Autopilots and Lawyers take Flying Time away from Pilots, Increase Stalls

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 3rd, 2013

Week in Review

Flying has never been safer.  Air craft incidents make the news because they are so rare.  Such as two planes clipping wings on the tarmac.  And any crash is on the news 24 hours a day.  Because they are so rare that statistically they just don’t happen.  But as rare as they are they still happen.  And planes fall out of the sky (see Crash investigator urges stall training for pilots by Bart Jansen posted 10/30/2013 on USA Today).

A federal crash investigator urged a conference of aviation safety officials Tuesday to better train pilots to avoid stubborn problems such as stalls.

Earl Weener, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, recalled four separate fatal crashes over the past two decades that he said involved stalls, with pilots basically pulling the plane’s nose up too much until the aircraft fell to the ground.

“The question in my mind is why did the crew continue to pull back on the elevator all the way to the ground,” Weener told about 300 people attending the Flight Safety Foundation’s International Aviation Safety Summit, rather than leveling off to regain power and speed.

Lack of training is feared to be one culprit…

A NASA study of voluntary reporting by pilots found stalls 28% of the time while cruising at high altitude, Weener said. And an airline database study by the International Air Transport Association found 27% of stalls occurred while cruising, he said.

But a survey found only 26% of airlines trained for high-altitude stalls – even though 71% of stalls occur when the autopilot is typically engaged, Weener said.

Lack of training?  With 71% of stalls happening while flying on autopilot try lack of flying.

Most accidents today are pilot error.  Is it because we have bad pilots?  No.  It’s because we’re not letting them fly.  In the risk-averse world we live in today we try to avoid all risk.  We have autopilot systems that are so sophisticated that they can fly a plane without a pilot aboard.  In our litigious society airlines feel machines will make fewer mistakes than people.  So they have the machines fly the plane most of the time.  While pilots monitor the systems.  Entering set-points into the flight computers.  While the computers fly the plane.  And when there is a problem pilots try to get the flight computers working.  Instead of taking the controls themselves.

Before pilots turned flying over to the machines they flew the planes.  They felt the planes.  They listened to the planes.  And flew by the seat of their pants.  If there was an odd vibration they felt it.  If there was an engine problem they heard it.  And if the plane stalled they felt it in the pit of their stomach.  And instinctively pushed forward on the column and applied full power. 

Today, because of lawyers, airlines want pilots to fix the autopilot.  Not take the controls.  So the machines can start flying again as soon as possible.  As they feel they are less likely to make a mistake than a pilot doing some real flying.  Unfortunately, a machine will only fly as well as a human can tell it to fly.  By entering those set-points.  And if the human makes a mistake at data entry the computer will assume that the human didn’t make a mistake.  And follow those instructions exactly.  Even if the plane flies into the ground.  Or stalls and falls out of the sky.


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The Japanese and the Chinese have more Powerful Computers than the U.S.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 5th, 2012

Week in Review

This is rather sad.  The country that developed computers into the powerful tools they are today is no longer dominating the field.  Sad.  For when we passed on the torch of manufacturing giant to others we still were the brains behind the things being manufactured.  Research and development.  Invention and innovation.  Engineering and the entrepreneurial spirit.  That great human capital that made the United States the lone superpower today has always continued to excel in America.  Could it be that the fundamental structure of the United States has changed so much that we have diminished this shining light of human capital?   Perhaps (see Ten million billion and counting posted 1/31/2012 on The Economist).

Every November and June, an independent organisation re-evaluates the 500 most powerful known machines in the world and ranks them at In recent years China and Japan nabbed most of the top five spots in a field where America once hogged the top ten…

This year, however, America is limbering up for a comeback. Three of its national labs are being spruced up. Argonne National Laboratory’s IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, christened Mira, will go online at Dr Papka’s outfit sometime in the second half of 2012…

Much of the crunching will be scientific in nature. Mira’s processing muscle will enable researchers to model exploding stars, turbulent airflow over aircraft wings and wind-turbine blades, or new materials to make better batteries, among others.

