I’m a rather large aviation nerd in addition to being the gun nerd you’ve come to know and love. Basically anything mechanical floats my boat, but for some reason there’s nothing quite as sexy as human flight. As I was sitting on an Airbus A-320 on my way up to Portland and bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t on Boeing equipment (my preferred platform), it suddenly struck me that the reason I like Boeing better is the exact same reason that gun control makes no sense to me . . .
Airplanes crash. It’s a sad fact of life, but that’s what happens when you have a tin can hurtling through the sky that relies on absolute perfection to function properly — one single fault anywhere (in the equipment or the pilot) can quickly cascade into a “departure from controlled flight” to borrow the parlance.
Thankfully crashes are a spectacularly low probability event these days, but the heavy consequences and the weight the public puts on such events makes them the focus of the aircraft design process (something I’m always thankful for). When companies look to improve the reliability of the airframe it’s typically pilot error that they’re trying to reduce and for that there are two schools of thought.
The first is the obvious knee-jerk reaction to pilot error: take the pilot out of the picture as much as possible. Humans are idiots, therefore we should trust computers more. Airbus uses this concept in its designs, more or less giving control over to the computer rather than relying on the pilots.
This is fairly evident in the cockpit designs, where the direct interface for the pilots is a small joystick off to the side that feels like it was added more to comfort the pilots than actually control the plane. Everything about the flight from takeoff to landing can be controlled by the computers. And even when the pilots are “flying,” the flight computer will “correct” what it perceives as the pilot manhandling the airplane.
The second school of thought is Boeing’s approach which is to give the pilot as much information as possible and trusts him to make the right decision. The human brain is fantastic at pattern recognition, improvisation and decision making under extreme circumstances and handles loss of electrical systems quite well, much unlike its mechanical counterpart.
Boeing’s systems still give the pilot an idea of where the “flight envelope” is, but instead of correcting the pilot’s mistakes it simply increases the feedback on the controls in an “are you REALLY sure you want to do that?” manner. It still gives the pilot the ability to be an idiot, but allows for the pilot to override the computer in an emergency.
Which brings me back to my initial statement. The reason I like Boeing’s approach is the same reason I approve of concealed carry and civilian firearms ownership. And open source software and legalization of most drugs. It’s my belief that people can’t truly succeed when there are limits and rules that prevent them from reaching their potential.
We could already have had a replacement for the M-16 series of firearms if civilian machine gun ownership and manufacturing capabilities weren’t heavily regulated. And our streets would be safer if every law abiding citizen had their right to self defense recognized by the state.
Humans generally know the right from the wrong and make the right decisions more often than we give ourselves credit for. Placing restrictions on our ability to make those decisions only keeps us from succeeding.
That, and the whole bit about the skin being load bearing, but that’s another story for another day.