Vintage technology: ‘It sounds so much cleaner’


Air Vice Marshal Rich Maddison

Air Vice Marshal Rich Maddison is a senior RAF officer with decades of flying experience. “As an Air Force we are as high-tech as you get, but this, this is just me.”

He is referring to a miniature computer with a black and lime green screen and miniscule memory that uses AA batteries to power a 1997 design. It is a Psion 5 device and for AVM Maddison it represents his personal aviation history.

The dated device is where he keeps his own flying log. Hailing from an era when computers came with their own programming languages the Psion invited users to tinker with its limited applications. He could take fields in its address book and convert them to resemble a pilot’s logbook.

Every pilot records each flight in columns listing such details as the date, aircraft type, crew names, purpose of flight, route flown etc. AVM Maddison was also issued with a physical logbook but his Psion allowed him to build an automatic monthly summary of his flying hours that could be used to tell him how many hours he’d achieved on a particular aircraft or with one of his colleagues.

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Today’s RAF uses its own advanced flying program to compile this data, but this lacks the personal bond AVM Maddison has with his Psion. “I’m on my third physical logbook and that’s what gets signed off every year, but I get a lot more out of my Psion.”

Psion 5
image captionBatteries last for months on Rich Maddison’s Psion 5

The AA batteries only need replacing every couple of months so he doesn’t have to worry about recharging it like a contemporary device and without an internet connection it’s pretty secure. It has travelled the globe with him, often when he’s been in charge of a Puma helicopter, another old machine that celebrates 50 years of RAF service in 2021. “The Puma has been upgraded of course, just like my Psion!”

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His logbook opens with an image of a Puma rising to fly away, a piece of graphic art he created. This very personal program has been picked up by other Nato pilots over the years.

He’s happy with an iPhone and tablet and admits that the Psion “feels like a brick compared to a smartphone”, but the little flash drives that feed its software are very practical. While on flying training in Norway AVM Maddison came across another pilot using an even earlier version of his logbook program. “I took out my flash drive and gave him an upgrade,” he laughs.


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