The term was originally coined in 1997 by veteran airline pilot Warren Vanderburgh, who came up with the phrase, somewhat caustically, for the new generation of pilots, who he believes have become overly dependent on automation and computer guidance, and thus fail to exercise their own situational awareness and judgment, when they should take control and fly the plane more manually.
His claim was pointedly substantiated in 2009 with the crash of Air France Flight 447. Once airborne, the pilots had placed the plane into autopilot, as they had been taught, for their long flight across the Atlantic to South America.
When, a few hours into the flight, a pressure probe on the outside of flight 447 iced over, the automation could no longer tell how fast the plane was going, and the autopilot disengaged. The “fly-by-wire” system also switched into a mode in which it was no longer offering protections against an aerodynamic stall. When the autopilot disengaged, the co-pilot in the right seat put his hand on the control stick and pulled it back, pitching the nose of the plane up.
This small action caused the plane to go into a stall, and yet, even as the stall warning sounded, clear and loud in the cockpit, “STALL,” “STALL,” none of the pilots could figure out what was happening to them. If they’d realized they were in a stall, the fix would have been clear.
The pilots, however, never even tried to recover, because they never seemed to realize that they were in fact, in the stall the aircraft knew they were in. Four minutes and twenty seconds after the incident began, the plane pancaked into the Atlantic, instantly killing all 228 people on board.
For full disclosure, I was born at the very beginning of Generation X. I am close to 58 years of ancientness. If I had been born a year earlier I would have been born a baby boomer, the generation spawned by the frenzied friction spurned on by the actual end of an actual World Fucking War. That’s how old I am.
But still. I love motorcycles. Always have, always will. I recently wrote a couple of books about my motorcycle travel adventures in the 1980s. Interested in selling a book or three, and not shy of doing some illicit self-promotion, I joined some motorcycle touring groups on Facebook. Well, color me grey and wrinkly, things have certainly moved on.
Every post is about what “adventure” bike to buy. These things are insane. Off road capabilities, more storage solutions than IKEA, on-board computers, slipper clutches and ABS. Shit! I remember when ABS was just a nickname for a boy I went to junior school with who had Acute Biting Syndrome. He was known to his perennially flinching chums to be a tad on the “nippy” side.
The rest of the posts are about what is the best GPS device to use to safely navigate to whatever destination the professional tour company has chosen that year. And everybody posts a picture of their precious bike on its side in the mud, supposedly crashed on some remote mountain pass.
Forgive me, it is past my bedtime, I haven’t had my medicine, nursey dear is late and I am grumpy. If you dropped your bike in the 1980’s you picked the damn thing up again before it dumped the entire contents of its oily sump onto the tarmac. Keeping oil inside a 1980s motorcycle was difficult enough when it was upright. In the 1980s you also didn’t have time to take a picture. Mainly because it took quite a while to load the film onto the spool, wind the film on, remove the shutter cap, set the correct F stop, focus and press the shutter button. And even if you did take a picture, there was nowhere to post it to and nobody out there waiting to like and share it.
I am joking of course. If I rode today I would have all of the latest gadgets too. Every last one of them. And there are still some heroes out there. Check out Markus Mayer’s FB page by clicking on the picture of him below:
Markus has ridden over 120.000 Kilometers in 44 countries on 4 Continents in 8 years on old Scooters. The man’s a hero (crazy maybe—but a hero).
But I admit I enjoyed doing it the hard way. I didn’t know any better thats for sure. But like Markus, the challenge and the hardship, the uncertainty of the journey, it was all part of the draw.
I certainly lacked an appropriate adventure motorcycle, and paper maps were the only things available in a time of hard borders, the Iron Curtain, armed guards, and countries that constantly teetered on the edge of civil unrest. You can read my little adventure stories below.
So I don’t really know. Children of the Magenta Line or smart kids using the best technology available? I think I fall somewhere in the middle. GPS has made me dumb thats for sure. When I used to read paper maps to navigate, I knew where I was and intuitively understood how to correct a mistake. Now I just follow the guidance like everybody else. I could be anywhere. I always know where I am and yet I feel more lost than ever before.
But there were times on those distant travel days of the past, I remember that, lost in Turkey or Greece, or Finland or Norway, on some nameless road, with not another vehicle in sight, when I wished with all of my being that I was home, or that some sort of futuristic device existed, one that might tell me where I was, how far from Mum and Dad I was, how far the next gas station was, where the stop for the night might be. A way to connect me to my friends and family far away.
And, of course, the ability to take a selfie without having to balance a camera on a fence, set the timer and run, panicked, back into frame, not knowing what the picture looked like until it was developed at the local Pronto Print on the High Street a month or more later.
Thats how old I am.