The date 1984 in the piece The Flight to Tokyo – 1984 Style was chosen because it followed-up Ascher Opler’s futuristic, somewhat “Orwellian” Bon Voyage –1984 Style. But also, because 18 years seemed an adequate time span for the technical developments humorized in the article to materialize.
Yet, once again, because of the foresight and talents of a few dedicated scientists and engineers, many of the imagined features and capabilities of the 1984 flight were developed, tested, and proven less than 10 years later with the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar aircraft.(Below)
The most technologically advanced commercial jet of its era, it was replete with sophisticated avionic flight control, flight management, performance management, built-in test equipment, navigation systems, and – “the cherry on top” – a CAT-IIIC automatic landing system allowing the Tristar to land in zero-visibility weather.
On May 25, 1972, veteran test pilots Anthony LeVier and Charles Hall transported 115 crew members, employees, and reporters on a 4-hour, 13- minute flight from Palmdale, California, to Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., with the TriStar’s AFCS feature engaged from takeoff roll to landing. It was a groundbreaking moment: the first cross-country flight without the need for human hands on the controls. Fly-by-wire technology was here to stay.
Original Post (Revised):
A couple of weeks ago, this author reminisced about the prowess of a group of scientists and engineers who – more than six decades ago — designed and developed a military computer system like the world had never seen before: the “SAGE” system.
One of the wonders of that system was that it could “predict and prevent” failures through an ingenious “marginal checking system.”
It was called “preventive maintenance,” a concept that has now evolved into predictive maintenance.
A reader commented on how predictive maintenance is now a mainstay in aircraft maintenance.
I promised the reader that I would post an April 1966 Datamation piece that made some predictions on this subject.
According to Wikipedia, “[t]raditionally, an April issue of Datamation contained a number of spoof articles and humorous stories related to computers.”
While there was some humor involved in the piece, the basic technical concepts “humorized” in it have not only been achieved, but significantly exceeded – except perhaps for the breakfast bit.
Here it is:
THE FLIGHT TO TOKYO-1984 STYLE by LT. DORIAN DE WIND
(Inspired by Ascher Opler’s article in the January issue, Bon Voyage-1984 Style, Lt. de Wind of the Air Force offers this description of the flight to Tokyo taken by Lester P. Jonas on the advice of his UTSS counselor.)
It is 7: 15 a.m. at San Francisco International Airport. The pilot of flight 597, Trans Sonic Airlines, steps into the cockpit of his shiny new Boeing 797…
AIRBORNE COMPUTER: Good morning. I have just received your flight plan from traffic control. If you desire to read it I’ll print it out.
PILOT: Never mind, I’m running late. How is the aircraft?
COMPUTER: All pre-flight checks have been completed. The airplane is in perfect condition, except for a minor deviation error in the manual compass. Could possibly be an error in my check-out program. Would you like me to obtain a double-check from remote control?
PILOT: Negative, we won’t be needing it anyhow, I’ll let you do all the flying today . . .. had a rough night. By the way, where are we going today?
COMPUTER: Our destination is Tokyo. I have just received indication that all passengers are aboard. We are ready to go; all seat belts are fastened except yours. Would you please sit down?
PILOT: O.K., what’s on the menu for today?
COMPUTER: Will print it out for you while taxiing. Am just receiving taxi and take-off instructions, also weather forecast. Looks like a smooth flight ahead. Will be using runway 27 …. presently taxiing to take-off position, takeoff time will be 07 :31, estimated time enroute 3 hours and 17 minutes, flight altitude ….
PILOT: Tell it to the passengers. The menu looks good. What time is breakfast?
COMPUTER: The master menu program was just checked; breakfast will be served in 30 minutes. Passengers have been briefed, take-off cameras have been programmed on, pressurization, completed, final data transmission, ground, and airborne equipment checks all O.K. We are ready for take-off;’ if this is to be a computer controlled take-off press the “AUTO T/O” button ….. Understand. Take-off program and latest weather information have been read in. We are rolling.
PILOT: Congratulations! That was one of the smoothest take-offs I have seen you make yet.
COMPUTER: Thank you. I thought so myself, considering the strong cross wind …… Take-off time was 7 :31 on the dot. Am presently climbing under ground radar control. In-flight movie playing is the “The Moon Lovers.” Landing gear is up. During take-off noticed a change in left yaw response rate of 15 microseconds, have modified the program to compensate for it on future flights. Also discovered a failure in the flight data recording system, switched over to the alternate system and recorded it on the malfunctions log … .
PILOT: O.K., O.K.
COMPUTER: We are level at 40,000 feet, all in-flight checks completed. We are now under Airways control, the weather in Tokyo is excellent; have been notified there will be a five-minute hold in the traffic pattern over Tokyo International, then will land on runway 15 behind Pan American flight 885. Well, I think breakfast should be ready now. Let me know if you need me. Before you go, press the “AUTOMATIC MARGINAL CHECK” button’ so I can perform preventive maintenance checks on my circuitry, but leave the “MONITOR/- INTERRUPT” option on in case I need to go back to the flight program.
Two hours and fifty-two minutes later: An alarm sounds in the cockpit.
COMPUTER: Sorry I had to wake you up, but we just landed at 18:48 Greenwich Mean Time. You will have to take over now, as you know it is against company policy to taxi under computer control on foreign airports.
PILOT: (Sleepy voice) Oh, O.K. Boy, these flights are getting more and more demanding every day!
CODA: Datamation was a leading print form computer magazine between 1957 and 1998. This great publication is now available online at datamation.com. https://www.datamation.com/
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.