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post #1 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-27-2013, 09:13 PM Thread Starter
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Too Much Automation in the Name of "Safety"?

I just watched the NOVA episode about the Air France 447 crash in '09, which centers on the investigation before they found the voice and data recorders.

I decided to see if they found them in the years since the episode aired and wound up reading through a number of really eye opening articles related to flight automation and its associated impact on overall flight safety...specifically, the pilots' ability to actually "fly" the aircraft.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/tech...afety-10487501

Quote:
French aviation authorities have released the final report on the June 1, 2009 crash of Air France 447, one of aviation's most dramatic and troubling disasters. And though earlier reports painted a fairly clear picture of what transpired, there is one surprise in the final documents—the extent to which the authorities blame not mechanical failures but the actions of the flight crew. The Bureau d'Enquete et d'Analyse (BEA) suggests that the accident "shows the limits of the current safety model." That is, there is an element of fatal risk so deeply baked into modern aviation that it may be unfixable.

A quick recap of the Air France investigation: As PM's December 2009 cover story reported, suspicion initially centered on the aircraft's pitot tubes. Data sent by the aircraft in the moments before its disappearance suggested that these airspeed sensors had iced up and stopped working. Most aviation experts assumed that the pitot tubes' failure and the severe weather (the crew had flown into a severe thunderstorm) were the key factors in this disaster.

But when searchers finally recovered the plane's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorders (commonly called black boxes) from the ocean depths in early 2011, those recorders painted a much different picture. Investigators determined that the loss of airspeed was in fact a minor hiccup that would not have endangered the flight if pilots had followed proper procedures. What doomed the flight was a series of almost incomprehensible mistakes on the part of the flight crew. Two were particularly astounding. First, a co-pilot at the controls pulled the plane up into a climb—simply leveling out the aircraft could have saved it. Second, he and the two other pilots on the flight deck failed to realize that, as a result of climbing, the plane had entered an aerodynamic stall and began plummeting toward the ocean.

The BEA's final report offers revealing insight into the psychological factors behind these failures. For instance, of the numerous indications that should have tipped off the pilots that their plane had stalled, the most obvious was a loudspeaker in the cockpit blaring the word "Stall!" every few seconds. Yet, incredibly, the flight crew seemed not to have even noticed it.

How? We'll never know what the pilots were thinking, of course. But as psychologists have long understood, stress hinders the ability of the brain to process information and to pay attention to multiple things at once. And when human beings are under stress, they tend to prioritize visual information over auditory information and to disregard cues that are unusual or deemed untrustworthy. Once the pilots of AF447 lost faith in the reliability of their airspeed sensors, they apparently distrusted all their other instruments as well and found it particularly easy to ignore the stall-warning horn.

If they had been able to listen and understand the stall warning's significance, then returning the plane to normal flight would have been a straightforward matter. Instead, the BEA report puts it: "The failure of the attempts to understand the situation and the destructuring of crew cooperation fed on each other until the total loss of cognitive control of the situation."

There may be no scarier or more telling phrase in the AF447 final report than "total loss of cognitive control." One of the fundamental premises of modern aviation, in which so many flight controls are automated, is that the human pilots are onboard a flight to monitor the aircraft's performance and to take corrective steps if something goes wrong. As the BEA report says:

"When crew action is expected, it is always supposed that they will be capable of initial control of the flight path and of a rapid diagnosis that will allow them to identify the correct entry in the dictionary of procedures. A crew can be faced with an unexpected situation leading to a momentary but profound loss of comprehension. If, in this case, the supposed capacity for initial mastery and then diagnosis is lost, the safety model is then in 'common failure mode.' During this event, the initial inability to master the flight path also made it impossible to understand the situation and to access the planned solution."

As AF447 demonstrates, if a flight crew lacks the training and the cognitive resources to figure out what the problem is, they not only won't be able to do anything useful, but they could also turn a minor crisis in a catastrophe.

