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Guest D17S

Called to Duty

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Guest D17S

Boeing says it can be done in 3 years . . . a real, life Vatsim environment.http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=6417The jest is that the technology is available to completely 'ground control' a commercial airliner. Of course, we've been doing this for years with Remote Piloted Vehicles. An announcement stating this is technically feasible is nothing at all. There's no news there. My impression was this was not an acknowledgment of the technical feasibility, but of a usable, CERTIFIED, system being potentially available in 3 years. The only additional factor necessary would be our will to "make it so."We folk that are serious users of the PMDG (and LVLD) "games" are some of the very few people that might fully recognize the potential of such a system. We easily recognize that it can be done. Actually, we operate exceptionally real examples of 737s and 744 every day. I imagine the interface Boeing has in mind will be very similar to our 744 2D cockpit. I doubt the system will include any serious attempt to hand-fly any element of the flight, including approach or landing. That means the ground system will provide an interface just like we have. The ground pilot might (very well) handle enroute, approach and autoland functions on a clickable panel . . . precisely like we do (that is until we finally get so brain-deadened of the unwavering perfection of a well set-up approach and autoland that we are driven to hand fly the beast!)There might be a few Boeing flight instructors that would be up to speed on a Computer Based Training (CBT) rig and could handle this type-rated job (i.e., 744, etc.) from a computer interface, but only a few. It's interesting to recognize that you guys, right here, in this forum, represent the most qualified "type-rated" 744 sim-pilots in the world . . . . hummmmCalled to Duty? If you get an oddly addressed IM someday, it might pay to check it out!

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I just don't see it happening Sam. The human pilot is there precisely FOR instances where this kind of automation fails. Murphy's Law you know - whatever can go wrong probably will.


Ryan Maziarz
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all I know is, everyone I happen to know will never get on a plane that they already barely trust to fly with no pilot

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Guest viper18799

Will be interesting to see...I don't think I would put my family on that plane though.

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"The jest is that the technology is available to completely 'ground control' a commercial airliner."As a passenger, would YOU trust a pilot who is not even on the aircraft? I'm relying on the added incentive of a pilot trying to save his own neck (when things go t*ts up) to get me to my destination. So what's the benefit of ground control? The weightsaving of not having 2 or 3 pilots? (lol) I'm sure the weight of all the electronics required for such a system would be far heavier than a few pilots. People in the aviation industry are generally paid according to their level of responsibility (so I don't think you're going to save much ($$$) in this respect... You still have the same level of responsibility on the ground... and sadly, none of the fun of "being there")Cheers.Q>

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Great I can stay at home and play on my computer,no more 3 hour drive to the airport,sign me up!Jon

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Guest kdundon

I read it and I interpret it to mean if the flight deck door is forced open then the system would lock in the autopilot and take over. I agree that I would be hesitant to get on an aircraft with no pilot but if I am already on one and a crazed individual or individuals bust in and take out THE pilots then I think having some means of landing the aircraft safely from the ground beats the alternative. Ken

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Guest master_warning

Well this looks like fun, but then I will never get to realize my dream of becoming an airline pilot because there would be no use for me. Im sure if such system could be applied, the first thing they'd try to do is automate it to an all computer based control. And there go the thousands of dollars I've been spending on my professional pilot degree lol. No way, there's nothing like sitting at the front of so much metal and knowing that you're in control and that folks in the back depend on you to get home safe ;-)

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Guest D17S

Yep, Ken, that's what they are proposing. An ops center might be alerted and a V-cockpit would be immediately manned by a standby crew. For instance, my company has "hot-spare" crews hanging out in lounges 'round the world 24X7 . . . abit to launch in a real airplane. But if it was a V-situation, heck, I could do it . . . (now ya'll had really better think about staying at home!)The ethical considerations are significant. Consider some possible parallels: For instance, do we alert arriving passengers when an airplane is flight planned for a Cat 3b landing? In this case, the pilot is on board, true 'nuff. But the reality of a Cat3b landing is inescapable. Beyond Alert Height, the pilot is just along for the ride. If LAND 3 is still annunciated at AH, from that point there is nothing a pilot can do to save a system-botched landing. On a Cat3b landing, Alert Height is like the "V1" of a takeoff roll. The airplane telling the crew, "Last chance. If the systems are still functioning normally, see ya on the ground. There is no reason to even look outside, it's too late. We are landing NoW. Hang on!" So, (the argument might proceed) how is this different from having an -- emergency only -- auto-enroute / approach system on board . . . and not making a special notification to the pax so they can make an informed decision? Consider too, how many pax EvEr actually realize that an interface between onboard and ground based radio / computer systems just landed their airplane? Is this unethical to not make specific notification to the pax about this system functionality so they can make an informed decision? To date, we have answered this question with a definitive: "No. This is not an ethical problem. No special notifications are required." So, might this existing ethical determination ( to NoT make special notifications of proposed Cat 3b landings) be helpful in extending this ethical application to an auto-enroute / approach system that was (shall we say) just as "pilot independent" as a post-Alert Height Cat3b autoland event? Hummm??? General knowledge of this system's existence on commercial airliners would lead to a significantly increased level of discomfort -- Ahhh, to say the least! . . . but still, is this (only?) just like the whole idea of flying was 75 years ago -- ?1) So, would it be ethical for an airline to NOT make targeted, special efforts to alert flying customers that this system was on -board and operational? An additional consideration is as Ken describes: "Consider the alternatives." If serious, determined, well repaired bad guys get into the cockpit, the reality is that the pilots are most likey, gone. Now what? There's a pilot in the cockpit, but he's not one of ours. This is the scenario the system is designed to address. This reality is stark, but it IS the reality . . . and we (as a society) must face it. Ethical considerations take an increasing pragmatic turn at this point. This is the issue this system proposes to address. 2) Could this be a right choice?

