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Manual handling skills and situational awareness

Of the commercials on FB, every now and then one gets my eye. This is a short “article” about SA and manual handling skills.

If a pilot is mediocre or poor at handling an aircraft, perception of a situation may be erroneous due to the lack of feel for the aircraft’s capabilities, normal movements vs. abnormal movements, three-dimensional perception and general spatial awareness

Flying on autopilot will normally enhance SA as it frees the pilots from the minute details of keeping correct flight path and speed. Attention is available for other types of threat assessment. This change, however, when the automation no longer works as intended and the pilot, with little practise in manual flying, must deal with both threat factors, handling and possibly an abnormal situation, all at the same time. Here the mediocre handling pilot may use up all his attention on handling and lack capacity for anything else.

Rather obvious stuff maybe, but when thinking about the “mountain flying threads” lately I see some relevance. Worth remembering there is no substitute for good stick and rudder skills.

In general AP will free up some mental capacity from edundant tasks that amounts to zero skills IMO (e.g. keep wing level) and any stick inputs can be mimicked on autopilot or electric trims, however, you lack is force feedback that can be useful in few situations (e.g. speed loss on icing, engine power loss…) and readiness to take control, if your whole mental capacity is to understand what the AP is doing or debug its modes then that is not healthy and you are better off just pulling the CB and revert to hand flying, as example when the AP goes beyond localizer, I just disengage and fly manually to the LOC, I know I will have plenty of time to debug later…

Last Edited by Ibra at 15 Sep 16:48
ESSEX, United Kingdom

It is certainly true that autopilot flight deprives the pilot of having a feel for how close to the edge he is.

And eventually the autopilot can bring the plane to the stall and the first you will know of this is the stall warner, and then things will go bad very fast if you do nothing about it.

The majority of autopilots – certainly the attitude controlled King ones – will also disconnect if pitch or roll exceed certain values, throwing the plane back at the pilot out of trim, etc.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

It is certainly true that autopilot flight deprives the pilot of having a feel for how close to the edge he is.

And eventually the autopilot can bring the plane to the stall and the first you will know of this is the stall warner, and then things will go bad very fast if you do nothing about it.

This is true but I also think that in GA world far too much is made of it. Overall, an autopilot that is regularly used will result in a massively safer airframe. IMHO, pilots spend far too much time obsessing about these edge cases.

EGTK Oxford

JasonC wrote:

IMHO, pilots spend far too much time obsessing about these edge cases.

True, the one I recall very well was after AP violently disengaged (not able to make more than 20 degrees wind corrections), not a big deal but it did leave me baffled in clear VMC, in the other hand I had load of localizer interceptions that went wrong while I am hand flying, I tend to forgot these quickly after landing

ESSEX, United Kingdom

An autopilot in a Single pilot environment frees the pilot of some PF tasks but still PM means keeping the big picture which means keeping an eye on PF..

ESG..., Sweden

In the IR there is some basic use of the AP: pre take off checks, cruise and descent in heading mode. UPRT courses should cover threats associated with the AP, some do. Ideally an IR should cover use in APP mode, and necessary conditions for LOC and GS capture, and use of GO AROUND mode in Flight Director mode. But no IR training course covers this, except during type rating.

The frequency of loss of control while on AP in single crew is noticeable. The typical briefed scenarios do occur in practice: staying in VS climb mode and allowing speed to decay, not powering up on level off, failing to arm ALT capture in descent, icing related, use of AP while asymmetric, attempting an APP intercept outside the parameters or with incorrect NAV source, fighting the AP until the trim disconnect point.

It’s rather silly you need an EFIS sign off but not an AP sign off.

Enstone (EGTN), Oxford (EGTK)

My view with respect to GA. Is using the autopilot can substantially improve safety and is very much like instructional flight or at least it can be. When instructing often there are substantial periods where you handle the controls very little, but you often need to allow the aircraft and student extensive use of the “envelope”. For example you may allow a crosswind landing to deteriorate such that a go around is required by yourself, or at least reinitiate a flare and landing etc. You need to be able to this with out any physical feedback at all. i.e. you must have a very good mental model of what is happening and what is about to happen… GA instructional flight has a good safety record, perhaps the best…

Of course in GA instructional skills require training and also need proficiency for the model to work, and the same applies to using an autopilot IMHO. The autopilot is not a crutch.

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