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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Busted Aviation Myths #2: Otto is My Copilot

Otto is my Copilot

“That’s a pretty hi tech autopilot ya got there!  I mean, those things practically fly themselves, right?!”

Uh, only if you call the cruise control in your car the Designated Driver.

Otto's 2D 1st Cousin
Autopilots are extremely sophisticated.  They can fly from here to TOM (Timbuktu) with uncanny precision, nailing every waypoint within seconds of the programmed time, inches of the programmed altitude, and even land in zero/zero visibility.
Just like a robot vacuum cleaner, which you can program to traverse every inch of your carpet. But don't dare move the furniture!
The real McCoy: the A320 FCU
(Flight Control Unit)
Photo courtesy of b.heidema's photostream at

Same with Otto.  For all its bells and whistles, the most sophisticated autopilot in the world doesn't know when to push back from the gate.  Or start the engines.  Order more fuel when the weather's looking iffy.  Or even how to miss another plane, building or thunderstorm.
Can your cruise control decide when to stop for a yellow light?
The autopilot is a computer.  A tool.  It does what you tell it to do, nothing more.
It processes, but it doesn't think.

Corollary Myth: 
Oh, and that whole Myth about highly automated cockpits degrading the pilots' ability to fly?
Again, another Q:  does your car's cruise control degrade your driving skills?
Thought not.

Captain Arrogant D'bag--er, Alec Baldwin!

(reader-submitted): "While I think Alec Baldwin was an arrogant d’bag for rudely disobeying a flight attendant’s orders to shut his phone off*, I kinda agree that, c’mon, it’s not gonna bring down the plane, right?!"

MYTH BUST (sorta):

No, your single iPhone, Kindle or PSP will (probably) not affect your flight.  But just think about 100 passengers all playing Words With Friends on their phones inflight.  And while you may be operating your Razor in “Airplane mode,” the guy next to you may have forgotten to shut his off.
Modern aircraft have sensitive electronic systems located throughout the plane, including (but not limited to) GPS, inertial guidance, VOR/DME/ILS, and other navigation and communication devices.   While there certainly is some shielding from electronic interference, there simply has not been enough testing of each plane under every condition.  Therefore, to err on the side of safety, the FAA has issued a blanket restriction on electronic devices during critical phases of flight (ie, below 10,000 feet.)

Take heart, though: if you don’t like today’s rule, just like the weather, it’s guaranteed to change!  As for the inflight phones and other electronic entertainment systems on your aircraft, they have been tested for that particular aircraft.
And please, be civil and obey the flight attendants' wishes in these matters.  Their job is to enforce the rules, not make them!  And if they were to let you slide, they themselves could be fined!

Personally, I have been flying during the final game of the World Series and noticed significant nav anomalies, as passengers secretly listened to their AM radios.  I had to make several PA’s and finally threatened to divert and arrest the perps to get the interference to stop!  (As a compromise, ATC relayed scores to us, which we passed onto the pax!)
Sorta Busted!

Girl, don't touch that dial!

(reader-submitted): "I've been wondering, can a guy really sneak up through the landing gear and into the cabin like they always do in Hollywood movies?" - Bon
Grrr, Hollywood make Cap'n very angry!   No, no, no, no, NO!  You simply can't do half the shenanigans Hollywood whips up to bedazzle and anesthetize with their opiate of the masses!  (Sorry, but when it comes to Cap'n's "willing suspension of disbelief," during airplane scenes, Hollywood's on a very short leash!)

If one were moronic enough to crawl up into the gear well of a departing airplane (and it's certainly been done several times**,) if the gear don't crush you when it's retracted, the prolonged cruise in subzero temps at umpteen thousand feet (read: NO OXYGEN) will!

"Owl Be Back!  After knifing my way through the cabin floor, crawling down the still-extended landing gear, and gently dropping to a convenient swamp only a few yards below the plane while it's taking off..."
What's more, the cabin of a modern airliner, as mentioned in our last myth-busting blog, is a near-hermetically sealed pressurized metal tube.  Once L1 is locked (front left boarding door), nothing short of Chuck Norris - whom we all know can do any damn thing he pleases - can get in our out.  Not even the Governator!***

*See Alec Baldwin Booted from American Airlines flight.

**Interesting Stowaway factoids: 

  • In 1928, 19 year-old Clarance Terhune became the first successful stowaway to cross the ocean when he snuck aboard the Graf Zepplin airship.
  • Our most recent landing gear stowaway tragedy that made headlines happened in Massachusetts in  November, 2010.
  • Miracles do happen: one guy, one time, actually survived!  (Cap'n still can't figure this one out!!)

***See more Hollywood airplane myths busted at

"The Girl, the Sold Watch, and Everything"
A Thailand Adventure!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "Oh, and that whole Myth about highly automated cockpits degrading the pilots' ability to fly?
    Again, another Q: does your car's cruise control degrade your driving skills?
    Thought not."

    This myth is only busted if you actually turn off all the automation once in a while and fly the plane, i.e. Airbus. I am once again reminded of AF447 lost NE of Brasil. As a somewhat newbie to the A320 (1 year) I find it essential to disengage the autopilot and autothrust just to ensure one does not become complacent with automation in order to retain basic flying skills.


