Sunday, September 26, 2010

Depending on Technology

Studying up on my procedures in AIM 3.16, I'm boggled by how much has happened in the last ten years. When I started flying, RNAV means either inertial nav or maybe the system where a direct route was calculated from the relative position of multiple VORs. Selective availability was still a factor, so the idea of doing precision instrument approaches using GNSS was ludicrous. It's a little difficult for me to take the level of sophistication of current RNAV instrument procedures seriously.

Technological change is part of the package of being a pilot, and I berate myself for goggling at the GNSS advances when pilots retiring today went from purely mechanical fuel control units and cables and pushrods to fly by wire electronic airplanes. And then I argue back that no matter how many computers are packed on board, maxing out the already upgraded electrical system, I'm still flying mid-20th century technology, and should I get off my butt and activate favours and hard work to get into an actual airliner someday, I will have to make the same jump in technology as did the Beaver pilots Air Canada hired in the 1970s.

It's getting easier, not harder to fly an airplane safely. I have genuine admiration for the pilots who flew in the far north by dead reckoning, the sun and stars, and the occasional assistance from their compasses, near useless at those latitudes. They probably groused when they had to learn how to tune the ADF and fly instrument approaches, and I can imagine complaining at the dizzying complexity of the VOR, even though a VOR approach is much more precise than an NDB approach.

On the topic of dizzying, how about Laval St. Germain, the director of flight operations for Canadian North (fantastic airline), who recently made the first Canadian ascent of Mount Everest without oxygen. That link is worth reading, a good interview not just who/where/when. I kind of suspect that St. Germain is the kind of guy who, when flying a non-pressurized aircraft without an oxygen mask doesn't hit a timer the moment he climbs through 10,000' to make sure he's back below it within the regulation thirty minutes. I think he might laugh at me when he saw me do that. I was once asked the time of useful consciousness at some altitude, in an airline interview. I didn't know the answer, but I'd love to see them ask Laval St. Germain that. It seems that such things are quite variable.

1 comment:

Garrett said...

I've often thought the same thing. I'll never climb an 8000m peak, but I've spent a considerable portion of my life hiking and climbing and skiing 12-14k hills.

I know from experience that I can function and sleep just fine at 12k. I'm not in great shape by any means...a friend who is a top level swimmer can't even sit around at 10k without altitude sickness. That doesn't mean I should be operating an airplane at 12k without oxygen though...I can function remarkably well on two or three beers as well but I wouldn't consider operating a plane a good idea.