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Comment Re:High level? (Score 1) 94

I thought up to now we were relatively safe from hackers because they were all just mucking around with assembler and stuff. But now it turns out these guys have evolved and taken things to a whole new level by using the high level programming language C! That's totally unheard of, that kind of cutting edge technology was always thought to be beyond the abilities of malware programmers, all bets are off now!

Comment Re:Two minds about this (Score 3, Interesting) 68

"Gene drive" apparently means that these genes are passed on to almost all offspring instead of just 50% of them. Which would allow the genes to spread pretty much exponentially, if they can get it to work. Currently it seems to work really well when started in male mosquitoes, but not so well when started in females, so there's still some work to do.

Comment Re:It's even worse than that now. (Score 1) 366

First of all, you would need one of those scales at every runway, and at multiple intersections where planes line up for take-off. Then, pilots would have to do their calculations there and then, while the engines are running, wasting time and fuel. And of course every now and then one of the scales will inevitably break or become unreliable. Etcetera... Nope, ain't gonna happen.

I think I remember an airport once outfitted some of the parking positions with a scale, and they abandoned the project because it was too unreliable and broke all the time.

Comment Re:It's even worse than that now. (Score 1) 366

What kind of sensors do you propose that can measure weight with a 0.1% tolerance and withstand the harsh environment of an airplane? Temperatures between +50 and -70C, shocks on landing, water and ice,...

Fuel gauges are often off 2% or more, pressure sensors usually have two or maximum three significant digits, I don't think there's any sensor in any airplane that has a 0.1% tolerance.

Now, to catch gross errors, 1% would be more than enough. But I doubt even that is achievable with anything near to the required reliablity for aviation.

Comment Re:It's even worse than that now. (Score 1) 366

Reduced thrust take-offs have been normal procedure for decades now. They save a lot of fuel, make less noise and produce less wear on the engines so you can use them a lot longer with less maintenance. They also make engine failures less likely to occur: the last few engine failures in my company have been full thrust take-offs (which we rarely do anymore, only when required on short runways, heavy weight, high temperature,...).

It's even got to the point where we often take off with less than climb thrust, which is normally forbidden. Airbus got around that restriction by inventing two different climb settings, low level and high level climb. So you get the weird situation where, instead of the normal thrust reduction after take-off, you actually get an increase in thrust after flap retraction.

Comment Re:It's even worse than that now. (Score 1) 366

Neural networks in an airplane? Looking at the glacial pace of technological improvements in airplanes, that's quite a few decades away.

All airplane software has to conform to rigorous specifications and costs millions of dollars/euros to validate. We often wonder why airplane autopilots sometimes perform certain maneuvers less efficiently or smoothly than we would have, and usually it's because the specs say it has to do it exactly that way because otherwise in certain situations it might exceed certain limits. No room for something resembling common sense, it has to be proven safe.

So now imagine a neural network, where you just give it input and let it "learn" while nobody really knows what's going on inside, the best we can do is say it's sort of like how a brain works. Would they let something fuzzy like that control anything important inside the airplane? Probably not in my lifetime.

Comment Re:Data data everywhere and not a drop to think (Score 1) 366

Actually, every aircraft has fuel gauges, and they are normally pretty accurate. However, since any aircraft equipment can and does fail from time to time, including those fuel gauges, we do crosscheck with the amount of fuel delivered by the truck to make sure the gauge reading is correct. In some older planes, the figure calculated from the uplift is even considered to be more accurate than the gauges. But there's no such thing as a commercial plane that can't measure how much fuel it's carrying.

Comment Re:It's even worse than that now. (Score 5, Informative) 366

First of all, tail strikes on take-off are obviously the result of overrotation, but this usually happens because the pilot rotates at the wrong speed. You pull back, expecting the plane to leave the ground, but instead the plane remains on the ground while the nose keeps going up. Also, you may be running out of runway if the calculations were off, so you'll pull back regardless.

About the weight sensors: good idea, but this is aviation, where everything has to work reliably in pretty difficult environmental circumstances. Even something as simple as a proximity switch to determine whether or not the gear is down, fails from time to time. We often deal with incorrect tire pressure indications, temperature indications, etcetera. Measuring the weight of a plane with sufficient precision is quite a bit more complex than a simple tire pressure reading, so I can't see any manufacturer trusting that kind of system enough to let it determine take-off settings by itself. Maybe as an extra crosscheck for the data from the loadsheet, sure, but not as the primary source of information.

People always go "we should replace the pilots with automated systems because pilots make too many mistakes", but they have no idea how many mechanical failures we deal with as part of the routine of our job. We make mistakes, sure. But so does automation.

If you can't learn to do it well, learn to enjoy doing it badly.