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Economist Article: Pilotless Aircraft  
User currently offlineJimbobjoe From United States of America, joined Oct 2001, 655 posts, RR: 0
Posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 2352 times:

http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1487553

Haven't seen it yet discussed on the boards, but it goes through the issues involved in having pilotless aircraft, and predictions that claim that we shall be flying on them as early as 2030.

Discuss.  Smile/happy/getting dizzy

49 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
 
User currently offlineBackfire From Germany, joined Oct 2006, 0 posts, RR: 0
Reply 1, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 2339 times:

The technology for pilotless commercial aircraft is already available today. It's the psychological aspects you have to overcome. People are nervous enough about flying as it is - it's this fear, not the technology, which will prove the greatest problem to overcome.

User currently offlineDonder10 From Canada, joined Oct 2001, 6660 posts, RR: 21
Reply 2, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 19 hours ago) and read 2320 times:

Today's planes are rather similar!

User currently offlineMD88Captain From United States of America, joined Nov 2001, 1330 posts, RR: 20
Reply 3, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 2303 times:

Does anyone know how many pilotless Predators have been lost? 1/3 of all manufactured. 33%. Some to enemy fire, but a huge percentage just crashed due to technical difficulty. I think I will make it to retirement before getting replaced by Mr. Roboto.

User currently offlineKlaus From Germany, joined Jul 2001, 21462 posts, RR: 53
Reply 4, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 2294 times:

The pilots are still needed for any kind of emergency and other unexpected situations where common sense and complex background knowledge are required.

Today´s software isn´t up to that kind of challenge, yet. Nor will it be within the foreseeable future.


User currently offlineJwenting From Netherlands, joined Apr 2001, 10213 posts, RR: 18
Reply 5, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 17 hours ago) and read 2281 times:

The RAF used pilotless aircraft in WW2 as targetdrones.

Most predator drones that were lost were lost when the radiolink failed with the base station I think. That can happen, and the drone may well crash when that happens (or go into predictable behaveour making it easy to shoot down) or may even have a self-destruct function.



I wish I were flying
User currently offlineApuneger From Belgium, joined Sep 2000, 3032 posts, RR: 11
Reply 6, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 16 hours ago) and read 2262 times:

Interesting topic. Now although it could save alot to the airlines and such, I don't thing we'll ever see a pax aircraft being flown without at least one pilot, preferably three...At least not for many many decades to come.

Why? Well, the reason is really simple: cost would go down (no more pilots to pay, but revenues would aswell, since there would be not one passenger left to fly to his/her destination. Let's face it, who would want to fly on an aircraft that is being flown by a computer? I know I wouldn't. The risks are just too great nowadays. Suppose something goes wrong, I'd feel more safe when there's still at least one pilot to save the whole plane and pax. As said by someone over here already, it's a psychologic thing...

Ivan



Ivan Coninx - Brussels Aviation Photography
User currently offlineBackfire From Germany, joined Oct 2006, 0 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 16 hours ago) and read 2253 times:

Let's face it, who would want to fly on an aircraft that is being flown by a computer? I know I wouldn't.

I'm tempted to ask what you think a flight management system, autopilot and autoland are, if they're not computers that spend their time flying the aircraft for you?

But I'm sure you didn't quite mean it that way.  Big grin


User currently offlinePalebird From Canada, joined Jan 2001, 78 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 15 hours ago) and read 2242 times:

You actually believe that pilots are flying your aircraft today? Have I got news for you. Pilotless travel is a lot closer than you think.99% of the airmiles you put on flying in the newer birds are computer flown miles.

User currently offlineYyz717 From Canada, joined Sep 2001, 16259 posts, RR: 56
Reply 9, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 14 hours ago) and read 2226 times:

The cost of air travel would plummet if the overpaid pilot work force could be eliminated.


Panam, TWA, Ansett, Eastern.......AC next? Might be good for Canada.
User currently offlineApuneger From Belgium, joined Sep 2000, 3032 posts, RR: 11
Reply 10, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 13 hours ago) and read 2219 times:

OK guys, I meant ONLY by computers, as in 'no pilot on board whatsoever'... Of course I know the importance of computer systems in todays aircraft (autopilot, FMS,...).

