Sunday, February 15, 2009

Flying On Autopilot

AP is reporting that Flight 3407 was on autopilot until just seconds before the flight crashed. I have read people expressing horror that this would be the case, but I am neither surprised or disturbed by the thought that it might be true.

Many years ago I was flying to Milwaukee to visit my parents and, looking out the window as the plane descended through a heavy bank of clouds, I had the thought that driving in heavy fog is really difficult and realized that when doing so one is dealing in only two dimensions. Flying in that fog is just as blind and involves three dimensions. I resolved to ask my father about that when we landed.

Dad was a career Air Force Flight Surgeon and a pilot, since that was a requirement for Flight Surgeons at the time (and may still be, I’m not sure). He was meeting my flight so, while waiting for my baggage, I did ask. He assured me that descending through cloud was as unpleasant for a pilot as I imagined; that not only could you not see where you were going, but that you had to be concerned about staying right side up. “Mostly,” he said, “we just let the autopilot do that for us. It’s a lot more reliable than we are.”

For some reason I’ve never forgotten that.

No comments:

Post a Comment