Tag flight

Eyes Wide Open II.

Several years ago, I designed a sugar dispenser for an industrial design class.  I decided on this particular challenge after seeing just how quickly sugar poured out of a similar dispenser at a local restaurant.  Through the design process, I discovered that it was my various interests that played a key role in the final product.

Here are a few examples:

Model Railroading: Once I had a general idea for what the dispenser would look like along with the relative dimensions, I created “sketch models” which are basically rough prototypes made from various materials.  Thinking back to my model railroading days, I chose styrene plastic for later prototypes along with the final model.  Styrene is typically used for the construction of miniature buildings used on a model railroad, and I decided that the material would work well for this project.

Architecture (Core): I wanted the dispenser to be very modern looking and sleek; ultimately something much different from those you would normally see in a restaurant.  I ultimately decided to model the dispenser similar in structure to a modern skyscraper, and I chose a variation of styrene to match the building’s fascade (narrow vertical lines without horizontal equivalents).

Architecture (Supplemental): While I liked the skyscraper concept, I felt that another design element was needed.  In one of my visits to the Los Angeles area I noticed a building that had a protruding metal “screen” with large-scale letters inset within (negative space).  I decided that I would do the reverse and project letters outward (positive space).  But what letters?

Chemistry & Flight Training: Here I combined my original undergraduate goal (chemical engineering) with my flight training experience to come up with the “surface layer” that would rest on one of the dispenser “walls.”  The chemical formula for sugar contains the elements Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen.  Similarly, the airport code relative where I was living is CHO (Charlottesville-Albemarle).  Clearly, the gods had spoken.

The process of designing an object, vehicle, experience, etc. that has value in the real world takes not only solid design skills, it requires the ability to pull from multiple disciplines and incorporate those findings into something powerful.

Until perhaps now, I have always believed that my desire for knowledge was simply leading me astray from a specialization of some sort.  My experiences over the past several years have altered this belief; I now believe my innate curiosity enables versatility and a strong design sense, two things that I highly value.

While I believe that specialization in a given field and/or domain is in my future (that was my original goal all along), I envision staying “plugged in” to just about everything and anything that interests me.  It’s these interests that will continue to play a key role in my technical and creative development – the combination of which will continue to grow beyond what I’ve accomplished to date.


Discovering Situational Awareness.

This post discusses a topic well known in the aviation field known as “situational awareness” (SA).  I first learned about this topic several years ago when I was learning how to fly.  The book I read is part of the larger “Controlling Pilot Error” series and is, not surprisingly, called Situational Awareness.

The summary of this text is as follows: (excerpt from Amazon.com)

Do you pilot with constantly acute mental accuracy and analysis? This book helps you to: overcome the passive pilot syndrome involved in many aviation accidents; learn to “prepare to be aware”; sharpen perception of your surroundings; build a second sense for detecting loss of SA; recover quickly from temporary disorientation; and learn about cockpit avionics that warn of SA losses.

When I read this book, I found this concept interesting because I (naively) believed I would be better prepared to deal with this problem once I got in the air.  In the subsequent flight lesson I quickly learned how one can lose situational awareness and just how difficult it is to retrieve it.

In contrast to other flights, the day when I lost situational awareness came when there was an increased amount of traffic and I had not flown for 2-3 weeks.  The combination of these two variables resulted in my loss of situational awareness.

When things become disorienting, whether it involves poor weather, increased radio chatter, or heavy traffic, pilots of all experience levels (not all) have a tendency to redirect their attention to the airplane’s controls and gauges vs. focusing their attention outside the cabin.  Much to my surprise, I (not to mention my instructor!) found myself doing just that – it was almost like my eyes were somehow drawn to the interior of the cabin trying to make sense of what was going on.  Needless to say, this can be very dangerous and has been a factor in many fatal accidents.

In many flight manuals and texts, the recurring message is: “Fly the Plane!”.  The gauges and radios are there to supplement your experience, but they are not there to keep the plane in the air – that’s your primary responsibility.

While this concept sounds simple enough – it can be very challenging.  To learn how to manage complexity and to mentally “remove” yourself from extraneous “distractions” takes practice and understanding.

In my next post, I’ll share some of the recommendations from the text that help one understand, maintain and re-gain situational awareness.  While this has applicability to flight, it also has applicability in normal life – including the workplace.