The Cockpit of the Future
by Ed Stephens Jr.
Private Pilot magazine, July, 2004
cockpit of the future will consist of one pilot and one dog. The pilotís
job is to feed the dog. And the dogís job? Itís to bite the pilot if he
tries to touch the controls.
Where you stand
on the automation issue depends on where you sit. Itís clearly a windfall
for private pilots; the golden age of technology has already created a
silver age for general aviation. Auto pilots, GPS, serious IFR gear, and
even glass panels donít even merit raised eyebrows anymore. What a
metamorphosis! Light planes used to be the jellyfish of the avionics
world, but a few years in the technology cocoon andĖprestoĖweíve got Cessna
182 cockpits that will put a Boeing 727 to shame.
So far, so good.
controversy brewing, especially at the heavy-iron end of the spectrum.
Cessna has succeeded in getting some Citations single-pilot certified, so
when will the bean-counters with airlines demand the same thing? I hear
rumors that Boeing is planning to cook up just such an offering as a
follow-up to the 7E7. Surprisingly, Airbus doesnít seem as inclined to
substitute capacitors for crews, at least publicly. Airbus spokesman
Barbara Kracht went on the record in March declaring ďthere will always be
two pilots on our planes."
Well, on the
record or not, it doesnít take much imagination to envision a no-pilot
airliner, let alone a single-pilot model. If ATC can issue voice
instruction to pilots, it sure as heck could orchestrate the show via a
datalink to the Flight Management System.
Recall the recent
success of those nifty little Predator drones over Afghanistan and Iraq.
And the rotary-realm has been invited to the pilotless party, too. I
recently eyeballed the Grumman Northrop RQ-8A, which is under development
for the Army and Navy. Itís basically a light observation helicopter with
no pilot. On one hand, itís a cute little copter. On the other hand, itís
kind of creepy, this copter with no windows. I used to think that being a
dual-rated (i.e. helicopter and airplane) pilot would assure me a place in
aviation, but it might mean Iím just twice as obsolete.
now thereís a thought. They canít train us to engineer the black boxes, all
those jobs will go to India, where their students were studying integral
calculus while our brethren were boning up on...uh, sociology. We canít
make the boxes, the Chinese will be doing that. ATC will be privatized and
outsourced to a single center in Manila. All that will remain in the U.S.
is a few airline CEOs flying on their pilotless planes to visit their
bankers in the Cayman Islands.
My pals and I
will be reduced to wandering the streets in roving gangs, leaving smoldering
ruins in our wake, pillaging, marauding, and savaging vestal maidens in some
twisted, Bacchanalian version of Road Warriors. Oh, wait a minute--that was
last weekend. Well, at least weíre preparing for our future, or lack
As for our future
and fledgling aviators, donít ignore the blessings of general aviation,
since a silver age is nothing to sneeze at. In pro ranks, maybe the flight
attendants have the most secure jobs. Perhaps Iíll lop a stripe or two off
my epaulettes and report for duty. Let me see if I have this right: If the
plane goes into an inverted death spin, simply bust down the cockpit door
and hit the ALT, CTRL, and DELETE keys simultaneously.
And if the
plane doesnít go inverted, then serve a cup of coffee to each
passenger...and a bowl of Alpo to the captain.
2004 Ed Stephens Jr.