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Planes Without Pilots

Advances in sensor technology, computing and artificial intelligence are making human pilots less necessary than ever in the cockpit. Already, government agencies are experimenting with replacing the co-pilot, perhaps even both pilots on cargo planes, with robots or remote operators. ( More...

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David Baker 5
This is called the electronics failure rate curve. AKA a bathtub curve.

Yes, electronics have a little bit of black magic.
You can actually see the magic smoke emitted from some type of circuit when it goes bad.

When these system are built they will use decision tree with multiple computers. In a 3 computer system as long as 2 of them are functioning we shouldn't have to worry. Military fighter jets already use a similar decision tree.
jwmson 4
Reminds me of the joke from many years ago:
The announcement after take-off: "Welcome aboard the world's first fully automated airplane with no pilots aboard. Sit back, relax, and be assured nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong...go wrong..."
Gene Nowak 4
What happens when the total robotic portion of the aircraft goes haywire? Yes, including all the redundant backup systems. Will the aircraft still have the capability and visual senses to manually set down in a remote field or airport for repairs?
preacher1 4
Well, the last line or so of the article sums it up. You put more tech in there and you have more that can fail. An IT friend of mine told me awhile back that 5% of anything brand new out of the box would not work. That could get ugly in a hurry.
My son works in electronic hardware engineering, his favorite line is "There's always a little black magic involved".
preacher1 5
I remember several years ago in the days before broadband and having dial-up. Had a modem go out; no biggie, went and got a new one. No problem swapping but I had to go back 3 times before getting one that would work. We were 25 miles out and that got old after a bit. All the black magic in the world wouldn't help that. LOL
Sean Kelly 3
That seems like something a lot of QA and testing could address.
preacher1 1
I would think so, but in that case and so many others like it, you got to put it in to see if it works as intended. You might pass a current or whatever to check it, but if it won't dial or perform as intended, it don't work, or, it may be fine leaving the factory, just as some mx guy would pull a new part out of a box and replace it, but then go to use it up in the blue and it don't work.
I don't know the numbers in aviation electronics, but in consumer electronics there is a peak of malfunctioning right in the first few hours or days of usage, it then bottoms out and has a gradual rise after a couple years, normally right after the warranty runs out.
Gene Nowak 2
"...Right after the warranty runs out." In my day they called that "economic obsolescence" or time to buy a new car!
209flyboy 1
The other term for that is MTBF.
preacher1 0
Jim Heslop 1
My brother who has just retired after 40yrs in the police services and has seen an abundance of technological advancement has a more sinister view, and I quote:
"It's VOODOO in there! " "Somewhere another chicken has just had its head chopped off!!"
Gene Nowak 0
Amen to that! All you have to do is watch "Why planes crash" on TWC to see pilots gets more complacent as more automation is introduced into the cockpit.
preacher1 1
Yeah, mx guy takes a part in the box, puts it in and signs off. One of them things you can't check until FL somewhere. Broke part...don't work. tuff
Dale Kline 2
I agree with most of the comments below. I don't think that a total robotic solution is anywhere in the near future. But humans are not infallible either - as evidenced by the crash in the Alps just a few weeks ago.

And the same line of reasoning can apply to all of the attempts at computer controlled automobiles.

As and AID to driving or flying - yes. As a total replacement - NO!
preacher1 2
In a total of 41 years flying, I have seen it go from arm wrestling to what it is now and seen all the automation come along and as Dale says here, it should be an aid not a replacement. That said, you need to know how to arm wrestle though, because that automation has been known to shoot craps every now and then. Just look at the mx logs on any given airliner. Slip seating as they do, you never know what will be MEL on what you draw and what you'll have to do without on a particular trip.
electroman00 0
"Will the aircraft still have the capability and visual senses to manually set down in a remote field or airport for repairs?"

Probably not, but you could ask the stewardess for another beer if that helps to make you feel warm and fuzzy.

Here try this...

Your at the airport terminal and GermanWings has two aircraft ready for you to fly to your destination, it's your choice as to the one you want to fly.

Aircraft #1 is A320 fully automated robot that can fly gate to gate REMOTELY with 2 pilots onboard.

Aircraft #2 is A320 Germanwings with a Lun-A-Tick onboard.

I know it's a hard one..!!

Since the advent of GPS a 747 could fly departure airport take-off to destination airport land

People (pilots) I've spoken with now say it's gate to gate un-assisted.

So why don't they do it now...simple answer...pilot push back.

Now if you don't believe that it is true and factual, then consider this.

