ChatGPT and Aviation Journalism

Text by Divan Muller
Initial thoughts on ChatGPT - an aviation magazine editor’s perspective.
DALL•E2, another product of OpenAI, generated this image when given the keywords, "Photograph of a Supermarine Spitfire flying through clouds."
OpenAI’s ChatGPT has recently made news headlines around the world. Essentially, it is an artificial intelligence chat program. It is not the first of its kind, but it is so much better than anything that has come before it.

According to Harvard Business Review, “We’re hitting a tipping point for artificial intelligence: With ChatGPT and other AI models that can communicate in plain English, write and revise text, and write code, the technology is suddenly becoming more useful to a broader population of people. This has huge implications.”

As an example, I instructed ChatGPT to “explain to a toddler how a VOR works in aviation.” Here is the response:

Sure! Do you know what a radio is? A VOR, or VHF omnidirectional range, is a special kind of radio that helps planes know where they are. Planes can listen to a VOR to figure out which direction they are flying in and how far they are from the VOR.

The VOR sends out a special kind of radio signal that goes in all directions, like the spokes on a wheel. When a plane is flying, it can listen to the VOR and figure out which direction it is from the VOR. This helps the plane's pilot know which way to go to get to where they want to go.

For comparison, I also requested, “explain to an electrical engineer how a VOR works in aviation.”

A VHF omnidirectional range (VOR) is a type of radio navigation system used by planes to determine their position and stay on course. It works by transmitting a reference signal in all directions from a fixed ground location, typically at an airport or other navigational waypoint.

A plane equipped with a VOR receiver can tune in to the VOR frequency and use the reference signal to determine its bearing, or the direction to the VOR station relative to the plane's current position. The VOR receiver compares the phase of the received signal to the phase of a locally generated reference signal, and the difference between the two indicates the bearing to the VOR station.

In addition to providing bearing information, the VOR system can also transmit a modulated voice message, such as the station identifier or other information. The VOR receiver can demodulate this message and present it to the pilot.

VOR is just one of several types of radio navigation systems used in aviation. Other common systems include instrument landing systems (ILS) for approach and landing, distance measuring equipment (DME) for determining distance from the VOR station, and GPS for global navigation.

By conversing with ChatGPT, one can create anything from programming code to business letters, poems, music or research papers. The possibilities seem endless, but it is not a flawless system. Can it be used to write articles, for say, an aviation magazine? Absolutely. It will no doubt be used by journalists, content creators, students and professionals to write millions of articles, essays, dissertations, letters, and much more. Should it be used by the media? Probably not.

Here's the thing. ChatGPT has the ability to sound extremely authoritative while making up ‘facts’ and sprinkling them into a written product made up of 99 percent truth.

Here is an example. I gave ChatGPT a somewhat silly request: “How do you use a Boeing 747 in a World War II dogfight?”

It is not feasible to use a Boeing 747 in a World War II dogfight due to a number of reasons:

1. The Boeing 747 is a wide-body jet airliner that was first introduced in 1970, long after World War II ended in 1945. It was not in existence during the war and therefore could not have been used in a dogfight.

2. The Boeing 747 is not designed for air-to-air combat. It is a large, heavy aircraft with a cruising speed of around 550 mph, which is much slower than the speeds at which most World War II dogfights took place.

3. The Boeing 747 is not equipped with the weapons and systems necessary for air-to-air combat. It does not have guns or missiles, and it is not designed to withstand the stresses of high-G maneuvering.

4. The Boeing 747 is a commercial aircraft and is not intended for military use. It is not suitable for the demands of a dogfight and would not be able to hold its own against a dedicated military fighter.

In summary, it is not possible to use a Boeing 747 in a World War II dogfight due to its design, capabilities, and lack of suitability for air-to-air combat.

That is a logical, well-written answer, but notice the second point. 550 mph seems a bit fast for 1940s air combat.

What about creativity? “Write a poem about the Cessna 172 in the style of Shakespeare,” I typed. I was not disappointed.

O Cessna 172, thou art a noble steed,
Thy wings of white dost rise from off the ground,
And through the air thou dothst speed with great speed,
Thy engine roaring with a joyous sound.

