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The Engineer Who Stopped Airplanes From Flying Into Mountains

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  • Airplanes? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I think you mean "Aeroplanes".

  • And yet somehow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:13AM (#38939791)

    a low-tier banking executive makes more money than this man.

    • Re:And yet somehow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:16AM (#38939805)

      doesn't sound like he's really into it for the money

      that man is lucky -- he has a very long engineering career with a meaningful benefit to society

      • by MacTO (1161105)

        For the most part, I agree with you. Thing is though, he's not going to have as much in the bank should something happen and he can't work any more.

      • Re:And yet somehow (Score:5, Insightful)

        by geogob (569250) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:57AM (#38939979)

        I'm an engineer working in the field of aerospace instrumentation. I'm passionate about my job. For me, it's like playing a game and I can barely wait for the weekend to end to go back to work. In my team here, we're having a lot of fun and everyday gives us new challenges. Solving these challenges is quite exhilarating, probably just as it was for this engineer fight through the challenge of solving CFITs.

        But, in the end, we're still all in it for the money. We were just lucky enough to find a career and a job that we really happened to enjoy.

        I'm totally biased when I say this, but engineers are one of the profession that's grossly underpaid and under-regarded. Some investment make millions just by moving some virtual values - usually worthless - left and right on a computer screens, while engineers responsible for the success of projects worth in the multi-billion "real dollars" range, or indirectly responsible for countless lives, struggle to get decent salaries and usually don't even come close to 6 digit figures. What's even worse is that engineers carry a true responsibility for the success of their project. A personal responsibility. Bankers, when they fail because of their own greed, carry little responsibility as far as I know. Worse that could happen, is that they lose their job when the company goes down. That's nothing compared to what engineers have to face personally when they fail like that.

        • Re:And yet somehow (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Kell Bengal (711123) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:43AM (#38940093)
          Damn right. And until society learns to value real productivity and demand that its engineers be paid what they're worth to society, nothing will change.

          I will also admit to bias - I'm also an engineering researcher (coincidentally, also specialising in aerial systems). And I love my job... but I think that might be part of the problem. If engineering wasn't as fun and creative and fulfilling, nobody would do it for what's being paid. It seems to me that perhaps if we weren't willling to do it for the love of it, maybe we would get paid more... but then someone else would just step right in. Again, I think that unless society is prepared to paid for less-stressed and more productive engineers, we're stuck.
          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @08:39AM (#38940653)

            Engineers are one of the highest paid professions in our society. Other than actuary you won't find a profession that pays higher with a 4 year. Starting salaries? What profession tops the list everytime? Engineering. If you want to come out of a 4 year program making the most money, it's engineering. And it's been that way for decades.

            The trouble is that everyone here is comparing their salaires to Wall Street types - who are outliers when it comes to compensation. I have met a local investment banker here in Atlanta (at Suntrust) who shakes his head about Wall Street bankers - he says they're another "World".

            • Sir,

                  Our economy is increasingly winner-take-all.
              Entertainment: mass media raises a few stars as superstars, most of the profession starves. Once upon a time, local entertainment could provide a living. Now all those local entertainers have to compete with superstars on TV. They can't.

              Big company management: with fewer, bigger, companies, very few people ever get a chance to be a CEO-type. A few winner superstars, and then everyone else.

              Sports: same story as entertainment.

              Bankers: apparently concentrated in Wall Street!

              What used to be distributed markets supporting many are now global markets supporting a few superstars, opportunity for most has dried up.

              This is big shift in our economy and society, and I don't think we've really adapted well. Unless we want a society of 99% losers and 1% superstars, we're going to have to do SOMETHING. We could do something about it ourselves: just shun mass entertainment and the superstars and support the locals instead. Don't buy in big-box stores. Try not to buy stuff from SuperCorps. But all that may not be enough, and we'll have a bald choice between Government income-levelling or serfdom for most.

              -PeterM

        • by u38cg (607297)
          The job of the financial system is to allocate capital efficiently. If it doesn't do that, none of your multi-million dollar projects would ever see the light of day. Yes, there's plenty wrong with the system, but to misrepresent it as "moving virtual worthless values around" is just complete rubbish.
        • by brucmack (572780)

          This may be somewhat cultural... My experiences here in northern Europe are that engineers are respected and paid accordingly.

          Based on what I read on /. and other tech sites, it seems that the US in general has neglected the sciences for the last few decades, which may explain the status of the engineering profession.

