workhorse
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Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Mon Dec 04, 2017 4:31 pm

What is the typical way to engage the autopilot (aka FCU) after take-off in an Airbus?

I see there are "AP1" / "AP2" buttons (turning the FCU on or off, as far as I understand), then the "LOC" button (I guess, this one activates either the lateral navigation according to the flight plan or the heading mode), and then the 330s/340s have an "ALT" button and the 320s the "EXPED" button.

So, after takeoff, do you have to push all three of them? And if yes, in what sequence? Something like "AP1/AP2" - "LOC" - "ALT"? Or on the contrary, first "LOC" and "ALT" and only after that the "AP1/AP2"?

Also, what happens to the selected altitude / heading when you engage the autopilot? Does it catch the current values from the aircraft or keeps what was selected? Example: I am flying with the nose pointing straight to the south (180), I am at the altitude of 500 feet and I am climbing with a vertical speed of 3000 fpm. On my FCU I have selected heading 270, altitude 10 000 feet, V/S 2000fpm. I engage the autopilot, what happens? The aircraft immediately starts turning right and continues to climb to 10 000 with a vertical speed reduced to 2000? Or the FCU reverts to heading 180 instead of the 270 I had selected and to altitude 500?

Thank you very much in advance!
 
Woodreau
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Mon Dec 04, 2017 5:37 pm

If the FMA is annunciating the appropriate modes, merely say the words "Autopilot On"

The monitoring pilot presses AP1 (if the Captain is flying) or AP2 (if the First Officer is flying.)
Although the pilot flying has the perogative of reaching up and pressing AP1 or AP2.

As far as what the aircraft will do in your scenario, the autopilot will go to the commanded flight director cues.
It's unlikely you will be in selected V/S immediately after takeoff, i.e. 500ft

As 500ft is below thrust reduction altitude, the flight guidance is still in SRS mode. If on a radar vector you'll probably have preselected heading 270 in your case (taking off to the south). Lateral guidance remains in RWY TRK with the flight director provides steering cues to maintain runway track until you heading select 270. and vertical guidance remaining in SRS until thrust reduction at which it will transition to OPEN CLB and maintain the managed speed (honoring any speed contraints) or selected speed (if preprogrammed in the PERF CLB page)

If you select V/S 2000, the autothrust mode changes to SPEED and the autothrust will reduce thrust to maintain the managed or selected speed, with a selected climb rate of 2000fpm.
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Flow2706
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Mon Dec 04, 2017 9:45 pm

When applying takeoff power the following modes are automatically engaged: SRS and RWY (if the takeoff runway is ILS equipped). After takeoff RWY will automatically be replaced by NAV. SRS guides the aircraft to maintain V2+10 , RWY provides guidance to stay on the centerline by using the localizer signal. NAV mode guides the aircraft along the FMGC flight plan. When the crew wishes to connect the autopilot, the PM or PF pushes the AP1 (if Captain is Pilot flying) oder AP2 (if FO is pilot flying) pushbutton. The autopilot will then follow these modes. Selected modes are usually not used during takeoff (but it is possible to preselect a heading, so the aircraft will change to RWY TRK mode instead of NAV after takeoff, the crew can then pull HDG and the aircraft will follow the preselected Heading).
 
workhorse
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Mon Dec 04, 2017 10:19 pm

OK, I see, thank you very much!

So when are the pushbuttons ALT and LOC used? How do they work?
 
Flow2706
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Mon Dec 04, 2017 10:47 pm

On the A320 we have APP, LOC and (optionally, not on all aircraft) EXPED. APP arms the approach modes (G/S, LOC for ILS, FINAL APP for Non Precision Approach), enabling the AP/FD to follow the Approach. LOC arms the localizer mode only - this is used for a localizer only approach (i.e. without Glideslope) or if only cleared to intercept the localizer by ATC. EXPED (if installed) can be used to expedite the climb/descend. If used in climb the target speed becomes green dot, in the descend 0.80/340kts. The aircraft reacts faster than in CLB/DES or OP CLB/DES mode (autopilot authority is 0.15g instead of the usual 0.1g). However, EXPED mode is not used in most airlines even if installed. The A320 does not have the ALT pushbutton, but as far as I know this guides the aircraft to level off at the present altitude (A330 pilots could have more details). On the A320 this function can be archived by pushing the Vertical Speed knob ("Push to level off") - the will engage the V/S mode and automatically set the selected Vertical Speed to 0, thereby archiving a level off.
 
