A few months ago I made a post that got buried in a less visited part of the a.net forums. Anyways I'll repost it here just for s*** and giggles.
I enjoy reading these threads. Not because I think it's an interesting topic, but because of the misinformation of what the automation on a modern plane is actually capable of doing. Take for example the aircraft I fly, the A320 family of planes. Let me take you on a leg of my day of what I have to do that automation cannot. It's winter time so I'll just use a winter day as my example. For this one, we'll go from ORD-IAH and assume there's a weather system between here and there.
I arrive in the cockpit and notice already there's a nuisance ECAM. I know this message will clear, its common that it pops up sometimes when a lot of fuel is being put on the aircraft. I watch it but I know it'll clear in a minute or two. If this plane was self reporting, maybe it's going to summon maintenance unnecessarily causing wasted time and delays. How would the plane know? How will maintenance know? How will maintenance know the plane was being fueled triggering the nuisance. Anyways small potatoes, let me go do my walk around.
I walk around and see fluid dripping from the engine cowling. Our aircraft is a NEO, any fluid dripping from the cowling is a no go item. I look closer, its residual deicing fluid that has run from the wing down the cowling. I bring this example up because I actually found a small fluid drip on a NEO that turned out to be fuel. Ended up cancelling a flight because it revealed a lot broken fuel system parts after the cowling was open. Inside the aircraft? There were no indications of any issues. We took about a hour delay because the broken equipment was discovered. This job can easily be solved by having a mechanic do a walk around but lets say I'm at an outstation that utilizes contract maintenance? Who is going to figure out this is a problem or just water or deicing fluid? Beats me. The airplane sure isn't going to.
I get back in the plane, we're done fueling. It's cold out, about a degree above freezing, but there's no falling precip. Calm winds. On my walk around the leading edges of the wings, stabs were all clean of ice. I walk back to the exit rows and look out the windows. Sure enough the top of the wings over the fuel tanks have frosted up from the much cooler fuel. We have to deice. The plane isn't going to know there's ice on this part of the wing. Only human eyes can see this. We call for deicing after pushback.
We call for push. There are no planes in the alley, the push goes as planned until the towbar breaks. Crappy towbar had worn sheer pins and now the aircraft is no longer attached to the tug and is rolling backwards towards parked airplanes. The headset cord from the tug to the plane breaks and there no longer is communication to the cockpit. We see the tug appear further than typical from the plane and rampers are frantically waving their arms at us. One of us steps on the brakes and stops. Crisis averted. Would the plane have known on it's own it is freely rolling backwards towards disaster? Lets say the push goes as planned, who commands to start the engines of the aircraft? Short taxi both engines are started but what if there's a money line for 28L at N5 at ORD. 20 planes deep, how is the aircraft going to know it won't be taking off for a half hour or so? Will it just burn gas for no reason? We get our taxi instructions. A A15 N to 28R/N5. We enter taxiway A and on one of the cross roads, a tug brakes late and ends up about 4-5 feet past the stop line. We going to clear the tug by about 40' but it's across the safety line. Do we stop or do we continue? Human intervention strikes again.
The money line is too deep and A15 taxiway isn't going to work. We get told by Ohare ground to continue on A all the way down to A9 and now T and N and to hold for two RJ's from the right who will join in sequence ahead of us but a third Ejet will give way for us. Who inputs this information into the aircraft if it had an auto taxi function? Long taxi the brake temperature is slowly climbing. At 300 degrees, we have to pull off to the side until they cool, take off is prohibited. We gotta really baby the brakes. It's cold out but it doesn't matter. The brake temps slowly approach 200. Due to some snow that hasn't cleared yet on the taxiways, we turn on the engine anti ice. We won't need it for take off but we can't risk ingesting ice on the taxiway. We wait in line, now 10 to go, and it starts snowing. Light snow but it's still snow. Lake Michigan is a tricky SOB. When we deiced we got type 1 and IV deicing fluid. We're well within our holdover time but now the runway is contaminated. The ATIS isn't calling snow yet but we see it with our eyes. We decide that we need to re run performance numbers with engine anti ice on. A computer would never be able to make this determination.
We see we're about five minutes for take off, we start the second engine. Get to the end of the runway and are cleared for take off. We're given the O'HARE 5 departure and a turn to head 180. At 5.5 DME from the Chicago VOR, we need to be at or above 3000' MSL. A wind from the north has really got our ground speed clipping. We're not going to make the restriction unless we continue with our take off power and a hold off on trying to get to 250kts. The flight director is telling me to lower the nose to accelerate and FMA is telling me to go to climb power. I'm still within MCT/FLEX time limits on the plane so I continue to climb for a few more seconds in this configuration just to make sure we make the first restriction. If I turned the AP on as soon as I could and followed all aircraft instructions, not a chance I come close to complying with ATC.
