Technology has made our job as pilots simpler, streamlined, and safer. With all the new GPS & autopilot technology that seems to come out every month, flying an airplane is getting easier every day (and when I say flying, I mean programming!). I can’t tell you the last time I actually used a VOR for navigation, other than a practice approach. The AIM even has guidance in it now allowing pilots to use the GPS overlay on a VOR or LOC approach instead of switching to the actual NavAid on the course needle (you have to WAAS in order to legally do this).
I hear the argument already. I am young (31) and used to all the different touchscreens because I have grown up with them. Tech is nothing new to me. It’s not that easy for everyone, I do understand. There is also the argument that all the tech causes pilots to not know how to fly the airplane, which is also valid. This is why I put an emphasis on hand flying in any kind of training I do.
For the sake of argument in this article, yes, I am young and I adapt to technology pretty easily. I’m not afraid to press buttons to figure out what they do, but I usually do it while sitting on the ground with a GPU hooked up (or I go look in the manual). And yes, all the autopilot ability has caused a decrease in base pilot skills. I actually encourage every customer I have to go get a tailwheel rating so that they can actually learn how to fly better. You don’t use a rudder much in a Cirrus compared to a Super Cub or a Citabria.
What I want to focus on for a few minutes is how to alleviate the frustration that comes with getting so wrapped up in the technology when it doesn’t do something that you want it to, or the wrong button gets pressed, then you end up somewhere you had no intention of being.
The biggest thing a pilot can do when it comes to technology is NEVER to get in a hurry. Good training is first and foremost, but, after that when flying without an instructor or even in recurrent training, SLOW DOWN and think through what you are doing and what you want the system to do. This will alleviate a ton of frustration.
It can be very easy in hot, turbulent weather to get tuned in to the GPS programming, trying to do five or six different things in the span of five or six seconds, before looking up and realizing that plane is 500 feet off altitude (without an autopilot) or you blew through the course you were supposed to be intercepting (with an autopilot).
What I teach is to slow down, whether or not you have an autopilot, and do one thing at a time. Once that item is done, look up at the instruments or the horizon, check on things, make sure the airplane is still flying properly, then do the next thing. Don’t try and do a bunch of things all at once or in a hurry. It will usually get you off course and off altitude, plus it distracts the pilot from his main job: Flying the airplane.
So, next time you want to do something on your GPS, pause, take a breath, think through what you want to do, then do one item at a time. The outcome will be less frustrating and you’ll keep flying where you want to go.