        • Re:And yet somehow (Score:5, Interesting)

          by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday February 06, 2012 @10:25AM (#38941371) Homepage Journal

          I'm totally biased when I say this, but engineers are one of the profession that's grossly underpaid and under-regarded. Some investment make millions just by moving some virtual values - usually worthless - left and right on a computer screens, while engineers responsible for the success of projects worth in the multi-billion "real dollars" range, or indirectly responsible for countless lives, struggle to get decent salaries and usually don't even come close to 6 digit figures.

          I think you're comparing averages to outliers.

          An analogous comparison would be to look at drama majors and assume they all make crazy money because A-list Hollywood actors are millionaires. There are large numbers of people who study finance and business -- and are good at it -- but who don't have the particular breed of genius mixed with insanity required to succeed in Wall Street, which is the pinnacle of that career field.

          In my field, software, there are plenty of millionaire engineers, and a few billionaires. They made their money as much by luck, being in the right place at the right time with the right ideas, as by skill and hard work, but that's also true of the Wall Street types. Oh, and the software "outliers" have orders of magnitude more money than the Wall Street types.

          Further, those millionaire investment bankers don't make money by just taking a nice, safe and predictable salary... their compensation is almost entirely performance-based, and the nature of their business is that performing well requires taking risks. If those risks don't pan out, they get very little and lose their jobs. Lots of people go that route and wash out, but we don't hear about them. The analogous sort in the software field is the guys who spend their careers in Silicon Valley, hopping from startup to startup, working insane hours for peanuts plus worthless stock, hoping that this time the stock becomes valuable. I don't know what the analogous risk-taking, shoot-for-the-moon career path looks like in, say, aviation engineering, but working for Boeing isn't it.

          I think there are plenty of opportunities for engineers to make huge money by taking big risks. There are also plenty of opportunities for engineers to make a decent living working 40-50 hours per week, doing what they like, with a paycheck that shows up like clockwork. It's also important to keep in mind that the lower stress of the steady paycheck is also a form of compensation, and not a trivial one. It's huge if you want to have a family and to be involved in your kids' lives, for example.

      • Re:And yet somehow (Score:4, Insightful)

        by The Evil Atheist (2484676) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:23AM (#38940035) Homepage
        That's what rich people tell themselves to allow themselves to sleep at night, and tell you to keep you where you belong. Libertarians talk about how the market will solve everything, but the market shows time and time again that it does not value the correct jobs. Don may not be in it for the money, but by all rights he should get more money as a matter of principle.
        • Libertarians talk about how the market will solve everything, but the market shows time and time again that it does not value the correct jobs.

          Of course, which job is the 'correct' one varies with the speaker.

          Don may not be in it for the money, but by all rights he should get more money as a matter of principle.

          Why? He's just one of anything from dozens to hundreds or more people on the project. The linked article hews to the "lone heroic engineer" myth... But you don't build a product like that and get

        • by trout007 (975317)

          Since when did we have a free market? The only reason the financial industry makes the money they do is because they literally make the money. If we had hard money and 100% reserve banking they wouldn't be able to make money and would have to earn money.

      • If you are a true engineer/software guy, these are the kinds of applications you dream of doing and the reason you get into the field.

        There is no comparing something like this, that directly affects people's lives in a good way, with some hack to decode DVDs or run Linux on some device, etc.

    • Re:And yet somehow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:18AM (#38939809)

      There are larger rewards in life than money

      • by Waccoon (1186667)

        Like a budget increase, so you can do your job more effectively.

    • Re:And yet somehow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by X.25 (255792) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:52AM (#38939963)

      a low-tier banking executive makes more money than this man.

      Well, look at the "Forbes 400 list" of richest Americans, and see how many of 20 richest actually produce a physical product.

      And that's why system is about to collapse.

      • by khallow (566160)
        Hmmm, not sure what point you're trying to make here. I count at least five in the top ten. And another nine in the next ten. Of course, I consider software (eg, Microsoft and Oracle) or service (eg, all those "Walmart" heirs) just as much a physical product as "candy".
  • by jholyhead (2505574) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:14AM (#38939795)
    It's nice to see real Engineers getting a bit of recognition for a change.

    Scary fact of the day from the CFIT wiki article - as of 2007, 5% of commercial airlines still weren't running a Terrain awareness and warning system.
  • by evilad (87480)

    CFIT is nowhere near the leading cause of fatal accidents in general aviation.
    http://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=13103&omniRss=fact_sheetsAoc&cid=103_F_S [faa.gov]

    It's pretty hard to find statistics for combined civil aviation, please post a link if you can find one.

    • by robbak (775424) on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:37AM (#38939905) Homepage

      Correction: cfit is no longer the leading cause. Terrain warning systems make then almost impossible, which is the point of this article.

      • Air New Zealand DC10 was equipped with a terrain warning system, on the black box voice recorder you could hear the "woop woop pull up a few seconds before it hit Mt Erebus. So I duess it depends on how steep the mountain is.

