How did flying go from an art to a science?

Why do doctors and lawyers practice their professions as an art, while pilots treat flying as a science? Is the comparison even appropriate? For several years I have been working on a book showing how flying changed from a dangerous art, to a very safe science. On this blog I will be posting excerpts from the book as it progresses. My goal is to entertain, and to get comments, corrections, and criticisms.

100 years ago, pilots (men and women) learned to fly by doing it. If they survived the learning process, they got good. Now, computers do most of the flying. Human pilots manage the computers, and communicate with other aircraft and with the ground, but they do very little direct hands-on flying. How did this situation come about? Is it an appropriate model for other industries, or are there unique circumstances for aviation that make it different?
My first excerpt looks at the origins of the Aviation Checklist, which is advocated by famous surgeon Atul Gawande and others. This style of flying was a re-invention of what engineer Frederick Taylor had done for manufacturing about 40 years earlier. In both, the idea was that some ways of flying/manufacturing were best. The best methods could be found, and taught to everyone.

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2 thoughts on “How did flying go from an art to a science?

  1. Interesting Roger. I’ve been doing some reading and thinking about arts versus sciences in regards to sustainability so I look forward to following this.

  2. Provocative topic! There is an envelope of repeatability, and I suggest that that is key. In airplanes, we’ve expanded that envelope through design and understanding to include almost every circumstance a plane in flight might encounter. Our envelope of repeatability in medicine is much smaller (and the consequences can be more immediate and irreversible), so, I contend, it would be worthwhile to systematically work on measuring and expanding repeatability in medicine to be able to engage a much more robust auto-doctor. PS: If, in airplane flight, all circumstances could be repeatable, then pilots would be unnecessary. Even today, why do we insist that the pilot be in the airplane, especially considering the panic and attendant error in judgment induced by the forces on the in situ pilot during an emergency.?)

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