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Robert McDonald

The Great Drone Debate

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A lot of members weighed in on this topic in another thread- and because it was off-topic, I have decided to create a specific thread on the subject.  The military is making great use of drones, and of course someone on the ground has to fly the drone, but that person is NOT on the aircraft.  

 

Several questions come to mind - and it seems problematic that any government oversight agency is going to cave in on drone ops in a CIVILIAN commercial aircraft anytime soon for a number of reasons. An Avsim member has commented that most commercial crashes are PILOT ERROR, which argues in FAVOR of drone ops.  OTOH, I have a hard time envisioning a DRONE PILOT being able to handle sudden and unexpected in-flight emergencies "in time".  Unlike flying a sim, the drone pilot is commanding a ship with REAL human lives at stake.  Since that drone pilot is NOT ABOARD the plane, one could argue he or she is not truly INVESTED in a 100% safe outcome record.  Others may postulate that COMPUTERS would control this brave new world of flight, obviating the need for human pilots, even on the ground.  The immediate question arises, is "FAIL-SAFE" an oxymoron?  Arguably, no computer system known is 100% uptime with no failures of any kind.  In addition, ambient warning sounds heard in the cockpit are unlikely to be heard on the ground.  Other tell-tale handling and performance problems that occur in flight may be undetectable by the BIG BROTHER SYSTEM on the ground, or if they ARE detectable, a bad outcome may already be unpreventable by the time the minor sounds become severely loud.

 

For these and a host of other reasons, it still seems clear that there is no substitute for the men and women in the cockpit, notwithstanding the problems with the current system.  The idea of 'two' pilots instead of just one is a way to attempt to deal with issues like substance abuse, depression and other forms of mental illness, distraction, health problems being hidden by the pilot, and so on.  Of course we still have crashes, and no one has figured out a sure-fire way to deal with pilots who are simply flying off course (think civilian PPs) with no transponder, mixed in with poor weather and/or overloaded airspace.  Then you have the weather, which alone is no small threat.  

 

I'd still take a pilot with a ton of military flight hours at the helm in lieu of an unseen mainframe on the ground, or a combination of the mainframe and a drone pilot on the ground, all day every day.  There is no substitute for expertise, and courage.  Just ask Sully Sullenberger.  Hard to picture a 7-minute flight ending well post bird-strike with some guy at company headquarters flying the plane with a joystick.  Or a computer.  The computer can't look at the Hudson and pick a place to ditch.  The number of what-ifs in flight are simply too many to be able to be programmed into some lines of code.  The coders in our membership will probably nod their heads on that one.

 

Your thoughts?

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Well there are still a lot of technical hurdles to be overcome before remotely piloted airliners could become an option. Even then I'm not quite sure what the added value would be of having your pilot sitting on the ground, rather than on the flight deck.

 

Here's an interesting article on the realities of being a drone pilot, not the most reliable source perhaps, but the story sounds legit: http://www.cracked.com/article_20725_6-myths-about-drone-warfare-you-probably-believe.html

 

As having a fully computer operated plane (and again, the technology is not there yet, nor will it be for a while), the thing is the following (the same goes for automatic cars):

1) A fully computer operated plane will crash in certain cases where a human pilot would have saved the plane

2) A human pilot will crash in certain cases where a computer would have saved the plane

 

If the number of crashes in group 1 is smaller than the number of crashes in group 2, then we should be switching over to fully computer operated planes ASAP. At the moment the technology is not there though, and the question is, would the flying public ever accept a plane that crashes in cases where a human wouldn't, even if the chance of a crash is much smaller? Personally I'm doubtful.

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I'll repeat what I said in the other thread.

 

The first time a completely automated plane tossed its chips and crashed with passengers on board, that would be the end of that.

 

They could build whole fleets of them but that won't make anyone climb aboard.

 

And if they tried to incentivize it by some sort of preferential rate disparity, the public will howl, the pilots will strike, the politicians will react, the competition will undercut, and again, that will be the end of that.

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A captain goes down with his ship........If the captain was not on board then I am not getting on board either.

 

When things go wrong I want a Captain on board that will turn to his/hers decades worth of training and experience to save their lives, cause if they save their life then they save mine too.

