Monday, May 7, 2018

Phase 6a: Transoceanic Operating Experience #2

My second TOE trip was to Seoul, Korea.  This trip felt much less stressful than the first; partly because I'd already flown internationally and things were beginning to come together, but also because flying over the Pacific ocean is much easier than flying over the Atlantic ocean.

I, again, had a really great captain that walked me through everything beforehand, and a great relief pilot that was super familiar with the operations over the Pacific and in Korea.  Because it was TOE, I was the flying pilot, which is great in terms of rest breaks.  The flying pilot always gets the best rest break- the second break in this case.  I was in the flight deck with the checkairman (captain) for the first few hours, on my break for the next few hours, and then back in the flight deck with the other first officer for the last few hours.

On that 767, the rest area for the pilots is a first class lay flat seat with a curtain to give us some privacy.  The curtain is pulled back during taxi/takeoff/landing, and then we pull it around the chair when we are on our breaks.  The overhead bin above the seat has blankets and pillows in it, which we lock on our preflight inspection so passengers don't take them while they are boarding.   It's not a bad set up at all.  On my breaks, I typically enjoy a movie for a few minutes before I indulge in a nice nap at 37,000'.

Just under an hour before we were to land in Korea, the captain came back up and the relief pilot moved to the jumpseat.  With all three of us in the flight deck, we discussed our game plan for descending and landing in Incheon International airport (RKSI).  I gave the brief as I was the flying pilot, but they both filled me in on what to expect.  I was glad at this point that I was flying and not having to talk over the radios; some of the controllers were so hard for me to understand.  Thankfully this has gotten easier over time and I can understand the controllers even with their thick accents.

We made it safely to the gate after what felt like a super long taxi (which probably only felt long because I was the pilot speaking on the radios at this point and trying to decipher the instructions; haha).  It was evening time when we got to the hotel, so I joined the captain and first officer for some real Korean BBQ.  Wow!  If I could just eat that every day I would be a happy girl.  The food and the meat was all so delicious.  And being able to see them cook it at our table was kinda fun.

The next morning I had some time to explore.  I found a super neat park just blocks from the hotel.  It even came equipped with exercise equipment, which I found amusing.  I've never seen cardio machines in a park like that before.

 I took a nap afterward, and then we were on our way back to Seattle.  It was a quick 3-day trip, but it was perfect.  The checkairman gave me my final sign off and I was officially done with training.  It felt so good to be done!

Since my final TOE trip I have done numerous flights to Shanghai, Beijing, and Incheon.  I typically like to work 4-day trips, as opposed to 10-day trips, so I haven't been able to travel to more of the international cities that we do fly to out of Seattle, such as Singapore or Manila.  And I'm okay with this.  There is a time and a season for everything,  and at this stage in my life, I like to be able to see my son as much as possible so I can raise him and not somebody else.  Once my kids are older and just want to hang out with friends instead of parents, then I will work some of those longer trips and be able to see more.  That's the great thing about this job, though.  It can be whatever I need it to be.  It is perfect for my and my husband's life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Phase 6: Transoceanic Operating Experience

The last phase of my training was the Transoceanic Operating Experience flight, or my TOE.  For my first two previous airplanes- the Brasilia and the CRJ- my IOE trips were my final training trips before I was released as a line pilot because I wasn't doing any ocean crossings in those airplanes.  However, on the 757/767, I had this last phase of training.  I'd done flights into Canada and Mexico on the CRJ, but nothing over the ocean, so this was an entirely new experience for me.

My first TOE was from Raleigh, NC (RDU) to Paris, France (CDG).  I was provided a 100+ page TOE guide to assist in studying, and though it was thorough, I could tell there was going to be quite a bit of learning on that trip.  I studied for hours before that first flight, but still didn't feel 100% prepared.  But, that's how it goes... book studying can only get you so far.  Hands-on is where the real learning occurs.

Flying over the ocean can be tricky because the airplane is outside of radio contact with a controller on the ground, but much of the airspace is still controlled. Each sector has a different controlling agency, and each have their specific ways to gain access, or the clearance, into their sector.   Also, there are specific tracks, kind of like highways, that each airplane is assigned to.   These tracks can change from day to day, so it important for the pilots to do the proper flight planning to make sure the correct Lat/Long coordinates are entered to keep them on the appropriate track.  I know that's a super simplified version of the tracks over the atlantic ocean, but that's the basics... it would be way too long and boring to explain it in more detail.

