Back to the Future
I was learning to
fly in 1971. Back then at Prince
George, British Columbia, CP Air still
flew orange 737s in and out.
In winter, refuelling those jets in the
icy cold winds was one of the hardest
jobs a young fellow could have.
The flight school had a couple of Cessna
150s. The flying was all
right, but it took a while to preheat and
prepare an airplane for the days
lessons. For some reason, I
vividly remember that nobody used
headsets in aircraft in those days.
We had a speaker on the ceiling
and a hand-held microphone.
today are more than just a tool for a
pilot. Theyve become
somewhat of a status symbol. You
see the students around the airport all
carrying their little
lunchbags containing a
personal set. They make a
statement .... Im a
pilot. If theyre not
David Clark, theyre not cool.
however, as D.C. seemingly has lagged
behind in the ANC department.
Just as it
became a necessary item for a pilot to
own, the headset now has reached a new
status height and must be and ANC model.
I would be in the trenches with
those who still resist the new
technology, figuring that Ive flown
this long without them, why would I spend
that kind of money for a new
fad? However, it
turns out they are not a fad,
or they shouldnt be.
Id say theyre an absolute
necessity if you care about your comfort,
your sanity, and tinnitus, not to mention
your hearing capability. Old
pilots lament the fact they cant
hear as well as they once could, and
blame it on the high decibel levels in
the cockpit over time. Tinnitus is
also a problem though, something which so
far, medical science hasnt found a
cure for. It is a condition of
a ringing or roaring sound in
ones ears. I wonder if ANC
headsets had been around 25 years ago if
most of those problems would not exist
and immediate benefit of the ANC headset
for me is the relatively low noise level
once I turn it on. When your job
is climbing into a small, noisy airplane
every morning to fly for 6, 8 or
sometimes 10 hours, its always a
welcome relief when that
rumble magically disappears.
are a tiny example of the way technology
is changing aviation. Some of the changes
are slow and will be recalled only on
reflection at some period in time down
the road. The ATC system, although
way different from what it was back in
the 70s, seems to have
evolved more than suddenly
changed. Pilots roll with the
punches of change, absorbing the small
details over time, until one day we wake
up and say, Wow, this transponder
requirement, or this controlled airspace,
or this GPS approach stuff is really
different. None of it was
around when we did our training, just as
there were no headsets.
Nav Canada privatized the ATC system, and
is now in the process of transitioning to
employ more satellite technology much of
which most G.A. pilots probably
dont yet understand. The FAA
is attempting to download its role
in the U.S. while developing the next
generation air transportation system,
called NextGen. That will see
pilots requiring new equipment and
learning new procedures in the coming
this scenario? Youre
approaching an airport in your 172.
You push a button signalling a
satellite which broadcasts your intention
to only the aircraft in the vicinity of
10 miles (transponder equipped linked via
GPS). Your data head shows other
traffic, much like a TCAS, so you can
plan your approach, push the buttons that
broadcast your downwind, base and final
legs. Alarms will sound if
youre too close to traffic at your
altitude, minimizing the need to keep a
constant watch. All is
co-ordinated through GPS,
transponder-type equipment and satellites
which have yet to be invented.
Satellites could be monitoring your
position via the bar-code on the top of
your plane. Theres no
chatter on the radio, because
theres no human controller.
A computer will sequence you, based on
the information other aircraft transmit
through the satellite, and the intentions
you transmit to it.
panel, B747-400 cockpit.
Can this be
so far in the future?
Real-time weather is already available in
your cockpit. You can do your
banking, buy gas, check out a library
book, pay your credit card bills, obtain
a boarding pass for a flight, order a
meal, park your car, its all done
without talking to anyone. The
technology has been around for several
years. All this is rudimentary
compared with ATC in the year 2030, just
as using a hand-held microphone and
overhead speaker were 25 years ago.
the future, Ill be asking my yet
unborn grandchildren if they know what a
VOR is. Or an ADF, glidescope, ILS
or a stormscope. Even if
theyre pilots, they wont know
what Im talking about. Just
like Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Johnny
Cash and the Beatles, most of what we
have today will be unknown by the next
generation, and forgotten by ours.
One bit of advice about the headsets.
Always carry a spare. If
your main set lets you down, those
hand-held microphones and overhead
speakers arent there anymore for
backup. Youd feel pretty
dumb trying to remember the light