Hello!….& Effects of automation on military aviation capability

Greetings! My name is Mike Feltovic and I am a @USCG helicopter pilot by trade and currently studying Human Factors Engineering at @Tufts (Go Jumbos!). Very happy to be here… and happy to be discussing HFE topics with you over the coming months!

To open things we will be discussing how “automation” has impacted and evolved human-(aviation)machine-systems in military aviation over the last ~50 years. Let’s break up the large 50 year period into three smaller ones…”Early years”, “Pre-Vietnam era”, and “Current Day”.

Robert Mason elegantly describes the major evolution over the first two periods in his Vietnam aviation novel “Chickenhawk” (I highly recommend it if aviation interests you). In the “Early years”, Mason explains it was U.S. Army policy that helicopter pilots were limited to 2 hours of flight time per day (non-War time). This was due to the physically (and mentally) intensive motor skills required to safely operate the flight controls of early helicopters. There was no mechanical automation, and flying required pilots to constantly move/adjust the flight controls during the flight. This made the job extremely tiring!

Diagram 1___________Diagram2

Then came a rudimentary advancement in the “Pre-Vietnam era”: the mass development of “friction control” on helicopter flight control systems. Diagram 1 above shows a basic layout of helicopter flight controls, and note the “friction knob” on the collective control lever picture in Diagram 2. This knob allowed Vietnam era pilots to increase the friction on a particular flight control system… allowing the pilot to temporarily remove their hands from the controls (which would remain rigidly in place and not flop over like old models) in order to complete other tasks such as eating, resting, tuning a radio or nav system, or scratching an itch. With these advancements, the Army updated their policy and allowed pilots to fly longer missions … no more than 4 hours per day. That’s a 100% increase thanks to automation!

Mike with the Royal Canadian Air Force CH-149 Cormorant

Now, in our “Current Day”, engineers and designers have exploited automation to a degree which would be unfathomable to early pilots. In my experience flying Search and Rescue with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in the CH-149 Cormorant (a state-of-the-art helicopter complete with loads of computer/mechanical automation), RCAF policy limited us to 15 hours of continuous flight time when prosecuting life saving missions. And…the policy further stated if you made extensive use of automation during the flight operations, you could extend your crew day to 18 hours of flight time. 18 hours! That’s a big difference from the original 2 hour Army limit in the “Early Days” when no automation existed!

Automation in military (and civilian) aviation has come a long, long way as you can see. However, with all the benefits of automation come obvious drawbacks. I hope we can discuss that soon so stay tuned!


2 thoughts on “Hello!….& Effects of automation on military aviation capability

  1. Nice to meet you Mike. That was a learning experience to see how much pilot capability has been augmented by helicopter technology. Makes me wonder how large of a crew would be required to fly a helicopter for 18 consecutive hours, must be at least 3. Do you think they have controlled rest or bunks?

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