Well, much as I anticipated in my most recent post (almost six months ago!), my transition training to the ERJ distracted me from writing. The good news is that the training went very well and I’ve been flying the aircraft now for several months. The ERJ is much more automated than the CRJ that I had been flying for approximately eight years. The automation is great when everything is working normally, as long as the pilots understand the logic that underlies its operation. Unfortunately that’s not always a given (normal operation or understanding the logic), and it’s really important to maintain constant situational awareness of both what the aircraft is currently doing and what it intends to do next.
This particular topic is really relevant to my plan for going to Mars because as a single crew member I will have to rely heavily on automated systems to manage my workload and provide a degree of safety that would otherwise be provided by the monitoring of another crew member. In my airline we’re taught that the protection provided by these automated systems is kind of a safety net as a last line of defense against error, not a replacement for the protection of following procedures and maintaining adequate vigilance. There’s a fragile balance between managing workload to maintain an optimal level of pilot engagement and automating crew duties to the point that crew members become complacent and disengaged from system operations. These are concerns that can be addressed by specific procedures and monitoring duties.
The other big time suck for me this summer (apart from work) was preparing for an archery elk hunt that I went on in the Uintah mountains of Utah. To a degree this may seem like a significant distraction from my preparations for going to Mars, but I believe that it aligns very closely with my goals. To scout my hunting area I spent several weekends backpacking 7-12 miles a day over rough terrain at approximately 10,000 feet elevation, generally in complete solitude. During the actual hunt I packed in approximately 7 miles with 40 pounds on my back and stayed for 3-5 days at a time, subsisting on dehydrated food. It many ways it was uncomfortable and miserable (the mosquitoes were unbearable!), but when my feet were sore and blistered and when I longed to have someone to share the beautiful views with I just reminded myself that these are the same concerns I’m going to deal with on Mars.
Those of you who are animal lovers can rest easy with the assurance that my hunt was unsuccessful with regard to shooting an elk. I was disappointed because I put a lot of time into preparing for the hunt, but I also really wanted to pack the meat out to prove to myself that I could. A mature male elk would have yielded approximately 200 pounds of meat, and it would have taken at least three round trips (7 miles each way) to pack it out. I’m a glutton for punishment, but as I told my daughter during a similar hunt a few years ago, we choose to do hard things so that we know we can handle hard things that are imposed on us. In spite of not shooting anything I still consider the hunt a success in terms of the experience gained and lessons learned. I was able to have some beautiful scenery all to myself, and actually saw quite a few elk and deer (just not close enough to shoot with my bow).
So with those major distractions in the rear view I can focus on the task at hand now! Having just returned from the Mars Society annual conference last weekend, I have a renewed sense of purpose and vision, but that’s a whole other post…