Douglas A/B-26 Invader

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" Hands on or Hands off " - Can the Auto-pilot replace " hands on pilot " experience ?
Gareth V. Hynes

I was recently contacted by professional pilot Gareth Hynes
Gareth wrote:
Quit flying about 15 years ago and died.
Used to fly with many companies, including Conair 1985, Avalon Aviation 1984, and Buffalo 1989...sorry to hear about passing of Don Hamilton of Air Spray...enjoyed site very much..Thank You for all your Kind Efforts for other pilots to enjoy.
I replied to gareth and asked he he would contribute to the site:
You are very kind and considerate to consider me for my bio. In fact, I am very flattered, but there are many pilots out there who deserve higher merit.
I would rather play a very low profile as I have wasted far too many years of my life, and I should have been flying. Many of my students and co-pilots ended up as Captain with Air Canada and Westjet airlines in Canada.
I got my pilots license at 16 years old, two years before my drivers license.,,,didn't fly for ten years but always dream about it.. returned to flying to have a very diversified career...chief flight instructor... charter pilot...mountain experience in Yukon, British Columbia & Alberta.. fire patrol ... several summers bird-dog pilot in BC, Alberta.... summer on Canso bombing fires in Manitoba and NWT... DC-3 Captain (Buffalo) with smoke bombers in Yukon... schedules regional carrier captain... Twin Otter Captain in Canadian Arctic during winter (60 to 65C below ZERO) with total darkness during two months using sextant to take bearing from stars (compass unreliable)... DC-8 pilot on trans Atlantic charter flights to Rome, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, etc....Cheyenne charter captain in BC... Bristol Freighter pilot in British Columbia. I have had a reasonable amount of experience as a pilot with great diversification, but there are others with much more greater experience than me.
When Conair hired me in 1985, I was offered a position as B-26 pilot or bird-dog on Aerostar. I regretted later that I did not accept the B-26 position. Later years, I tried getting hired with Air Spray in Alberta as B-26 pilot but never got on with them. Always loved the old aircraft, and I hated flying across the Atlantic ocean to Europe on the DC-8 jet which I found boring.
Dropped out of flying about 20 years ago with much regret as I have wasted most my life away not doing my passion in life. Now 63 ... still dreaming about returning to try flying somewhere in South America on DC-3 or Twin Otter. It probably will not be, as I have an injured leg with torn meniscus. Well, I consider myself lucky to be still living. Flying in the forestry business is very dangerous in the Canadian mountains. I have lost several friends over the years in the business.
It was a pleasure visiting your site on the internet. I had many flashbacks in past moments of flying. You have created much enjoyment for many pilots visiting your web site.
Gareth continued:
I have an interesting news article about the recent new pilot "high flying" generation that demonstrates very unsafe flying condition of today with airline pilots. It would be a very good article showing numerous pilots that "hands off or auto pilot" experience creates dangerous conditions. It also demonstrates that the old flying with constant "hands on" pilot experience under low level forest fires demonstrates tremendous skill by these pilots compared to high altitude, high power newer aircraft style of modern flight. 
Thank You!
Gareth V. Hynes
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Pilot V Auto-Pilot
I am sure that I will be visiting your site many times again in the future, as well as, thousands of other pilots. I have an interesting news article about the recent new pilot "high flying" generation that demonstrates very unsafe flying condition of today with airline pilots. It would be a very good article showing numerous pilots that "hands off or auto pilot" experience creates dangerous conditions. It also demonstrates that the old flying with constant "hands on" pilot experience under low level forest fires demonstrates tremendous skill by these pilots compared to high altitude, high power newer aircraft style of modern flight.
Gareth V. Hynes
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

This article is a serious observation and interrogation of a subject much discussed by Airline industry and safety officials, who are concerned that pilots’ flying skills are becoming rusty and their ability to handle unexpected situations is eroding because most flying is delegated to computers in today’s highly automated planes.

