Jan 23, 2012

When Blogs Collide!

(Sometimes my aviation-related blog can't help but intertwine with my faith-related one. Today's such a day. Thanks for your indulgence ...)


This video is an especially good reminder that computers do not fly aircraft. Computers can of course, be used to guide an aircraft along a pre-programmed pathway that was selected and authorized by a human being, provided the computer's progress is continually monitored and corrected by a human being. But computers do not fly.

No computer built today can instantly reassess it's three dimensional situation and quickly make the appropriate corrections to a flight path and adjust to the demands of changing conditions, just by "looking out the window."

Computers are unable to continually assess the thousands of different questions that a pilot works through routinely on every flight, such as: "How much turbulence will there be? How much ice will there be in those clouds? What is that snow squall doing as it sweeps across the runway? Just how bad will the traction be during the landing and taxi into the terminal?" - to mention only a very few.

No computer can rapidly absorb thousands of bits of information from myriad sources and then assess the situational changes occurring each moment, adding in the lessons gleaned from previous experience and training which was oft-times adapted from unrelated events, then take the appropriate action.

As wonderful as they are, no silicone-based computer can match the abilities of a well-trained, well-motivated "carbon-based-unit" called a pilot. Most importantly of all, only human-pilots actually care whether they live or die!

I pass this video along as a reminder of just how awesome human beings are to have invented such great tools as Airbuses and computers, and to use them so creatively...

And maybe, just maybe, as we wonder at the amazing things humans are able to create, we'll pause to wonder - Just how is it that we-the-carbon-based-units came to be?

Psalm 139:14
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

5 comments:

Frank Ch. Eigler said...

"No computer can ..."

Whether we like it or not, you'd need to add "YET" to most of those. Engineers are hard at work, automating as much as possible. The rest will need to both compete and to find meaning there.

Aluwings said...

Thanks for commenting. I was thinking about that claim as I wrote it, and wondered the same thing. I'm sure that not long ago, people would have been shocked to think that suburban trains, metros, subways, etc., would become so automated and in many cases, operate without a driver.

I agree that computer capabilities will continue to increase for a while yet, but won't there be a point of diminishing returns, where the expense of automating things won't be financially sensible?

My impression of the Airbus, for example, is that engineers significantly increased the level of automation in terms of the flight envelope management, but this increased the cost of pilot training. The complexities of the automation systems, their limitations, and failure modes, makes the Airbus the most demanding airliner of all to fully learn and master.

Many things that humans do so easily that we hardly notice, are very difficult to automate. ... Such as reading a blog comment and composing a reply. Easy for me, but hard to automate in any meaningful way. No?

Ted said...

Thank you for posting this!

I have seen this video a few days ago and I wanted to ask an Airbus pilot: do you really make all those quick (and not really minute, for my eye) adjustments with the stick as seen in the video, especcially on final approach and landing? Because all I can see (and feel) from the back of the plane is the fluid movement of it flying, and it seems like the plane is just traveling on a set of well adjusted rails with no input other than thrust from up front.

Thanks and clear skies!

Richard With said...

Is it possible for each pilot to adjust the sensitivity of the side stick?

Aluwings said...

@Ted - Airbus instructor pilots have a term they use sometimes called "stirring the pot," to describe a habit a new pilot on the Airbus might get into due to over-controlling the airplane. This pilot may be "guilty" of a little of that, or he may be working against some turbulence, or he may be trying to fly an ultra-precise approach because he knows we're watching ;-) ??? Without being there and knowing the pilot and the situation, it would be unfair to come to any hard conclusions. There are other videos where you can see pilots using much fewer, and finer control inputs, which is the ideal.

Regardless of this pilot's rapid-fire inputs, I'd say that the ride in the passenger cabin is still very smooth as these represent small corrections to an airplane weighing several tonnes.

@ Richard With - No, there is no adjustment for sensitivity. As a pilot adjusts to each new type of aircraft he or she flies, they become very finely-tuned to the characteristics of that particular type. The Airbus, with the fly-by-wire and short-throw control stick is a real "finger-tip" airplane requiring a gentle touch for best results. No manly-macho death grip required. Other aircraft differ and do sometimes need a firm hand, especially if the case of certain system failures.

Thanks for the comments!