workhorse
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Mon Dec 04, 2017 11:12 pm

This was very clear! Thank you very much again!
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Tue Dec 05, 2017 2:03 pm

Flow2706 wrote:
On the A320 we have APP, LOC and (optionally, not on all aircraft) EXPED. APP arms the approach modes (G/S, LOC for ILS, FINAL APP for Non Precision Approach), enabling the AP/FD to follow the Approach. LOC arms the localizer mode only - this is used for a localizer only approach (i.e. without Glideslope) or if only cleared to intercept the localizer by ATC. EXPED (if installed) can be used to expedite the climb/descend. If used in climb the target speed becomes green dot, in the descend 0.80/340kts. The aircraft reacts faster than in CLB/DES or OP CLB/DES mode (autopilot authority is 0.15g instead of the usual 0.1g). However, EXPED mode is not used in most airlines even if installed. The A320 does not have the ALT pushbutton, but as far as I know this guides the aircraft to level off at the present altitude (A330 pilots could have more details). On the A320 this function can be archived by pushing the Vertical Speed knob ("Push to level off") - the will engage the V/S mode and automatically set the selected Vertical Speed to 0, thereby archiving a level off.


On the 330 and 350, the ALT pb gives immediate level off. The V/S knob also says "Push to level off". Why we have both I don't know. For certain company standard is "press ALT".

workhorse wrote:
What is the typical way to engage the autopilot (aka FCU) after take-off in an Airbus?

I see there are "AP1" / "AP2" buttons (turning the FCU on or off, as far as I understand), then the "LOC" button (I guess, this one activates either the lateral navigation according to the flight plan or the heading mode), and then the 330s/340s have an "ALT" button and the 320s the "EXPED" button.

So, after takeoff, do you have to push all three of them? And if yes, in what sequence? Something like "AP1/AP2" - "LOC" - "ALT"? Or on the contrary, first "LOC" and "ALT" and only after that the "AP1/AP2"?

Also, what happens to the selected altitude / heading when you engage the autopilot? Does it catch the current values from the aircraft or keeps what was selected? Example: I am flying with the nose pointing straight to the south (180), I am at the altitude of 500 feet and I am climbing with a vertical speed of 3000 fpm. On my FCU I have selected heading 270, altitude 10 000 feet, V/S 2000fpm. I engage the autopilot, what happens? The aircraft immediately starts turning right and continues to climb to 10 000 with a vertical speed reduced to 2000? Or the FCU reverts to heading 180 instead of the 270 I had selected and to altitude 500?

Thank you very much in advance!


To clarify some nomenclature, the FCU (Flight Control Unit) is the part of the glare shield controls that controls the flight director and autopilot. On the 350 it is called the ACP (Autopilot Control Panel). The FCU/ACP is not the autopilot or the flight director. (But hang on. Not completely, and this gets us into managed vs selected modes.) If you're flying manually you would still have the PM input guidance in the FCU/ACP, which would be reflected by the flight director.

Since we fly using a flight director, typically in manual flight FCU/ACP inputs would be the same as in automated flight. If flying manually you wouldn't select a heading of 270 and then not follow the flight director commands to turn right. However, yes, if you were to engage the autopilot as per your example the aircraft would turn right and so forth.

As mentioned above thought, at 500 feet your vertical mode would typically be SRS, not CLB, OPEN CLB or V/S.

Image
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workhorse
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Tue Dec 05, 2017 3:20 pm

It's amazing how this forum helps noobs like me get first hand information from professionals. Woodreau, Flow2706, Starlionblue, once again, thank you for spending your time answering our questions!

So, Starlionblue, do you often use the ALT pushbutton?

Judging by the pictures of 330/340 cockpits in cruise here on a.net it looks like most of the time it's on.
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Tue Dec 05, 2017 3:28 pm

workhorse wrote:
It's amazing how this forum helps noobs like me get first hand information from professionals. Woodreau, Flow2706, Starlionblue, once again, thank you for spending your time answering our questions!

So, Starlionblue, do you often use the ALT pushbutton?

Judging by the pictures of 330/340 cockpits in cruise here on a.net it looks like most of the time it's on.


