The human species has pushed the bounds of technology to astounding heights. But hey - who cares all we want is a 'short cut to an answer'. Why do we need to think - technology does all of that for us. Instant gratification - brilliant - no more brain strain - no more tiresome thinking, just throw everything to technology for an answer and please don't question because technology is always right! There you go, isn't that EASY!
There is one very 'big pitfall' though and that is if we follow technology without applying our own rational thinking and cross questioning, I'm afraid the ride will be a bumpy one.
The answer derived from a machine depends on the input, make a mistake (because you are human) and you will get the wrong answer from the machine in a most cold and uncaring way, machines have no conscience or feeling but on the other hand they are honest - they will only give to you what you ask of them!
For example a calculator will give you,10 x 10 = 1,000 that is if your finger slips and adds an extra 0, if you are foolish enough to accept this answer without applying a picture in your own mind of what is rational and what is not then you deserve to pay the price. What about the input button that doesn't work well and often drops an input into or out of the equation? Technology is also prone to failure without giving us fair warning - so what's your back up plan?
Tracks, vectors, distances, headings, speeds, times, have we assessed all of these to be reasonable and rational or are they just figures given to us by a superior technological device that we follow blindly. So the question here is who are the 'Robots' us or the machines?
Don't for a moment get this wrong! To have such wonderful technology at our fingertips is indeed a privilege which without doubt can contribute in an immeasurable way to safety in the flight environment. It is how we apply and use it that is of importance.
Let's put it this way, should an engine fail, do we trust the machine to get us back on the ground safely or do we apply our skills, knowledge and training to command the machine to safety.
If the gyro instruments fail during instrument flight do we think the machine will save our bacon or will we have to pull everything out of our skills and competency bag to save the day on a limited panel?
It is astounding how many pilots head of into the wild blue yonder without even a map on board let alone a line drawn on one with at least a track having been manually plotted and a time calculated. What about plotting the position on the map and checking that the co-ordinates entered into the GPS are actually correct and that everything reasonably checks out. Is the GPS actually going to guide you to where you want to be? WHAT IS PLAN B if the GPS equipment fails or is unable to respond to satellite signals?
This begs the question, how good are your Navigational skills? Have you let them slide or have you never been taught properly how to navigate? Or are you just too lazy to bother and therefore allow a Global Positioning System do everything for you without any cross checking and thought.
Unfortunately many VFR pilots have learnt to trust the information given by fabulously advanced GPS Navigational equipment so much so that they will opt to follow it's commands into conditions where visibility and visual contact with the ground is lost resulting in a strong possibility of Controlled Flight Into Terrain - JUDAS SHEEP ! - have you heard of the Judas Sheep? - follow my leader - to a very bad place!
Now here's the thing:
With engines started and all systems go, the story goes that two pilots in a Cessna 421 carrying fare paying passengers enter the co-ordinates into the GPS for their destination. All Flight and fuel planning has been done electronically using the co-ordinates given to them by the ops manager. The destination is filled as ZZZZ in field 16 on the ATC Flight Plan with the co-ordinates shown in field 18 (other information) since the airfield is an unregistered one.
All is fine until on the descent there is no airfield to be found at the co-ordinates - nothing anywhere for miles and miles around.
They continue to circle randomly like two baboons in a sputnik whilst in orbit who know not to where they are bound.
A concerned passenger pops his head around the corner and questions what the problem might be.
With a glint of distrust and disapproval in his eye, the passenger tells them that the airfield is at a mine just West of Lichtenburg and that he would be able to navigate for them if they could get him to Lichtenburg. Now at lichtenburg and the passenger with his head stuck between the two pilots who are no longer in charge of navigation are now directed to the mine by the passenger.
What a slap in the face of general aviation is this?
How did this happen? Well, very simple, the coordinates entered by the pilots were wrong. The co-ordinates entered into the GPS were 25º 11' S - 25º 59' E instead of 26º 11' S - 25º 59' E. The co-ordinates used were copied from the ATC Flight Plan where the original mistake was made.
Ah Ha a slip of the eye and finger at some stage during the sequence of events and activities!!!
Only 1 digit out but one whole degree of latitude which is equivalent to 60 Nautical Miles!
Now if the pilots, in preparation to the flight had drawn a line on the map checking that all destination information was correct by deriving a track distance and time from the map and then proceeded to monitor their in flight progress over the ground accordingly, one would like to think that they would have detected that all was not well and that some action was needed. They didn't - they followed blindly!
The two pilots are still friends but watch each other more carefully now and do things slightly differently and more professionally.
Navigating accurately and well can be very satisfying and tends to cultivate a higher level of overall airmanship!!
There is nothing more satisfying than applying good traditional navigational skills during a flight. Watching the checkpoints turning up on time, knowing exactly where you are on the map all of time, anticipating and managing the next step ahead so that it bears good fruit.
By all means make best use of the GPS equipment to verify that you are indeed not about to inadvertently fall foul to airspace infringements or to cross check that you are on track and time. Make best use of all resources available to you but remember one thing and that is - you are ultimately in command.
If you are a student pilot insist on and cross question whether your instructor is giving you only the best training and a solid foundation regarding your navigational skills.
If you are already a pilot revisit and reflect on how you have been going about the way you navigate and change it!
There are some really good ways of brushing up on your basic Navigational skills that can form the basis of a fun exercise on your day off instead of punching empty holes in the sky!
In next month's article this will be discussed!
But in the meantime:
Let us by all means refrain from unthinkingly pressing 'go to' and heading off into the wilderness and then watching the information displayed on the GPS screen disappear in ever decreasingly sized squares into the blackness of the face of a failed piece of equipment and then not knowing where we are as we run out of fuel leaving Santjie White and the fine team at the S.A. Search and Rescue Organisation with the task of having to come and find you.
No matter where we are we are always being watched by the eyes of someone or something. Let these eyes not be the eyes of the Hyenas and Vultures as they track the glide path of this strange bird to its' touch down zone, licking their lips in anticipation of what culinary delights might lie within!
Until next time, please fly safely and enjoy!
The contents of this article was created to demonstrate a point and makes no reference to any person or actual situation. Technical details and information may not be accurate.
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