Archive for September, 2013

Generation gap?

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

757It was only a matter of time before the generational differences between baby-boomer pilots versus Millennials and Gen X-ers (who comes up with these monikers, anyway?) came up as a potential factor in the recent spate of air carrier accidents.

Martin Rottler, an avowed “avgeek,” and a lecturer at the Ohio State University Center for Aviation Studies in Columbus, Ohio, wrote on AOPA’s new opinion leader blog area:

Are the recent airline accidents a direct result of a lack of stick-and-rudder skills amongst younger pilots? A look at the demographics of the flight crews tells a different story. The two captains in the left and right seat onboard Asiana 214 were 48 and 45 years old, respectively, and the relief crew was 41 and 52 years old. The captain of the UPS aircraft that went down in Birmingham was 58; the first officer was 37. Air France 447’s crew had the youngest first officer (32 years old) amongst these major “automation interaction” accidents; the captain was 58 and the relief first officer onboard the ill-fated flight was 37. Without getting into the training priorities of each airline and nitty-gritty of procedures relating to hand-flying, it would seem that more of our accident-prone problems today stem not from a lack of stick-and-rudder skills of the millennial first officer, but (to borrow a colloquialism) teaching our old dogs new tricks and displays in the cockpit.”

Read his thoughts and then come back here if you’re inclined or just plunge ahead. While Martin makes some good points regarding the button-pushing prowess of younger pilots, he also notes that the airlines’ young new hires have difficulty with basic instrument flying skills. The age statistics cited here are skewed in my warped view because there are relatively few newbies flying big iron internationally. So just on exposure alone, there will be a disproportionate representation of “mature canines.” Are they good stick-and-rudder pilots or do they spend too much time in automation and flight level mode?

Basic flying skill really is timeless, and ageless regardless of machine. The USAF Academy has started their aviation cadets in gliders to teach them the essence of flight. I learned in the essential LSA (J-3Cub) before moving to the “big” airplane, the Cessna 150. That experience has served me well, at least so far. As for new pilots having trouble with basic IFR skills—that’s troubling and, automation or no, does not bode well for the future.

I’d love to see a real double-blind experiment of starting one group of students off in really basic machines to master stick and rudder before moving to glass, versus a glass-only regimen.

Rest assured that the automation issue will be thoroughly discussed, and no matter whether you’re an old dog or a pup there are times when in a dogfight with an aircraft, you’d better prevail.

Too much automation or too many Luddites? Stick and rudder first and then glass or glass all the way? What say you?

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