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thunder-craftI'm in catch-up mode (another way of saying "behind the curve"), so here are some updates to keep my diary page going, poor neglected thing that it is.

With reference to my previous Air-Minded diary, every scrap of information that's since come out about the Asiana crash in San Francisco bolsters my initial impression: pure pilot error, no mitigating circumstances. The press is always deferential toward airline pilots, pussyfooting around even the most egregious cases of pilot buffoonery, and at least for the first week or so they tried hard to give the Asiana crew the same treatment, going off on irrelevant tangents about automation and the difficulties of flying landing approaches at busy airports. Now, though, it's become obvious, even to the press, that these pilots simply were not up to the job.

And yet Asiana certified them, put them in one of their most sophisticated aircraft and turned them loose in international airspace, letting passengers think they could safely put their lives in Asiana's hands. Seriously, would you ever fly that carrier again? Oh, okay, I didn't really mean that (yes I did) and I'm sorry for the outburst (no I'm not).

I hope I didn't mislead anyone earlier into thinking I know much about cockpit automation. I don't. I never flew any airplanes that had it. The closest I came was flying the F-15, which has a two-switch pilot relief mode, and that's it. One switch lets you hold a steady altitude; the other lets you hold an attitude. You have to be level at the altitude you want before you can engage altitude hold; similarly, your attitude (bank and/or pitch) has to be stable before you can engage the attitude hold. You can engage one or the other, or both at once (if, for example, you want to stay straight and level at a set altitude). It's handy because it allows you to take your hand off the stick when you have other things to do, but in no way is it an "autopilot" ... you can't fly instrument approaches with it or change speeds, altitudes, or headings. And you can't trust the thing, which is probably true of even the most sophisticated airline automation systems.

Basically, we hand-flew the F-15 at all times. Some exceptionally lazy pilots might engage attitude hold on a long, gradual descent: once you set the correct pitch and desired descent rate you can engage attitude hold and have one less thing to worry about for a while. I've done that once or twice, up at altitude ... but never close to the ground.

Airline cockpits are heavily automated. You can fly modern airliners with the autopilot, using it to hold or change altitude and headings; many systems incorporate an auto-throttle to control speed. You can even fly instrument approaches with autopilot, all the way to touchdown. Pilots can become reliant on these systems. If they become too reliant, their hand-flying skills atrophy. It's an issue and a number of professional airline pilots are worried about it.

I can relate, even though I have no experience with automation. What I had, or I should say "the thing we F-15 pilots had that older pilots who flew older fighters didn't have and therefore thought F-15 pilots were not as good as they were because we had it," was the head-up display, the HUD. We fought heads up, looking out of the cockpit, weapons parameters and aiming information projected onto the HUD, overlaid on top of the actual target on our nose. Most of what we needed to know was displayed on the HUD, eliminating the need to constantly look down into the cockpit. In the landing pattern, basic flight and important instrument information appeared on the HUD, once again allowing us to fly while looking outside the cockpit. We didn't have to go heads down to fly an ILS, unlike pilots of older aircraft. When you're flying right down to precision approach minimums, being heads up is a big deal ... you'll be looking right at the runway when you break out of the crud at one hundred feet, a quarter mile from the landing threshold.

The old heads called us "HUD babies" and worried that our ability to fly instrument approaches off the needles and round dials inside the cockpit had atrophied. Any chance they got, they'd rag us about "HUD addiction," telling us to turn the HUD off in good weather and practice instrument landings without it. Having flown a much older jet before I came to the F-15, the T-37 trainer with its 1950s-era cockpit and no HUD, I understood where the old heads were coming from and would practice no-HUD approaches from time to time. Besides, HUDs can quit working, and indeed they let me down once or twice.

But when the weather was shitty and I had to be on course and glide path in order to land, I'd fly the HUD every time. And who wouldn't? So if an airline pilot can fly a better ILS with full autopilot, using it to control course, glide path, and speed, I understand. If an airline pilot has to hand-fly most of the approach because the ILS is out, but wants to use auto-throttle to take some of the load off, I understand. But he or she had better know how to use cockpit automation correctly, and he or she had better monitor those systems constantly by cross-checking speed, course, and sink rate ... not to mention the visual picture out the front window. Asiana Flight 214's crew failed on all counts.

In other flying-related news, I'm finishing putting F-15 PowerPoint slides and notes together. Now all I need to do is practice.

I'm giving a presentation on the F-15 to Pima Air & Space Museum staff and volunteers on September 21st. I'll be talking about the F-15C Eagle, the "light gray" as opposed to the "dark gray" F-15E Strike Eagle (a totally different airplane, despite its outward similarity to the Eagle). I'm going to address the Eagle's development, weaponry and radar, combat record, some of my own experiences flying the jet, past and current basing, and plans for its future.

PowerPoint. When I retired a few years ago I thought I'd seen the last of it, but here I am up to my ass in slides again. Surprising how much of it comes back. Would you like to see one of my slides?

