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Flying Skills and the Automated Cockpit

Why 21st Century Pilots Still Need Stick and Rudder Proficiency

Technological advancements during the past 30 years have equipped today’s business aircraft with unparalleled levels of safety, automation, and crew information. Enhanced situational awareness (SA), a key safety factor in the modern cockpit, has increased the crew’s reliance on automation to manage each flight segment. An unanticipated result of this reliance, however, is fewer opportunities for each pilot to manually operate the flight controls: that is, to actually fly the aircraft.

There is no doubt that automation has made flying safer. However, it is important that you are aware of its limits. While automated systems enhance SA, diminish crew fatigue, and make some errors more evident, they often hide others, or make them less noticeable. Today’s younger pilots have been trained to rely on automation; that’s not unreasonable, given that “hand-flying” the aircraft represents as little as 20 minutes in a typical 1.5 hour flight. But those same pilots may lack the basic decision making and manual flying skills honed by the retiring generation of pilots during thousands of hours of hand-flying various aircraft: those skills most needed in times of equipment malfunction or systems failure.

Concerns about pilot training in the age of automation first surfaced in a 1995 study on the erosion of manual flight skills (Patrick R. Veillette and R. Decker, “Differences in Aircrew Manual Skills and Automated and Conventional Flightdecks,” National Research Council’s Transportation Research Record, April 1995). They were detailed for business aircraft pilots in Dr. Veillette’s, “Watching and Waning” (Business and Commercial Aviation, February 2006).

A pilot’s ability to deal with an inflight emergency: most particularly, a mechanical or systems failure, and his or her reliance on automation versus manual flight skills, is a major challenge for business aviation flight departments.

What does this mean for you?

It means that with the ever-increasing complexity of today’s high performance business aircraft, your pilots should undergo training at least twice a year with a reputable company like FlightSafety, CAE, or SIMCOM in order to maintain critical manual flying proficiency.

Business aircraft training should be conducted in an FAA Full Flight Simulator rated Level C or D. Only they possess the full six degrees of freedom of movement (up/down, left/right, and forward/backward) required to replicate real world flight situations.

And, to augment and enhance the recurrent training pilots receive, FlightSafety has developed a comprehensive series of advanced training courses. These courses are designed to enable pilots to practice the perishable skill of aviating and to help ensure they are fully prepared for unusual and emergency circumstances that require correct and immediate action in order to safeguard you, your passengers, fellow crew members, and your aircraft.

These “evidence-based” courses draw upon real-time data of how pilots operate aircraft, and then use that information to determine whether unrecognized hazardous patterns are occurring. They also use lessons learned from accident investigation reports. Based upon relevant data, these courses allow pilots to experience these hazards in the safe environment of a flight simulator, and teach them how to respond in an emergency.

Training in a flight simulator is a critical component of any course designed to help pilots maintain the superior stick and rudder skills required to safely navigate emergency situations, whether from an external event, an instrument or flight director malfunction, or other on-board equipment failure.

In one such course, designed to teach pilots how to make the Go/No-Go Decision (whether to proceed with or to abort the takeoff), pilots are subjected to more than 18 scenarios. Within each, an event happens near V1 (the maximum speed at which the flight crew can abort a takeoff and not overrun the runway) on the takeoff roll. Their nearly instantaneous decision to abort or to continue is then debriefed in real time by the instructor. Also presented are simulated scenarios requiring the crew to return the aircraft for landing immediately following takeoff. Pilots practice this highly precise emergency return maneuver multiple times to achieve proficiency and gain confidence.

A second FlightSafety course, “Energy Management,” is based on current operational data from studies conducted as to why some pilots continue an unstable approach (in which the aircraft exceeds the maximum approach and landing speeds) instead of executing a “go-around,” (aborting the landing in order to stabilize the aircraft). Pilots are led through eight different descent scenarios in various positions on the approach. They learn how to predict accurately whether or not they will be stable for the approach, and how to recognize and react well before the stabilized approach measurement point. In flight departments using the methods taught in this course, the number of unstable approaches has been reduced dramatically.

A third FlightSafety course, the CRM (Crew Resource Management)/Human Factors LOFT (Line Oriented Flight Training), is based on the single greatest cause of aircraft accidents: human error. Lack of proper human communication and interaction skills, and the inability to use all available resources, are determining factors in the causes of many aircraft accidents. This course includes a very realistic and operationally based simulator session where the crew embarks on a long-haul flight. As the instructor inserts various problems, the crew must make difficult and complex decisions. The heart of the course is the debriefing session, which spends little time on the technical aspect of any errors, but highlights the human factors that caused the technical mistake to occur. Crews generally complete the course acutely aware of two or three human factors needing improvement.

The fourth FlightSafety course, Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, was developed in tandem with Gulfstream Aerospace. It uses a Level D simulator, and is based on preventing in-flight loss of control of the aircraft. Many regulators and other industry leaders have studied why this occurs without identifying a specific primary cause. It could be a lack of aeronautical science knowledge, over-reliance on automation, or just plain inexperience with extreme upset conditions. This course is designed to fill those gaps. Academics are followed by simulator sessions designed to have pilots experience the full “flight envelope” (the limits of an aircraft’s speed, load, and altitude capabilities). Pilots are then subjected to five different historically accurate scenarios that ended in fatal accidents. This combination teaches pilots how to escape from all five scenarios and execute a safe landing. To do so, FlightSafety created the first simulator for business aviation that replicates the aircraft handling qualities during full aerodynamic stall and flight characteristics at very high speeds, based on actual aircraft flight test data. Pilots receive the most advanced upset prevention and recovery training available in the type of aircraft they actually fly, without the risk involved using an actual aircraft.

Piloting is often described as “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of panic.” As automation assumes more control of routine flight activities, the pilot’s challenge is to maintain the critical skills needed to navigate those moments safely. That makes twice-yearly recurrent training sessions in Level C or D full-flight simulators mandatory to insure your flying safety. BAA

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