The final report includes a long list of changes to equipment and training procedures aimed at preventing a repeat of Air France 447, with a jet airliner stalling at high altitude. But the greater issue remains unaddressed. No matter how many possible scenarios a training program can simulate, pilots will continue to find themselves in unexpected circumstances. They'll have to respond creatively to novel problems and figure out a way to get the plane and its passengers to safety.

Modern civil aviation remains incredibly safe. And thanks to investigations like this one, it will continue to get safer all the time. But the AF447 catastrophe is a chilling reminder that human beings are prone to screw up when they're needed most.

Jeff Wise is a contributing editor for Popular Mechanics and the author of Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger. For a daily dose of extreme fear, check out his blog. - See more at: http://www.popularmechanics.com/tech....XhMn4kGS.dpuf

Tom

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post #2 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-27-2013, 09:14 PM Thread Starter
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and another...

http://www.flyingmag.com/technique/a...air-france-447

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You're flying a twin-engine jet transport. The engines are at full power. The wings are rocking, but the heading is steady. The pitch attitude is 15 degrees nose up, but the VSI says that you are descending at 10,000 fpm. The flight director needles command a nose-up pitch.

What should you do?

It’s hard, isn’t it? The puzzle pieces don’t fit together. And if it’s hard when you’re sitting here reading a magazine, imagine how hard it is when you’re in the dark and in cloud, every warning and alarm in the cockpit is going off at once, you can’t tell which instrument indications are reliable and which may not be, and you have no idea what got you into this predicament in the first place.

That was Air France 447, going down over the Atlantic in 2009. It was one of those milestone accidents, like Grand Canyon and Tenerife and the 14th Street Bridge, that define a category. It was already the subject of countless articles and discussions before the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses, or BEA, the French accident-*investigation office, published its final report on the accident in July. Since the A330’s data and voice recorders had been retrieved from the ocean floor by what must rank as one of the most remarkable recovery operations ever conducted, the report was extremely detailed. It raised, and left unanswered, many fundamental questions about crew training and the nature of interfaces between human crews and semiautonomous flight control systems.

The final report added few facts to what was already known about the accident. The cockpit voice recorder transcript has been available for a long time. It was well known that for 3½ minutes, during which the airliner, with 228 aboard, descended in a stalled, mushing glide toward the water, the crew floundered in a state of complete confusion and incomprehension. It was also well known that the precipitating event was a loss of reliable airspeed indications caused by ice crystals clogging the supposedly triple-redundant pitot tubes. Loss of airspeed caused the autopilot and autothrottles to disconnect, unceremoniously turning over control of the airplane, then cruising at FL 350, to the pilot flying, who happened to be the least experienced member of the crew. He reacted to this unexpected event — presumably without meaning to — by pulling the airplane up into a zoom climb and a stall.

Hand-flying an airliner, especially one with little or no static stability, at FL 350 calls for a light touch. Pilots know this. For the pilot to stall the airplane was a grievous failure of basic airmanship. Sarcastic old-timers were heard to ask: Had airline pilots, in their preoccupation with managing complex automated systems, forgotten how to fly? This was a rhetorical question; the basic flying skills of airline crews, like those of all pilots, vary widely. Indeed, the BEA enumerated other instances of pitot failure in which crews had reacted almost as badly, even though loss of airspeed was an emergency routinely practiced in the simulator. Strangely enough, in none of the previous cases — there were more than a dozen — had crews followed prescribed “unreliable airspeed” procedures. Here, for instance, is a Brazilian A330 crew dealing with a similar airspeed malfunction in 2003, according to a BEA report:

When the AP disengaged, both pilots made pitch-up inputs (one went to the stop) that resulted in an increase in pitch of 8°. On several occasions, the stall warning was triggered due to the nose-up inputs, and the crew reacted with strong pitch-down inputs. During the 4 minutes that the sequence lasted, the load factor varied between 1.96 g and -0.26 g, the pitch attitude reached 13° nose-up and the angle of attack reached 10°.
Read more at http://www.flyingmag.com/technique/a...810Ksi5uJZX.99

On the other hand, once the airplane was fully stalled and mushing downward, how many crews, however well trained, could have figured out what to do about it, since the situation lay outside the boundaries of any training or, for that matter, even any flight test scenario? If during several minutes the crew, including a captain with experience in a wide range of aircraft types, could not figure out what was going on, was attitude and flight path information being presented in the most usable way? A profile view of the airplane, nose up, with a flight path arrow angled steeply downward would have made everything perfectly clear in an instant. But in the normal course of events, what would be the use of such a display?