How long do you think it would take Boeing and Airbus to reprogram the onboard computers to enable that capability.


I'll bet anyone...Aircraft #1 is flying within 10 years.

Any takers..??!!

Even if it cost a billion to make that capability happen, that's cheaper then the cost of a A380 going down.

A380 = $500,000,000

That's just for the plane, I haven't even used the word Lawyer yet..!

When the first A380 meets a Lun-A-Tick, watch how fast they change to A380 Drone.

And I'll bet on that to.
azorie 0
Yea I bet you dead wrong. They are no where near having that tech in 10 years. 1 day maybe. You will not see me get on one until 10 years after its been proven to be better. IF that ever happens.
preacher1 2
In some form or fashion, the tech is there now. PAX wouldn't stand for it now.
azorie 0
No its not. no a total pilot less aircraft. Not even a drone is there yet. The tech in theory is there, but that does not mean anything.
preacher1 2
The drones do have a ground man now, but in the early days, they were tugged onto the runway and flew a pre programmed route and came home. Some may still do. IDK, but point is, the tech is there and I say in some form or fashion, meaning that it would probably have to be pulled together as it is not available in a single entity right now.
80% of Commercial fights are fully automated, to a degree the pilot inputs commands into the computers under direction of Air Traffic Control, but generally on a modern airliner, you set your way points, to take the bird to the end of the strip you let the throttle roll, sit back relax and let the bird go. If all goes well they just report to their stations as they hit way points all the way until you touch down on the ground. Once the bird is still autopilot disengages and the pilot very well taxies the aircraft to its gate. Yes this is already done and has been done since the A320 came out. The flaws come when the aircraft experiences abnormal circumstances, it sheds certain power and depending on the severity of the discrepancy certain systems shut down or minimize operational capabilities, this all happens in seconds, often taking pilots by surprise, they fall into a situation where they do not understand what the aircraft is doing, They are trying to do what feels right to them, fight the aircraft and often ending up in a ditch somewhere, because they did not understand how the aircraft works and is designed to handle all kinds of scenarios ( AND OR LOGIC ). Aircraft are capable of responding to system failures faster then pilots. Aircraft have the capabilities to make logical decisions in split seconds, if you let it do its thing, it will get you out of dodge... I would say most accidents that are pilot error on modern aircraft such as flight 447 are due to the pilots not understand the aircraft and lacking the knowledge to know the aircraft capabilities. An avionics instructor once told me, in the future you will have a flight engineer and a dog in the cockpit. The engineer is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to bite the engineer incase he touches anything. We have drones flying now. Get those cocky holier then god, arrogant know it all fuck head shit for brains out of the cockpit! Your truly the mechanic!
Too many points of failure, between Communications, reliability, and skin in the game, people in the cockpit make the most sense:

Remember AF447 was flown by pilots because the automation gave up (bad information confused everything/everyone).
This is my post, same topic, from an engineering forum... -WKTaylor
To add another couple of facets to this picture...

The obvious intent is to have the single pilot augmented with the vast array of UAV technology, which is here to stay. I presume that there is an assumption that one or more back-up UAV pilots would always be available to assist. The problem with UAV technology is that it can, and has been, interfered with intentionally or unintentionally; and/or can be negated by any number of unique crisis on board a large commercial aircraft that often requires the perceptions and attention of the second crewman while the first continues to fly the aircraft. I also suspect that there is a wild-card "hedge" in-this-mix: there is likely to be another airline/freighter pilot dead heading who could be called forward to assist the solo pilot. Problem with emergencies in an airliner is that this second pilot many not be able to gain entrance to a secured cockpit in a timely manner... and should have been "up-there 5-minutes ago" to be of any value.

Airmanship is a vital element of flying. As a pilot you experience the reality of the of the aircraft and the flying experience; the sights in/out side of the cockpit, vibrations, sounds, smells, forces, etc that arise moment-to moment during different phases of flight. Currently two or more crewmen are on duty in the cockpit, side-by-side, living the same visceral experience. Anything out of the ordinary usually attracts one or both of the crew’s attention; and is quite often experienced before any instrumentation changes or warnings... at least to an alert crew. Also there is another critical factor: any threat to safety is a real threat to the crew, which revs-up creative/command thinking to solve the problem or overcome sudden circumstance changes… that may never be apparent to a UAV driver that has never actually been bathed in real-cockpit-sweat of an equivalent aircraft. Some might believe this remoteness would help the UAV copilot to retain professional detachment that could lead to a more positive outcome in a critical situation; however, I‘m not one of those believers: there is always some critical factor missing when going remote. Also, when needed, then who-is-in-charge... and/or what are their roles? The in-cockpit pilot or the UAV pilot? Will crews rotate duties; one-day in cockpit one-day in the UAV cockpit [monitoring multiple flights]??

