Friday, June 25, 2010

Jim Hilkevich, Chicago Tribune reporter, should correct statement about 767s flying themselves

The cockpit automation myth that won't die

There's plenty of blame to go around for why bad information trickles out to the public and becomes "fact"
By Patrick Smith
June 24, 2010

Illegitimi non carborundum

Picking up from where I left off ...

For the longest time I've toyed with the idea of renting out a simulator and recruiting volunteers in order to demonstrate the immense difficulty a nonpilot would have at the controls of a jet. Logistics and cost, unfortunately, would make this extremely difficult (the tab would likely be in the tens of thousands of dollars).

Recently I learned that something like this has already been done. Several years ago, researchers in Denver gathered together 112 private pilots and put them to the test in an old Boeing 737-200 simulator. Of the 112, only 23 managed to get the plane from 35,000 feet to a reasonably intact landing -- in clear weather, with instruction from the ground. Approximately 50 percent were unable to manage anything at all. Mind you these were FAA certificated pilots.

Anyway, I never heard back from Jim Hilkevich. That's the Chicago Tribune reporter who, in covering the story of the American Airlines flight attendant pressed into cockpit duty after one of the pilots fell ill, said of the Boeing 767: "In fact, the sophisticated plane, equipped with an array of computers, can fly and land by itself."

I e-mailed Mr. Hilkevich a note of cordial disagreement. I'm not sure what to make of his silence. As both an air travel writer and a pilot with more than a thousand hours of 767 time under my belt, I felt that my protest would carry some weight and credibility. Alas it was met with silence. Perhaps big city reporters don't take kindly to lowly airline pilots explaining what it is they actually do for a living. I suppose I wouldn't mind so much if not the fact that Hilkevich is the paper's transportation writer, and in that capacity, with its presumed expertise, he ought to be more careful...

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