Interestingly, among the scientific uses of Mira listed one is conspicuous by its absence.  Climate modeling.  To better understand global warming.  And to understand whether the sun has a greater effect on climate (as most real scientists believe).  Or if man is the dominate driving factor (as all global warming ‘scientists’ funded by governments with a vested interest in proving that man is the driving factor so they can regulate and tax emissions and fill government coffers with more money they can spend believe).  Was this excluded because they have already settled this ‘science’ as government wanted it settled?  Or is this ‘science’ not worthy of time on such a valuable computing resource?  Or is the whole field so inconsequential that it just didn’t occur to the author to include it in a list?

Interesting because we do all of those other things already.  This more powerful computer will only let us do those things better.  And as complex as climate is you’d think they’d want to model that better.  Unless they’re worried about what better modeling would tell them.  That the earth is an incredible self-correcting ecosystem regardless of what happens on it.  Whether it be volcanoes spewing so much ash into the atmosphere that it lowers global temperatures.  Or the powerful effects of solar activity that have advanced and receded the glaciers long before man made any carbon on the planet.  Glaciers that have moved farther than they did at any time since man began spewing carbon into the atmosphere.

Perhaps this growth of government ever deeper into our economy, taxing and regulating technological achievement, has stifled our human capital.  As governments pours funding and resources into pseudoscience to combat something that doesn’t even exist.  Man-made global warming.  Perhaps this is the reason that the U.S. doesn’t dominate the top ten of the most powerful machines anymore.


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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #84: “The bigger and more complex government gets the more unintended the consequences.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 20th, 2011

Filthy, Stinking Hippies never Liked Income Disparity.  Or Real Work.

Say you’re a server at a nice restaurant.  And you’re really good.  People ask to sit in your section.  For your prompt and courteous service.  And they show their appreciation.  With big tips.  And frequent trips to the restaurant.  Good food.  And great service.  It’s what makes a restaurant successful.

Now let’s say the restaurant owners retire and turn over the business to their children.  And let’s say they’re liberal Democrats.  Children of the Sixties.  Hippies.  Filthy, stinking hippies.  And still are.  Though they may bathe more these days.  Anyway, they take over the exploitation of the working class in this bourgeois restaurant.  (They see all business in these terms.)  And they’re going to make some changes.

They never liked the income disparity they saw between the servers.  (Or real work for that matter.)  And they don’t like you.  Because you’re getting more in tips than the other servers.  And that just isn’t fair.  You’re just lucky to get better tables.  As if you won some lottery in life.  It’s only blind, dumb luck that makes you the high earner in the restaurant.  So they’re going to level the playing field.  Make it fair for everyone.  Not just for the rich.  You.  But for everyone.  From now on all tips go into a jar.  And at the end of the day they will divide those tips evenly between all servers.  Everything fair.  And everyone happy.

People don’t Approve of Slavery and Prefer to Keep the Fruits of Their Labor

Or so they would believe.  Because you’re not going to be happy, are you?  I mean, you know why you made more in tips.  You provided exceptional service.  And your reward for your hard work?  A punitive tax.  They’re going to share part of your tips with the less exceptional servers.  So what will you do?

I’m guessing that you’re not going to say, “Vive la revolución.”  And work even harder.  Instead I’m betting that you will be looking for a new job.  At a restaurant that rewards hard work.  And if there are no other food service jobs available?  Because liberal Democrats are in power?  And they’ve killed the economy?  Well, then, you just won’t work as hard.  Because you don’t approve of slavery.  Having the fruits of your labors given to others.

So the new owners, the filthy, stinking hippies, will lose their best server.  And soon will notice a steady decline in the quality of service.  For their servers quickly learn that working harder doesn’t mean any more pay.  So they don’t.  Work harder.  Food sits in the kitchen longer.  By the time they serve it to the customers it’s lukewarm.  They don’t refill drinks.  Customers begin to complain.  Even about the quality of the lukewarm food.  The executive chef quits.  Business drops off.  The business goes into debt.  Losing some $10,000 each month.  And things get so bad under the new owners that not even Robert Irvine could save this restaurant.

The new owners thought their way was going to make a better work environment for their employees.  But the only workers who liked the new policies and stayed were their worst employees.  All the good ones quit.  And those who remained lost their jobs eventually as the business finally went under.  So everyone in the end lost.  Because these hippies thought they knew what was best for everyone.

Accidents Sometimes Happen when Men Control Complex Machines

So bad ideology has unintended consequences.  But complex systems to simplify complex things also have unintended consequences.

