The big news last week was that Icon is finally giving the angle of attack indicator its due by positioning it smack dab in front of the pilot. This is on its new light sport aircraft (LSA), which appears to be a very interesting aircraft. Regular sufferers of this blog and the Safety Pilot columns know that I’ve been a fan of angle of attack (AOA) for years and have wondered frequently why the industry has persisted in relying on that tired old derivative, airspeed, to measure wing performance.
In the speculative mode, briefly, it would appear that the recent Asiana B777 crash in SFO will be attributed to trying to make the wing do something that it wasn’t designed to do. If that is the determination, then that will make this the third fatal air carrier accident in less than five years that was caused by the crews’ aeronautical equivalent to walking on water. It’s been proven too many times that AOA is perhaps the essence of aeronautical life. So back to my tired old refrain: if it’s so danged important, why don’t we measure it?
Icon, with a well done video, is making the same point and it becomes so obvious you wonder why the rest of the business hasn’t gotten in line sooner. Here is what I like—you’ll have your own opinion:
- The AOA is located directly in the pilot’s view. On takeoff, landing, and maneuvering when one should be looking mostly out the window the wing lift indicator is visible. No need to fumble in depth of the panel or buried somewhere on the PFD.
- It’s analog! Some things are best described pictorially not numerically. Icon displays, of all things, a wing that points to green, yellow, and red pie shaped wedges—exactly as CFIs attempt to explain AOA to new students. This will irritate some of my left-brained engineering and accountant friends who have a strong preference for numbers and believe all things digital to be inherently better than analog. You won’t find many digital speedometers on cars these days and mostly the aforementioned are the only ones still wearing digital watches.
As written before, some of the best human factor types in the business, NASCAR, put the most important instrument right in front of the driver, and the tachometer is analog not digital so that critical information can be seen without shifting away from the primary task of not smacking the wall or the driver in front of you. (They do a lot of tailgating but the polite term is drafting.) While we like to blame the FAA for all kinds of things, and in many cases they richly deserve it, I suspect that there is nothing prohibiting aircraft manufacturers of all stripes from doing exactly what Icon did although it might take some reconfiguring. We hope to find out shortly.
It’s the wing that sustains us, and all pilots—from the newest student to the most seasoned air carrier type—should know exactly how that wonderful device is performing!