The Digital Aviator

Flying and Technology Enhanced Learning for aviators

The Digital Aviator has been running since 2006: after a few technical problems I have decided to relaunch within an new environment. Much of my older material has gone to that great electron graveyard in the sky.

As previously any aviation related subject may be discussed but my focus will be on today's Digital Aviator, a description that must at least to some extent include us all. Technology has permeated the work at every level, it simply is not possible to exist as an aviator today without interacting with it. So, I include everyone who either wears or aspires to wear wings.

We will be looking at how we interact with the digital world, take what we need from it for use in the 'footless halls of air' stretching from sea level to the stratosphere. My blog tries to mix the spirit of the old together with the best that pixels and electrons can offer - in a practical, tried and tested way.

TEL4A-02 The Task at Hand

A quick recap on Memory Management

Information is only stored for a short period of time in our STM[1]. Seldom does it stay there for longer than 30 seconds. What, or how much is taken in depends on your attention span, but whatever that is, the information is mostly forgotten when new information comes along. On the other hand, your long term memory space is infinite and can never be filled: information can be held within LTM[2] for the rest of your life.
Studying through a screen predominantly involves the STM, we skim material and flit between areas of interest. Strategies to help us send what we need to know into LTM would be useful.

We file information into LTM by manipulating it, creating meaning, establishing identity and relationships, sending it backwards and forwards from the forefront of our minds to longer term storage - recalling it. Interestingly, and this probably comes as no mystery to you - where we involve others in the manipulating process, the interaction seems to substantially aid retention.[3] Keep this relationship between information and memory running in the background when working from a screen, or very little stays with you.

Ecologies - the damp ones full of creepy things and…[4]

A metaphor: Imagine walking through a natural break in a rainforest, all around you is a massively rich bio-diverse jungle populated with countless varieties of flora and fauna, insects, animals and at the macro level, bacteria and other microbiology. The environment teems with life fuelled by moisture, sunlight and suffusing heat. From the light-admitting canopy, down through the trees and vegetation to the forest-floor through to the very forest’s root structures below, this is an ecosystem - an ecology. A mass of biological components intricately connected and inter-dependant for their protection and nutrition.

Now consider the invisible, ever expanding information structures surrounding us starting with your ‘bounded’ company intranet (itself being continually fed from without by other systems). Beyond the intranet, the Web, a colossal expanding physical and information architecture moving by the day towards ‘The Internet of Everything’ where physical components of our daily lives (cars, kitchenware, medical machinery etc) are being connected via microchip to the internet to communicate with us, and each other.

As an aside - see what Intel says about ’an Internet Minute?

What we have hopefully done here is used a metaphor to describe an information ecology, one within which we exist as users, contributors or even components. We cannot Possibly deal with the whole thing, merely work within the ‘jungle clearing’ that relates directly to us. We must manage our work within this space, bring what we need to the fore quickly in a form that enables us to stay on top of the constant flow of information directed at us. We may never master all within our reach, but we will benefit from being able to explore, record and retain access to the knowledge we gain - quickly, without fuss, and in a form we can use.

Next: TEL4A-03 Text Automation & Note-taking

Permalink: TEL4A–01 Technology Enhanced Learning

  1. Short Term Memory  ↩

  2. Long Term Memory  ↩

  3. ** Trivia** - The only aircraft type related information I seem to hold in my mind across successive types is that I embedded interacting with other people. I still remember the the three autopilot status changes (L1011) that happen below 1500’ during an automatic approach to auto-land that I learnt testing and debating with my study partner. That’s 24 years and four aircraft type changes later - and I’m no Tony Buzan.  ↩

  4. Technology relates to nature in fascinating ways. I like this metaphor and find it useful in describing how information structures appear to us, and ultimately, how they function. Just the concept.  ↩

Heads - up! Lookout!


What a fabulous electronic world aviation has emerged into. Whereas we used to wander around within a few miles of where we either thought we were or wanted to be, now we fly with centimetric precision. What a blessing: what a curse: did you find yourself looking at the graphic above for just a little too long? They are mesmeric aren't they?

The gliding world used to be known for developing stick and rudder skills, aviators that scent the air for thermals using all avilable clues like birds lazily circling and ascending effortlessly. Cranking around in those same summer thermals was a delight with a variometer wailing the prescence of lift gently at you, often ducking involuntarily as another glider's shadow crossed your canopy: happy days. I dare say these skills are kept alive by devotees, proper aviators who for some reason enjoy the act of breathing and fervently want to continue. What of the rest of us who fly GA aircraft, particularly clear of Controlled Airspace?

Every innovation brings with it beneficial effects we seem to crave, less obvious is the unintended consequences they sometimes bring with them. For both the power and glider pilot, the computer, iPad and other panel mounted electronic aids have proliferated over the last decade or so. The glass cockpit is no longer the sole preserve of the Boeing and Airbus clad airmen. The cost of these devices make the eyes water of course, but their contribution to precision and safety, if used correctly, can't be denied. But if we are to respect the sobriquet 'aviator', we must keep firmly in mind some of the first words our flight instructor uttered, perhaps in our earlier years and at the beginning of our journey - Look out!