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 11.53.37 AM

I picked that one because it shows the F-15's instrument panel and the HUD I was just telling you about. You can see how buried in the cockpit you'd be without the HUD, and you can compare the information projected onto the HUD with the same information down on the cockpit instruments and gauges. Pretty nifty. But here's something even niftier:

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 11.57.53 AM

Yeah. No more HUD. Now the symbology's projected onto the inside of your helmet visor and you see it no matter which direction you look. Damn, I wish this stuff had been around when I was still flying the jet!

Originally posted to pwoodford on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 02:16 PM PDT.

Also republished by Kossack Air Force.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I guess you guys must learn quickly what (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, eyesoars

    readouts to pay attention to, and which can be ignored for the time being in the pursuit of more immediate matters.

    The shot of the panels (plus the HUD) look like an engraved invitation to distraction, to me.

    I'm sure the interiors of jetliner cockpits must look at least as busy, or worse. I wonder what those pilots in San Francisco were focusing on when plane parts started hitting the earth?

  •  Water is deceptive (4+ / 0-)

    an approach over a large body of water can actually be disorienting to some pilots. Water, especially when smooth and glassy, makes depth perception a real problem. You simply cannot tell where the surface is.

    Here is a video of a Lufthansa heavy airliner making an approach into San Francisco. Gives you an idea of the pilot workload (or lack of it with automation) and the sight picture coming into the 28R & 28L parallel runways. Notice the aim point is those two broad white stripes 1,000 feet from the runway threshold. When a pilot is making an approach, those white stripes should not move from the same spot on the windscreen if power settings and speed remain constant. If they start moving up, you will land short. Moving down and you will land long.

    Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

    by Otteray Scribe on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 03:08:05 PM PDT

  •  I agree. Pure pilot error. (4+ / 0-)

    By a coincidence, I'm learning to fly the F-15 myself.

    Wellll... OK; it's a 24" ducted fan RC foamie...

    But it does have a HUD.  As long as I keep it in the air, my head has to be up looking at it. ;-)  Thankfully - for my neck - I haven't quite mastered the art of keeping it aloft for all that long.

    It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

    by Jaime Frontero on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 03:11:15 PM PDT

  •  Another thing you didn't have in the F-15... (4+ / 0-)

    ....was a RIGHT SEAT with an Instructor Pilot sitting in it, and a jump seat in between them with another qualified pilot sitting in it...

    It's just amazing that the other crew members sat there and watched the pilot get low, slow and behind without saying a word, six eyes and three brains, and no one says, "airspeed"....

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 03:30:35 PM PDT

    •  Actually, I think it's come out that the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, subtropolis

      third pilot in the jump seat was calling out the sink rate. Don't know how long he was calling it out before the other two pilots reacted, though.

      •  Your description of the F-15 control systems.. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, subtropolis

        ...really surprised me, that the aircraft doesn't have an autopilot  that can fly the airplane while you watch...

        The 1990 version of the cockpit in our C-141s had autopilot systems that could be connected to the INS and it would fly the programmed route including changing course at waypoints, it also displayed the route and waypoints superimposed over the display on the weather radars.

        The aircraft also had an autoland system that was supposedly rated down to touchdown in essentially zero viz, though they didn't use it very much, didn't trust it very much, and when using it, it was common for the pilot to abort and go missed approach....It landed the plane REALLY HARD!

        I would think that a more elaborate autopilot would be a good thing in a single-seat aircraft, especially considering that contingencies could lead to you being really wore out, like a long overwater flight with a couple of refuels and crappy wx at your destination.....

        "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

        by leftykook on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 06:18:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I flew with the USAF on a c141 out of Hickham AFB (4+ / 0-)

    on the way to Alice Springs, AS. The plane needed to stop for gas at PagoPago, Samoa. If you want to talk about a heavy load on a short runway, that would be a good place to start.

    Glad I saved up leave time towards the end of my enlistment to be able to see OZ, But paying my own airfare would have been better then USAF space not available crap.

  •  Rule 1: Fly the airplane (5+ / 0-)

    Remember the Eastern Airlines jet (1011 I think) that went down in the Everglades? They had a problem on approach - they put the gear down, but only 2 out of 3 lights came on. They diverted to a holding pattern over the swamps, basically circling on autopilot while paging through the manuals trying to figure out if they had a real problem or just a burned out light bulb. (I believe they had at least a three man cockpit crew) They were still all trying to figure out the problem - plus the people they were talking to on the radio - when they flew the plane into the ground.

    Seems they'd gotten a case of tunnel vision - they were so focused on that problem with the gear light, nobody was really paying attention to flying the plane. They didn't notice the plane was in a slow descent...

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 04:38:32 PM PDT

  •  The cool thing about the F/A-18F is... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...both crewman can use their JHMCS to target different aircraft in combat.

    Regulated capital serves the people, unregulated capital serves itself.

    by Alumbrados on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 05:12:38 PM PDT

  •  I fly the F-15E in Flight Simulator X... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...including the Mach Loop in Wales.

    FSX Pic

    Regulated capital serves the people, unregulated capital serves itself.

    by Alumbrados on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 05:17:39 PM PDT

  •  We're starting to use HUDs in the airlines (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PrahaPartizan, RiveroftheWest

    We have them on our MD-11s and 777s. They're just starting to be installed on the 757 fleet.

    Ultimately they will be used for flying lower visibility approaches.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 08:08:20 PM PDT

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