captain came on the PA and announced that the autopilot had failed. After discussing the issue with his fellow crew members he said they had decided to continue to New York, hand-flying the rest of the way. I recall he said that the trip may not be as smooth as we (the passengers) might be used to, but that he and his fellow PILOTS (emphasis, mine) would get us to New York safely and on-time. Needless to say, that is exactly what transpired.

I wonder if the same decision would or could be made today? Hell, there is probably some regulation against it.

[ 09-05-2011, 09:23: Message edited by: ss278 ]

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dave carr
Post Captain
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I hope that you won't mind a rather long reply. I will try to make some observations on your questions/comments concerning this topic of discussion. Please don't take my responses as being argumentative. This is not my intention. I have given much thought to this topic since being trained on the B767 in the middle 90s.

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Subsonic Transport:
[QB] While I agree in principle that you should manually fly the plane to keep current vs letting the auto pilot do it all...are you sure?

My reply
Yes, I'm sure. As an MD80 instructor I constantly heard even experienced pilots say "where is this thing taking us now"? We as instructors would somewhat jokingly say that the two most important switches in the cockpit were the autopilot and autothrottle disconnect. Most auto flight systems are quite complex and most problems were pilot induced. However when this happens the pilot must have the skills to intuitively correct the situation and often the fastest and safest correction leads to momentary reversion to manual flight--click, click. Our MD80 handbook had the statement (and I paraphrase) that the pilot should utilize the autoflight systems regularly but must fly enough manually to maintain flying skills.

Your comment
How many of you have driven the highways of LAX and/or NYC? How many of you have encountered good and bad drivers. How may of us have a boat? Anybody get cut off by a jet skier? Same applies to flying.

What I"m getting at is, how many pilots are good pilots and how many are not? Who can really fly the plane and one who may not do well with it and rely on the computer.

My reply
There is a great deal of difference between a car driver and an airline pilot. A car driver at age 16 gets a driver's license. The driver may have just barely passed on a very good day. Unless something very strange happens that driver is never again observed,tested or trained and can drive in any conditions into late life. The airline pilot has a wallet filled with qualifications all requiring stringent testing in all possible conditions. By the time he/she gets into the left seat there should be no question as to the pilot being a good pilot and capable of meeting high standards. Once in that Captain's chair qualifications are renewed regularly. Yes some are better than others but the bar is placed sufficiently high that any weak pilot should have long ago been weeded out or identified during ongoing recurrent training/checking.

Your commment
Do you want someone to really fly the plane while crossing the Atlantic? Someone who's skills can't keep the altimeter within 50 feet? It's pretty cramped up there.

My reply
No I don't want somebody to hand fly crossing the Atlantic. As I recall we had restrictions as to crossings with autoflight systems inoperative. Hand flying at high altitudes is possible but requires much concentration and is very exhausting. However if the autopilot were to fail at 40 West I'd hate to think that the pilot wouldn't have the skills to maintain altitude and airspeed. Practice, Practice, Practice!

Your comment
But, I also would want the pilot to know how to fly the plane so we don't collide if the auto-pilot craps out in IFR conditions.

My reply
Here is the "rub". It takes practice to maintain good scan and hand flying skills. During my career with TWA I instructed on the MD80/DC9 fleet and on the 747. Most of my students had been doing a lot of flying in steam gage airplanes and had excellent flying skills. After retirement I instructed on the B767 and saw some weakening of flying skills, especially among those that had been on the 767 for some time. In 2000 I transitioned to the B717 as a sim instructor. Many of my students had been flying automated airplanes and the lack of manual flying skills was even more apparent.

Your comment
Should a pilot be allowed to choose to flip off the switch anytime, anywhwere?

My reply
Yes, unless the autoflight systems are required by legality.

So was that a long winded reply?

Dave Carr

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extwacaptain
Prop Wash
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Dave,

Your response reminds me of an old AMCO transmission commercial....."Better than Perfect".
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Part TWO:

Remember that fellow who flew the Atlantic solo in thirty three and a half hours? Seems an airline was named after him. [Wink]

Did he have an auto pilot?

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Bob Ritchie
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For the last few years.....

...of my career,reduced vertical seperation above FL290 became a fact. That is only 1,000 ft. of separation between opposite direction aircraft as opposed to the 2,000 ft. which was previously the rule.

As a result the FAA required the autopilot to be engaged during cruise above FL290. Guess that they figured a couple of distracted pilots wandering off their altitude by 300 hundred feet could create a pretty scary near miss. I can attest that a B-747 passing overhead,with only a thousand foot seperation,looks mighty big and very close.

Such a rule makes sense to me. Howerver if all the autopilots failed mid-continent....one would either have to revert to manual flight or decend. I am confident that any airline pilot could handle it fine.

If anyone thinks that is restrictive. Try flying for Emirates Airlines. Autopilot required on all the time above 15,000 ft.!! No thanks.

Now back to the tales of old. A very long time ago when I was a senior FO at OZA my good fortune was to hold a schedule of turns from STL/SAN. A nice 11 day schedule. Home for dinner every night.

The captain was a great guy but one thing puzzled me. He hand flew his leg every trip all the way to or from STL/SAN. Now he wandered about a bit but not enough to cause concern. Finally I had to ask....why?

With a thin smile and twinkle in his eye he says..."well son, when I was a lowly DC-3 captain and Ozark bought their first D-9 Jet: upon walking into the crew lounge one day I overheard the #1 captain pontificating about how IMPOSSIBLE it was to hand fly a swept wing jet at 35,000 ft." "The senior guy went on and on about near OUTER SPACE, you would have thought that he just flown to the moon and back." "Not really knowing the difference I believed him." "Head down and feeing quite insignificant....I wandered back out to my old DC-3 doubting that I'd every be able to master the skills of these jet-jockeys."