Ivan



Ivan Coninx - Brussels Aviation Photography
User currently offlineFDXmech From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 3251 posts, RR: 34
Reply 11, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 13 hours ago) and read 2211 times:

Why not start smaller, let's say driverless bus's or even better, unmanned 18 wheel gasoline tractor trailers on the highways.


You're only as good as your last departure.
User currently offlineCaptaingomes From Canada, joined Feb 2001, 6413 posts, RR: 55
Reply 12, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 12 hours ago) and read 2199 times:

Yyz717, I agree that pilots at some airlines are overpaid (i.e. United), but don't believe the costs are that significant to the airlines. With increased automation, I feel that pilots will become less significant to airlines in the future, and might even require less training in the future. That means airlines might push to decrease pilot salaries into the future.

Think of the terrorist aspect of having pilot-less airplanes? All they need to do is hack into the computers controlling the aircraft in the air, and fly them anywhere they want!



"it's kind of like an Airbus, it's an engineering marvel, but there's no sense of passion" -- J. Clarkson re: Coxster
User currently offlineClickhappy From United States of America, joined Sep 2001, 9633 posts, RR: 68
Reply 13, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 12 hours ago) and read 2195 times:
AIRLINERS.NET CREW
PHOTO SCREENER

Pilots are overpaid (not my opinion) until they save your ass from dying. Wanna trust a computer with your life? I don't.

And, if the planes were riding some sort of radio beam, could it be hacked? Perhaps the next generation of Al-Quesadia will be computer nerds trying to crash airliners.


User currently offlineAvroArrow From Canada, joined Sep 2001, 1045 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 11 hours ago) and read 2187 times:

Well time for my .02 I guess. I would feel nervous about flying in a pilotless aircraft, just for that one in a million chance that the system might screw up. And if I read the article properly they mention having ground monitors for the aircraft to deal with ATC anyway, so why not have a guy in the cockpit instead if you are going to pay someone to do this. Many other risks include unforeseen emergencies, hijackings (which would still be possible, but in an entirely different way than we know now, likely by a computer virus). You could automate ATC as well so that all movement could be controlled by the tower directly, but that would necessitate the elimination of all piloted flights to ensure compliance (avoidance of human error), and speaking as a Cessna pilot I think that would be hugely unfair. The benefits of having a trained crew go on for much longer than I have the ambition to type. Of course history could prove me wrong....  Smile/happy/getting dizzy


Give me a mile of road and I can take you a mile. Give me a mile of runway and I can show you the world.
User currently offlineMD88Captain From United States of America, joined Nov 2001, 1330 posts, RR: 20
Reply 15, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 10 hours ago) and read 2181 times:

This is an absolutely stupid thread. It just shows me how little knowledge is out there concerning aviation. Very little knowledge. Almost nothing. You have no idea how incredibly busy a flight deck becomes in the departure and approach phases of flight. Listen to an approach frequency in New York center for 5 minutes. Listen to a controller giving 17 vectors in 60 seconds without even getting a readback. 17 pilots have to correctly and precisely respond to their command or aircraft start running into each other. How can aircraft be pilotless if ATC isn't controllerless? It is a dynamic and sometimes an almost frantic environment. Ever heard a controller screaming for an immediate turn only to see an airplane go zinging past? I have.

Ever been flying a Cat 2 or 3 and broken out 70' right of centerline? Trust the computers you say. If I had trusted the computer that day I'd have been a statistic.

Ever had the autopilot just disengage for no apparent reason? It happens maybe a dozen times a year to me. What happens when there's no pilot there to take over? Smoking hole is what happens.

Every had all the displays go blank? That is a complete and total nav instrument failure? Yes, it happened to me in a 757 going into JFK. We were VFR with the field in sight 30 miles out. I flew it and landed it like a 172 and no one in the back knew a thing. If there had been no pilot...

I was the FO on an 88 taking off out of ATL one day when at about 400' when the cabin started filling with smoke. We declared the emergency with an immediate turn to downwind for a very tight pattern. We completed all checklists, coordinated with tower and company and were back on the ground in 4 minutes. It was from a pilot's standpoint a beautiful thing. It turned out that the Air Cycle Machine in the right pack had exploded.

You guys can be jealous of what we make (YYZ717) but the truth is you have no idea what we do. Or like the guy who thinks I fly the aircraft only 1% of the time (palebird). You guys are clueless.



