There are some fabulous safety devices in a modern airliner cockpit. Wonderful gizmos such as TCAS (which warns about potential collisions with other aircraft) and GPWS (which warns about crashing into the earth) have saved countless lives and contributed to the amazing safety record of airline aviation. I won’t bore you with how these systems work; suffice to say that Harry Potter was a two-bit charlatan in comparison to this real-world magic. These gizmos are amazing, but by far the coolest thing about them is that they talk.
In the early days of airliners research was done into maximizing the effectiveness of voice warnings. It was determined, with the logic of the age, that the most effective warnings should be delivered by a female voice, so that’s what they did. Llife-or-death warnings were delivered in stern, monotonic, but undeniably female voices. Because of their dogged and insistent nature, such warning systems have become known as aviation circles as “Bitching Betty.”
Here is a short example from one of the ladies who used to record the warning messages for airliner cockpits (and no, her name is probably not really Betty)…
Over time the trend changed to male voices for aircraft warning systems, possibly due to the fact that more women are now airline pilots. It was realized that assertive women were not inclined to take orders from some bitch called Betty, at least not without a good deal of discussion, argument and negotiation. Unfortunately it was also realized that a rugged mountain on a dark, stormy night, does not negotiate. A new warning voice was needed that would get an instant response from all pilots: “Bitching Bob” was the result.
Is a male voice more likely to get a response than a female voice? I’m sure the answer to that will depend upon who you ask but I, for one, miss the female voice warnings of the past.
For example, I will come out and say that the female voice in some of the early TCAS systems was downright sexy. I recall busily completing the cockpit pre-flight checks and arriving at the TCAS test sequence… a 10 second self-test which resulted in a lovely female voice stating “TCAS Test… Pass!” At this point in the process I would allow myself a brief daydream about this beautiful disembodied voice… certainly a voice you would notice.
For a while, during the transition from female to male voices, some modern jets had a combination of Bitching Bettys and Bitching Bobs. Betty provided guidance on responses that required prompt but non-violent reaction, and Bob yelled at you if you were about to land without putting the wheels down, or something equally as stupid. That wasn’t a bad combination, with the tone of voice indicating the level of urgency.
Sadly, in this day and age of political correctness, the fear modern companies have of being sued or being considered sexist has brought a new change. The modern trend is for computer generated, gender neutral voices. They are a gormless machine monotone, inhuman and precise. And horrible to hear. They are known as “Bitching Borgs”.
But it gets worse… just ask any Airbus pilot who has repeatedly been called a “retard” by his airplane, in an outrageous French accent. “Bitching Bertrand” is probably the worst, from an annoying voice viewpoint, of all of the voice warning systems.
So here is my plea for the future of aviation… bring back Betty! She was a bitch, but I loved her.
Here is a collection of things an airliner might say to you.