My own experience of sitting behind a wheel and doing nothing occurred in a small plane years ago. I was taking what would be called a "puddle jumper" from New York's LaGuardia to Provincetown, Massachusetts. A trip of not many miles and short duration, but one that required going over water.
I think the plane might have had a six or seven passenger capacity, and there were that many of us. We were asked what did we weigh (no time to start lying) so that the airline people could evenly distribute the weight in the cabin. This is important in small aircraft, and even somewhat larger aircraft.
I was once on a bigger, but still what you would call a small plane, a prop as well, that maybe carried 20-30 passengers coming from Wausau, Wisconsin to Chicago when the airline people separated the two professional wrestlers that found themselves sitting next to each other in the front, and put one of them further in the back. Each wrestler had to be at least 300 pounds, and apparently sitting together was not an option for a safe flight, which by the way went well.
If you've ever been on a so-called "puddle-jumper" you've observed the pilot shimmying into the cockpit by sliding over the wing. Passengers are pointed to their seats. I was pointed to the co-pilot seat, sitting behind the half-circle wheel and all the cockpit dials..
It was then I realized there wasn't going to anyone other than the pilot that could be considered part of the flight crew. I never touched the wheel, just kept staring at it. I leaned over to he pilot and told him, "just remember everything I've taught you." He grinned.
It was October, and the visibility, at least to me, was poor. We seemed to be going through mist the whole way. It was hardly a sightseeing experience. I watched the dials and what our air speed was. Based on the time we were in the air and the expected flying time, I knew when we were getting near Provincetown. I couldn't see Provincetown. I couldn't see land.
At what turned out to be our approach, I felt the pilot guide the plane into a bank, drop the plane's altitude, and kept going. If I couldn't see from where I was sitting, what the hell did the pilot see?
As we continued to drop in altitude coming out of the mist, there, clear as day, was the runway. Within seconds we were on it, landing safely. The pilot and his instruments knew where it was, even though it wasn't obvious. An instrument landing. I was proud of my "training" the pilot.
If un-piloted aircraft is not the horizon, how can there be un-piloted spacecraft, carrying passengers who have ponied up wads and wads of cash to fly 500 to 750 miles above the earth and orbit our blue sphere for up to five days?
I know how to read, and that's exactly what I read in a small AP piece tucked away on page two of yesterday's NYT Business Section.
SpaceX Plans Launch Of Tourists Into Orbit.
In this five paragraph story we learned several things.
- SpaceX, working with Space Adventures, plans to launch up to four tourists into a super high orbit by the end of the year.
- Ticket prices are opened-end, but expected to be in the millions.
- SpaceX, working with Space Adventures, has already put tourists on the International space Station. (I didn't know this.)
- For this trip, no space stations stop, but instead the orbit, on a flight for up to five days.
- A Dragon capsule will be used, that so far has only flown once, in a successful test without a crew.
- The capsule is expected to be used in a few months to take NASA astronauts to the space station.
- Stacey Tearne, a spokeswoman said of the planned orbiting flight, that no professional pilot or astronaut will be required because the Dragon is fully autonomous.
- Passengers would be able to control, if needed.
So, SpaceX/Space Adventures is telling the world that are planning a flight in a capsule that has only so far been tested once, is going to be used in a non-test journey with professional astronauts aboard, but will then be used to ferry up to four tourists into a super high orbit of the earth for up to five days with no professional pilot/astronaut aboard because the Dragon capsule is "fully autonomous."
There was Twilight Zone episode in the '50s that was the story of a group of people who sought shelter in a bomb shelter in someone's basement when there was a nuclear attack. Bomb shelters were really a thing back in the day, with local newspapers telling homeowners how build one. Cinder blocks required.
I remember trying to convince my father that we better get busy. He even worked for the government at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the Design Division (hulls). He kept smiling at me and kept drinking scotch. We never did build one. And no one I know ever did either.
Well, in this Twilight Zone episode the neighbors of the guy who did build one descend on his shelter, and by the sheer number of people now present put a strain on the design and the stored resources. Who's in charge here? Who gets to stay? Who can't enter? Like plenty of Rod Serling stories there is a morality play at hand over who gets to control what.
So, up to four people who perhaps don't know each other other than by reading about each other's wealth, are expected to go into space, and if they encounter trouble, someone has to take to control. That's some jury.
If only Rod Serling were still alive.