Thursday, May 05, 2005

Scientific vindication of my curmudgeonry!

I can hardly stand to page through Flying Magazine anymore only because of the ads for flight schools. Half of them feature a First Officer looking down from the door a shiny new RJ, dorky hat and all, proclaiming that thanks to XYZ school he's a first officer at a regional only 9 months after flying for the first time! "The Airlines Are Hiring!" they shout (aka those regionals that pay sub-poverty wages). These ads are all designed to induce Shiny Jet Syndrome (SJS), a mysterious ailiment that induces normally sane people to fork over insane amounts of cash to sometimes shady flight schools in exchange for a promise to be a real-life (gasp) jet pilot at a real-life (gasp) airline sometime in the near future.

Lately, there've been a ton of ads proclaiming XYZ school's conversion to an "all-glass fleet!," typically Garmin 1000 or Avidyne Integra equipped airplanes. "Learn to fly on glass - just like in a regional jet!" goes the siren song. My concern is that, despite what these schools would like to tell SJS victims, there's a good chance that before reaching that RJ, the pilot is going to being doing a decent bit of instructing, freight flying, etc - and likely in something that features old-school instruments and avionics that haven't been updated since the 70's. So you take somebody whose entire flying career has been on an integrated glass cockpit, and throw them to the wolves in an old ratty airplane with instrumentation and avionics they've never used, and I have to think that safety is degraded.

Okay, so you can dismiss me as a curmudgeon, or a chest-thumper who thinks that because I did it old-school, everybody should...but now I have scientific backup from a study by USC. While it didn't specifically involve pilots, there are some strong correlations. They found that individuals that trained on simpler displays and then moved to more cluttered, complex displays learned much better than someone who trained on a complex display and then moved to a simple display. The scan patterns developed by those who trained on the simple displays transferred almost immediately to the complex displays, while the reverse did not hold true. This is pretty consistent with my experience: I had no trouble going from steam gauges to glass, but I found that going the other way (when I got rechecked in the Chieftain) takes considerably more effort - despite having originally learned on steam gauges.

If I was a flight school owner, I think I'd just equip some of my twin engine aircraft with glass panels & come up with an additional "bridge" course after the multi rating. Voila...I've attracted SJS-struck students, I'm letting them learn on steam gauges before moving to glass, and I've increased use of those spendy twins!


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