Oh yes… and crashes never hurt UAV pilots very bad. Those of us in the accident investigation world never forget that "the cockpit crew always arrives at the scene of the accident first; and they sure-as-h*ll don’t want to be there, so they will fight hard/heroically to stay out of a crash site."

A good friend of my wife is also a long-time Flight Attendant [FA] [+35-yrs]. When I asked her what FAs were thinking about ‘RE single pilot airliner operations’ she gave me a very odd look: there is no such concept being floated to/among the FA community. I actually had to explain the concept of single pilot operations to her. Disbelief turned to incredulity… especially since the FA community appears to be uninformed about this potential, and monumental, change to the cockpit crew. When I mentioned that 747 freighters are routinely flown with just a pilot and copilot, and no one else, she 'got-that'. However the concept of flying any large passenger aircraft ‘solo crewman’ was unconscionable with her… especially considering variables that occur on even routine flights… not to mention the sense of loneliness/isolation that would accompany such as position.
preacher1 2
I'm a thinkin' ALL 747's are 2 man and have been a long time. Some of the early models were 3 man but that changed pretty quick.
djames225 2
Sure..lets fly a plane using electronics...then watch some lunatic on the ground take control with his tablet and fly it wherever...I can see the advoidance system as being a valuable asset, but for goodness sake keep at least 1 sane pilot in the cockpit incase of catastrophic failure
Mark Thomas 2
How would you tell this automated airplane that there was a medical emergency on board, how would the plane then communicate this to ATC etc, there are a million scenarios that would have to be foreseen before this could be considered. The pilots here, reexamine your most trying times in the front seat and imagine what an automated plane would have to do? You wouldn't catch me in one!
preacher1 1
The technology to do it is out there now. It's all these other little things that will put a wrinkle in it.
Dale Minner 1
I heard that at Boeing in 1966! (...go wrong, go wrong, go wrong.)
All the dumbasses that are willing to get on a plane without a human pilot can be my guest! But when the first one crashes and kills 300 people I'll be damned if I'll feel sorry for them. Stupid is as stupid does! Forrest's momma was right all along!
jpepp pepp 1
Please no that will ruin my life
Jay Schumann 1
Well the computer in AF 447 certainly didn't save the souls on board.

Airplanes without human pilots on board seem to me to be like the people who cross busy streets without looking up from their mobile phones.
Marty Nemes 1
Seems to me the computers on AF 447 did what they were supposed to do - in an emergency they turned operation of the plane over to the professionals. The appropriate warnings were working - the pilots didn't understand them or didn't know how to respond. Always FTFP first.
Jay Schumann 1
Well if "turned operation of the plane over to the professionals: means giving control to the human pilots then i would suggest that a plane without human pilots is in some pretty deep do do in that case. Anyway you articulate well why i would never get in a plane without human pilots.
jmilleratp 1
I think it's more a pipe dream for corporations who want to cut costs and get personnel out of the equation.
preacher1 1
It may happen but not in this lifetime. Public has put up with a bunch but I believe they'd draw the line here. Leastwise I hope.
Jay Schumann 1
Even if the human component was eliminated from the flight deck there are still thousands of human hands required for a flight to take place. Providing it is even possible, how fare away is the code for anticipating every potential human error that could begin a cascade to catastrophic failure of the complex systems we call airplanes?
Jay Schumann 1
Whoops hat should read far away not fare away
Bruce Boaze 1
This sounds perfect for the 4 passenger several hundred mile battery powered commuter planes that are being developed to make greater use of the hundreds of small underused airfields the US has.
Jay Schumann 1
that should read far away not fare away
munawar khan 1
its a relief to note they are just thinking of incorporating this system in cargo carriers ! though the insurance coverage rate may sky rocket - initially at least
Aside from the fact that people tend to think more technological is better... what is the true benefit of removing the human element from the cockpit? Why as a human species do we wish to do that to ourselves? Does anyone care that two people who otherwise could feed their families and support themselves, now have to find alternate work elsewhere?