 

If an aircraft crashes that is piloted remotely then that is a failure of the systems and the people responsible will live regardless of the outcome. That is a scenario I want no part of.

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OTOH, I have a hard time envisioning a DRONE PILOT being able to handle sudden and unexpected in-flight emergencies "in time".

 

This topic sorta comes up in most of the ground schools I go through at work.  Not so much as drone but as Fly-By-Wire and FMC use.  Honestly speaking, most accidents are cause by pilot error. I think the number is close to 75%.  I have no problems admitting it.  Us pilots are human we make mistakes.  That being said.  A computer is just that a computer.  It knows "1's and 0's".  And there are only so many "1's and 0's" that you can program into the computer.  Programmers aren't going to think of everything and therefore the computer won't be able to respond to everything.  A perfect example is UAL232 in Sioux City.  A triple failure of hydraulics was deemed IMPOSSIBLE.

 

The beautiful thing about the human mind is its ability to learn.  And it learns FAST.  So until they come out with self learning computers I don't foresee the UAV take over anytime soon.  

Just my 2 cents.

 

A captain goes down with his ship........If the captain was not on board then I am not getting on board either.

 

When things go wrong I want a Captain on board that will turn to his/hers decades worth of training and experience to save their lives, cause if they save their life then they save mine too.

 

If an aircraft crashes that is piloted remotely then that is a failure of the systems and the people responsible will live regardless of the outcome. That is a scenario I want no part of.

 

I honestly don't see this being a problem EVER.  It really doesn't cost a company any money to have a set of people up front vs having them on the ground.  If an aircraft is going to be controlled at all by a pilot it'll be done in the same old spot.

 

Brian

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I honestly don't see this being a problem EVER.  It really doesn't cost a company any money to have a set of people up front vs having them on the ground.  If an aircraft is going to be controlled at all by a pilot it'll be done in the same old spot.

 

This is why I want them up there with me.......

 

I am of the belief that high expertise piloting is what will save lives when the systems go down. Controlling things from the ground will eliminate troubleshooting because you are not there to see, hear or feel things and I think your instincts will be lost by not being there.

 

Also I believe that one facing death you do things you are not normally capable of and if you are on the ground you will walk away regardless of the outcome.

 

 

Even Star Trek with all its technology continues to show a crew fighting against all odds to save a ship from disaster.....I like Star Trek.

 

Put the crew on the ground then we are just sitting ducks up there when something goes wrong and the people responsible will go home and eat dinner that night regardless if people live or die.

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Matthew, I too like Star Trek. But keep in mind that it is an advanced positronic-brained android doing most of the piloting! :LMAO:

 

Speaking of drones, what about that U.S. Navy ship that somehow managed to shoot itself with a drone last week? How embarrassing! :Whistle:

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I'll repeat what I said in the other thread.

 

The first time a completely automated plane tossed its chips and crashed with passengers on board, that would be the end of that.

 

 

 

+1

 

 

A captain goes down with his ship........If the captain was not on board then I am not getting on board either.

 

 

+1

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Matthew, I too like Star Trek. But keep in mind that it is an advanced positronic-brained android doing most of the piloting!

 

Yes but at least they are all on board to fight the good fight and save the day. Even a ship like the Enterprise needed troubleshooting and Scotty was the best (I even like new Scotty too)  :lol: 

 

The Captain not on board at all could be considered even more cowardice compared to Francesco Schettino, At least Francesco was on board his ship but later decided to jump ship. :LMAO:

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     What would keep me off of one, is the thought of some bored hacker, thinking to himself, "Gee, I wonder if I can take control of that T777 flying overhead". Not to mention various organizations and countries with a bone to pick with whomever.

There hasn't been much that hackers haven't been able to crack and you just know, they wouldn't be able to pass something like this up.

     Call me an old geezer (which I am), but I would rather fly coast to coast on a DC3 with a human pilot on board, than a Drone.

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Some areas where drones may be used in commercial civilian operations:

 

How about cargo planes? No need to risk pilots flying in the middle of the night and no passengers to worry about. Just the poor suckers who live near airports.

 

Search and rescue? Well, maybe just the search part. Smaller cheaper drones means more drones and therefore wider coverage.

