Date: 2013-08-12 02:45 am (UTC)
zorkian: Icon full of binary ones and zeros in no pattern. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zorkian

Well, commercial pilots certainly don't. I mean, as I understand it they still do some calculations to double check the computers -- but I think it's on the order of "yeah, that looks right" not "I need to do this to get where I'm going".

In the world of General Aviation, though, most of our airplanes are carburetor-equipped machines from 30+ years ago. As far as navigation equipment goes, they have a compass and VOR receiver(s) and radios. You don't have GPS like you do these days, so you can't just say "where am I" if things go pear shaped.

That said, I'm training in equipment that is equipped with a fancy Garmin G1000 setup, so I can (and have, earlier in training) plugged in a flight plan which tells me exactly how far away it is, how to get there, and also calculates fuel burn rates and will show you exactly on a map where your fuel runs out well in advance so you can plan accordingly.

A small Cessna 172 (barely fits a family of four, as long as the kids are under 5!) that is equipped with a G1000 setup runs around $350,000 to buy. That's barely enough airplane to do anything in, and it already costs more than the average home sold in the United States. The G1000 itself is $50,000 worth of computer -- I have no idea why. FAA certification costs? High developmenmt cost coupled with small sales volume?

So, since private pilot training is designed to make it so you can fly most/all General Aviation aircraft, and most are still put together with bailing wire and spit, you need to learn how to do this manual stuff.


The modern revolution, however, is the iPad. There are some really damned good applications such as ForeFlight Mobile which let you do most of your flight planning. All of it, actually. I just plugged in the route I posted above, and it comes out and says how much fuel it estimates, it even looks up the winds and gives me a list of "time to destination at various altitudes" so you can optimally select your altitude based on wind.

So do you rely on the $80 app you buy that promises to get you there? Or do you rely on the $50,000 hardware your plane may or may not come with? Or perhaps on pen and paper and your own mind?

Technology can always fail, so it's nice to have options. Of course, I am going to be realistic and say that if I use an iPad or Garmin or whatever for the next 15 years before my first in-flight electrical failure, I won't actually remember how to do this. And, it won't be useful if I did -- because I'll be puttering along in an airplane.

I suspect that after training I'll forget how most of this stuff works and be happy I don't have to spend four hours sitting and doing manual calculations to get from A to B. I'll plug the data into the GPS and I'll keep the VOR frequencies handy -- that plus a redundant system in the iPad (with external GPS) means that I'll probably get where I'm going OK. Or at least, I'll be able to get to the nearest airport and land.

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