The ALT pushbutton has its uses:
- ATC requesting immediate level off.
- Engine out after V1 but prior to acceleration altitude. You'd press ALT at EO acceleration altitude and clean up.
- ALT-GO procedure for early go around.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
workhorse
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Tue Dec 05, 2017 3:36 pm

Starlionblue wrote:
The ALT pushbutton has its uses:
- ATC requesting immediate level off.
- Engine out after V1 but prior to acceleration altitude. You'd press ALT at EO acceleration altitude and clean up.
- ALT-GO procedure for early go around.


Doesn't seem like very frequently occurring cases. So why it's on (lighted up) in most of the cockpit pictures?
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Tue Dec 05, 2017 3:43 pm

workhorse wrote:
Starlionblue wrote:
The ALT pushbutton has its uses:
- ATC requesting immediate level off.
- Engine out after V1 but prior to acceleration altitude. You'd press ALT at EO acceleration altitude and clean up.
- ALT-GO procedure for early go around.


Doesn't seem like very frequently occurring cases. So why it's on (lighted up) in most of the cockpit pictures?


The light means a selected altitude is captured. The button itself is not used that frequently. Typically an altitude is set and then the altitude knob is pushed or pulled for managed or selected climb/descent respectively.

A couple more uses for the button are level-off after TCAS or level-off after low speed recovery.
Last edited by Starlionblue on Tue Dec 05, 2017 3:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
workhorse
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Tue Dec 05, 2017 3:52 pm

Got it! :)
 
Flow2706
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Tue Dec 05, 2017 10:18 pm

I think the ALT pushbutton is more intuitive than the Push to Level Off Function of the VS knob. In my previous company there has been a case where a crew needed to level off immediately for some reason (I think they put the wrong FL in the FCU and realized at the last moment and wanted to avoid a level bust if I remember correctly) and the Pilot Flying disconnected the Autopilot and manually leveled off. Unfortunately he did so rather forcefully and one cabin crew who was not seated at this time was injured. This could have been avoided by keeping the AP engaged and using the Push to Level off function. After that event the use of the Push to Level Off function was emphasized. I think it would be great if we had the ALT pushbutton on the A320 as well...
 
workhorse
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Tue Dec 05, 2017 10:33 pm

Flow2706 wrote:
I think it would be great if we had the ALT pushbutton on the A320 as well...


Sure! Also, the presence at the same place of buttons with so radically different effect is, well... strange. Although not aeronautical engineer nor a pilot, as someone who have been involved in the design of safety critical systems, I am very surprised that Airbus could do such a thing. Well, I guess they know better than me, but still, it just doesn't feel right.
 
BoeingGuy
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Wed Dec 06, 2017 12:39 am

Flow2706 wrote:
I think the ALT pushbutton is more intuitive than the Push to Level Off Function of the VS knob. In my previous company there has been a case where a crew needed to level off immediately for some reason (I think they put the wrong FL in the FCU and realized at the last moment and wanted to avoid a level bust if I remember correctly) and the Pilot Flying disconnected the Autopilot and manually leveled off. Unfortunately he did so rather forcefully and one cabin crew who was not seated at this time was injured. This could have been avoided by keeping the AP engaged and using the Push to Level off function. After that event the use of the Push to Level Off function was emphasized. I think it would be great if we had the ALT pushbutton on the A320 as well...


I'm guessing that maybe the difference between selecting the ALT switch or pushing the VS knob to level off is similar to what would happen on a Boeing airplane.

If you select ALT you go into the ALT HOLD mode. When the airplane levels off, it will return to the exact altitude at which you selected ALT.

If you are climbing and descending and select the V/S mode to 0, the airplane will level off, but stay where it ends up (not returning to the exact altitude it was when you selected V/S = 0).

Is that the same difference as between ALT or VS level off on Airbus? ALT returns you to exactly where you pushed the switch. VS level off does not - just levels off and stays at the altitude where you end up.
 
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Starlionblue
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:34 am

BoeingGuy wrote:
Flow2706 wrote:
I think the ALT pushbutton is more intuitive than the Push to Level Off Function of the VS knob. In my previous company there has been a case where a crew needed to level off immediately for some reason (I think they put the wrong FL in the FCU and realized at the last moment and wanted to avoid a level bust if I remember correctly) and the Pilot Flying disconnected the Autopilot and manually leveled off. Unfortunately he did so rather forcefully and one cabin crew who was not seated at this time was injured. This could have been avoided by keeping the AP engaged and using the Push to Level off function. After that event the use of the Push to Level Off function was emphasized. I think it would be great if we had the ALT pushbutton on the A320 as well...