Gareth's observations are the following

If you consider posting the "Automation in the air dulls pilot skill" article, then may I suggest you consider the following points to avoid offending the new pilot generation. Pilots are usually a very proud persons caused by society placing them on extremely high plateaus of recognition.
1. Basic fact of life, experience in all aspect of life prepares a more efficient professional in all trades. This point is even more expected with high demands for knowledge and physical skills of pilots.
2. In all occupations, including aviation, "supply and demand" determine the level of hiring experience by companies for pilots.
3. During recent years, around the world there has been a great shortage of pilots. As a result, today many pilots are being upgraded much more quickly than normal. Recent low experienced pilot have been promoted for to quickly to handle extreme emergency situations, especially in the new advanced high performance aircraft.
4. Most people have heard the saying "practice makes perfect". High time experience pilots will react to extreme emergency conditions instantly without thinking because of their background experience that has been embedded into their many hours of flying.
5. Because of my diversification with flying, I have come to appreciate my numerous hours of flight training students with the basic emergency recovery procedures. Unfortunately, the flight time by Flight Instructors are not highly respected by pilots in all other pilots, such as bush pilots, charter pilots, and airline pilots, etc. I found my past experience as a Flight Instructor provided a solid foundation to my flying skills. When I was away from flying for an extreme amount of time, I was able to return to flying with great skills and performance quickly because training my students with thousands of hours had imprinted the emergency basic to be never forgotten.
A low time pilot WITHOUT a strong instructor experience and recent practical hands on experience will probably perform terribly during emergency recovery procedures .
6. All student pilots learn early with less than 10 hours total that the number one rule in all aspects of flying the aircraft is ... FIRST, CONTROL THE DAMN AIRCRAFT FOR STABLE FLIGHT WITHOUT THE AUTO-PILOT, THEN PROCEED WITH EMERGENCY RECOVERY PROCEDURES. ALL FLIGHT CREW UNITES AS A TEAM.
7. Because of the high demand for pilots, many new hired pilots lack experience with overall world pilot experience. As a result, their basic pilot skills are NOT strongly embedded in their minds. The new airline pilot fails to control the aircraft above all. Instead the new airline is trying to control or correct the faulty condition of the auto pilot by focusing on auto-pilot control, instead of all time basic number one rule .... control the damn aircraft first!
8. To me, the low time experienced airliner pilots who are challenged with emergency procedures are NOT to blame. The blame lies with the FAA or Transport Canada not emphasizing with the airlines that the new aircraft of high computerization must always follow the basics of flight.
9. It is important to note that all these complex computer aircraft always provide the simple basic compass. Why? Always go back to your basic training... KISS ( keep it simple stupid ) ... control the damn aircraft.
10. Lately, many high performance jet aircraft have been stalling and many pilots fail to recover properly. Student pilots are trained around 10 hours of training or less to recovery from the basic stall. A real pilot does NOT have to think about this recovery.... it comes instantly without thinking about it.
11. The company training procedures approved by FAA or Transport Canada have NOT established the proper training procedures of all aspects of stalls in these jets. Also, FAA or Transport Canada have not raised the level of examination standards to offset the lack of actual hands-on flying experience. Far too much of the airline trip is flown by auto-pilot as the low time pilots fade with their pilot skills.
12. It is very obvious that FAA or TC have not kept up with these advanced aircraft to match the pilot skills with the new type of computer flying. If FAA or TC does not raise the bar of pilot training and examinations, then they seriously failed society for providing the proper safety standards.
Martin, you are welcome to adjust my comments to suit your posting. Please note that about ten years ago was the last time that I was flying, while I completed my instrument flight test on a light twin. While I was the IFR arrival radio freq, I made a comment (unfairly) to various airline pilots, that the airlines pilots are becoming "candy ass pilots', and I had much more respect for the DC-6 bomber pilot in the Canadian mountains. I remember how beautiful it was to watch a four engine DC-6 in a 30 degree bank in the mountain valley with a wing about 75 feet from mountain wall as it tightly turned around in the valley below the mountain peaks. This was hands on flying over the tree tops. Sometimes if an emergency occurred as a stall, there might be only 200 feet to recover over the tree tops. There was no time to play with the auto-pilot, the pilot would immediately recovery without thinking as the tops of the trees flashed upwards toward you. Practice makes perfect!
Some of the airline pilots told me on the arrival freq, that they got less than three minutes of actual hands-on experience during each flight. I had replyed that If I was their Captain, I would make sure in all flights that the co-pilots would get hands on expereince as much that was safely allowed by company standards.
The overall flying situation given to the new airline pilot makes me extremely angry that the FAA and TC have not been doing their job to provide the proper expected standards to be followed by the pilots of the high performance airline aircraft. Instead of six months proficiency checks, it should be reduced, maybe to 4 every months for checks with great stress on actual pilot aircraft control FIRST in all conditions, and then program the computer or auto-pilot.
Maybe I am missing something that FAA or TC hasn't told me about the new airline generation?
Maybe some of the new airline pilots can explain to me what the problem is, if I am wrong?

