Difference Engine: Crash program?

Aug 26th 2013, 20:34 by N.V. | LOS ANGELES


ONE day in the not too distant future, so the hoary old story goes, airliners will have only two crew members on the flight deck—a pilot and a dog. The pilot’s job will be to feed the dog. The dog’s job will be to bite the pilot if he touches the controls. Despite all the talk about drone-like autonomous passenger planes, cockpit automation is nowhere near capable enough to manage without human pilots on the flight deck. It is doubtful whether the technology—at least, as it is currently configured—will ever let that happen.

In theory, modern passenger planes fitted with the latest cockpit automation can fly themselves from take-off to landing. In practice, pilots have to be very much in the loop, ready to intervene (“pick up the slack,” as they say) when flight plans suddenly change, or one or other of the plane's automated systems starts functioning in a reduced operating mode, contributing to the so-called "minimum equipment list". The flight crew then becomes extremely busy.

A growing body of evidence indicates that while cockpit automation may be relieving pilots of mundane chores when their workload is actually low (ie, while climbing to altitude and cruising), it is causing bigger headaches than ever when the workload is particularly high (ie, during take-off, descent, approach and landing). Aircrew call it the “automation paradox”. READ MORE