I'm guessing that maybe the difference between selecting the ALT switch or pushing the VS knob to level off is similar to what would happen on a Boeing airplane.

If you select ALT you go into the ALT HOLD mode. When the airplane levels off, it will return to the exact altitude at which you selected ALT.

If you are climbing and descending and select the V/S mode to 0, the airplane will level off, but stay where it ends up (not returning to the exact altitude it was when you selected V/S = 0).

Is that the same difference as between ALT or VS level off on Airbus? ALT returns you to exactly where you pushed the switch. VS level off does not - just levels off and stays at the altitude where you end up.


No. Both "press ALT" and "V/S push" will level off the aircraft in the same way you describe "VS level off" in the Boeing. For example when pressing ALT at acceleration height in an engine out situation, the aircraft will level off 50-100 feet above where you pressed the button.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo
 
N353SK
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Wed Dec 06, 2017 2:21 am

Starlionblue wrote:
workhorse wrote:
It's amazing how this forum helps noobs like me get first hand information from professionals. Woodreau, Flow2706, Starlionblue, once again, thank you for spending your time answering our questions!

So, Starlionblue, do you often use the ALT pushbutton?

Judging by the pictures of 330/340 cockpits in cruise here on a.net it looks like most of the time it's on.


The ALT pushbutton has its uses:
- ATC requesting immediate level off.
- Engine out after V1 but prior to acceleration altitude. You'd press ALT at EO acceleration altitude and clean up.
- ALT-GO procedure for early go around.


It's also useful when you realize you're about to descend through 10,000 and you're still doing 300 knots :D
 
Woodreau
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Wed Dec 06, 2017 2:41 am

N353SK wrote:
It's also useful when you realize you're about to descend through 10,000 and you're still doing 300 knots :D


That means you're not flying in managed descent where the aircraft will automatically slow to 250 by 10000ft for you. :D :P Not that you trust the airplane to do it for you.
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Starlionblue
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:29 am

I dug into the A330 and A350 manuals on my flight the other day. Interestingly, the effect of pressing ALT or V/S is the same but the resultant modes are not.

- Pressing ALT gives immediate level off and engages ALT (altitude hold mode).
- Pressing V/S gives immediate level off and engages V/S mode with value 0. However there is no altitude hold engaged. So the plane will level off but the altitude value on the FCU may be completely different from the altitude at which you level off.
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N757ST
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:17 pm

The a320 FCU is pretty intuitive once you use it a couple times. (In my case, about 7000 hours of using it) The three “dials” control speed altitude and heading. Pushing any of the dials allows for automated control of that function, as in speed will be managed by the FMGC (FMS), pushing the heading knob will engage the NAV function, and pushing altitude will allow managed climb or descent. Counter to this, pulling any of the knobs will manually control those functions. Pulling speed engages selected speed, pulling heading engages selected heading, and pulling altitude engages open climb or descent. Unless you are engaging an approach, or using the expedite button, there’s few times you will press any of the buttons besides ap1 or 2. The auto thrust button is engaged automatically at thrust reduction from toga or flex to climb... the auto thrust then can command any thrust range up max climb.

Most important though is to know and understand your FMAs. I’m not going to share my own airlines FMA guide, but here’s one off the internet.

http://www.airbusdriver.net/EFIS3.pdf

Side note, if flying without the flight directors on, using the track FPA function on the fcu is quite useful. It’ll present a flight path and track function on the PFD that makes flying visual approaches a breeze.
 
Woodreau
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:59 pm

workhorse wrote:
Flow2706 wrote:
I think it would be great if we had the ALT pushbutton on the A320 as well...


Sure! Also, the presence at the same place of buttons with so radically different effect is, well... strange. Although not aeronautical engineer nor a pilot, as someone who have been involved in the design of safety critical systems, I am very surprised that Airbus could do such a thing. Well, I guess they know better than me, but still, it just doesn't feel right.


