Popular Mechanics has a great summary of what really happened in the crash of Air France's flight 447 two years ago off the coast of Brazil. Bottom line: profound pilot error combined with an apparent lack of understanding of how the automated flight systems on board their Airbus 330. Some of the pilot errors were apparently caused by the pilots expecting the plane's flight control systems to work like older, less automated systems worked. Said another way, the pilots appeared to be unprepared to handle the complexities of their automated flight controls.
This is a problem familiar to any modern software developer: users, in general, have little idea how the software they use actually works. It's common – in fact, normal – for the users' mental model of the software package to be badly flawed. For most kinds of software, the outcome of this is frustrated users and angry tech support calls. This is not the case for flight control software, as this article makes very clear...
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