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Flighty
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Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Sun Nov 15, 2015 5:54 pm

Not a pilot, I came to a.net as an ex airline analyst / number cruncher. But driving down the highway, I realized I had a lot on my mind. My brain wasn't helping me drive at 70 MPH at all. Yet I was doing a good job of driving.

When you are piloting commercial airplanes, (could be bizjets or mail planes too), is your mind on flying? Do you have enough reflex to "sweep" the instruments and the horizon without even thinking about it? Can you do complex operations from memory? Do you feel comfrotable even when things get complex, or do you "wake up?"

Thanks and sorry if this is a bit vague.
 
N415XJ
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Sun Nov 15, 2015 7:04 pm

I'm only a Private Pilot (low time- about 170 hrs), but flying has become nearly automatic for me in terms of instrument scanning/forming a mental picture of the situation I'm in/actually manipulating the controls. I'd also be interested in hearing what it's like for airline pilots who are flying something a million times more complex than a Piper, but I imagine that if you do the same thing day in and day out for years, you could practically do it in your sleep.
 
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barney captain
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Sun Nov 15, 2015 7:42 pm

The level of focus is commensurate with the conditions, ie;

At cruise with the A/P engaged on a clear smooth day? Sure, your mind will wander.

Landing a heavy a/c in MDW in marginal conditions (wet/icy) - we are fully focused.

The same can be said for driving. When you caught your mind wandering, I bet the highway wasn't covered in ice on a dark night.  
Southeast Of Disorder
 
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Starlionblue
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Mon Nov 16, 2015 3:40 am

Quoting Flighty (Thread starter):
Do you have enough reflex to "sweep" the instruments and the horizon without even thinking about it?

This is pretty much a minimum requirement by the time you have your instrument rating.

When you're hand flying, instrument scan and trajectory control inputs are almost subconscious.

Having said that, you only have so much "bandwidth" to pay attention to stuff. As pilot flying in a busy situation you tend to get at least some tunnel vision. As pilot monitoring you see all sorts of stuff that the PF might be missing. Thus the need for two pilots. If you're sitting in the jump seat you see even more. Hence the saying that the further back from the instrument panel you sit, the smarter you get. Big grin
Quoting Flighty (Thread starter):
Can you do complex operations from memory?

Sure. For example pre-flight cockpit setup and approach setup, as well as performing an approach include dozens of steps performed from memory. Many of these sequences are known as "flows". If someone woke me from a deep sleep I could recite every step involved in setting up and flying an approach (either as PF or PM) from memory..

But that's for normal events. For emergencies, things are slightly different. There are only a few emergency situations that have memory items because in most cases you want to take your time and do things right. Exceptions would be things like emergency descent, unreliable speed indication, stall recovery and windshear. And even then you'll probably only have a few memory items followed by reference to the QRH or actions displayed on the EFIS. That's not to say that you are excused from actually knowing the emergency procedures. The point is that for unusual and potentially dangerous events, you need to refer to some sort of checklist.

For unexpected events, we are discouraged from just "reacting" in most cases. Sure, if you get a terrain warning you'd better take action without delay, but most other events require some thought. This may only be a second or two of thought but even so. Large jets are pretty stable and not much happens in a hurry. On the other hand, pulling the wrong knob because you didn't think, or didn't look, will easily get you in trouble. (Also the instructor will yell at you.)

[Edited 2015-11-15 19:58:07]

[Edited 2015-11-15 19:58:40]
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
Flighty
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Mon Nov 16, 2015 5:03 am

Quoting barney captain (Reply 2):
The same can be said for driving. When you caught your mind wandering, I bet the highway wasn't covered in ice on a dark night

Correct, I was totally within muscle memory. Once the situation goes outside your "muscle memory envelope," alarm bells go off. My friend and I took a dangerous drive up I-70 last March in a sleet storm, past rushing semis to get to Copper. Poor surface, poor visibility, high speeds (due to semis dominating the road throwing slush) resulted in very white knuckles, and I am a longtime winter driver. It was just scary because of the speeds. All of my safety margins and the car's wipers etc were used strategically to the max. And it still wasn't enough. It was unsafe. We shouldn't have been there.

Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 3):
Hence the saying that the further back from the instrument panel you sit, the smarter you get. 

Excellent, never heard that one. I definitely found that doing computer work, I often did my "best work" taking a walk far away from the screen. The screen can deactivate your brain sometimes. Too bad pilots can't pace around the aircraft, or maybe they can...
 
Woodreau
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Mon Nov 16, 2015 6:10 am

Quoting Flighty (Reply 4):
Too bad pilots can't pace around the aircraft, or maybe they can...

It's called selecting the appropriate level of automation.

There are times when it's appropriate to increase the automation by engaging the autopilot to decrease pilot workload.
It allows the pilots to step back and monitor and look at the bigger picture.

When then Pilot Flying is hand-flying the airplane, the Monitoring Pilot is "busy" talking on the radio, manipulating flap and gear controls, and manipulating the mode control panel as directed by the flying pilot. When things start getting really busy like when ATC vectors you off the departure procedure, and changing your altitudes during the climbout, sometimes it's appropriate to engage the autopilot, so that the flying pilot takes over the mode control panel manipulating from the monitoring pilot.

But then again at the same time, it may be appropriate to disengage the autopilot to decrease the pilot workload.

