This is the last in a series of posts that began over a year ago; it’s the last leg of an improvement strategy that has covered the entire family of 9 Automation Airmanship® principles. If you have not been able to follow the entire series from the beginning, the last 12 month’s posts are available as archives on the home page for this blog.
The researcher and futurist Ray Amara famously said, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” It’s hard to speculate which emerging technology Mr. Amara had on his mind when he penned those words, but modern operators of highly technical systems (like aircraft, ships, computer networks and the like) have all experienced wonderment and awe when they first encountered seemingly elegant and powerful technology in their occupations.
The most accomplished professionals who use complicated technology also know the effort it takes to master such systems. In our experience, the best experts in almost any field dominated by technology maintain an “extra knowledge reserve” that sets them apart. Even without a degree in sytems engineering or computing, they have learned to accumulate accurate, practical mental representations of the logic and patterns underlying the actions of their equipment. From the the basic “modes” and underlying “automation laws,” to the techniques and practices that result in the smoothest, safest, and most efficient outcomes. Often we have observed them sharing this knowledge with their peers, and even further proof of this quality, we have observed them asking probing questions about (for example) why a certain system may behave a certain way. This is how experts continue to build and accumulate a rich, durable, accessible store of “logic knowledge.”
The modern aircraft cockpit is one of the finest examples of the importance of this principle—logic knowledge—as it applies both to safety and efficiency. Whether or not training programs prioritize this principle during intitial and recurrent training, eventually this knowledge (or the lack of it) will factor into a pilot’s career and a flight operation’s success or struggles. Serious professionals know what Gary Klein observed three decades ago, that:
“Experts…have mental models of [their] equipment. They are not just pressing buttons and receiving messages.”*
Our observations in the field and from our own cockpit experiences are proof enough that Mr. Klein knew many years ago what has become for many a vocational asset practiced diligently across their careers. As for us, we stand by our claim that:
“Without this additional knowledge, many pilots perform with adequate safety margins over most situations; with it pilots can experience a level of safety and effectiveness that they can rely on both during routine operations and when situations demand peak performance.” †
So it’s fitting that the last post of our year-long series ends with this final Automation Airmanship principle, since it often comes after pilots have mostly mastered the other 8 principles. We don’t, however, think that pilots should wait to develop this vital component of a successeful career; the first encounter with a complex aircraft can include the basics of autoflight, flight control, and flight guidance logic. Not unlike building financial reserves—which is not done rapidly but gradually over time—this special knowledge should be pursued with discipline and persistence with every flight leg.
Think about it.
Until our next post, fly safe, and always, fly first.
* Gary Klein, Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1998, p. 153.
†Chris Lutat and S. Ryan Swah, Automation Airmanship: Nine Principles for Operating Glass Cockpit Aircraft. McGraw-Hill Education, New York NY. 2013. Chapter 12: The Ninth Principle: Logic Knowledge.