If you've flown recently, there is a fair possibility that an ``intelligent'' computer - not a human being - was mainly responsible for putting your jet smoothly on the ground. Of course, the pilot with his years of experience was there, too, hands resting on the center column. But except for the pilot's lowering the landing gear and making an adjustment to the airplane's flaps, the computer did most of the work.
Employing computers endowed with ``artificial intelligence,'' the Boeing Company's popular 767 and 757 jets have been capable of landing themselves since the early '80s, a company spokeswoman says. Replacing hundreds of dials and gauges, a six-inch video display flashes pertinent information to pilot and crew.
If that tidbit from the age of ``smart'' computers seems remarkable, hold on to your seat cushion, because it's only just the beginning.
Northwest Airlines has already agreed to buy a new generation of Boeing 747 jumbo jet that will be delivered in December 1988. The new jet will also only require two people in the cockpit, (eliminating the need for a human navigator), and have an eight-inch video display that reduces the number of dials and gauges from 971 (in current jumbos) to 365.
``The pilot won't even know what's happening unless he wants to know,'' says Boeing's Elizabeth Reese. ``Taxiing and takeoff will be the only thing the pilot will be doing.''
Ms. Reese is, however, quick to affirm that the new systems still require ``a great deal of imput from pilots'' and that such a plane will not make pilots merely ``glorified taxicab drivers.''