It all depends on the situation.
Bonus animus sit, ab experientia. Quod salvatum fuerit de malis usu venit judicium.
 
D328
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Mon Nov 16, 2015 1:04 pm

For me it's like riding a bike/figure skating....... There was a 6 month period where I did not fly and going back was almost relearning... It wasn't bad just the first landing i was kind of scared about... But I haven't flown since 2008... Landings were my favorite. Tried to get them as short as possible at my school. KBVI
 
AIRWALK
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Mon Nov 16, 2015 9:08 pm

Good question

Like anything, the more you do it, the more second nature it becomes. At the beginning of your flying training simple tasks can require almost full attention. For example you might look at your instruments to do a scan and realise you aren't actually processing what you are looking at because your mind is focused on keeping the yoke steady. You then look up and realise you have veered off course slightly. The further you get in your training you no longer think about the scans, you just do them, possibly without you even realising (similar to checking your rear view mirror). Once more and more things become second nature, your attention can be focused elsewhere allowing you to do complicated things like what barney captain gave as an example without wasting your limited (human capabilities) focus on actually flying.

For non normal situations that arise, all of your focus can be diverted to that task, that's why its imperative to commit the day to day flying as second nature. Not that bad trying to remember exactly how to change gears on an empty road, bad on a packed highway.
I'm sure this thread will take off soon
 
Stealthz
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Tue Nov 17, 2015 2:08 am

Bringing this back to driving rather than flying for a moment..

Quoting Flighty (Thread starter):
Yet I was doing a good job of driving.

Perhaps not as good as you might think!

Years ago I had job where I often drove long distances around Australia, the same route many times.
When I was having detailed business(sometimes personal) discussions++ I would sometimes find that I had subconsciously slowed down from 110-120km/h to 90, sometimes 80. Obviously my brain managing the load sharing without me really being aware.
Later when I upgraded to a car with cruise control I realised when having similar conversations I was still slowing down to 80-90... the emphasis I was, the car was still going 120 or so, that is pretty scary the first time it you realise it!

++ Always "hands free", my car had fully hands free cell phone before most people had heard of cell phones!!
If your camera sends text messages, that could explain why your photos are rubbish!....well that might have changed!!!
 
jetblueguy22
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Tue Nov 17, 2015 7:23 am

Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 3):
Sure. For example pre-flight cockpit setup and approach setup, as well as performing an approach include dozens of steps performed from memory. Many of these sequences are known as "flows". If someone woke me from a deep sleep I could recite every step involved in setting up and flying an approach (either as PF or PM) from memory..

Flows are funny to me. If you ask me to recite them aloud, I kind of have to think about it for a second. But if I'm in the aircraft and you say "Engine Fire!" boom, checklist complete, verifying. It just becomes second nature. It's one thing I actually do when I take friends flying and they're nervous. I just say give me a situation. Let me prove to you I can handle it. Fire is always the go to.

OP, you get into a rhythm with your scans. It does take a little getting used to though. When I first started flying it was in a shiny new C172 with a G1000 glass panel. New students tend to focus on the screen and not outside. They sit there and tell you keep looking outside, keep looking outside. Then you hop into instrument training and it's like, stop looking outside! Inside, keep your instrument scan up. But over time you learn to manage it. I think learning instrument flying actually made me a better VFR pilot. Your total scan is completely different. You learn to process information more efficiently. I think it's made me a safer driver too.
Pat
Look at sweatpants guy. This is a 90 million dollar aircraft, not a Tallahassee strip club
 
thegman
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Fri Nov 20, 2015 12:55 am

Quoting jetblueguy22 (Reply 9):
New students tend to focus on the screen and not outside. They sit there and tell you keep looking outside, keep looking outside. Then you hop into instrument training and it's like, stop looking outside! Inside, keep your instrument scan up. But over time you learn to manage it. I think learning instrument flying actually made me a better VFR pilot. Your total scan is completely different. You learn to process information more efficiently. I think it's made me a safer driver too.

And then when you have a HUD you get to be a VFR and IFR pilot at the same time.
 
ThirtyEcho
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Mon Nov 23, 2015 6:33 pm

Quoting D328 (Reply 6):
Landings were my favorite. Tried to get them as short as possible at my school.



Watch out for that one. At the airport where I learned (50 years ago!), runway 13 was graced with a turnoff that was quite close to the threshold. Naturally, all of the local aces tried to make that one because it led straight to the FBO ramp and proved what an astronaut you were if you made it. I even saw a Beech 18 pilot cut both engines at the turnoff and "coast" to a stop at his tiedown spot.

Of course, the number of times the line staff had to go out and rescue an airplane with a blown tire was way, way above normal.
 
Flighty
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RE: Pilots: Do You Think Or Is It Muscle Memory

Mon Nov 23, 2015 10:15 pm

Quoting stealthz (Reply 8):
Later when I upgraded to a car with cruise control I realised when having similar conversations I was still slowing down to 80-90... the emphasis I was, the car was still going 120 or so, that is pretty scary the first time it you realise it!

Wow, excellent point. I know some older people [doctors] who are very skeptical of cruise control. It can result in you car flooring it into a concrete wall.

Quoting Woodreau (Reply 5):
It's called selecting the appropriate level of automation.

It took me a week to fully get what you mean here. But yeah! Automation allows you to use your higher brain functions, got it.

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