The English version of the BEA report frequently used the phrase “startle effect” to translate the rather less specific French surprise. The English expression seems intended to confer a sort of scientific prestige upon the common experience of alarm and confusion following a sudden, unexpected (and generally unwelcome) event. But many pilots have learned from experience that the combination of urgency and fear can produce a sort of cognitive paralysis, and the BEA report noted that this element is generally missing from airline pilots’ recurrent simulator training.

The BEA also noted that crews receive minimal simulator training in hand-flying at high altitude, and none at all in high-altitude stall recovery, even though cruising angles of attack in the upper flight levels are quite close to the stall.

But, while some sort of startle-induced reflex or muscular miscue might help to explain the pilot’s initial and disastrous pitch-up command, the subsequent confusion of the crew scarcely requires explanation. Even though the airplane had gotten into its predicament quite easily, it was now in the realm of the unknown. Simulators did not visit angles of attack of 40 degrees, in part because no one knew for sure how transports would behave there. Wind-tunnel investigations of high-altitude “upsets” produced confusing results and were unreliable because of scale effects.

Furthermore, the Airbus design philosophy makes a point of hiding “unnecessary” information from the pilots. Redundant cues are avoided. For example, the Airbus sidesticks do not communicate with one another in such a way that one pilot can tell, by the motion of his stick, what the other pilot is doing. They also lack proportionate resistance or “feel,” which might have alerted the pilot to his presumably unintended pitch command. Similarly, when the autothrottle is operating the throttle levers do not move, even though power is changing. Finally, Airbus pilots are scarcely aware of pitch trim, which automatically, continually and silently operates to zero out elevator actuation forces. In this case, however, trim was important, because the pilot’s continually holding the stick back had run the autotrim to its nose-up stop. If the crew had managed to understand that they needed to push over into a 35-degree dive to recover, they would probably have had to retrim manually.

The problems were not confined to cockpit ergonomics. The BEA criticized shortcomings in training as well. “The combination of the ergonomic design of the stall warning, the conditions in which airline pilots are trained and exposed to stalls during their professional training, and the process of recurrent training does not generate the expected behaviors with acceptable reliability.”

An A330 pilot once wrote to me that although “the systems design and presentation [are] superb ... safely flying the 320-, 330- and 340-series Airbus requires something of a nonpilot mindset.” The advice he gives new pilots is to treat the flight “as a video game.” Boeing applied a somewhat more classical, pilot-centric philosophy, and a richer array of secondary cues, to the design of its fly-by-wire airplanes (777 and 787), and pilots have for years argued passionately over the merits of the two approaches.

At this point it has become obvious, from this event and plenty of others, that the transition from computer-*mediated “protected” flight to manual “direct law” or anything close to it is fraught with difficulties. In fact, this was a well-known problem with ordinary autopilots long before fully-*digital fly-by-wire control systems came into use. “Out of the loop” of the handling of the airplane for long periods, human crews falter when they are thrust unexpectedly back into it. They don’t know where they are, what is real, what is spurious. Startled, frequently fixating on an incorrect interpretation of the situation, they may do more harm than good.

A very simple backup autopilot, without reliance on airspeed, could have kept the wings level and the pitch attitude at five degrees while the crew got things sorted out. But the titanically complex and carefully reasoned Airbus flight system made no effort to ensure a smooth transition from digital to human control.

