Monday, 22 July 2013

Children of the Magenta

Children of the Magenta is a term used to describe pilots overly reliant on automation rather than trusting their own skills in flying an aircraft. This video from an American Airlines training session, where the term "children of the magenta" was coined - due to the colour of the flight director bug or icon - is essential viewing not just for pilots but for anyone involved in driving, managing or building systems of any kind:

In particular I want to present the bullet points from one slide and then address another aspect regarding levels of automation:

Automation Dependency
  • The pilot flying should remain as 'one' with the aircraft in any low altitude maneuvering environment with the autopilot engaged
  • To maintain situational awareness of both aircraft performance and flight path.
  • The autopilot and autothrottles have limitations which affect performance
  • Crews are returning to the autopilot in an attempt to resolve a deteriorating situation
  • Autopilot and Autothrottles, however good, cannot recover the aircraft from a critical flight attitude

If we consider what we do in software engineering, and especially in areas where there are strong privacy and security aspects such as any form of web and database development, do we end up relying upon our skills and technique or do we blindly follow process and procedure? Do we blindly follow waterfall or agile processes to their logical conclusion and attempt to beat that deadline and deliver something knowing that the quality of the delivered product is deteriorating. Do we allow our processes to become our overly trusted autopilots?

Finally three levels of automation were presented: low, medium, high. The lowest corresponds to hand flying, the medium to using the autopilot to guide the plane and the highest using the flight management computer to run everything.

I want to discuss these in a later post, but for now I'll leave it as an exercise to map these level to how we act in a given software engineer project.

Probably the biggest takeaway from this lesson in aviation when applied to any aspect of software engineering is:
If you are losing control of any aspect of project then the process won't correct it; only you as a software engineer will - if you take control.
And that applies to any aspect of the system: functionality, performance, security, privacy etc etc etc...


Anonymous said...

i was told of this video from a friend of mine, he's a flight instructor at ht e same airline i'm flying...
too bad american took it away from this page.
i think that the author's rights should be put away this time, you know? it's not a "better profit" or "more money gainer" kind of video, is a life saver one.
it should be a public video, to get safer skyes, don;t you think so?
best regards, francisco

Ian Oliver said...

Very sad, but I'm sure that someone has it somewhere on YouTube or elsewhere if you go looking.

Pity because there are plenty of lessons in there, not just for aviation but for all users of technology and automation.

But, copyright trumps education :(

DavidPW said...

It's on YouTube. We watched this in ground school for the Embraer 175-- a plane so automated, it turns your windshield wipers off for you :) Great bird, but never, ever forget who the pilot is.