The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Head in the clouds

Shocked by the way intuition had abandoned him, Crane began to ask questions. For years he got no intelligent answers. Veterans of the military and the airmail service still insisted they could fly "by the seat of the pants," and they thought less of those who could not. Their self-deception now seems all the more profound because the solution to the problem of flying in clouds and darkness—a gyroscope adapted to flying—was already widely available.

One of the earliest cloud flights with a turn indicator was made by William Ocker, an Army pilot, in 1918. Though he, too, spiraled out of overcast, he concluded correctly that his mistake had been to favor sensation over the instrument's indications. During the 1920s a few Post Office pilots began to fly by instruments. When Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, in 1927, a turn indicator kept him from spiraling into the sea when he met fog. Two years later Jimmy Doolittle made a "blind" landing, after flying a complete circuit around an airport in a special biplane modified with a domed cockpit from which he could not see outside. … More significant were the special devices that made the precisely flown circuit possible. The airplane was equipped with navigational radios, an airspeed indicator, an improved altimeter, a turn indicator, and two new gyroscopic instruments from Elmer Sperry—a gyroscopic compass and an artificial horizon. This combination was so effective that it still forms the core of instrument panels today. Doolittle compared the artificial horizon to cutting a porthole through the fog to look at the real horizon. Devising technology was the easy part. The more stubborn problem of belief remained. As late as 1930 one of the airlines wrote to Sperry complaining about a mysterious problem: the instruments worked fine in clear air, but as soon as they were taken into clouds, they began to indicate turns.

The Turn - 93.12

It's a rare piece of writing that causes an intense bout of self-introspection, but given my past views on the whole “crutch vs. tools” debate, this might be the one thing to possibly change my views.

Or at lest temper them a bit.

My problem with technology like GPS has been the blind trust in the technology, but here is an article about people that have to have blind trust in the technology when in the clouds least they die a horrible and (I assume) painful death. It's also about how our “intuition” can lead us astray. Granted, we don't have thousands of years of expience to guide evolution in honing our “intuition” for flying, which is why our “intuition” leads us astray when flying, and thus, we have to augment our “intuition,” as well as our senses, with tools.

So we can fly.

Safely.

When we can't see.

Because our heads are in the clouds.

Hmm.

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