The abrupt “Your airplane!” approach is particularly strange, because the edifice of digital fly-by-wire stands upon the premise that airplanes need to be protected from mistakes that human crews will make. In their zeal for protecting the airplane, Airbus programmers seem to have forgotten that human crews need a little protecting as well. Did they really think that what happened on Air France 447 was inconceivable? Do they still think so?
Read more at http://www.flyingmag.com/technique/a...4dFeBPvllTG.99

Tom

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Last edited by Cerk; 02-28-2013 at 08:36 AM.
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post #3 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-27-2013, 10:36 PM

 
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post #4 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-27-2013, 10:52 PM
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Zero visibility + conflicting pitot readings = automatic disaster...human or machine.

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post #5 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-28-2013, 08:35 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Gone In 3 View Post
Zero visibility + conflicting pitot readings = automatic disaster...human or machine.
Well that's not really what happened.

The pilots went in to a panic and made a bad situation much MUCH worse...the pilot that actually took over manually did the worst thing he could have, and continued to do so without realizing it.

I think this sums it up:

Quote:
The abrupt “Your airplane!” approach is particularly strange, because the edifice of digital fly-by-wire stands upon the premise that airplanes need to be protected from mistakes that human crews will make. In their zeal for protecting the airplane, Airbus programmers seem to have forgotten that human crews need a little protecting as well. Did they really think that what happened on Air France 447 was inconceivable? Do they still think so?
Read more at http://www.flyingmag.com/technique/a...vETlYZdoZ4w.99

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post #6 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-28-2013, 09:47 AM
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Re: Too Much Automation in the Name of "Safety"?

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Originally Posted by Cerk View Post
Well that's not really what happened.

The pilots went in to a panic and made a bad situation much MUCH worse...the pilot that actually took over manually did the worst thing he could have, and continued to do so without realizing it.

I think this sums it up:
I saw that episode a year or so ago. If i remember correctly, the pitot tubes showed incorrect readings because they were frozen from the super clean super cold water in the stormy clouds. The bottle needle example.

What surprised experts was the completely unexpected moves the pilots made after the alerts started popping in the cockpit.

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post #7 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-28-2013, 10:55 AM
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On one level it seems so fundamental .... a nose up stalled aircraft.

Would have been obvious with a working air-speed indicator.


Agree the the "it's your plane" approach of the AP seems insane .... more of a gentle Hey ...."the autopilot is headed out of bounds and needs your help here" might be appropriate.


Interesting about the control isolation from Left to Right seats and the lack of real tactile knowledge of trim etc.



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post #8 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-28-2013, 12:34 PM
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How about a backup GPS based speedometer?

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post #9 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-28-2013, 02:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gone In 3 View Post
How about a backup GPS based speedometer?
The problem is that would display groundspeed, and we alread have that. To safely fly the aircraft we need airspeed. They should have known an EPR/N1/ fuel flow setting for their given configuration. That would have given them a ballpark airspeed. Bad airspeed indication is not any automatic disaster.

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post #10 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-28-2013, 02:19 PM
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This is a copy of my reply on Tom's Facebook page.

Hey Tom I know the post is not a comment on aviation safety. My back ground is in accident investigation, and safety. Technology and automation and how they relate to safety is a very interesting subject. Also it is something that for most purposes we are really just learning about. The Nova show was very well done, and really had some good insight to the cause of the accident before the CVR and FDR were recovered. The recovery of the CVR added some issues to the accident, but I'll get back to that.

The reason I said those articles were written by some who has never flown an airbus is how they talk about airbus automation. Airbus is no more automated then Boeing. Both have auto thrust, autopilots certified to CAT III autoland, and many other similar features. The big difference in Airbus vs Boeing( the articles do address this) is how the pilot interfaces with that automation. Airbus is designed by an engineer with the pilot as an after thought, but it is still just an airplane. You can turn off all the automation and fly it just like any other airplane, and I do that every trip. The Airbus is designed that way so low time pilots in third world country can easily fly it, but the Air France crash shows the problem with that mentality.

The Airbus is a fly by wire aircraft, and because of that there are flight control "laws". When everything is working the aircraft is in "normal law", and in normal law there are protections. High speed protection, Alpha prot(low speed protection), and a number of other limits/ protections. In the Air France crash because of the pitot static system icing up it sent the aircraft into "alternate law". In alternate law you lose those protections, and basically it is direct pilot control. Most days no big deal, but with the iced up pitot static system they were getting bad instrument indications. That is where the big difference between US pilots/airlines, and the rest of the world plays into this crash.

