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.

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.

Learning Styles

So much has been written about learning styles: over the years it has become a fashionable subject to include within instructor training courses of many kinds. David Kolb, a 'father of the idea' in his book Experiential Learning (published 1983) introduced ideas that gained traction and dominated the academic arena for some time.
Others have tackled his theory
but most alternatives seem to revolve around his cohesive theme. The info-graphic below offers an alternative way considering the idea that we all have a preferred 'learning style'. Kolb arranged his matrix of styles more precisely than the graphic below, he also offered that most of us probably have two dominant styles with one being more influential than the other.

Where would you place yourself, and do you see other styles that have an influence on the way you think and learn?

More on Experiential Learning 

Image source edudemic .