Are You A Child of the Magenta?

by Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman
Copyright 2021. All rights reserved!
Published online Midwest Flyer Magazine – February/March 2021

It has been said that Steve Job’s last words as he passed into his next life were, “OH WOW, OH WOW, OH WOW.” Could it be that he had a vision of what the next generation in technology was going to be?

We have had an explosion in avionics technology in recent years, and it has caused pilots to abandon their memories of procedures of the past.

I have always been a geek for technology. I have been a ham radio operator for close to 50 years, and owned and operated a radio shop for police, fire and business radios for several years.

When cell phones started to appear on the market, I brought cell phones to our county in southwest Wisconsin, even as primitive as they were at that time. In aviation, I have seen great advances as well, going from five-channel “super-homers” and autopilots with vacuum tubes weighing in at over 70 lbs, to the newest technology of Dynon navigation systems. What will the next generation of avionics bring?

Many of the technological advances start at the ham radio level, then transfer to commercial products such as cell phones, computers and avionics. Some of the technology currently used in aviation communications, for example, such as AM modulation, is far from state-of-the-art. Some years back, there was discussion about using FM modulation, which was the format that law enforcement was using at the time. This format never moved forward, and now digital voice communications have become state-of- the-art and are in wide use in both ham radio and public safety communications.

Imagine receiving your clearance digitally, and after reviewing it, acknowledge and copy it directly to your flight management system (FMS). Many of the larger airports now support digital ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service), and the airlines have a data system called ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System), which has been around since the late 1970s.

ACARS is a digital datalink system for transmission of short messages between aircraft and ground stations via air band radio or satellite. The protocol was designed by ARINC (Aeronautical Radio, Incorporated) and deployed in 1978, using the Telex format. 

Many of the high-end avionics systems in corporate aircraft have Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) and can already receive digital clearances and transfer them to their FMS. It is very true that we are making new technology breakthroughs at an accelerated pace, and what is state-of-the-art today, will not be state-of-the-art tomorrow.

I am a long way from state-of-the-art technology in my personal aircraft and may never get caught up with the cost of the high-end equipment now available. 

I could ask, “Are you a child of the magenta, having that magenta line as a reference representing the course you should fly?”

I could also ask, “Are you a real pilot or are you an appliance operator?”

In the early days of amateur radio, we built our own radios and talked to other ham radio operators around the world. I built numerous radios in the day and still have and use one from nearly 50 years ago.

As for the pilot of today, can you still fly a cross-country flight and make an approach in IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) and land with no magenta line or the use of an autopilot? Many of us possibly could not, as I have witnessed while instructing and giving Instrument Proficiency Checks (IPC).

Recently, one of my colleagues sent me a link to a YouTube video that someone posted of a training program developed by American Airlines entitled “Children of the Magenta Line.” See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ESJH1NLMLs

The video should be a must watch for pilots as it deals with the very issue that I have been emphasizing in my column on instrument flying.

The video emphasizes the levels of automation available in many of today’s aircraft. The presenter suggests that we have three levels of automation, and this could be disputed to a certain degree; however, after seeing these items while training pilots, I agree with all that was said.

I have mentioned in previous columns that my procedure for departure is not to use high levels of automation during periods of high workloads, such as during an instrument departure. Rather, I prioritize tasks and fly the airplane!

As pointed out, it is not necessary to always use the highest level of automation available when we are task saturated. Pilots always seem to make a task more difficult than it is. I teach this to my instrument students while training them for the rating.

As we progress in our initial training for the instrument rating, I add more levels of automation, so it is understood. As the training progresses, a famous phrase is noted in the video that I have heard many times: “What is it doing now,” referring to the automation and the autopilot. 

When was the last time an instructor blanked out your multifunction display (MFD) or reconfigured your primary flight display (PFD) to only display the basic instruments? No flight director…no horizontal situation indicator (HSI) – just a six-pack of instruments and a lone VOR/glideslope indicator.

Many of us will need to admit that we are lost without the magenta line and the guidance from our airplane’s automation. Don’t be embarrassed; get back with a flight instructor for the purpose of learning. A good flight instructor is one who will work with you to teach you something and hone your skills, not try to make you feel inferior or intimidate you. And don’t hesitate to ask questions or admit when you don’t understand something.

As we begin a new year in 2021, let us all do our part to keep safe, both from the illness of the virus that has plagued us, and diligently work to keep well trained and safe in our aircraft!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and the program manager of flight operations with the “Bonanza/Baron Pilot Training” organization. Kaufman conducts pilot clinics and specialized instruction throughout the U.S. in a variety of aircraft, which are equipped with a variety of avionics, although he is based in Lone Rock (KLNR) and Eagle River (KEGV), Wisconsin. Kaufman was named “FAA’s Safety Team Representative of the Year” for Wisconsin in 2008. Email questions to captmick@me.com or call 817-988-0174.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.

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