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Guest Jambo

Like many have said its not the technology thats the problem, its the perception by the public, a lot of the Jo public still think pilots sit there fighting with the controls, navigating across the sky and if all #### breaks loose the pilot will be the saviour. They are not aware that the computer flies the plane, even tells the pilot how to fly it if manually controlled and in cases of the fly by wire principal would actually do a better job at keeping a plane in the sky with no engines for longer than a pilot would. I know there more to it than just this and in no way discredditing the wonderful job you all do, but technology is slowly making us all redundant! Take TCAS for example, pilots and ATC are not allowed to intervene with what it suggests, even if we think a better solution exists.Majority of problems in the aviation industry is the Human error. We make mistakes. Modes S and the newer technologies based on that give ATC direct information now of exactlty what the pilot has dialed into the plane, so we can now see if the pilot has set the correct heading, level, speed etc. The interface between aircraft, pilot and ATC is quite clumsy really when you think about it, ATC thinks of instruction(Although new tools like IFACTS and FAST are even replacing the need for a controller to think, it works out the conflictions), passes it via radio to the pilot who then turns knob to select instruction. Loads of chances in that sequence for it to go wrong(And does on a daily basis) So think of it like this, ATC give the instructions, the technology already exists that allows us to have a direct communication with the aircraft using mode S and ADB, so why not cut out the middle man and just have us use our ground based ATC equipment to climb, turn, speed the aircraft from the ground? Of course this is a very simplified look at it and would require far more development of technologies on the aircraft to manage other systems that the human pilot presently have a direct input on. But basic control of the aircraft removing one Human interface would actually improve saftey. However as i started this post, explaining this to the general public is another thing, we still have train drivers on trains that can go knowhere other than the rails they are stuck to, whys that?To Jon B, hope you well, better get playing that computer some more, ATC best computer game going! doesnt even need 10p! hope to see you again soon when i get a flight with claire again, vegas was cool!RegardsJames

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Hi James,good to hear from you.I had an ATCO from LGW tower on the jump seat the other day going into LHR with bad weather.We did 2 windshear go-arounds at LHR then diverted to LGW. She was white by the time we got into LGW. Mind you so was I ;-)cheersJon

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Guest Jambo

None Radar ATCO you see! Tower only lot easily scared! Most of our new trainees go white sitting in front of radar some days! LOLNot been good flying weather for past few months, winds, fog, snow! Is One benefit of being stuck in radar sometimes, you dont get to see(Or not see when foggy) planes pointing in funny directions(Often at the tower) waving around like the pilot is drunk! Blips are just blips in radar. We had a Turkmenistan 757 decide that landing on the nose wheel was a better thing to do, unfortunantly decided to do this in the last third of the runway aswell! how it stopped i never know, although at one point it nearly stopped by flipping right over forwards on its nose!RegardsJames Carr

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"Boeing says it can be done in 3 years . . ."I'm just wondering if Boeing marketing has consulted with the people who work on their infallible aircraft every day?And what happens when that crazy dog in the Forward Cargo starts chewing on computer wiring in the Main Equipment Centre?And it's not like ATC control centres have never had blackouts before.... and satellites have never been affected by solar flares...Who needs 911-style terrorism when you have pilotless 744's? Q>

