Cockpit automation: Difference Engine: Crash program?


ONE day in the not too distant future, so the hoary old story goes, airliners will have only two crew members on the flight deck—a pilot and a dog. The pilot’s job will be to feed the dog. The dog’s job will be to bite the pilot if he touches the controls. Despite all the talk about drone-like autonomous passenger planes, cockpit automation is nowhere near capable enough to manage without human pilots on the flight deck. It is doubtful whether the technology—at least, as it is currently configured—will ever let that happen.

In theory, modern passenger planes fitted with the latest cockpit automation can fly themselves from take-off to landing. In

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