User currently offlineCaptaingomes From Canada, joined Feb 2001, 6413 posts, RR: 55
Reply 16, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 2161 times:

MD88Captain, you make good points, and I for one do not want to see pilot-less aircraft. I don't think the confidence will be there, and there will be a lot of accidents that could have been preventable had pilots been in the flight deck. Are pilots overpaid? Not for the most part, but the gap between the bottom and top is too large, and I don't think pilots deserve what they get in the upper end. That's the topic of another discussion. Keep in mind that I am training to be a pilot, and it's my dream to become an airline pilot. I would also never turn down the upper end of the pay scale.

This is not a stupid thread however, I don't see how you can say that. Flight is becoming more and more automated, and as new technologies come into play, it will become even more automated. This is a reality. Modern airplanes already know when a situation arises, i.e. engine failure, and will take many of the steps by itself without pilot input. Another example is when there is a rapid decompression, the aircraft will initiate the dive by itself and level off at the required altitude. This is what I heard after a SkyService A320 had a rapid decompression earlier this year. To call others clueless is nonesense just because you don't agree with their viewpoints.




"it's kind of like an Airbus, it's an engineering marvel, but there's no sense of passion" -- J. Clarkson re: Coxster
User currently offlineMD88Captain From United States of America, joined Nov 2001, 1330 posts, RR: 20
Reply 17, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 2157 times:

I am thoroughly fustrated with the attitude that pilots are just a redundant system. And those opinions are clueless. Their opinions are worthless because they have no facts. No basis. No understanding. They've never walked the walk either.

As to automation making the job easier. That is another foolish opinion held by those who are not using the technology. The technology has made the job harder and busier. I The easiest, best flying I've ever enjoyed was the stone simple 727. The most miserable aircraft and flying I've done is the thoroughly modern and incredibly automated MD11.


User currently offlineFDXmech From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 3251 posts, RR: 34
Reply 18, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 2149 times:

Another example is when there is a rapid decompression, the aircraft will initiate the dive by itself and level off at the required altitude. This is what I heard after a SkyService A320 had a rapid decompression earlier this year. To call others clueless is nonesense just because you don't agree with their viewpoints.

As I've never worked the A320, I can only speculate this is hogwash.



You're only as good as your last departure.
User currently offlineEGGD From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2001, 12443 posts, RR: 34
Reply 19, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 2142 times:

How is an automated aircraft supposed to land with a variable 30 knot crosswind?

Sorry, I don't believe there will ever be a pilotless aircraft, not only because technology will not be able to cope with the ever changing conditions of the planets weather, but just like driverless cars (that we have the technology for too), nobody would want to fly them because when you remove the human element, you lose that reassuring voice over the PR system of the captain telling you what route you will be taking and what the weather is like.

Don't think its gonna happen.... If it would happen, most of us would be driving cars that drive themselves, and busses and all sorts of things...


User currently offlineOvelix From Greece, joined Aug 1999, 639 posts, RR: 3
Reply 20, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 8 hours ago) and read 2126 times:

Magic of today is the reality of tomorrow.

EGDD put it right in the end. By the time pilotless airliners are doing passenger flights we will be probably ride fully automated cars, trains or other vehicles. It won't be a shock.

As for the tech difficulties (30kts crosswind, ATC etc) let's see how technology will further enhance the controlling of aircraft and how the whole enviroment of air controlling will evolve.

Many times in the past people have said "Impossible. That thing will NEVER happen" and the history proved wrong the deniers.

Anyway we 're talking for 30-50 years from now. Anything could happen.

Kostas


User currently offlineBackfire From Germany, joined Oct 2006, 0 posts, RR: 0
Reply 21, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 8 hours ago) and read 2113 times:

How is an automated aircraft supposed to land with a variable 30 knot crosswind?

If you think this a challenge to modern flight-control software, then I wouldn't visit an air traffic control centre if I were you.


User currently offlineBackfire From Germany, joined Oct 2006, 0 posts, RR: 0
Reply 22, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 8 hours ago) and read 2107 times:

Could someone provide me with a list of all the accidents in which a computer's actions, independent of those of the flight crew, were a primary contributory element?

