Autonomous ucar
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I’m sure you have seen the ad on TV where the driver is moving along in the pickup, a soundtrack with a clapping beat playing. Then there’s a close-up of his hands coming off the steering wheel as they begin to clap, keeping time with the soundtrack, as he turns over control of the vehicle to the truck’s computer.

Wow, I want a truck like that, so I can drive hands free… NOT! You also see the truck out on a single lane desert road with no other traffic and no side roads with entering traffic. Just your average driving conditions? I don’t think so.

Autonomous ucar

Is this the future of cars? If so, who’s driving?

Here is the auto industry hyping the latest and greatest technological advance. I have to ask, for what purpose? Is this so you can spend more time texting or doing something else to distract you from driving and controlling your multi-ton vehicle at speed?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of advanced technology, when it makes sense. There is a “smart” refrigerator in our kitchen that will tell me the inside temperature of the main compartment and freezer, and remind me when it is time to change the water filter. My phone GPS and the one in my airplane will help get to where I want to go without getting too lost. My iPhone is really my office away from home and I use it on a regular basis, except when I am driving.

My driving, or should I say my auto-rodeo driving on that local busy four-lane highway, requires my full attention—all the time. Contrary to popular opinion, your turn signal does not protect you from being hit by the driver you just cut off with your multi-lane cross-over. When I’m driving, my full attention is outside the truck employing two major aeronautical concepts: situational awareness (SA), and aeronautical decision making (ADM). There is no doubt my flying has made me a better driver.

ADM could also be called automobile decision making. I am constantly looking ahead and trying to figure out what the yahoos in front of me are going to do. There are certain spots on our local roads where you can expect to see some unusual maneuvers. You know where they are. They are often associated with red and blue flashing lights and a wrecker or two.

An often-quoted statistic is that it is more dangerous driving to the airport than flying in a plane. It is true (at least for airline flights) for a number of reasons. For a start, there are more hazards on the way to the airport you don’t have control of than there are when flying your own airplane once you are there.

My aircraft is old but it’s in great condition and has updated equipment that makes it safer to fly. I have a state-of-the-art transponder that broadcasts my position, speed, altitude, and identification information to air traffic control. I have a good radio that receives and broadcasts my transmissions clearly and I have Bose noise-cancelling headsets, which make it easier to hear the transmission of air traffic control, weather reports, and other pilots in the area. I have a GPS that will provide me navigation support and let me access almost anything I need to know to continue on a safe flight. All these things are nice and helpful, and I would not enjoy flying as much if I did not have them. But there are two essential elements I can’t do without, and if they are not working, I’m not flying.

TAWS screen

The technology is amazing, but you’re still PIC.

First is situational awareness, which is my ability to be aware of what is happening in the airspace I’m flying in. I am monitoring weather, winds, other aircraft, the systems of my aircraft, and thinking about if something goes wrong what I am going to do about it. These are things I’m paying attention to while employing the second most important safety element, aeronautical decision making. With all the things I have been monitoring and comparing to why I’m in the air for that flight, what prudent decisions do I need to make?

Do I need to stop earlier for fuel since I have had a strong headwind and I have not gone as far as planned and used more fuel? The cloud cover ahead of me looks like it is building; do I need to push it into marginal weather? I’m feeling a bit off today; should I really fly or stay on the ground? These are disciplined decisions that could have significant consequences if not made correctly. Ultimately, your safety, either driving a car or flying an airplane, relies on your awareness of what is around you and the decisions you make based on what you observe.

I will not be rushing out to buy the truck with the hands-free driving option so I can clap along with the music. It does not seem to be a good match for the daily auto-rodeo on the local four-lane. So, how is your SA and ADM?

John Rousch
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4 replies
  1. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    In answer your question, “Who is in charge of your safety?” I have a simple reply, “ME!”

    Thanks for the great reminders of how to ‘fly (and drive) safe!’


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