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Humans at Helm: Is Any Flight Safe?

Humans at Helm: Is Any Flight Safe?
27th September 2013 Kactus Pie Design

Cellphone videos and such have made images of airplane calamities fairly familiar, but often they are seen only as scary snippets on the news. The Smithsonian Channel went with an alarmist title, “Terror in the Skies,” for the series it begins on Sunday night, but the program serves up much more than just alarming videos of crashes, near crashes and in-flight chaos.

The series, as might be expected from a corporate cousin of the National Air and Space Museum, provides some serious context to the terrifying images of a pilot having an in-flight breakdown, planes being blown around like toys while trying to land in heavy wind, and worse.

The opening episode, “Pilot Error,” explores issues like pilot training, fatigue and how increased automation might leave pilots bored or distracted. Flight safety is all about certainty, but sometimes the person at the controls is the least certain thing in the equation. “We’ve seen equipment get ever more reliable over the years, engines, the design of air frames,” says Deborah A. P. Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, “but one of the factors that hasn’t changed is, we still have the same human being.”


By Neil Genzlinger
Published: 27th September 2013
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