second in command

On April 12th 2010, I began long term training for my first ever 121 airline. Ground school, simulator training, and soon to be aircraft training. I don’t know why, but it feels like I just got here yesterday. I’ve been here almost two months.

We began with basic indoctrination which included all sorts of company rules and regulations as well as government restrictions and policies. This was a little over a week long of everything I needed to know about how not to get fired. I learned how to fight a terrorist. I learned how to use an archaic computer system to read what must be the first form of e-mail. I learned a lot of new terms for harassing women and minorities.

After that we split into our aircraft specific classes. I had chosen the Embraer 145 along with 8 other new hires in my class. We were also joined by a few pilots that had been recalled from furlough. Eventually the recalled pilots would leave the class prior to the completion as they were awarded a different aircraft midway through.

This second portion of the ground training is considered systems training. We learn about each specific system of the aircraft and how they interact with each other and how to control them. Some systems are more complicated than others, some are innately difficult, others are insanely easy. Unfortunately the former outnumbers the latter. However after a while of studying and dissecting and interpreting, they all meshed together and became one.

After completing a final exam, systems class was done. We completed the oral exam portion of our check ride and then on to the simulator training.

It had been almost two months since I’d flown anything resembling an airplane, so I was excited to at least be able to pretend for a while. Pretend to fly a jet even.

In the simulator we got to do some pretty amazing stuff. Things that most pilots would otherwise never get to experience. Rapid decompression, cabin fire, instrumentation failures, engine failures, engine fires, flight control failures, hydraulic failures, electrical failures, landing gear failures, ‘insert random failure here’ failures. The list goes on and on. The first few days of the training never had a quiet moment. Every 5 seconds it seemed like something else had failed, was about to fail, or was in the process of failing. I even said during one session, it felt like I was doing more work reading and completing checklists than the guy that was just flying the airplane was.

After a few days of near complete hysteria in the simulator, I started to feel like I actually knew what I was doing. I never really had a perfect flight, but each session contained less and less mistakes and I began to feel more confident in myself and my knowledge.

A few days ago I took the check ride in the simulator. This was the first check ride I have ever taken that I wasn’t completely stressed out about. I don’t know why. This should have been one of the most difficult ones I’ve taken. Perhaps it was because I took half of this check ride almost two weeks prior to the practical portion? The oral portion was completed at the end of ground school. Maybe it was because it was in a simulator? However, I could screw the simulator up just as much as a real aircraft. I don’t really know.

The check ride was pretty much as advertised. I did however create some difficulty for myself that didn’t need to be there. During the initial portion of my single engine approach, I asked my check airman if he would like me to disconnect the autopilot. I was approaching the point where I needed to start hand flying the approach without the assistance of the autopilot. I knew this only because I knew that the single engine approach was to be hand flown. This began a back and forth discussion between the two of us as I was becoming established on the vertical guidance track to the runway. Not good.

When I finally clicked off the autopilot I was behind the aircraft. I had overshot the glide slope, which meant I was going to be high and fast. Trying to reconfigure the aircraft with gear and flaps, reduction of power to flight idle and slight over controlling induced some self induced oscillations. Affectionately known as S turns across a localizer and being on a roller coaster on the glide slope. This created some problems for me. In order to complete an approach the aircraft must be stabilized by a certain point prior to landing. I had passed that point, and those criteria were far from met. When I arrived at the decision point to land or go around, the choice was clear. If I tried to mend this approach and land, I might have been able to pull it off. There was a greater chance that I would make a mess of it, or crash.

I chose not to be a betting man on game day.

I demonstrated a single engine go-around. A maneuver that isn’t required for me to demonstrate proficiency in but I got to anyways. It was much better to do that than try and force the airplane onto the runway. I came back around for another try. This time I wasn’t distracted or unsure of how I would be flying the approach. That resulted in a much smoother, more stabilized, single engine landing.

That was the only hiccup of my simulator check ride. I felt confident with the rest of my flying, and was happy with the result despite my one mistake.

With the check ride out of the way, the only simulator training that remains is a LOFT scenario. LOFT or line oriented flight training, is designed to move away from the training environment of simulator flying and introduce what actual line flying will be like. The flight is designed to represent a flight from New York to Washington DC. I was scheduled to complete this earlier in the week, however as things go, the simulator broke.

So now I wait. Once the LOFT scenario is complete, I move on to the actual aircraft. Passengers -n- all.