Can Technology Solve the Loss Of Control – In Flight Problem?

 

With more and more aircraft entering the market with advanced technology in the cockpit, it would seem that many of the causes of accidents would be mitigated or eliminated.  Even the venerable Cessna 172, with the Garmin G-1000 package, has powerful advanced avionics options.  Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) provides graphic indication of an impending collision with the ground, reducing the possibility of a Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) mishap.  The pilot still, however, must react to the warning to keep the plane out of the dirt.

Other advanced systems need the pilot to allow the system to do its job.  For example, the pilot must relax elevator backpressure in response to a stick pusher actuation.  The system is attempting to keep the airplane out of the stall by forcing the pilot to lower the nose.  But the pilot may still keep hauling back on the controls and stall the aircraft.  Even fly-by-wire aircraft can be stalled, especially if the system is operating in a degraded mode.  The Air France 447 accident is an example.  While the system would normally prevent the pilot from stalling the aircraft, it loses this ability when in degraded modes (such as the loss of all airspeed information).  Pilots still need to understand the capabilities and limitations of their aircraft and its systems.  Had the crew understood the flight control system of their aircraft better, this mishap might not have occurred.

Technology is a wonderful thing that is making flying much easier and safer, but it has yet to become the magic cure-all in aviation.  Pilots, however, must understand their technology and know its limitations.  They must know when to let the technology control the aircraft, and when to take over.  Sometimes this is a blurred line that knowledge can help bring into focus.  Knowledge of the aircraft and its systems, as well as aerodynamics (particularly in the stall region), is critical to safety of flight, especially when things go beyond the normal.  Can technology solve the Loss Of Control – In Flight problem?  Not yet; we still need pilots with in depth knowledge of the aircraft, its systems, and aerodynamics to safely fly even the most modern aircraft.

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