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Do You Remember What Real Strawberries Taste Like?
By Radek Wyrzykowski
September 2017 - Early this summer, like every other year, I took my wife and our grandson to a local farm for fruit picking. As we do every year, we started with strawberries. Nice, red, impressive strawberries hanging low above the ground that looked ripe and delicious. And then the reality kicked in. After just one bite, I noticed a total absence of any real strawberry taste or smell. We promptly moved to a field full of blueberry bushes. The impressiveness was there, too. Dark berries, the size of small cherries, invited all guests to the area. Trying one of those, to my horror, I realized that they tasted almost the same as our previous pick. Grapes gave me the same experience.
Do you remember how real strawberries, blueberries, or grapes taste and smell? If you are my age, you probably do. I’ll never forget the side wall of my grandmother’s house in Warsaw, Poland, covered with grapes with their distinctive wine-like smell and flavor, or the basket of blueberries that would make your hands blue on the slightest touch. How have we managed to produce fruit that looks very nice but all tastes the same?
I am sure by now you are probably asking what in the world this has to do with aviation. It does, and let me explain why.
In recent years, walking around air shows — such as EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, SUN ’n FUN International Fly-In & Expo, and others — or reading aviation magazines, I have noticed one strange thing. Modern aircraft avionics, autopilots, primary flight displays, and multifunction displays spring to life all around us. We have ForeFlights and Garmins, but I have a strong feeling that just like the fruit I was talking about, they all “taste” the same. They all give us the same overload of information, using slightly different knobs and buttons. Personally, I am finding it harder to get excited by one in-cockpit screen versus another.
Don’t get me wrong. Those of you who have known me for a long time know that I am an aviation and technology geek. Although I could not always afford it all, I always wanted to have the latest and most modern gadgets available. But there was one aspect of it that is now disappearing very quickly: They were all different. For example, Garmin 430 GPS versus KLN 94 GPS each had an entirely different “flavor.” Do you remember those? Also, all the technology developed at that time was to support and assist our basic flying skills. You still had to input and interpret the data available on sometimes a very simple screen with just a digital course deviation indicator or some numbers. Walking around airports and looking into cockpits of different airplanes or flying them with my students would always give me, in those days, a different experience and flavor of the aviation.
In both the deadly Air France crash in 2009 and Colgan Air’s Flight 3407 near Buffalo, investigators concluded that dependence on automation is eroding pilot’s basic flying skills. In my opinion, again we are missing the point. What if we have never learned the “basic flying skills” in the first place?
Most flight school owners and managers insist on marketing and making available the newest and the greatest technology to their new students. Somehow, I can’t imagine a student pilot on his or her first solo cross-country looking out the window rather than watching a magenta line if it is available. And yet, situational awareness is the most important skill critical not only in visual aviation but also under instrument conditions. Then there is the feeling of the aerodynamics, speed, pitch, etc. Getting lost on a one-hour flight with five hours of fuel could be more beneficial to the student pilot than following a magenta line perfectly to his or her destination. I would know; I got lost as a student pilot a few times.
I am sorry to say, but as a society here in the United States, we tend to try to find immediate solutions rather than looking for the long-term objective. My prediction is that if we continue the current path in five to 10 years, any loss of automation will be met with a total lack of skill that was never acquired in the first place.
In my opinion, the solution is very straightforward but needs to be implemented right away to result in a positive outcome in the future. All private pilot training must be mandated on the most basic equipment. The same should apply to the instrument rating. And only then after successful completion of those, we could proceed to a different “high-tech” certification or endorsement as a separate skill to learn and implement.
I would love for someone here to agree or disagree with me. Let’s remember that only intelligent and substantive discussion can bring any progress in life. Lack of it only creates thousands of lonely voices never heard.