Only about a week after Southwest Airlines made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after an engine failure, the TV news services were competing to get the crew of the plane on their program. CBS “This Morning” was the winner, and the entire crew appeared on their morning show. I was in Pittsburgh at the time, so I was on the same time zone as the show. What made this more newsworthy was that the Captain of the plane was Tammie Jo Schults, and her voice on the recordings was so calm and business like.

aviation buttonology southwest airlines flight 1380 with president donald trump

The crew, appearing in full dress uniforms, was interviewed by the usual staff of the morning news show. All of them were very professional and fielded questions from the morning show people very well. The news folks were poking around trying to get them to say that they were scared or feared for their lives, but the crew was not about to fall into that trap. At one point, Tammie said that her first officer, Darrel Ellison, did all of the “buttonology” while she flew the plane for landing. That went right over the heads of the news people, and they didn’t even respond to that statement.

So, what is “buttonology?” No such word appears in my dictionaries. In aviation, it is a made up word meaning that we have to “push a lot of buttons” while flying. Another term that I have heard is “switchology,” which is the same thing. It also refers to “twisting of knobs” that we have to do in aviation. Even in small simple airplanes, like the Cessna 150, there is a lot of “buttonology:”

  • We have to get the ATIS or AWOS
  • Then change to ground frequency, or contact clearance delivery, depending on the airport
  • You may need to put in a squawk code in the transponder
  • Then you go to the tower frequency for take off
  • Depending on where you are, there may be a departure frequency after take off
  • Then maybe you will be talking to a Center controller
  • If you have a GPS, you may have had to enter a route into it. If you have ever done that, you know that there is a lot of “buttonology” involved for it!

If you are flying a more complex airplane, you may have landing gear to retract, flaps and trim, and prop to control. This is just the short list. As you fly more advance or larger airplanes, there are even more buttons to push and knobs to twist. All of those things combined make up what we have termed: “buttonology.” The bigger and more complex the plane, the more “buttonology” will be required. For some bigger airplanes, there was a Flight Engineer in addition to the pilots flying.

In an emergency like Southwest experienced, there is a lot happening, and happening fast. The crew has to declare an emergency and fly the plane. Having two pilots sharing duties makes the job a little easier. If you have an emergency in your Cessna 172 and you are the only one on board, it can be a very busy time. The airlines started teaching Crew Resource Management about 40 years ago. General Aviation adopted that idea as well, and now we are required to train new pilots and include this on Flight Reviews. Think about single pilot Crew Resource Management. If you are the only one on board, how do you have CRM? Of course, you use all tools available to you to meet the emergency. You may be alone in the plane, but there is still help at the other end of the frequency… do not be afraid to “declare an emergency.”

aviation buttonology definition

One of the biggest causes of general aviation accidents is loss of control. We constantly talk about this. The most important thing in any aviation situation is “Fly the Airplane.” First, Fly the Airplane! Everything else comes after that, but the “everything else” is often what gets us into trouble. Task overload when in an emergency could cause a pilot to lose control of the plane.

Now we have a new companion in the cockpit with us called an iPad. As wonderful as they are, they can, and sometimes do, add to our workload. I know that there are other types of tablets, but the iPad has become the one we use the most. What do you do IF your iPad goes blank? They run on internal batteries, and if not charged while you are flying, can become useless, and it will take a while to recharge them. I do use ForeFlight on my iPads. I have two; the one I am using and one as a backup. I know pilots that will use an iPad and have paper charts as a backup. There are many types of mounting systems available to hold the iPad, but I have dropped mine, and it slid away and was very difficult to retrieve. The lesson here is to secure yours and keep it handy for use, and also be ready and able to fly your aircraft without it.

I have flown with many pilots that have panel mounted GPS systems in their planes. The most intrusive problem is the pilot trying to enter a flight plan into the GPS while taxing toward the runway; it’s like texting and driving! That’s a bad idea! Driving the airplane while on the ground is just as important as driving your car in traffic. Enter your flight plan before you taxi, or at the run-up area; not while moving.

aviation buttonology cockpit

Technically advanced airplanes offer many advantages to us that we did not have years ago. They also present challenges in learning how to use all of that neat stuff. Many of us learned to fly in simple airplanes, with maybe only one nav-com. The plane I learned in did not even have a transponder. I remember getting checked out in more advanced airplanes that had two nav-com radios, ADF, DME, transponder, retractable gear, fuel that needed to be managed, and more. It took a while to know where everything was and what it did. I had a friend that would ferry airplanes all over the world. I asked how he handled all of the different layouts in different planes. He said, “By the time we get the plane delivered, we know what all of the switches do.” I think I’d want to know what they do before I leave the ground in that airplane!

The new flight simulators are great training devices for us to learn how to use most of the “buttonology” in planes that we will be flying. I highly recommend that you get training in how to use that technology before you need it. Emergencies are terrible classrooms.

Your Arizona Pilots Association and the FAASteam present safety seminars somewhere in the state every month. Be sure to take advantage of those free learning opportunities. Don’t forget to “Bring your Wingman!”

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