        The reason the plane flew straight into the mountain was the navigation system had been programmed wrong.
        An the visibilty was compromised by the cluds and reflections from the snow and ice.

        BTW it was not an 'international' flight, it took off from Aucland and was schedules to land in Ch

        • by Miseph (979059)

          I don't think anyone actually claimed that CFIT never happens at all to anyone anywhere. The claim is that it used to be substantially more common, so much more common that it was the leading cause of fatal aviation accidents, and now it is anomalous for a commercial plane to be involved in such an incident. That Air New Zealand crash is notable specifically because the accident is so rare on modern aircraft.

        • visibilty was compromised by the cluds.

          ..and that's when the C.L.U.D.S. came at us. Those insensitive cluds!

        • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Monday February 06, 2012 @09:43AM (#38940963)

          Air New Zealand DC10 was equipped with a terrain warning system, on the black box voice recorder you could hear the "woop woop pull up a few seconds before it hit Mt Erebus. So I duess it depends on how steep the mountain is.

          The reason the plane flew straight into the mountain was the navigation system had been programmed wrong. An the visibilty was compromised by the cluds and reflections from the snow and ice.

          One of the main problems is decision making is hard when your mental model of what is happening differs from what instruments and other sensors are telling you. Not trusting your mental model (often developed from years of training and experience) does not come easy; add in a situation where even a slight delay has serious impact and you can see why stuff still happens.,/P>

          As someone much older, wiser, and experienced once told me if you get into a situation where your not sure what is going on, return to the last safe setup and sort things out; as he put it "Remember - you can always back the ship down because you know the water behind you is deep enough to avoid running aground."

    • by Sqr(twg) (2126054)

      What TFA says (and what TFS obviously intended to say) is that CFIT was the leading cause of fatal accidents before it was nearly eliminated by Bateman's inventions.

    • CFIT is nowhere near the leading cause of fatal accidents in general aviation.

      true. It's selling doctors twin - Beeches.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 06, 2012 @04:42AM (#38939925)

    Today this would be solved by making flying info mountains illegal.

  • Lies! (Score:5, Funny)

    by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:00AM (#38939985)

    This summary must be incorrect somehow.

    I just opened Flight Simulator and had no trouble controlling my flight right into the side of a mountain. Clearly, the system needs work.

  • by taj (32429) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:05AM (#38939997) Homepage

    My family has had a ranch in the mountains for about 100 years within line of sight of a military airport in more recent years.

    The B17 and other wreckage there was horrible, uncommon and yet eventual.

    You won't see those pictures on the Internet.

  • by MrClever (70766) on Monday February 06, 2012 @05:13AM (#38940007) Homepage
    Now all we need is to make the technology down-scale in both size/weight and cost. It would be great to see these systems adapted and installed in smaller, lighter aircraft. There are still far too many CFIT fatalities in the private and small aircraft world. They have synthetic terrain warning (superimposing the aircraft's position from GPS and altimeter over a topographic data to determine horizontal and vertical proximity to terrain) but no active warning systems. GPS is good, so is the altimeter, but neither are perfect all the time - if they were, ground proximity warning systems (GPWS...aka "WHOOP WHOOP, PULL UP!!") still are prohibitive for small aircraft operators. Kudos to the GPWS team though - they saved my ass on at least one occasion in a previous life when I was professional pilot!
    • by eh2o (471262)

      Elevation from GPS alone is accurate to about +/- 15 meters, which isn't great but good enough to save lives.

      Meanwhile my phone not only has a GPS that can read position and elevation but also has enough storage to recall a detailed street map of every city in the world, its only a few gigs of information... so why can't they just do this as an app already for small planes?

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      mercedes is doing it for cars. it's scaled already, but I guess retrofitting it is the costly part.

    • by bunyip (17018)

      This technology does scale down. The SportCruiser LSA that I fly from time to time warns me when I get down to 500ft from the ground. This is a 2-seat airplane. However, there are lot of old GA aircraft out there (often 30+ years old) that do not have modern avionics.

  • What? (Score:5, Funny)

    by rotorbudd (1242864) * on Monday February 06, 2012 @06:59AM (#38940287)

    "The Engineer Who Stopped Airplanes From Flying Into Mountains"

    I thought that was the pilot's job?

  • What [blogspot.com] is going on?

  • we need an engineer who will stop ships from sailing into islands.
  • by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Monday February 06, 2012 @12:14PM (#38942603) Journal
    Sorry, it was developed by Sundstrand Data Control back in the 80s, when I was working there. Later bought by AlliedSignal, then merged with Honeywell. Honeywell had basically zero to do with the development of GPD systems.

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