This post is getting long so I'll just skip ahead to cruise.Flight level 340, AP on (hey look the airplane is "doing" all the flying). Around Little Rock, we see the beginning of a weather system that's going to follow us all the way to Houston. While we try to determine a game plane to pick our way around build ups, ATC asks us for crossing traffic, can we go up or down to an odd altitude. Looking at the weather ahead, we determine going up would get us clear of a majority of the clouds. The winds are stronger up there but down low we're going to have to take some vectors to get around some buildups we can see about 100 miles ahead. The radar isn't painting anything but we can see we can easily get jammed into a corner down low. As we get closer to the weather, some of the developing storms are well over the service ceiling of the plane. The radar is working but it's not working great. A few cells are causing attenuation. We want to stay away from those. There's clearing between two cells to our east on the radar but we can see with our eyes the giant overhang that fills the ceiling. To our west, there's a gap but it's a bit of a further distance away. If we can get there, we will be west of the weather that is just getting to Houston.
Continuing on our west vectors, things are getting bumpy but not too bad. It light turbulence but we turn on the seat belt sign. The turbulence gets stronger and we're experiencing occasional moderate. ATC informs us it's a better ride at FL300. We crunch the numbers with fuel and see that we can do it. East arrivals into IAH have been closed, the line of weather is getting heavy and aircraft are starting to hold. We're on the DRLLR.5 arrival. It's our lucky day. We're leading the pack and told to descend VIA the DRLLR.5 except maintain 300kts or greater. The DRLLR.5 has all sorts of speed restrictions on it and we don't need to follow any of them until we get past 10000'. The A320 has VNAV capabilities, the AP is working great but because of the amendment to the speed restrictions, I have the speed selected at 310kts. We want to get into Houston ASAP because the weather is a big question mark. We're screeming down when ATC comes back to us and tells us to resume published speeds at the DRLLR fix. The published speed is 250kts. The average rule of thumb in level flight is 10kts of speed can be lost for every 1NM. We're still on a descent and thanks to airbus logic,it always aims for the bottom of any altitude restrictions. We're going to cross DRLLR at 13000 even though it's published to be crossed between 16000-13000' but at the selected speed of 310kts. I need now to figure out how to get off the descent profile and lose the speed. If I cross the fix higher than the ideal aircraft profile, the airbus will snowball the high altitude and blow the rest of the arrival without human intervention. I set the speed for 320kts and pull for an open descent and deploy as much speedbrakes as I can. We'll level off at 13000' about 3-4 miles before DRLLR and miss the speed by maybe 10kts but it's close enough. ATC is happy and we continue on the descent path. Never in a million years would the automation on the aircraft been able to make a decision that'll take it off the profile to make a new restriction.
We're landing on runway 26R. It's still raining but the meat of the line of weather is 20 miles to the east of the airport. Winds are gusting up to 25kts from the north giving us a pretty good crosswind. ATC has us at 4000' feet MSL headed east. We're on radar vectors now. We fly past the airport. We're now 10 miles past the airport. We can see the back of the line of storms that just pushed through. We need to turn and we need to turn now back towards the airport. Using strategic language and a tone usually reserved for complaining about bad food at a restaurant, we get the approach controllers attention. We get a turn to the south and an eventual turn to intercept the final approach course. We're told to hold 210 kts. We have flaps 1 out but that's all we can do to slow other than dropping the gear. We're cleared for the ILS26R. Can't use an autoland (magic autoland) because of the crosswind and wet runway. We glide slope intercept at RAIDS fix on the approach and are still at 210kts. We need to slow and now we're fast, in gusts, and headed downhill. I ask for the gear, I pull the speedbrakes again, we're only slowing to 200. Not good enough for flaps 2. I click the auto pilot off and fly above the glide slope to shallow the descent to lose speed. We're one dot high and but enough for flaps two, it's working and we're able to get fully configured for landing. Break out of the clouds at 1500', stable at 1000'. Manually land with a 20 something knot crosswind and taxi off at the nearest high speed turn off.
Houston is full of taxiway construction, we're asked due to the mess the weather has caused to taxi all the way around to the east side of the terminal to go around the backside into the alley to find our gates in Terminal A. 40 minutes later through the congestion, we get to the gate. It's occupied with a flight that's delayed. We need to coordinate with the ramp to park our plane somewhere that's not in the way. Operations is telling us how much time we have until we have a gate. We finally park. We pull into the gate. We run a parking checklist. There's a ding. We got a nuisance ECAM. We still have to do one more flight out east.
This is a daily occurrence for pilots all over the world. I want someone to tell me how a self flying plane would handle this. This is how far we are from pilotless planes.
To actively root against anybody is just low, and I hope karma comes back at you with a vengeance