Meanwhile what's the bottom line? More money for the company? So the CEO and others inside the corporate offices get to continue to support their families in their level of comfort? It's really all relative. What if they were replaceable? To me it's about human quality of life and giving people the opportunity to feel useful, not replaceable. What is the human price for making everyone feel expendable?
Derek Thomas 1
Too many variables (can you say frozen pitots; JAL runway incursion; Gear won't go down/up; Jack-screw failure); 3rd engine blowout UAL) that is ONLY survivable with a human at the "wheel". I'm just a pax, but I ain't getting on no flying machine that doesn't have a human in the pointy end who, preferably, knows how to arm-wrestle...
eaarvik 1
The thought of this is scary and ridiculous!
I don't like this idea. Show me a piece of man made equipment that hasn't failed and I might change my mind. I remember a flight I had in an F-86D in the late fifties. I was on an actual scramble from our base on Long Island. The ceiling was 100ft overcast but the visibility was fairly good. The plane only had VOR (no DME) low freq. ADF and VHF communications. All three quit on my return. My airborne radar still worked so I could see the outline of the shore, I knew I was still out over the water. I let down real slow hoping to break out above the water, which I did, at about 100ft, flew along the coast until I saw some landmarks I knew were off the end of our runway. I found the runway and was able to land with no more problems. So don't tell me multiple failures can't happen.
preacher1 2
Well, I got lucky once in our 757. We were on VFR daylight final, only a couple miles out, stabilized and all that, and entire panel went dark. At that point it was no big deal but if it had been nite or in wx, or somewhere else, it could have been ugly.
Dick Heine 1
One of my offspring flies A320's and yes they can "do it all", but! When I hear about all the "unexpected",:sick passenger-divert or not?, deice or not? what kind of deicer? need to reboot the computer--etc,etc,etc.
Bottom line for me:if it is a drone-I'm not going and at my age I need not worry.
Tom Lull 0
Not to worry. Computers can't taxi worth a damn.
preacher1 2
They could with an airport diagram but I wonder how it would be working with the tower and ATC.
electroman00 1
Charts are already in the onboard computers.
electroman00 0
Don't bet on it...

747 can gate to gate.

GPS made that reality.
Peter Creary 0
I worked on my first computer in 1965. Sometimes the only way to fix a problem was to turn it off then turn it back on. Seems like we still do that at times today. Reading about the first electronic Digital computer in the late 1940's they had the same problem. Will that ever be solved? Maybe, but will the public really accept pilot-less planes? By the way we techs called these fixes FM.
preacher1 1
FM????? I have heard of the ID 10 T error but this is a new one.
Peter Creary 1
Blank Magic.
preacher1 1
Blank Magic ain't FM
Peter Creary 3 Magic.
Unfortunately the pilot profession will cease to exist within the next decade, maybe sooner at the pace this technology is advancing. Those who cannot see this shift coming are blind. The bottom line is that corporations see this technology as an opportunity to significantly reduce personnel and training overhead. And that is all that matters, it is a done deal.
preacher1 1
I figure you are correct, that there will at least be a viable change made to what we know now or at least an attempt. That said, 1 or 2 good accidents and there will be a
re-thinking. We must also note that this will come about on 121's but the need on 135/91 pilots will not go away for a good while. It also remains to be seen on the 121's if the market will take it or if that will be a bit much.
Jay Schumann 1
If you please what are 121's and 135/91's? Thanks.
preacher1 1
Basically part 121 applies to your commercial airlines / part 135 is charter and 91 are corporate, not for hire.
Jay Schumann 1
I agree with you on 135/91 crews.
Jay Schumann 1
Well perhaps but the only way i would set my rear end down in a pilot-less plane is if i was blind and couldn't see the missing pilots. I will also submit that the larger share of the flying public would not accept pilot-less commercial travel. AI isn't even close to doing what Sullenberger and Skiles did, and might never get that far. And what happens when the AI itself is part of the cascade leading to catastrophic failure?
electroman00 -1
Well perhaps but the only way i would set my rear end down in a pilot-less plane is if i was blind and couldn't see the missing pilots.

They already have a solution especially for you, it's called medication..!!
Jay Schumann 2
Your intellectual capability Richard is illustrated quite well by your rudeness.
Richard, you must be a pilot!
electroman00 1
Exzakerly my sediments...a done deal.
This reminds me of a story a few years ago. A flight left Vancouver to Asia. After an hour in fight the intercom came on. "We are pleased to announce that this aircraft if being flown entirely by computers. There are no pilots on board. We assure you Nothing can go wrong...Nothing can go wrong...Nothing can go wrong...Nothing can go wrong."


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