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Guest D17S

Of course the alternative they are considering is not a wire munching pup in the pit, a statistically predictable systems failure or an entirely unpredictable natural event. It is the very real possibility of (another) crazed terrorist in the cockpit. There's a bigger picture here. These are hard issues and harder choices . . . not for the faint of heart. Who will make these choices?Here's a real world example where an "actually threatening" action is being intentionally initiated in an attempt to forstal a "potentially catastrophic" event.For instance, I am faced a maintenance task that is still looking for a potential cause for that mysterious TWA 747 midair explosion several years ago. We are checking fuel boost pump internal electrical integrity (Done this one yet, Q?). The theory this check is exploring is the following: A fuel boost pump could have internally shorted and caused a spark that ignited a fuel tank. There are certainly other potential causes (SAM missiles, and the like!??), but the industry considers this a very real possibility. The community (Boeing, the Feds, et al) came up with a test to check this theory. We are to take high voltage test equipment (a 1000 volt megger) and "pressurize" the fuel pump's 120 volt, internal electrical circuitry to 500 volts. We are looking for (spark-able) short circuits. To draw the requite hydraulic analogy, we are looking for leaks. This test over-pressurizes the system to 5 times its rates pressure in an attempt to cause a "leak' . . . or to cause a weak link to break down and begin to "leak." If the system is going to display any weakness, they want it occur during the test.To continue the analogy, consider that you are looking for a leak in a 3000psi hydraulic system. The test specifies that you must overpressure the system to 15000 psi (5X) and look for leaks. I would strongly advise the mechanic wear protective armor. A pinhole leak at 15000 psi is gonna tear you up. . . but what is the eLecTricAl dynamic that might occur during a 5X overpressure test event? A spark. That's what they are guessing MigHT have caused the fuel tank explosion on the TWA flight and that is ExaCtLy what they are trying to duplicate with this test.Very considerately, they advise the wary mechanic to "Have fire fighting equipment handy." Yea right! The test is checking electrical components internal to the fuel pump (winding, armature, etc). The problem with fighting this fire is about where this fire will be occurring. A 747 fuel pump is mounted via casing that is recessed through the spar, then into the tank. The pump is actually inside the fuel tank. Installing one of these pumps is alot like ramming home a high explosive round into the breach of a very large caliber artillery piece. This pump is a 120 volt electrical device installed inside a fuel tank. The spark (if it is found) will occur inside the fuel pump and the pump is inside the fuel tank. The fire will be occurring InSide the Fuel tAnK.! Normally the pump's (electrical) internals are sealed and operate dry. However the real concern is that the pump's internal cavity may have leaked just enough to fill with fumes.Now there is an explosive environment inside the pump. If the pump begins to short, that internal spark will light the pump off like a blasting cap. The blasting cap will set off the main charge. The main charge is fuel tank. This "Cap" could have enough force to ignite even a full fuel tank. This is the theory and the check. If they are actually correct in their theory that a boost pump spark caused the tank explosion, the test is specifically set up to cause the most likely electrical environment for this to actually happen. We have pass/fail resistance limits, but as far as "test of concept" is concerned: "If it the airplane doesn't explode, it passes. If it does, well, we found a problem." Except where's tech? It's gonna take DNA lab work to sort out a positive I.D. on the poor mech . . . but he had his fire fighting equipment standing by.I'm the one that has to do this. I have considered the situation these decision makers are facing . . . and get this: I have a hard time arguing with their decision to initiate these tests. I would specify safer equipment (the PDS60 is a great megger. We use all day long for fuel quantity), but the general decision to initiate this clearly dangerous test is correct. Why? There is a bigger picture to consider. There might instances where unsuspecting, innocents (like me!) need to be placed in harms way to mitigate the possibility of an even greater cataclysmic event. The strategy also recognizes that there will always be new guys that simply do not believe that their superiors would intentionally place then in danger. The decision makers know this and are thereby assured of always having plenty of willing techs to do the job. Just to provide a bit of technical (philosophical) background, the Utilitarian John Mill would entirely agree with this course of action. There are hard, serious issues and even harder choices.

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Guest Danfontan

For all those who have contributed to this discussion: You may want to look at Boeing's IDS (Integrated Defense Systems) X-45. The thing completed a flight from takeoff, to landing, including target aquisition, fuel management computations, and coordintation with another autonomous X-45 during a test excercise. The only human interaction during the whole process was to authorize weapons release.So, is it possible? Definitely. Are airlines going to depend on computer systems to handle aircraft? I serously doubt it. As an FE in the Navy we get to practice 2 engine out scenarios on a 4 engine platform (707) we frequently practice loss of all generator situations. It would take alot of batteries to keep that system alive for two hours ETOPS not only because of the amount of computers but because the newer jets' flight controls are controlled by hydraulics. That means inverters and AC pumps eating up energy and not all new aircraft have RATs.We may however see only one pilot in the cockpit to monitor systems, and with the way systems are being developed by the military the willnot have to say aword to ATC. Some time ago the military was completing tests on FDL (Flight Data Link). In a dog fight you would usually hear missle calls, vectors to furballs, and situational reports. There was not a single word spoken to AWACS from the fighters. AWACS had thier information on all friendly birds through FDL. This can be implemented to autopilot systems in the civilian sector, by sending vectors to the aircraft from ATC and the aircraft responds. Once again our system is backed up by two other systems in the aircraft, TCAS and a pair of eyes.Well, the technology is there, but don't expect it to be implemented in the next three years. We'll be seeing it possible in the next three decades. It would just take too much money to implement that type of technology into the current aircraft. For airlines to buy off on the cost factor (not the safety) it would have to be an off the shelf solution that is included in the initial purchase of the aircraft. As for ATC, well, we know how under staffed, and over budget they are, so it may be a miracle for those guys.

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