As with any crash there is a chain of events that cause the crash. Break any of the links of that chain, and that crash does not happen, and that is the purpose behind threat error management that the FAA and airlines are now using. The Air France crash there were a number of problems leading up to the crash, a lack of basic understanding of how the aircraft's weather radar works so they could avoid the thunderstorm. Once the failure of the pitot static system there was a major break down in crew communication, and basic pilot skills.

There is a major difference in pilot philosophies between the US, and the rest of the world. In the United States pilots are trained to have very good stick and rudder skills. Airline pilots in the US hand fly the aircraft all the time for proficiency. In other parts of the world not only is that discouraged, but some airlines it is prohibited. When I trained at Airbus in Miami the instructors told us that when they train crews from other countries and give them a problem not in the syllabus they just crumble under the pressure. This is the problem with automation. Some pilots become so reliant on it they lose their basic skills. Automation is a great thing, and overall it has made aviation safer. It reduced pilot workload, and fatigue. Over reliance, and complacency can have deadly results. When I fly an aircraft I know what EPR/N1/fuel flow setting in a given configuration will give me a ball park airspeed. If you lose your airspeed indication you need to know that. Also in the Air France crash the stall warning( the aircraft says stall) went off 60 something times yet the FO held stick full aft until the aircraft hit the water. That points to lack of training. That's very basic if the aircraft is stalled release back pressure, and lower the nose. Better training Mght have saved the day.

Automation is a good thing, and is not going away. As professional pilots it is our responsibility to maintain proficiency in emergency situations, and basic flying without automation. It is also the airlines responsibility to to maintain quality training programs. Airbus builds a great aircraft, but it is different than Boeing. The only pilots who talk down on Airbus are those who have not flown one.

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post #11 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-28-2013, 05:25 PM
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^^^^ Yeah what Dave said. While Im not a commercial pilot, I fly small private planes, it is my responsibility as PIC to maintain proficiency for emergency situations and throughout conditions I expect to fly in (night, crosswind, turbulence, IFR). The overuse of automation causing the loss of stick and rudder skills for myself is much less of a concern, but for example the over-reliance on GPS navigation is a similar issue. The loss of VFR pilotage skills, wind correction, ETA for fuel consumption with a head wind, are skills that if proficiency (not just knowledge of) is lost can cause a serious problem.

I would imagine that practicing these skills in a commercial situation is frowned upon (lets do a stall recovery and steep turns with passengers ), and probably impossible. So it really comes down to the annual training and refreshers available to the pilots......and offered by the company.
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post #12 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-28-2013, 06:17 PM
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They were french.













Since no one was pointing out the obvious.
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post #13 of 15 (permalink) Old 03-04-2013, 10:53 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FiReBReTHa View Post
They were french.













Since no one was pointing out the obvious.
...and as it turned out, this actually wound up being an important piece of the story. Very different training, as I understand it.

Tom

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post #14 of 15 (permalink) Old 03-05-2013, 10:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FiReBReTHa View Post
They were french.













Since no one was pointing out the obvious.
Quote:
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...and as it turned out, this actually wound up being an important piece of the story. Very different training, as I understand it.


so youre saying shit got weird and they gave up?

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post #15 of 15 (permalink) Old 03-05-2013, 12:05 PM
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Quote:
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so youre saying shit got weird and they gave up?
I wouldn't say they gave up. The situation they got themselves into would have been very disorientating. Multiple warning and caution ECAM(warning messages), and instruments that disagree. It came down to a lack of training, or I should say a different training and operational philosophy. There is a silver lining in this crash, and every crash. There is a saying that in aviation safety improvements are written in blood. What that means is it takes a crash or mishap to show us where a problem is. This crash has put a spot light on crew training, and use of automation. In the long run the airline industry will be safer because of this crash.

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