"Lo and behold....a few years later I am also a DC-9 captain and I had found it not too difficult to hand fly the DC-9 at high altitude." "Then one day who shows up on my jump seat?" "Ole number 1 himself...the world's greatest jet pilot." "Just so happens that we were going from STL to SAN."

"Eyebrows were raised and a few nervous coughs from ole number 1....but that didn't prevent me from hand flying at 35,000 all the way to SAN...just to rub it in."

We both had a good laugh at the story. But the real story is that my captain that month flew several hundred round trips to SAN until retirement....and he HAND FLEW every one of his legs all the way.

Thanks for the memories Captain Washburn!! [Smile]

Bob Ritchie

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Subsonic Transport
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quote:
Originally posted by extwacaptain:
Dave,

Your response reminds me of an old AMCO transmission commercial....."Better than Perfect".
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Part TWO:

Remember that fellow who flew the Atlantic solo in thirty three and a half hours? Seems an airline was named after him. [Wink]

Did he have an auto pilot?

While he didn't have an autopilot to cross the Atlantic, he was also the only plane crossing the Atlantic. No worries about in-flight collisions. Excluding birds of course.
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Rocky Dollarhide
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Balance.
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Bob Ritchie
Post Captain
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Another Air France A-340,

Article is in French, sorry... basically, aircraft was at FL350 when it encountered an area of turbulence/instability.. aircraft oversped, A/P kicked off and aircraft immediately pitched up past 11 degrees all the way up to FL380, decelerating to 205KIAS. (AF447 stalled at 202KIAS.) Flight crew was able to recover.

http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2011/09/06/01016-20110906ARTFIG00363-l-incident-qui-relance-le-debat-sur-l-af-447-du-vol-rio-paris.php

[ 09-06-2011, 08:58: Message edited by: Bob Ritchie ]

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Ozark Cap
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Bob, I flew a lot with Capt Washburn, and he did hand fly it all the time to/or from San Diego. But I think he just enjoyed doing and keeping his skills current. He was a joy to fly with. Dave
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Bob Ritchie
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Dave,

So very good to see your name. You are correct that many years after he had "made his point" he was just having fun and being....well Lynn.

Great guy and full of life. You know how he was. He would pick some activity and just make it fun...including the hand flying. He kept track of everything....including how many times he had flown to a certain city: how many times his wife had gone on layovers, where the best places to eat were, hiking trails...on and on.

I feel priviledged to have been told the story that began his quest of hand flying hundreds of trips.

Diane and I are trusting that your life is abundant and full of joy.

Happy memories,

bob

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Rocky Dollarhide
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I flew,as a co-pliot, with a Captain on the MD-80 who did not know how to engage the autopilot, much less utilize it. It was a Cat2 airplane.
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extwacaptain
Prop Wash
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Before auto pilots became so sophisticated and reliable most airline pilots kept their left thumb very close to that disconnect button AND a firm grasp on the control yoke. The comments following are based on the somewhat earlier days of our company's Connie operation, which many on this board remember as our introduction to automated flight.


TWA recommended disconnecting the elevator function of the auto pilot when encountering turbulence. In essence, the reason being to avoid any conflicting inputs between the pilot's manual pressure on the wheel and signals from the auto pilot......Obviously this procedure eliminated any question about "who" or "what" was flying the plane at any given time. (This uncertainty appears to have been a part of a few recent in-flight problems)


This same procedure was employed on later jet planes and appeared to work quite well. At least we never zoomed from 35,000' to 38,000' before regaining control. In fact, it is doubtful that the altitude varied that "50 feet" one of our posters believes pilots might have trouble maintaining.....Sub, my wife Sally could do steep turns in our AT-6 and not vary 50'.......And never had a flying lesson. [Smile]


Signed: An ex-20 year old Army Air Corps Instrument Instructor

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Subsonic Transport
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My comment on the "50 feet" restriction was based on what I thought was the requirement for either the instrument rating or the Commercial certificate. So if you're flying at 5000 feet, you can't deviate from that altitude by +/- 50 feet. That's what my instructor said and I trained for....many years ago.

I just looked through Part 91 and 61 quickly but couldn't find that requirement. The comment was certainly not meant as a jab.

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Bob Ritchie
Post Captain
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Sub,

I think that folks understood what you intended. Indeed at high altitudes it does require a lot of effort to stay withing 50 ft., expecially if the air isn't smooth.

One can wander off altitude a couple of hundred feet and ATC won't get too excited. If my recollection is correct...more than 300 ft. off altitude is a violation. Pull up Flight Aware and track the cruise altitude of many general aviation and some airline flights. You will see 100/150 ft. deviations quite often.

That is really why the autopilot is required on in the reduced vertical seperation altitudes. With manual flight and only 1,000 ft. of seperation one can imagine how close a couple of aircraft might come.

Most pilots can kept the altitude on the money....but it takes a lot of effort.

You are a fan of TWA, it's history and aviation in general. Hang in there. The industry needs all the passionate affection that can be mustered. [Smile]

Bob

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Subsonic Transport
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Not only am I a fan of TWA but also an employee of TWA. Well, the subsidiary of TWA, TWE Inc.
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extwacaptain
Prop Wash
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This topic appears to have run its course.

So, allow me to add one last opinion.....It is my belief that no one has ever developed an auto pilot that contributes as much to the safe and smooth operation of an airliner as does a PERFECT co-pilot. And we had a lot of them at TWA.

This is a little late John Mansfield But may you Rest in Peace.

signed:
one of your spoiled flying partners

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