U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation
Administration

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074

February 1999

 

 

AVIATION SAFETY NEWSLETTER

www.faa.gov/fsdo/stlfsdo

Thought for the month.....The problem with technology is that it only gives us answers.

BALANCING THE TECHNOLOGY....There's an old Chinese proverb that goes: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." This oriental insight might be appropriate to those of us who fly. The technology that is showing up in our cockpits is steadily replacing the requirement to think. Press the correct button and the answer appears. We don't have to know how to get the answer, we just have to know which button to push.

On one hand, this is a boon to safety. Errors in human thinking have been the major cause of accidents from the beginning of time. Thinking while trying to keep the aircraft upright and operating, has proven to be particularly challenging. Any system that can reduce that requirement frees us to concentrate on aircraft control. On the other hand, as we become dependent on the magic to work out the answers for us, we can become addicted to the technology. Like any addiction, it will reduce our awareness and lull us into a sense of well being.

Push the button and the flight director will follow the commands of the GPS and align us on final, providing us with wind corrected data that will maintain an inbound course to the runway. We don't have to know which way the wind is blowing or how strong it is. Just follow the V bars. Executing the same approach using a non-directional beacon will not be as easy. The pilot is going to have a greater appreciation for the wind effect as a result of having to "do" the wind correction to make the tail of the needle behave.

According to Alfred North Whitehead: "Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them." One of the goals of science is to create computers that learn, machines that "think" like humans. The problem isn't making machines that think like people, the problem is people beginning to think like machines. Aviation is an environment ready for new technology to reduce human error accidents, but even the most imaginative forecaster doesn't predict a line of passengers waiting to board an aircraft that doesn't have a pilot. The task before us is to tread the perilous course between adapting new technology to aviation and keeping the pilot actively in the loop.

Computers can resolve problems and produce an answer much faster than humans, as long as the problem makes sense. They work well with absolutes, but not so well in "gray" areas. An autopilot can land an aircraft without the pilot touching the controls. Could it be made smart enough to know that a deer just ran onto the approach end of the runway? If it could, would it go-around, or just bump the power enough to fly past the deer and land safely on the remaining runway? A recent bit of aviation humor is attributed to fact. An Airbus pilot reported to the tower that the aircraft had apparently initiated an uncommanded go-around. When the tower asked his intentions the pilot replied; "Well, I guess I'll go along with it."

I'm all for new technology. During the Gulf War we had the opportunity to use GPS operationally for the first time. We eventually gained so much confidence in it that we would takeoff in a Blackhawk and fly 4½ hours on a pitch black night across trackless desert, directly to our destination. Sure, we could have done the same thing dead-reckoning, but I would have been much more inclined to select a longer route that took us over some landmarks rather than to plot a direct course and bet that I would pop out of the dusty air 4 hours later, right on target. The question is, did the technology encourage us to use a less conservative route? It made great sense operationally, but was it less safe?

Night vision goggles gave us a tremendous operational advantage at night. Once trained in their use, most pilots hated to fly at night without them. Some emergency medical helicopter operators are using them now in various parts of the country. The goggles allow pilots to go into places they never could have gone before. That's both the good news and the bad news. Technology increases our capability. The trick is keeping it balanced and remembering to think.

CENTRAL REGION AMT OF THE YEAR....Mr. Carl Jones of JetCorp at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, has been selected as the Central Region Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. Carl is the second nominee from St. Louis to be so honored. Last year, Gary Schandl from Mid Coast was recognized, and eventually was selected as the National winner. Carl is an A&P, IA and a Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR). In addition to his work at JetCorp, Carl is a voluntary Aviation Maintenance Safety Counselor for the St. Louis FSDO and has been awarded the Bronze and Ruby Awards in the FAA AMT Awards Program. His nomination will now be submitted to the National Selection Committee. Best of luck Carl.

Upcoming Events:

Feb. 12 & 13
IA Renewal Seminar, Parks College at St. Louis University
Programs and exhibits.

Feb. 13
Maintenance Seminar and Exhibit for Pilots and Mechanics.
Programs and exhibits of interest to pilots, owners and maintenance technicians.

Feb. 20 & 21
Greater St. Louis Flight Instructors Association Flight Instructor Renewal Clinic.
Parks College at St. Louis University.

Mar. 23
Runway Incursions.
Panorama Lanes, Belleville, IL.
Illinois Pilots Association.

Mar. 27
Safety Seminar at Mid America Airport
Sponsored by the Scott AFB Aero Club
8 AM to 12 PM.

LET'S NOT MEET BY ACCIDENT
FRED P. HARMS

Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 x 4835
Fred.Harms@faa.gov

"May Day"