Thou art a chariot of the sky,
A messenger of hope and joy,
Thy sleek and slender form doth defy
The forces that would seek to employ

Thy graceful descent, thy gentle flight,
Thy sturdy frame and steadfast might,
All these combine to make thee right
For those who seek to take to flight.

So here's a toast to thee, O Cessna 172,
Thou art a wonder of the modern age,
Thy beauty and thy strength do never fade,
But always shine, a brilliant shining gauge.
I used DALL•E2, another product of OpenAI, to generate “a painting of William Shakespeare standing next to a Cessna 172”.
Sea shanty? No problem! “Write a sea shanty about the spitfire that doesn't include alcohol.” Yes, that last bit was necessary.

Ahoy there mateys, lend me your ear,
For a tale of a plane that's mighty and dear.

The Spitfire, she roars through the skies,
With her sleek lines and her powerful eyes.

She's the pride of the fleet and the queen of the air,
With her brave pilots at the controls, she's beyond compare.

From the fields of old England, she rose to fame,
Defying all foes and living up to her name.

She flew through the war, with her head held high,
Defending her country against the enemy's might.

So raise up a cheer and give a great shout,
For the Spitfire and all she's about.

She's a symbol of courage and a beacon of hope,
A true hero of the skies, she'll never elope.

So here's to the Spitfire, may she ever stay strong,
Defending the skies and righting all wrongs.

Not bad, other than perhaps the part about “her powerful eyes.”

Does ChatGPT have a sense of humour? “How many pilots does it take to change a lightbulb?” I asked.

It would typically take just one pilot to change a light bulb. Pilots are trained to be able to perform a variety of tasks and handle many different types of equipment, so changing a light bulb would be a relatively simple task for a pilot. However, the actual number of pilots needed to change a light bulb would depend on the specific circumstances and the resources available.

Desperate for humour, I typed, “Tell me a joke about aircraft.”

Why couldn't the airplane stand up?
Because it was too tired!

This reply is somewhat revealing. Initially, it didn’t make sense, until I remembered hearing that joke before. A motorcycle can’t stand up because it is “two-tired”. The AI had simply replaced the motorcycle with an airplane and assumed the punchline would have the same impact. A similarly innocent mistake, with more dangerous consequences, could easily be inserted into an article relating to flight safety.

That said, I was specifically looking for ways make the chatbot produce mistakes. Other than its lack of sense of humour, it is still incredible how human-like the interactions are, and I think we are yet to realize the full potential of an artificial intelligence assistant.

Again, as a simple example, here is another interaction. I asked it to “explain to a five-year-old how a wing generates lift.”

Sure! A wing is shaped like a curve, and when air flows over it, the air has to travel further over the top of the wing than it does under the wing. This makes the air above the wing go faster, and because of something called the Bernoulli Principle, faster-moving air has less pressure. So the pressure on the top of the wing is less than the pressure on the bottom of the wing, and this difference in pressure creates a force called lift that lifts the wing up into the air. Does that make sense?

Not quite satisfied, I asked, “What about newton's third law?

Newton's third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the case of a wing generating lift, the action is the wing pushing down on the air, and the reaction is the air pushing the wing up.

When the wing moves through the air, it generates a downward force on the air. This downward force is the action, and it creates an upward force on the wing, which is the reaction. The upward force on the wing is what we call lift.

So Newton's third law explains how the wing is able to generate lift by pushing down on the air. The wing and the air are interacting with each other, and the wing is able to lift off the ground because of the upward force (the reaction) that the air exerts on the wing.

ChatGPT is an incredible milestone, and anticipation is already building for its successor. For the time being, Aviation News Journal will stick with human writers. Well, perhaps we can make just one last request… “Write a short poem on a Canadian aviation magazine called ‘Aviation News Journal’.

Aviation News Journal,
A magazine that soars,
Bringing all the latest news,
From Canada's aviation shores.

From planes to helicopters,
To all things that fly,
This magazine has it all,
In-depth, and on the fly.

So if you're an aviation fan,
This magazine's for you,
With insights, stories, and more,
It'll keep you up to date, too.