Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The Third Force
Simulators can't simulate real catastrophic stalls. Think about it.
FLT 447 BACKGROUND. This is going to be a messy, meandering post, but I trust you to burrow down to the gist. I had another of my "serendicity" events yesterday. My wife was not well and sleeping because sleep is medicine, and so I postponed my posting plans and went exploring On-Demand instead. The first thing I found was on one of my new favorites, the Smithsonian Channel, and it was the story of Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009. The Airbus never made it to Paris. Somewhere over the South Atlantic it disappeared. The Nova documentary whose final act is shown above attempts to piece together what happened to that flight. Evidence suggests that the crew was so mesmerized by state-of-the-art automation that it actually forgot how to fly an aeroplane (I've always loved that archaic word, which fits here.) They failed to recognize an incipient stall situation, which every cloth-winged barnstormer of the 1920s knew was the first rule of not dying in an aircraft, and when the stall occurred, they were too late in taking the elementary step (second rule of not dying in an aircraft) of initiating a shallow power-on dive that would restore the necessary airflow over the wings. Result? Everyone died.
My dad -- yeah, I've been thinking of him lately -- did a lot of international air travel in the late 1950s and 1960s. As a former fighter pilot, he was convinced he'd used up all his luck. So he was mighty particular about who he allowed to fly him. He had an ironclad rule about airlines: American, British, or German. Their pilots had war experience. They had seen the worst situations that can happen. They knew what to do when the shit hit the fan. Air France was the last airline he would ever fly. Pilots are superstitious and they pay attention to anecdotal evidence. He had a friend who was a BOAC pilot and RAF veteran who was taking a courtesy flight on Air France when the Air France captain came back to welcome him aboard, sat down, and had a drink with him. Wild horses couldn't have gotten my father on board an Air France flight. Ever.
My wife is actually a fan of Airbus because she's so suspicious of McDonnell Douglass and shares my own trepidations about the Lockheed L-1011. Not a Boeing fan, either, but I think that's an understandable objection to monopolies. I, however, have always detested Airbus. It's a multinational, government-subsidized monopoly of its own, and I hate the name. Airplanes are not buses. You don't hire Ralph Kramden to fly them. Except that's what Air France apparently did. Pilots who really don't know the two most important rules about flying and therefore get themselves and everyone in their charge killed. With an abundant assist from too much wrongheaded automation. I don't like grammar checkers, which are almost always wrong even though they're included in so-called state-of-the-art word processors. And I suspect that Airbus's advanced automated flying systems are no better than grammar checkers. Which is to say they are no replacement for pilots.
Serendicity? Here's the next thing I saw On-Demand.
No way I have the guts or the sheer crazy of this kid, but it still rings a bell with me and my youth. And probably with a lot of you and yours. I had a friend who mixed with me like nitro does with glycerine, and we raised hell in every way possible that involved moving things and risk. Cars, motorcycles, trucks, tractors, motorboats, sailboats, airboats, steamboats, and even pistols, but mostly cars, cars, cars, and more cars. If our parents had known what we were really up to, they'd have spared themselves the worry and killed us outright. We were completely out of control. We once flipped an XKE Jag so completely that we were able to do our own forensic research after the fact and discover that it had traveled 20 feet upside down in midair (convertible!) before landing safely on all four wheels with both of us intact.
So I got to thinking about these two On-Demand programs. Where my idea of the Third Force comes in. Isn't Flight 447 the new government model? The smart ones can automate everything to eliminate all the risk from our lives except the danger of idiots who no longer have any experience of risk or knowledge of what to do when the shit hits the fan?
But where do pilots come from, meaning the ones who can land that plane safely on the Hudson when all the odds say it can't be done because it never has been done. It comes from the risk takers who are braver or crazier than we are, meaning superior to us or at least different from us in important ways, and there has to be a realm where they can develop the talents the rest of us need from them. Which isn't in a world without apparent risk.
That's what the free enterprise system really is. A place where those people can experience risk and bring back the lessons of risk to the rest of us. The costs and the rewards. Both of which can and should be huge.
Note that I haven't even mentioned politics. The first two "forces" implied by the title are the left and the right of the political advocates battling for control of the government. What is the Third Force? No, it's not the Tea Party or the Internet or the Occupy Whatever movement. They all belong to the first two forces.
The Third Force is those of us who know that living life is about accepting risk and confronting it pro-actively, not as passive tools of policy and technology but as warriors of vitality. You are one of those warriors or you have cheered them -- the 8-year-old junior bull riders, the high school football teams, the unlikely restauranteur who becomes a franchise, the "homeless to Harvard" story, the "Defiance Ohio" mom, the blind cook on Master Chef, the guy without legs who climbed Kilimanjaro, and the everyday dads and moms who fight their way out of deprivation to send their kids on to good schools and rewarding careers.
Completely apart from politics, this is the force that needs to be heard from in this election season. People willing to stand up and say, "We do not need more government and its handouts to make our lives rewarding. All we need is less of the Global Warming that comes exclusively from government Hot Air."
Find a way for the Third Force to get its message across and we won't need Romney to make the case for Big Government Lite.