 

Firefighting? This comes to mind after a fire fighting aircraft crashed last month in Australia killing the pilot.

 

Any of these things will probably happen well before passenger flights become unmanned. 

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It's like the frog in the pot,As more generations of I-Pod weened youth start running the show,People will blindly file onto pilot-less airliners,It's only a matter of time.

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The advantage of incorporating drone technology is that it can use one person on the ground to replace several pilots. With the current drone technology incorporated into airliners, airlines can eliminate the copilot position. The person on the ground can monitor several aircraft at once and assist or backup the pilot of an aircraft when necessary.

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airlines can eliminate the copilot position.

 

Would you think that is a good idea?

 

The reason for the Pilot / Co-Pilot scenario is not only to assist, it is also mentorship as well as keeping company on the flight deck. I think to get rid of that relationship would continue to decrease the quality of expertise of our pilots.

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Would you think that is a good idea?

 

The reason for the Pilot / Co-Pilot scenario is not only to assist, it is also mentorship as well as keeping company on the flight deck. I think to get rid of that relationship would continue to decrease the quality of expertise of our pilots.

The same question was asked about getting rid of the flight engineer. And the navigator before that. History has shown a linear trend of crew reduction steadily towards zero. The remaining pilot aboard would not be alone. The key technology developed by the military for the predators and global hawks is that of communications. The pilot does have another pilot with him who is monitoring what is happening, communicating with him, and assisting as necessary. The only difference is that, that pilot is on the ground back at hq and also doing the same for other aircraft as well.

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The same question was asked about getting rid of the flight engineer. And the navigator before that.

 

The difference is the Navigator or Flight Engineers weren't in a position of mentoring into the Captains Chair. The first officer is in a position where he is working his way up into the Captains Chair.

 

You could put a first officer on the ground supporting multiple aircraft and eventually have him work his way onto the aircraft but even that would create a lot of controversy. The human side is we like to work together and no better way for that then to have your partner with you on the flight deck, this is how you build relationships.

 

A lot of these initiatives are taking the human factors out of the job, which you bet will lead to mental health issues from job stress due to a lack of contact with working with others. It is uncharted territory that in theory looks good, but in reality may lead to a very unhealthy work environment.

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Of course the poor pilot left up in the cockpit will miss the warmth and companionship of a loyal first officer. However, warmth and companionship are not factors to the bottom line on an excel spreadsheet as far as the accountants are concerned. Eliminating half the pilot headcount is and likely very compelling.

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I just had an idea for Airport 2015 !  Remember those "disaster" movies years ago ?   

The original Airport (1970) was a classic. The following sequels were nowhere near as good as the original, some almost campy, like in The Concord Airport 79 with an SST rolling away from a missile.

 

Who would you have flying in the drone full of passengers ?  

 

Who would be the "Pilot" sitting in front of a screen on the ground ?

 

There has to be attendants, (on board) of course.  Who(m) ?

 

Drama, or Comedy ?

 

Who would be your Director ?

 

The possibilities are endless.

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Of course the poor pilot left up in the cockpit will miss the warmth and companionship of a loyal first officer. However, warmth and companionship are not factors to the bottom line on an excel spreadsheet as far as the accountants are concerned. Eliminating half the pilot headcount is and likely very compelling.

 

 

I find this unfortunate but do recognize the challenges as we move forward...

 

Reality is we live in a world where the population is growing exponentially, we also have emerging economies and markets where the rate of growth far out ways are ability to train people into those jobs.

 

Perfect example is Lion Air, an airline in a region that is growing so fast they can't train or recruit people fast enough to fill that demand (they have 542 aircraft on order right now), so it would be easy to find a solution to automate those operations if the issue of Pilot Training could not be met.

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I would rather think that the rapid increases in world population should be an argument against advancing technology and automation. After all, if technology and automation did everything for us, what would the ever increasing number of people on Earth do for a living if there is nothing that needs to be done?

 

Anyways, whatever current shortages of necessary skilled labor in any of the newly developing countries there are, can be met with imported labor. That is why there are so many American and European pilots working in Asian and Middle Eastern airlines.