Mid air collisions are thankfully rare but ask around, how many of your flying colleagues had a close shave of the aeronautical kind. Instructing in Norfolk during the 70s brought many for me, without wishing to embellish I can tell you straight that every month or so I had shaves so close that the Buccaneer, Phantom or A10 that narrowly missed us (to them we were relatively stationary remember) left an audible roar in our ears. Call me what you will but at 20 this was a jolly jape, at 50-something it would feel a little different. Now I thank god for TCAS and its wonderfully beneficial advice.

My point is this dear aviator, a good friend of mine very nearly died in a mid-air collision in a glider, another dear departed friend's father didn't manage to get clear of the wreckage on the way down and did. Another lost his navigator when his 'mid-air' left him a passenger in a ball of flame. Dramatic? - yes of course, but I can think of few worse ways to depart this world than spinning to earth missing a major airframe component trying to cope with the shock wishing I could roll the clock back 20 seconds. So, for your sake and that of your loved ones, be around to enjoy your technology - keep your head out of the cockpit just as your instructor advised, for he knew what he was talking about, and thankfully, still does. Besides, it's good for the circulation but more to the point, we generally don't have one of these desperately uncomfortable seats (below) to sit on. Not that Messrs. Martin Baker ever guaranteed anything either as you need to be conscious to pull the handle unless your colleague 'does it for you' just prior to departing him/herself (command ejection).  ;-)


Yeovilton - Fly Navy

When I lived in Bedfordshire, the Shuttleworth Collection was just down the road. We were almost within an extended circuit. Lazy Summer evenings with the whisper of a breeze brought exquisite evening displays where the most ancient, most delicate craft were bought from the 'sheds' to be offered again to the sky. They were times for picnics, shrimps, Champagne, sausages on sticks and quiche with fruit to follow. All consumed with relish as the heat of the day left the air. The Flying display followed the packing away of the tables and chairs which, with the first cough of the SE5a's Wolseley, happened pretty swiftly. I could reminisce further but I must just say this; may the Boxkite, Bleriot, the Deperdussin and the rest continue to putter into the sky forever. Generations yet to be born must, as we have, be able to rest their eyes on the precarious but wonderful truth of early flight.


Here in Somerset the skies fill with something quiet different, old Naval Wings of might and substance. The meaty Fury hurled aloft by the Centaurus, that double-banked eighteen cylinder monster of a power-plant that whistles and moans in its own wicked way. The Fury's inertia makes for almost jet-like performance at low level and bridges the gap between the pistons and jet displays - something it did in reality as she was the final development of the radial for The Bristol Aeroplane Company.

No, Somerset is in a category of its own, the quality of the light is wonderful in the evenings, particularly in the restful silence following Yeovilton's Air Day which is occurs around mid July annualy. The line-up is always fabulous, the Navy even lets the RAF grandstand for a while with their heavier metal in the form of the Typhoon etc, but for me it is the Swordfish that connects the past to the present.


This beautiful lumbering old girl just flew overhead my house with a Lynx on each wing posing for photographs (another photo-helo in formation). It's impossible not to get a lump in your throat when you consider what it must have taken to fly at 90kts and 20ft or so in a straight line towards a battleship full of angry Italians with heavy weapons. The Wardroom at HMS Heron (RNAS Yeovilton) celebrates Taranto Night with some vigour to this day, the last man standing from the attack I believe is still with us (but don't quote me).


And then there is the Seafire, she spends a fair amount of time overhead practising for the big day, what more could you wish for on a Summer's afternoon. Do I need to remind you of the twelve-cylinder symphony that accompanies the Seafire? If I do then you, dear reader, have some serious listening to do for this is a sound that never leaves you. Even those ambivalent to flying machines stop and listen when a Merlin passes by, many needing to wipe away a small tear for reasons they don't quiet understand. The Merlin infuses you with those feelings, the exceptional Rolls Royce product of all time that powered ships, tanks, aircraft and now tear-ducts.

Have a listen, the action above starts at 1:00.

If you can make it, why not slip down to sun-soaked Somerset for the best day in the year's aviation calendar.  If you can't make it for the big day try the The Fleet Air Arm Museum when you next pass this way, it sits right in the thick of week-day helicopter action makes a grand day out.


NATS UK Traffic flows - Gorgeous!

Europe 24 from NATS on Vimeo.

This NATS Vimeo clip really caught my eye. It is a beautifully realised representation of air traffic flows across the UK and Europe. It also shows us graphically/chronographically how traffic is received from and fed into the Track System - how peak hours produce their flow concentrations.

An earlier post about an Atlantic crosssing

Go FULLSCREEN for best effect of course.