Automation in the air, dulls pilot skill


Airline industry and safety officials are concerned that pilots’ flying skills are becoming rusty and their ability to handle unexpected situations is eroding because most flying is delegated to computers in today’s highly automated planes.

WASHINGTON August 30, 2011 - Are airline pilots forgetting how to fly? As planes become ever more reliant on automation to navigate crowded skies, safety officials worry there will be more deadly accidents traced to pilots who have lost their hands-on instincts in the air.

Hundreds of people have died over the past five years in "loss of control" accidents in which planes stalled during flight or got into unusual positions that pilots could not correct. In some cases, pilots made the wrong split-second decisions, with catastrophic results - for example, steering the plane's nose skyward into a stall instead of down to regain stable flight.

Spurred in part by federal regulations in the U.S. that require greater reliance on computerized flying, the airline industry is suffering from "automation addiction," said Rory Kay, an airline captain and co-chairman of a Federal Aviation Administration committee on pilot training. "We're seeing a new breed of accident with these state-of-the art planes."

Pilots use automated systems to fly airliners for all but about three minutes of a flight: the takeoff and landing. Most of the time pilots are programming navigation directions into computers rather than using their hands on controls to fly the plane. They have few opportunities to maintain their skills by flying manually, Kay's advisory committee warns.

Fatal airline accidents have decreased dramatically in the U.S. over the past decade. However, The Associated Press interviewed pilots, industry officials and aviation safety experts who expressed concern about the implications of decreased opportunities for manual flight, and reviewed more than a dozen loss-of-control accidents around the world.

Airlines and regulators discourage or even prohibit pilots from turning off the autopilot and flying planes themselves, the committee said. Safety experts say they're seeing cases in which pilots who are suddenly confronted with a loss of computerized flight controls don't appear to know how to respond immediately, or they make errors - sometimes fatally so.

A draft FAA study found pilots sometimes "abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems." Because these systems are so integrated in today's planes, one malfunctioning piece of equipment or a single bad computer instruction can suddenly cascade into a series of other failures, unnerving pilots who have been trained to rely on the equipment.

The study examined 46 accidents and major incidents, 734 voluntary reports by pilots and others as well as data from more than 9,000 flights in which a safety official rode in the cockpit to observe pilots in action. It found that in more than 60 per cent of accidents, and 30 per cent of major incidents, pilots had trouble manually flying the plane or made mistakes with automated flight controls.

A typical mistake was not recognizing that either the autopilot or the auto-throttle - which controls power to the engines - had disconnected. Others failed to take the proper steps to recover from a stall in flight or to monitor and maintain airspeed.

"We're forgetting how to fly," Kay said.

In the most recent fatal airline crash in the U.S., in 2009 near Buffalo, N.Y., the co-pilot of a regional airliner programmed incorrect information into the plane's computers, causing it to slow to an unsafe speed. That triggered a stall warning. The startled captain, who hadn't noticed the plane had slowed too much, responded by repeatedly pulling back on the control yoke, overriding two safety systems, when the correct procedure was to push forward.

An investigation later found there were no mechanical or structural problems that would have prevented the plane from flying if the captain had responded correctly. Instead, his actions caused an aerodynamic stall. The plane plummeted to earth, killing all 49 people aboard and one on the ground.

Two weeks after the New York accident, a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 crashed into a field while trying to land in Amsterdam. Nine people were killed and 120 injured. An investigation found that one of the plane's altimeters, which measures altitude, had fed incorrect information to the plane's computers.

That, in turn, caused the auto-throttle to reduce speed to a dangerously slow level so that the plane lost lift and stalled. Dutch investigators described the flight's three pilots' "automation surprise" when they discovered the plane was about to stall. They hadn't been closely monitoring the airspeed.

Last month, French investigators recommended that all pilots get mandatory training in manual flying and handling a high-altitude stall. The recommendations were in response to the 2009 crash of an Air France jet flying from Brazil to Paris. All 228 people aboard were killed.

