Fly The Friggin’ Airplane

I’m concerned about the state of pilot training that has developed over the past decade. Ever since we have introduced more and more computers into the cockpit it seems that we are training our pilots to be monitors of computer systems rather than flyers.

Back in the pre-politically correct age when I began to fly my instructor, Scotty, would give me a failure of an airplane system and then admonish me on how to fix it as I struggled to fly the airplane and fix the problem. “Goddammit Gordon. You look like a monkey f—— a football. Fly the f—— airplane, then fix the problem.FTFA stuck in my mind for my entire career. I have cleaned up the phrase a bit as I have passed it on to a couple of generations of pilots. Now I can comfortably say, “Fly the friggin airplane” and not be persecuted, but I hope the memory of FTFA stays in their minds.

Another aviation executive – and I have discussed this issue many times – Him from the stance of running a P&L business and me from a professional pilot’s viewpoint. I argued that the training departments add an additional hour to the recurrent simulator sessions in which to keep the pilots familiar with the technique of turning off all of the magical stuff in the cockpit and flying on needle, ball and airspeed. His argument was that he was striving for the most efficient use of the crews. I think the recent accidents on the 737 Max may have skewed the debate more in my favor. Issues that now cause accidents can be buried deep within millions of lines of code or imbedded in newly developed hardware. We’ve come a long way from the causal factor always being “Pilot Error”.

We must have one button on the control wheels that turn off all of the auto flight capabilities of the airplane and let the pilots, who are well trained to manually fly the friggin’ airplane and bring home the tin.