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This topic sorta comes up in most of the ground schools I go through at work.  Not so much as drone but as Fly-By-Wire and FMC use.  Honestly speaking, most accidents are cause by pilot error. I think the number is close to 75%.  I have no problems admitting it.  Us pilots are human we make mistakes.  That being said.  A computer is just that a computer.  It knows "1's and 0's".  And there are only so many "1's and 0's" that you can program into the computer.  Programmers aren't going to think of everything and therefore the computer won't be able to respond to everything.  A perfect example is UAL232 in Sioux City.  A triple failure of hydraulics was deemed IMPOSSIBLE.

 

The beautiful thing about the human mind is its ability to learn.  And it learns FAST.  So until they come out with self learning computers I don't foresee the UAV take over anytime soon.  

Just my 2 cents.

 

Devil's advocate time:

Is it better to have 2 crashes because the pilots made a mistake or 1 crash because the computer couldn't adapt / the programmer didn't forsee this event?

 

Obviously we can't make computers that will never crash, but the real question is: can we make computers that crash less often than human pilots?

 

Self-learning computer algorithms are thing by the way, though we are still far off from the day where they'll be good enough to adapt to emergency situations in real time.

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Speaking of drones, what about that U.S. Navy ship that somehow managed to shoot itself with a drone last week? How embarrassing! :Whistle:

 

 

Well I think USS Chancellorsville was going through a "C-SQT" (sea squat) to test/validate Aegis baseline 9.  In these sorts of tests you have drone targets (BQM-74s) fly profiles of threat missiles against the ship/combat system to evaluate the detect-to-engage sequence.  So it isn't a matter of "shooting itself" as you put it.  We had a similar case back in the 80s when the USS Antrim was hit by a BQM, in this case during testing of CIWS.  I can't remember now what safety changes were done as a result of the Antrim hit.

 

As far as autonomous flight, we've had plenty of Tomahawks flying around for years.  Of course they don't have to land, so we don't know if the software/hardware is as good as your average Asiana pilot.  But we have seen with UCLASS that you can trap on a CV deck, so I don't think handling a civvie/USAF 10,000ft + runway is that incredible a problem.  The real problem is drones don't get Air Medals.

 

scott s.

.

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I would think that even a drone being remote controlled would suffer the same sorts of situational awareness problems we do sitting in front of our monitors. Lack of ability to "Feel" the plane and the forces acting on it, lags in responsiveness, Accidental or intentional computer issues..........

 

Did I mention you wouldn't catch me on one?

 

Anymore than you would catch me on a fully automated train.

 

http://techcrunch.com/2013/10/17/could-bart-automate-train-drivers/

 

Too many companies wanting to sell fancy gizmos they can require their employees (public relations) to take rides on while the bosses get chauffeured.  :lol:

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Well, this is highly interesting and well thought out - great comments one and all!  No doubt the airlines would love to reduce crew, eliminate toilets, and have us all fly standing up the entire time, much like sardines.  People actually said they WOULD fly without a restroom onboard, and some even said they would fly in a "crouch" position in return for a lower fare!  Really??

 

Arguments can be made for both sides of the drone question, but the reality is, I don't see human beings placing their lives in the hands of robots or ground pilots, or all-computer flight deck.  Yes, they were able to eliminate the engineer and the navigator.  Yes, they likely COULD set up total ground control.  But even if they try to dump the first officers, I don't see the public going for that.  What if the one and only pilot had the fish?  Or a heart attack?

 

Possibly 50 years from now, we will have transporter beams, I think that technology will eventually be developed.  Smart guys are sitting in a room right now talking about quarks and quantum mechanics, and "black hole" theories.  How far are we from disintegrating an object, transporting it via a 'worm hole' in space, and then reassembling it at the other end?  No, it won't happen today, but it may happen down the road.  Now, doing that with a living organism as opposed to "freight" (objects) is a bit more problematical.

 

Until that time, I don't see the cockpit crew dwindling.  As far as the huge demand for pilots... I am sure there are plenty of souls willing to drive the bus.  They may not all speak English as their first language, but believe me, there are the bodies out there!

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The future will be Anesthetic Airlines, where they put you to sleep, stuff you in a box, stack you in a fully automated aircraft with robot loaders and on the other end you wake up in the arrivals area.

 

The perfect airline with no customers to deal with  :lol:

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