Some flying still relies on personal skill

For some reason I take comfort in knowing that there are still aviation jobs that have a high degree of craft (art). According to this article, a lot of the training is by apprenticeship (copiloting), which was the only way to learn flying in the 1930s.

Most of my aviation research emphasizes how craft skills are becoming less important. And indeed there is also a lot of procedural science in mosquito spraying. But in a variety of high-variety, high-risk aviation, expertise is still key. Other examples are bush flying and low-altitude military flying.

Source: Expert Pilots Keep Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes in Check | Flying Magazine


Not your grandfather’s crop duster!

Death by GPS | Ars Technica

Why do we follow digital maps into dodgy places? Something is happening to us. Anyone who has driven a car through an unfamiliar place can attest to how easy it is to let GPS do all the work. We have come to depend on GPS, a technology that, in theory, makes it impossible to get lost. Not only are we still getting lost, we may actually be losing a part of ourselves. Source: Death by GPS | Ars Technica

As usual, aviation is way “ahead.” Use of automated navigation reduces pilots’ navigation skills; automated flight reduces hand-flying skills. Commercial aviation is starting to grapple with this, but there is no easy solution.

POMS talk: Aviation 1940 = Medicine 2005

B-17 Throttles

B-17 Throttles (Photo credit: rkbentley)

On Sunday I gave a capstone talk at the Production & Operations Society meeting in Denver.  I oriented my talk toward a comparison of health care now, with aviation’s transition to Standard Procedure Flying in the 1940s and 50s. BOHN POMS Standard procedure flying 2013e

As in medicine now, experienced expert flyers who did not use standard procedures were still better than newly trained pilots who did. And there was resistance to the changes. But aviation had a couple of advantages in making the transition: New pilots who did not learn SPF died quickly, usually in accidents. And the old experts got rotated out of combat positions (United States Army Air Force), or eventually got shot down no matter how good they were. (Germany)

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From Art to Science: what it means

Most of my research right now is about the evolution of technologies. They go from crafts, requiring skilled experts, to “engineering science,” i.e. mostly automated and very precise. For example, firearms manufacturing took 200 years to undergo this shift. Flying took about 100 years to go from the Wright Brothers, to autonomous aircraft (not just unmanned, but self-directed). How does this happen? Is it a good thing?

Here is a talk I gave on this topic. (Caution: 5 MB PDF file) The subtitle is Why old tasks get easier, but everything gets more complex.

Bohn knowledge evolution 2007

I’m working on a book on this subject, which does side-by-side comparisons of:

  • Flying
  • Medical care – several kinds
  • Firearms manufacturing (from Napoleon to 1980)
  • Semiconductor manufacturing

Each of them has undergone major transformations, with similar patterns.