The modern jetliner is a complex machine.  They can literally take off, fly and land themselves.  But don’t.  Pilots still take off.  And land.  But the other 99% of the time these aircraft fly themselves.  Pilots input data into the flight computers.  And the computers fly the aircraft.

So pilots don’t fly as much as they used to.  They log a lot of hours in the cockpit.  But they’re not really flying.  They’re operating computers.  Pushing buttons.  Turning dials.  And communicating with air traffic controllers.  They’re not ‘connected’ to the aircraft like in the old days.  Fly-by-wire technology insulates the pilot from the flight controls.  The days of stick and rudder are gone.  When a pilot was one with the aircraft.  Through constant feedback via the senses.  Flying by the seat of the pants.  When a hand on the steering column told a pilot how the plane was flying.  Even while on autopilot.  While having a conversation with a flight attendant standing in the cockpit door.

Back then you needed far more piloting skills than you do today.  Because there were no flight computers.  Like they have today.  That’s why a lot of pilots came out of the military.  Because the military pushed pilots in their training.  Taught them to fly through anything that can happen while flying.  Including recovering from a stall.  Something that just doesn’t typically happen in a modern jetliner these days.

Pilot error has accounted for the majority of accidents.  So removing the pilot from the ‘flying part’ of flying an airplane made sense.  And it would make aviation safer.  And it has.  This is not to criticize pilots.  It just shows that accidents sometimes happen when men control complex machines.  So reducing the amount of time the pilot is in control of the aircraft makes them safer.  That is, as long as the computers have good data.

The Safer You Make Flying by Removing the Pilot from the Flying the less Skilled Pilots Become

And that’s a problem.  Sometimes the computers don’t have good data.  For various reasons.  Such as iced up airspeed sensing pitot probes.  Which has happened a few times.  Giving false airspeed data.  Or sometimes conflicting airspeed data.  There’s more than one probe.  And different flight computers get their airspeed from different probes.  One could show a dangerous high airspeed.  Another can show the actual airspeed.  Giving a pilot a bit of a problem.  Which is compounded if that pilot spent more time inputting data to a computer than flying.  Because when computers get bad data they often disengage.  And the modern pilot will spend most of his or her time trying to reengage it.  Instead of flying the airplane.  As they are trained to do.  Because it’s safer.

A dangerous high airspeed indicates that the plane may be accelerating.  Past its maximum airspeed rating.  Which could make the plane break up in flight.  So a pilot may pull back the engine throttles.  To slow the plane.  To keep it from breaking up in flight.  Of course, if that was an erroneous airspeed, the pilot will only slow the plane down.  And perhaps cause it to stall.  And that has happened, too.

A plane has a ‘stick shaker‘ to warn the pilot of a potential stall.  Normally after you get a stick shake you push the yoke forward to lower the nose and pick up speed.  Of course, if you just got an over-speed warning you might not do this.  And you may interpret that stick-shake as buffeting from the plane just before it breaks up in flight.  So you may raise the nose.  And pull the throttle levers back. To slow the plane down.  And that’s exactly what you will do.  Slow the plane down.  Right into a stall.  Which is flying too slowly to create lift with the wings.  And once the plane stalls it will just fall out of the sky.

There’s a tradeoff in aviation.  The safer you make flying by removing the pilot from the flying the less skilled pilots become.  So when something happens, such as an erroneous airspeed indication, their initial reaction is to fix the computer.  Not fly the airplane.  And planes have fallen out of the sky because of this.  Because even the simple problems don’t have a lot of time to fix.  An old-school pilot who flew B-52s, on the other hand, would probably say something like this.  “Hot damn.  The idiot box is broken.  Now I get to fly this son-a-bitch.”

When Legislation goes Wrong those in Government Simply Say they had Nothing but the Best Intentions

Every time you try to make something too complex.  Or try to change human behavior.  You are going to get unintended consequences.  Always.  Because complex things are complex.  And people are like snowflakes.  No two are alike.  And it is the height of arrogance to believe that you know an individual better than they know themselves.  Or that ‘one size’ fits all when it comes to solutions.

But that’s government.  Complex.  And where the few think for the many.  And decide what’s best for them.  This is a recipe for unintended consequences.  Which is why so much of their legislation goes wrong.  And when it does they simply say they had nothing but the best intentions.

Of course, you see what good intentions can do in a restaurant.  Or in a jetliner at 30,000 feet.


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