Re: over-automation with glass cockpits

From:         faurecm@halcyon.com (C. Marin Faure)
Organization: Northwest Nexus Inc.
Date:         29 Jul 96 02:29:36 
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In article <airliners.1996.1405@ohare.Chicago.COM>, johnmhunt@ipa.net
(John M. Hunt) wrote:

> I have been reading over the old archived posting of this news group
> (many thanks to you, moderator!) and have come across a large number
> of postings regarding accidents or near accidents involving automation
> in the "glass cockpit" aircraft.  A recurring theme seems to be the
> pilot fighting the computer control system in an attempt to regain
> manual control of the aircraft in an emergency.
>
> I cannot imagine any reason why total control of the aircraft on all
> three axes and total throttle control cannot be trusted to the pilot
> the instant he deems it desirable....

> It is inconceivable that todays pilots with their excellent simulator
> training are not at least equal to pilots of an earlier era.  If this
> is indeed so, why the reluctance to simply trust the pilot to fly the
> aircraft manually?

I don't think aircraft automation is the result of a distrust of the
flight crew but instead is an attempt to make it easier for the flight
crews to operate what are becoming extremely complex machines.  It would
be very difficult, if not impossible, to expect a flight crew to monitor
and operate the hundreds of systems on today's airplanes.

Automation has the advantage of being able to react faster than a person
to many situations, and to react predictably.  How many of us have pointed
left when we meant to point right, or grabbed the wrong item off a desk
when we were in a big hurry?  Cockpit automation can help keep those kinds
of human reactions from becoming irreversible mistakes, especially when
the plane is low and has no room to recover from a human error.

On the other hand, as has been discussed at great length in these
newsgroups before, automation alone isn't the complete answer.  The goal
is to give the pilots the automation they need to ensure the most
efficient and reliable operation of the airplane, yet still give them the
ability to use their own judgement when needed.  A computer (so far) can't
anticipate every single variable that can affect an airplane.  Computers
(so far) can only react to something, they can't anticipate something.
People can, so none of today's planes take the control completely away
from the pilots.

There are two major philosophies about how much control you give a pilot
under some circumstances.  Boeing follows one philosophy and Airbus
follows the other.  Both of them work, and whether you prefer one over the
other depends on your view of automation.

C. Marin Faure
   author, Flying a Floatplane