Though I was quite nervous regarding the operations of flying over the Atlantic (as I had never done it before), that was only half of the battle.  I soon found out that the other half was figuring out these crazy international airports.  There are a handful of difficulties including language barriers,  pages of arrivals and approaches to choose from, complex taxi instructions, various ground controllers, and unusual ramp operations.  I remember Paris being quite confusing; I was glad I had a checkairman with me to help me out when I wasn't sure what was said or being asked of us.

Thankfully this international flight was over 8 hours, so we had a 3rd pilot- a relief pilot (first officer)- to assist in the safe operation of the aircraft during taxi, takeoff, and landing.  Having that third brain in the flight deck was such a help; especially because that first officer was familiar with the airport operations and had flown to Paris quite a few times in the past.

The thing I love most about flying international is being able to visit sites I've only seen in photos and movies.  When we finally made it to Paris it was well past my standard bedtime, but it was morning there and I had stuff to see.  I got to the hotel and let myself sleep for 4 hours, then forced my zombie self to get up and get ready.  The Eiffel tower was only about a mile from the hotel, so I decided to see that first.  I'd been there before, but it was still cool!

They don't make these the same in the US...
Maybe I need weekly Paris trips so I can have
crepes more often.  :)
When I got there I couldn't resist a freshly made crepe filled with bananas and nutella.  On my way back to the hotel I indulged in some delicious chocolate filled croissants, and they did not disappoint either. Though I wanted to sleep for a solid 8 hours at this point, I made myself take only a quick nap, and then I was up again.  I met up with the other captain and first officer for dinner.

I had such a great crew on this first TOE trip, and that made such a difference.  I was so nervous beforehand, but I gained my confidence quickly because my crew was so kind and supportive.

After that nights sleep, we were on our way back to the states.  I reviewed all my notes again on our drive to the airport and asked the checkairman a handful of questions.  Though it was so much information to take in (seriously, it felt like I was being fed information through a fire hose), it was such a blast at the same time.  Learning something new can feel intimidating, but it can also feel so exciting.  Who wants to live their life doing the same thing day in and day out without learning anything new?  Not me!  And I'm sure no pilot would want to be that way either.

This was the first of my two TOE trips.  My second one was a crossing over the pacific ocean.  I fill you in those details next week.  Until then, Happy Flying!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Phase 5: Initial Operating Experience

Initial Operating Experience (IOE, or some airlines shorten it down even more and call it OE) is where the fun stuff finally begins- flying an airplane again (which is why we are all in aviation, right?).  You will fly an actual trip/rotation (I've heard both terms used here) with passengers on your flight- just don't let them know it's your first time in the airplane.  Haha.

I've had IOEs in three types of airplanes now- the EMB120 Brasilia, the CRJ (200/700/900), and the B757/767.  The first one in the Brasilia was the most challenging because I didn't really know what to expect, but it has gotten a little easier each time I've had to go through this phase of training.

Ready for my first day of work as a SkyWest pilot in 2012
I remember that first IOE trip in the Brasilia like it was yesterday, even though it was over 5 years ago... I felt like an imposter in my pilot uniform walking through security as a crew member.  I was so nervous.  But I acted like I knew exactly what I was doing, like I'd been doing this for years, and walked through the airport with confidence.

That first day was a whirlwind.  I felt like I knew quite a lot from sim and ground training, but there was still so much more to learn on the line, which I quickly found out.  My trip had a showtime of 10:40am and an end time of 10:20pm- long day for a newbie!  I flew 6 legs (flights) that day... actually I only flew 5 of them; the checkairman flew the first leg while I got some of my nerves out, then I flew the rest of them.  Each IOE I've been on has been this way, with the checkairman flying the first leg, and it is quite nice to have a flight where I can soak it all in before doing it myself.

