Automatic or Direct Pilot Handling?

One of the most debated aspects of contemporary airmanship is how often and under what conditions should pilots be expected to “hand-fly” their aircraft when so much of the technology on the modern flight deck is designed to control the flight path through automatic channels. Over the course of two decades, the industry has gone nearly full circle, initially emphasizing the importance of the basic instrument scan first introduced in the 1950’s (and known as “the basic T-scan”) then favoring nearly full-flight regime “coupled” operations leaving the autoflight systems and once again insisting that pilots be proficient in “manual flight” in whatever advanced aircraft they operate. Twenty-five years after the introduction of the first family of fully-integrated cockpits, regulators, training managers, instructor pilots, and individual pilots still struggle to find the right formula that capitalizes on the reliability of the autoflight and the flexibility of the “wetware” to adapt to rapidly changing conditions that require the crew to intervene in a loss of control situation.

In Automation Airmanship® we discuss a technique that can help maintain a robust instrument scan during periods (long or short duration) of manual control (without auto pilot or automatic speed control). It’s as basic as the “T-scan” that was introduced over 60 years ago as an extension of a cockpit design standard. In fact, knowing how your aircraft’s basic instrument configuration (commonly referred to as the Primary Flight Display, or PFD) contains almost all you need to know to provide you with a self-guided lesson on “manual flight”. The technique we advocate in our book is to initiate your scan (autoflight on or off) on the basic instrument, connect/disconnect the autoflight, and simply continue the active scan as if there were no engagement or disengagement. Your transitions between autoflight and manual flight will not only be smoother, but your scan will be more resistant to atrophy over time. A few questions to ask while you’re either practicing this in the simulator or actual aircraft include: “How well do I know the subtle features of my electronic display, including color coded information, trend Symbology, the source of display information (platform or pitot-static, for example) and do I balance this with the foundational information provided by the basic instruments?” An entire safety lesson can be derived from this simple process.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to establishing a formula for determining the perfect ratio of manual to automatic flight control. Organizations and individual pilots, however, should create opportunities for practice, establish robust standards for knowledge of both methods of flight path control, and set standards for maintaining a symmetry that balances effective manual control with informed, skilled automatic control.

Until our next report, fly safe and fly first.

Memphis, Tennessee 

August 2013

Leave a Comment