Well the worst FCU are found on Embraer aircraft. On Boeing, Airbus, Canadair, McDonnell Douglas aircraft (basically anything not an Embraer) the knob that controls airspeed is on the left (corresponding with the airspeed tape/indicator to the left of the artificial horizon, heading is in the middle (corresponding with the heading under the artificial horizon) and the altitude is on the right (corresponding with the altitude tape/gauge to the right of the artificial horizon)

Instead on an Embraer, the heading knob is on the left, airspeed in the middle, and altitude on the right. So I've seen many an Embraer pilot transitioning to the Airbus, grab the wrong knob for heading/airspeed far too often. It's not a big deal because managed is the normal mode of operation, and the aircraft doesn't do anything unless you pull the knob. But I've made the same mistake transitioning from the Canadair to the Embraer, grabbing the wrong knob. But on an Embraer, the aircraft does it immediately as there are no managed/selected functions of the knob. I've grabbed the left knob on the Embraer when ATC issued a speed change, spun the knob, and the airplane starts turning. Embraers are just flying ASAPs waiting to happen.

Anyways apologizes for going Off topic,

Going back on topic. I don't think I miss not having an ALT knob. Pushing the Altitude knob for Vertical Speed Zero accomplishes what I need if I need a level off. Like others say as long as you pay attention to the FMA you know exactly what the aircraft is doing. The vertical guidance will annunciate V/S 0 and not ALT or ALT CRZ, so the aircraft is not attempting to maintain any preselected altitude, it's merely keeping the aircraft's vertical speed at 0.

About the only thing I think is missing on an Airbus is a CDI for lateral guidance - if you follow the flight director, not really an issue, but when handflying without a flight director it would be nice to have a CDI to see where you are in relation to the lateral path as the CDI only shows up when tracking a localizer.
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william
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Fri Dec 08, 2017 2:48 pm

workhorse wrote:
It's amazing how this forum helps noobs like me get first hand information from professionals. Woodreau, Flow2706, Starlionblue, once again, thank you for spending your time answering our questions!
.


+1 Totally agree.

Here is a topic similar to your original post. You may find some helpful info in this thread too.-

viewtopic.php?f=5&t=1379103
 
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zeke
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:42 pm

Starlionblue wrote:
However there is no altitude hold engaged. So the plane will level off but the altitude value on the FCU may be completely different from the altitude at which you level off.


Pressing ALT will not level off at the altitude ALT was pressed, it tell the autopilot to transition to level flight. The altitude it levels off to may have no correspondence to what is set on the FCU/ FMA, as normally seen on a engine out cleanup.

The EXPED on the A320 which sits in the same location as ALT on the A330 is an optional feature, most airlines that MFF A320/A330 have EXPED disabled or not installed on the A320. Pushing V/S gets the same result.
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Starlionblue
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Re: Autopilot engagement in an Airbus

Fri Dec 08, 2017 11:04 pm

zeke wrote:
Starlionblue wrote:
However there is no altitude hold engaged. So the plane will level off but the altitude value on the FCU may be completely different from the altitude at which you level off.


Pressing ALT will not level off at the altitude ALT was pressed, it tell the autopilot to transition to level flight. The altitude it levels off to may have no correspondence to what is set on the FCU/ FMA, as normally seen on a engine out cleanup.



Thanks for clarifying. However if you press ALT, ALT mode is engaged (altitude hold). While if you press V/S the plane levels off, but alt mode is not engaged. Or am I reading the FCOM wrong? I don't think I've ever seen the V/S knob pressed.

Woodreau wrote:

Instead on an Embraer, the heading knob is on the left, airspeed in the middle, and altitude on the right. So I've seen many an Embraer pilot transitioning to the Airbus, grab the wrong knob for heading/airspeed far too often. It's not a big deal because managed is the normal mode of operation, and the aircraft doesn't do anything unless you pull the knob. But I've made the same mistake transitioning from the Canadair to the Embraer, grabbing the wrong knob. But on an Embraer, the aircraft does it immediately as there are no managed/selected functions of the knob. I've grabbed the left knob on the Embraer when ATC issued a speed change, spun the knob, and the airplane starts turning. Embraers are just flying ASAPs waiting to happen.


Heh. I've grabbed the wrong knob myself a few times. My first hint that I made a mistake was normally a loud noise coming from the observer seat.

Looking before touching, then looking at the PFD instead of the FCU when you're setting a value are key skills. "Rumour vs fact", "mode awareness" and all that.
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