We’ve heard this argument many times over the past decades. The concept states that automation has made flying safer, but that it has reduced pilots to computer operators, who can no longer hand-fly their aircraft.
It has now surfaced again in the aftermath of the two deadly Max crashes – raised here in this USA Today article . One of the very experienced pilots quoted in the article is John Cox, who argues that training should concentrate more on manual flying skills than what currently is the case.
I found that this may well link to a recent article published by Flight Safety Australia, summarising the final report on the crash of a Diamond DA40 in September 2017. At issue here is the fact that the DA40 is not approved for intentional spins – and the instructor and student were killed when they spun in.
Now – when we talk about flying skills, initial training teaches the basics required to take off and land, fly straight and level, climb and descend and to turn the aircraft. There are lessons on stalling and then incipient spins – but it would appear that most of the new LSA (Light Sport Aircraft) often used as trainers are not approved for spins or even incipient spins.
Most of the older, more traditional all-metal trainers (before them even the rag-and-tube aircraft) were approved for spinning and spins used to be part of the training curriculum. But this changed a quite while ago, when the FAA and then our local CAA decided that pilots don’t need spin training: If they understood what the causes of spins are, they would avoid spins – that’s if I understand the logic of their decisions correctly.
How does this have any bearing on crashing airliners?
A recurring theme in recent crash investigations appears to be a dearth of experience in the cockpit. I’m not inferring that lack of experience points to crash-prone pilots – far from it. But it does indicate that most of the newer pilots would have been trained under the new regulations, which do not require spinning. This leads me to suspect that most of these newer pilots have never had any proper unusual attitude and recovery training – in simple terms it points to a lack of hands-on flying experience. Not their fault, but that of a system that allows young instructors – who themselves have never spun an aircraft and are actually afraid of simple stalls – to teach our future airline pilots. (Back to the point raised in the USA Today article).
When I was still involved in ab-initio training, (many moons ago) some of the younger instructors would ask me to take their students for the lessons on stalls and incipient spins. (My aerobatic background apparently made me the obvious candidate). My answer would be to rather take the instructor up to experience the joy of flying an aircraft to any attitude and still remain in control – but time and money did not always allow.
Added to this, the prohibition of spins in modern “glass” aircraft remains a serious hurdle. Even the great Cirrus range of aircraft, in which many new South African pilots are being trained, is not certified for spins.
The answer would be for any student to spend some money and time on unusual attitude training in a spin-capable aircraft. This would probably have to be an aerobatic machine, but such courses are available. Those hands-on skills will enhance their flying and build confidence.
That confidence could serve pilots well when, in their later careers they’re suddenly faced with an unusual situation. Airline training simply teaches procedures, which work extremely well – but for those unexpected upsets, nothing beats simple stick-and-rudder skills.
Featured Image: Studyflight.com