initial operating experience

Transitioning from simulator to real world

The first time I flew a Transport-category aircraft, there were 50 people sitting comfortably in the back. I tried hard to not really think about it, but it’s hard to ignore. It was my first day of initial operating experience, or IOE. I had spent nearly two months training in a classroom and simulator, but this was the beginning of my actual aircraft training.

Much like almost any training program, there was a ground school, a written test, an oral exam, and a practical test in a simulator. Ground school covered all the aircraft systems, basic regulations, and company operations specifications. Simulator training consisted of basic instrument flying skills, emergency drills, and normal line flying. The checkride itself included items straight from the Airline Transport Pilot Practical Test Standards.

After completing the training program, I was scheduled for IOE with a company line instructor for two four-day trip sequences. It was his job to help consolidate my training and ensure that after all that training in the simulator, I could actually fly the aircraft. He would mentor and instruct me on the procedures.

At first the workload seems immense, and you wonder how you will ever get everything done on time—then it slowly eases. Everything you learned in ground school and in the simulator still applies, but now the time crunch is on. After day two or three I was starting to get my preflight preparations completed with time to spare.

It was during these first few days that the differences between flying the simulator and flying in the real world became dramatically apparent. Nuances of the airplane that couldn’t be duplicated, delays inherent to the system that required quick surmounting, dealing with passenger issues, baggage-handling delays—and most of all, weather.

Once I had completed a second four-day trip, my instructor signed me off for line flying. Unlike most certificates or ratings that only require the written, oral, and practical test, becoming a line-qualified FAR Part 121 pilot also requires this signoff. It’s like the final endorsement and seal of approval. It was like being given that first signoff for solo flight. I felt as though I was taking that first step alone. It’s an experience that I keep reliving in my flying career.