An investigation found that airspeed sensors fed bad information to the Airbus A330's computers. That caused the autopilot to disengage suddenly and a stall warning to activate.

The co-pilot at the controls struggled to save the plane, but because he kept pointing the plane's nose up, he actually caused the stall instead of preventing it, experts said. Despite the bad airspeed information, which lasted for less than a minute, there was nothing to prevent the plane from continuing to fly if the pilot had followed the correct procedure for such circumstances, which is to continue to fly levelly in the same direction at the same speed while trying to determine the nature of the problem, they said.

In such cases, the pilots and the technology are failing together, said former US Airways Capt. Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger, whose precision flying is credited with saving all 155 people aboard an Airbus A320 after it lost power in a collision with Canada geese shortly after takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport two years ago.

"If we only look at the pilots - the human factor - then we are ignoring other important factors," he said. "We have to look at how they work together."

The ability of pilots to respond to the unexpected loss or malfunction of automated aircraft systems "is the big issue that we can no longer hide from in aviation," said Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Va. "We've been very slow to recognize the consequence of it and deal with it."

The foundation, which is industry-supported, promotes aviation safety around the world.

Airlines are also seeing smaller incidents in which pilots waste precious time repeatedly trying to restart the autopilot or fix other automated systems when what they should be doing is "grasping the controls and flying the airplane," said Bob Coffman, another member of the FAA pilot training committee and an airline captain.

"All of this has to be instinctive, it has to be trained to the point of, 'Oh, I know what to do,' " he said.

Paul Railsback, operations director at the Air Transport Association, which represents airlines, said: "We think the best way to handle this is through the policies and training of the airlines to ensure they stipulate that the pilots devote a fair amount of time to manually flying. We want to encourage pilots to do that and not rely 100 per cent on the automation. I think many airlines are moving in that direction."

In May, the FAA proposed requiring airlines to train pilots on how to recover from a stall, as well as expose them to more realistic problem scenarios.

But other new regulations are going in the opposite direction. Today, pilots are required to use their autopilot when flying at altitudes above 24,000 feet, which is where airliners spend much of their time cruising. The required minimum vertical safety buffer between planes has been reduced from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet. That means more planes flying closer together, necessitating the kind of precision flying more reliably produced by automation than human beings.

The same situation is increasingly common closer to the ground.

The FAA is moving from an air traffic control system based on radar technology to more precise GPS navigation. Instead of time-consuming, fuel-burning stair-step descents, planes will be able to glide in more steeply for landings with their engines idling. Aircraft will be able to land and take off closer together and more frequently, even in poor weather, because pilots will know the precise location of other aircraft and obstacles on the ground. Fewer planes will be diverted.

But the new landing procedures require pilots to cede even more control to automation.

"Those procedures have to be flown with the autopilot on," Voss said. "You can't afford a sneeze on those procedures."

Even when not using the new procedures, airlines direct their pilots to switch on the autopilot about a minute and a half after takeoff, when the plane reaches about 1,000 feet, Coffman said. The autopilot generally doesn't come off until about a minute and a half before landing, he said.

Pilots still control the plane's flight path. But they are programming computers rather than flying with their hands.

Opportunities to fly manually are especially limited at commuter airlines, where pilots may fly with the autopilot off for about 80 seconds out of a typical two-hour flight, Coffman said.

But it is the less experienced first officers starting out at smaller carriers who most need manual flying experience. Airline training programs are focused on training pilots to fly with the automation, rather than without it. Senior pilots, even if their manual flying skills are rusty, can at least draw on experience flying older generations of less automated planes.

Adding to concerns about an overreliance on automation is an expected pilot shortage in the U.S. and many other countries. U.S. airlines used to be able to draw on a pool of former military pilots with extensive manual flying experience. But more pilots now choose to stay in the armed forces, and corporate aviation competes for pilots with airlines, where salaries have dropped.

Changing training programs to include more manual flying won't be enough because pilots spend only a few days a year in training, Voss said. Airlines will have to rethink their operations fundamentally if they're going to give pilots realistic opportunities to keep their flying skills honed, he said.

The International Air Transport Association says the most common type of airline accident is one in which planes stalled or otherwise lost control in flight.

It counted 51 such accidents in the past five years.

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