User currently offlineGigneil From United States of America, joined Nov 2002, 16347 posts, RR: 84
Reply 23, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 7 hours ago) and read 2099 times:

... and then could someone list all the accidents in which the flight crew were the primary contributory element?

Those who say it could never be done need to look outside. Saying it shouldn't be done is another matter of more merit. But don't say it could never be done.

N


User currently offlineMD88Captain From United States of America, joined Nov 2001, 1330 posts, RR: 20
Reply 24, posted (11 years 9 months 2 days 7 hours ago) and read 2097 times:

Pilots deal with the technology everyday and see the limitations. The many limitations. When I first saw this forum I thought it was pretty neat. I did wonder why there were so few commercial pilots posting here. Threads like this make it clear. Threads that say replace the pilots they cause too accidents. I think I'll take a rest.

25 Captaingomes : MD88Captain, it's unfortunate you are taking the views that you are taking. The majority here on this thread feel that they would not want to fly on a
26 Ryu2 : Some questions to think about: what if the radio link is lost, as MD88Captain and Jwenting point out? What would happen then? How would the plane beco
27 BWIA 772 : The article rasies some interesting points. However I could only see this happening if you had robots (computer programmes) who were like "Data" on S
28 Ryu2 : There is a big difference between planes and trains/bus. Trains and bus are different, because if it breaks down, you can send someone to assist or fi
29 Post contains images TrnsWrld : YyZ717: If you think pilots are overpaid you really are clueless. I have not the slightest clue who you are or what you do, but do you realize how muc
30 Captaingomes : I hope none of you pilots, such as MD88Captain are thinking I'm for pilotless flightdecks. But you have to see it from the point of view of the airlin
31 Covert : I'll give a million dollars to that engineer that can program a computer to taxi a 747 around Heathrow....
32 Post contains images Klaus : Covert: I'll give a million dollars to that engineer that can program a computer to taxi a 747 around Heathrow.... Done deal... unless you added the r
33 Covert : Yeah thanks Klaus, saved me a million bucks buddy....
34 VirginFlyer : As a friend of mine said when we were talking about this earlier this year (he is a flight instructor), 'why on earth do they want to take the best pa
35 Ikarus : Actually, my opinion on the matter conflicts with most people here. I would say, either give the pilot 100% of decision power, or 0%, and let the comp
36 Ikarus : This is an absolutely stupid thread. It just shows me how little knowledge is out there concerning aviation. Well, someone is clearly prejudiced. Md8
37 MasseyBrown : I just watched an MSNBC Special on UAL flight 232, which crash-landed at Sioux City. I'm not sure a computer could do what those pilots did. It's comi
38 AAR90 : >I did wonder why there were so few commercial pilots posting here. You'll find us in Tech/Ops, where we don't deal in the ridiculous.
39 Post contains images Cloudy : I am not philosophically opposed to a pilotless airplane, but those of you who say it can be done today are wrong if you mean it can be done with the
40 FDXmech : Beyond the absurd notion of a pilotless airliner, who would be accountable for its safe operation? A computer programmer, another computer etc. Ikarus
41 Post contains images Cloudy : MasseyBrown As to the Sioux city crash, yes, there is a computer program today that could have landed that plane saftly. Well...it would not have land
42 J32driver : Please... How cheap do you think it will be to add all this technology. Then it has to be able to taxi without running into tugs, fuel trucks, busses,
43 Ikarus : How many computer systems out there are ABSOLUTELY 100% secure? How many humans are? Computers can replace humans when they become as safe, or safer.
44 Delta-flyer : Never say never! Almost everything we do today was considered "impossible" in the not-too-distant past. At one time, the "human psyche" was thought it
45 Jwenting : Could someone provide me with a list of all the accidents in which a computer's actions, independent of those of the flight crew, were a primary contr
46 Cloudy : "Almost everything we do today was considered "impossible" in the not-too-distant past. " True, but some things are truly impossible. Thats what scien
47 L-188 : Invariably the first generations of a new technology will be military in use and suffer a higher accident rate then later versions, and the later civi
48 Alessandro : I discussed this topic on the "other" forum, but here´s my opinions. Sueing, imagine what kind of law suits it would be if a pilotless plane crash du
49 Joni : I think it's common sense to have someone overseeing the various systems on an airliner. The cost of having a pilot or two in a plane with hundreds of
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