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In the realm of long flights and dozy pilots, Boeing is working on a new system to alert pilots and prevent them from missing warning signs that certain pilot inputs might be required. For example, flying too close to mountains, landing safely and other bad hair days for pilots. By the way did you know that the FAA terminology for such tragic and unexpected crashes, presumably occurring in fog, darkness, or just a post-lunch haze, is CFIT. A handy acronym for the phrase “Controlled Flight Into Terrain”. In other words, a bloody big crash!
Who knew, but pilots are prone to becoming sleepy during extended flights. A recent survey conducted for NRK, a Norwegian public broadcaster, found that out of 389 pilots, 48% said they fell asleep "once" or "rarely" (well which is it?) and 2% indicated they fall asleep "often." Recently, a Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) Boeing 737 pilot fell asleep mid-flight while the co-pilot was out of the cockpit. In November 2010 an Air India Boeing 737 crashed killing 158 people, which was blamed on a sleep-deprived pilot.
As we know, an airplane cockpit has various warning systems designed keep pilots out of unsafe situations, such as a crowded coach cabin, disgusting toilets and angry passengers. There are also visual and audible indicators to alert a pilot when immediate action is required to justify their salaries. And the answer is...drum roll please…A vibrating pilot seat. Yes, Boeing is trying to determine if a new type of alert system (other than flashing lights and dancing girls) could be more effective in keeping fatigued pilots awake during flight. Most aircraft already have stick shakers to alert a pilot if a stall is imminent but, with the new system, a pilot would actually feel a vibration thanks to a module mounted under his or her seat.
The Tactile Pilot Alert (TPA) system patent filed by Boeing, and co-authored by chief pilot Frank Santoni, states the vibrating seat would comprise of, "a tactile module that may be mountable to a seat assembly and which may include a vibrating unit and/or a probing unit." Boeing has even filed this with the US Patent Office. Note the phrase “probing unit”. Exactly what this means is not known for certain, but I can only think of one possibility. TPA, I wonder what else…ah I know…it’s an acronym for Tickle the Pilot's Ass!
Presently, Boeing is not giving details on how the system might be used on future planes. "We're studying the concept, but there are no plans to implement the technology right now," Doug Alder Jr. with Boeing Communications, No doubt. Implementation of such a system would probably have half the cabin crew fighting to get in the cockpit and sit in the Captain’s seat! Don’t lie, you know which half I’m talking about.