Skilled Pilots avoid Flying into Parachutists after Picking up their Radio Transmission

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 15th, 2013

Week in Review

Flying has never been safer.  But there is still the very rare crash.  And the occasional incident.  Most of which are attributable to pilot error.  So we have been replacing the skill of a pilot with automated systems.  That do make flying safer.  But they also make pilots less of a pilot.  And more of a systems operator.  Luckily, though, we still have excellent pilots in the cockpit (see Incident: Rex SF34 at Moruya on Sep 12th 2013, parachutists dropped into departure path by Simon Hradecky posted 9/13/2013 on The Aviation Herald).

A REX Regional Saab 340B, registration VH-ZLJ performing flight ZL-117 from Moruya,NS to Merimbula,NS (Australia), had just taken off from Moruya when the crew caught a radio transmission that a parachute drop had been completed. The crew instantly inquired with the Cessna pilot transmitting that announcement about the location of the drop and received information the parachutists had been dropped 0.4nm west of the aerodrome, which the Saab crew determined was right in their departure path. The crew immediately turned to the left towards the sea, then continued for a safe landing in Merimbula.

In the old days of stick and rudder flying cables ran from the yoke to the control surfaces.  A pilot could rest his hand on the yoke while flying on autopilot and be aware of what was happening to the aircraft.  Any bump or shudder of the aircraft, however small, would vibrate that yoke.  Bringing it to the pilot’s attention.  Raising his or her pilot senses that something out of the ordinary was happening.  And they would take over flying the aircraft.  Review all systems.  And identify a problem.  Before it was a problem.  All from just resting a hand on the yoke.

This is something an automated system can’t do.  Feel a barely perceptible bump or shudder that is out of the ordinary.  Focusing the pilot’s attention on it.  Before something catastrophic happened.  Sadly, an automated system would have to wait for something more perceptible to happen to trigger an alarm.  Leaving less time to recover once something catastrophic happened.

The pilots flying this Saab 340B heard something.  Because they were human they processed what they heard.  And because they were good pilots they understood what that radio transmission meant.  And took corrective action.  When an automated system would have detected nothing.

A bird-strike can bring down a large commercial jetliner.  So flying into a parachutist probably would have brought that Saab 340B down.  But that didn’t happen.  Thanks to a pilot.  Though it is tempting to automate as much of flying as possible doing so may end up making flying more dangerous.  Because a pilot can feel and fly an airplane a lot faster than he or she can analyze systems.  Two recent incidents involved planes that descended too rapidly and crashed short of the runway.  These accidents may not have happened if the pilots were flying the planes instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with the automated systems.  They need to fly more.  And depend on automated systems less.  At least when landing and taking off.  When a gray-haired pilot can sense things no computer can.  Because they can fly by the seat of their pants.  For they have seen, felt and experienced just about everything while flying.

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