    1. Good point, Ryan! I think we all know when we need a little refresher by "turning the magic off!"

      I do admit I tend to get a little lazy and let the auto thrust and such do all the work, lol! But, for the most part, I'm a big fan of letting the autopilot do the mundane work while I "take in the big picture and manage the flight."

  3. Hey Cappy........Back in the swing of things.......after vaca........??
    Hey that Otto....fella........he looks 'shady'........:)))

    Bottom line...Seems that no matter how "Automated".....anything may be........and excluding the "Drones"
    There will 'always' have to be a set of eyes....watching......whether flying/driving......or going to the potty in the middle of night....the 'trick' is to NOT make impact......ahead of schedule.....right??
    Was it last years World Series.........the final game......when you had to threaten to divert.........and arrest
    those who were listening to my St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series....
    thing about breaking rules......having the smarts to know the gray area......and not pushing it......when it comes to Aviation ........No gray area.....or maybe just ask......first.....
    just can't have everybody.....breaking the once....

    Cappy......your Bud......Otto......
    is he your First officer..........or is he your "OTTO"pilot.........get it....OMG........
    Take care now.........


  4. Ooh, "OTTO" pilot....VERY WITTY!! (Someone needs a refresher course in "Airplane!" The Movie!!!)

    No, it was several years ago...I think when my D'Backs won against the venerable Yanks!!

    I think we have a coupla centuries to go on this whole "artificial intelligence" thing--getting from "processing" to "thinking" that is... I hope it lasts till my retirement at least, lol!

  5. Soooooo we need to hold off....."artificial intell"....for another 2 or 3 years,
    till you retire........??!! not a problem......Ha......

    don't need refresher Cappy!!!!.......never saw the "movie" it all on my own.....:)))
    MissTWA on OTTO......that "Shady" character.

  6. Nice one Cappie!!!...Hollywood sure knows how to make a believer outta someone when it comes to the! Glad I was informed correctly. I sure wouldn't want to end up as minced meat, or gasping for air whilst turning into a human popsicle. Ick! Not that I was ever contemplating hiding out in the landing gear:)

    Otto-pilot is a little cutie...Hahahha! I'm thinking that the human touch will always have to be around when it comes to automation, and I must admit that I'm thankful there are humans (like you cappie) up in the front keeping a "look out". Now I am curious...has auto pilot ever failed on you?


  7. Hey Captain Eric!

    How was your trip? Great post once again! Gotta love the traveling public and their questions and comments right! :P

    There are pics out there of a person falling out of a landing gear I think as I've done some googling about 'stowaways' about a year ago. Interesting what some people would do to just get out of somewhere.
    By the way, I've got an (old) joke for you that I recently heard (in Dutch).

    Captain and FO sitting in the flight deck during cruise over Italy at cruise alt. with one of the FA's on the jumpseat. Captain looks at the FA and points at a long brown strip on the ground. 'You see that brown strip down there?' The FA responds 'Yeah, I do, what is it?'. Captain says 'It was an old airstrip during the Roman empire'. 'Really, whaow!' the FA responds... Both Captain and FO nodd... :P

    Take care!

    1. Haha! Reminds me of a similar story from years ago.

      Approaching PHX on our old arrival, we would fly right over top of Meteor Crater, a mile wide crater that had impacted 10's of thousands of years ago, and sits just south of Interstate 40. (The Apollo astronauts actually trained there.)

      Once, I pointed it out to our lead FA . After a pause, she said, "Wow, good thing it didn't hit the highway!"

    2. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      you're kidding, right?

  8. my lips.......
    TIME FOR A NEW POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Ok............Joke......if you heard it already.....Tough!!

    How many "Pilots"......does it take to screw in a light bulb???????????

    Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm me??......

    why Only ""ONE""............the world revolves aroung him.......

    OH Shit I crack myself up...........
    Ah........ Cappy why ain't you laughing.............Ughhhhh thats right ............your.....yooouuuuurrr........a pilot.....!!!.........MissTWA doing the backstroke.....;/

    To make's 2 "Dumb Blond" spend as you wish............

    Gotta go.........

  10. Hi Cappy et al....

    I've oft heard it said that the airliner of the future will be flown by a pilot and a dog - the OTTO-pilot will fly the plane and the pilot will monitor and the dog will bite the pilot if he attempts to touch any of the buttons!

    On the subject of phones in flight, I'm sure I've heard a pilot mention he can hear the interference through his headset - you know, the bippadip noise they create - you ever heard of this? If this is the case, then who knows what other effects it could have as phones looking for a cell will ramp up the signal power level to a high level to find one as I understand

    Glad you had a good adventure and are back in one piece!

    All the best!

    Dave from the UK

  11. I love how you can reduce the price from like 7,000 to 2,700 Bahts. I'm sure a local wouldn't pay even that much. There were places in Pattaya that had Chang beer for 50 Bahts. Felt like we were ripping them off...LOL.


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