If you've never heard the term checkairman before, no worries.  He/She is a captain with extra training- he'll know how to fly the airplane from both seats and he'll fly with new first officers and captains.  Most of them become checkairman because they love teaching and helping newbies out, but there are a few that do it for the ego boost.  You will know right away which ones are there for you, and which ones are there for themselves.  If you end up with one who is unpleasant to fly with, don't take it personally- soak up as much information from them as you can, and look forward to flying with a (hopefully) more pleasant checkairman next time. 

My first trip was 4 days long, which I've found is pretty typical for an IOE.  There will usually be 2-3 IOE trips, depending on how much flight time you can acquire on each one, and if you need additional training.  Each airline may require a different amount of flight time for IOE to be complete.... somewhere between 25-50 hours.

I remember being so exhausted by the end of that first day, but my brain was going a million miles an hours, which made sleep incredibly difficult.  Thankfully I had an 18 hour layover, so I had some time to unwind and [try] to relax.  When I woke the next morning I decided to look over the notes the checkairman had given me from day 1, and was able to study for a bit before heading out for the day.  In addition to his notes, I also reviewed the checklists and flows, callouts, basic systems, and some of the operating procedures and company policies.  I'd studied all of this countless times before, but I knew if I could remember all that without a problem, it would be much easier to soak in more information from my second day of training, which was soon approaching.

I was thankful I only had 2 legs that day.  I was able to take in some more information and didn't feel too overwhelmed.  However, that night we only had an 8 hour 51 minute layover (this was before the new rest requirements), and I did not sleep well at all.  My term for this is stress sleeping- stressing about how little sleep I'm going to get, which in turn makes me not sleep at all.  If you can prevent yourself from doing this, do it!  It sucks.  :)

On day 1 of IOE I felt completely overwhelmed, but by day 4 I began feeling that this was something I could do.  Some of the tips and tricks that the checkairman gave me were starting to sink in, and he was incredibly good about giving me constructive criticism.  He gave me a list of things I did well, and a list of things I still needed to work on- he gave me the confidence I needed to keep going.  I will forever be grateful for that awesome first checkairman that I flew with.

By the end of my IOE, I had flown 15 legs!  I was exhausted and ready for a couple of days at home.  In my experience, the training department wants to get pilots done as soon as possible (it's expensive to pay for training), so I had only 3 days off in-between each of my IOE trips.  This held true for my CRJ and B757 training.  It may not sound like a lot of time of, but it's the perfect amount.  I was able to have a couple of days of being a normal person again and not think about flying at all, and then a day of studying to make sure I still remembered everything, then back to the airplane.  We all know from experience that if we go too long without flying, we start to forget little things, which is why it is nice to go from one IOE trip to another without too much time in-between.

The last 2 legs of the final IOE will be the line check, which should be no big deal at this point.  Per company policy, the line checkairman will need to see you fly one leg as the flying pilot and the second leg as the pilot monitoring.  They will not help you out as an instructor, but they will be the other pilot as they would be flying on a normal line flight with you.  I remember being a little nervous for my line check, but I also felt comfortable with flying the airplane and the procedures, so I knew I would pass.  No biggie.

In summary, the IOE trips are meant to tie everything together- ground training, FTD training, and sim training.  You start off with rote memory (you've learned it and memorized it but don't know how to really use the information), to being able to take everything you've learned and apply it to flying the airplane successfully from point A to point B.  IOE trips can still feel pretty stressful, but they are such a good learning experience, and definitely a necessary part of training.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Phase 4: Simulator Training

After procedures training comes the full motion simulator training.  The full motion simulators are pretty cool, and this phase of training is treated like the real thing- from wearing headsets, to getting clearances, to taxiing to and from the runway, etc.  This is the meaty portion of training.  From my experience, this phase is usually 2-3 weeks with a few days off somewhere in the middle of it all.

There are two different sets of training and then testing during this phase- the MV (Maneuvers Validation) and the LOE (Line Operational Evaluation).   Each simulator session is 6 hours long- 2 hours of briefing, 2 hours of training, a quick break, then 2 more hours of training.  By the end of these sessions, some relaxing is definitely needed.  When I did the Brasilia training my time slot went from 4-10pm, with the CRJ I had 10am-4pm, and with the 757/767 my time slots were all over the place... anywhere from 8am to 10pm.  I lucked out and never had to do a dreaded 4am or 12am time slots.  Those ones are brutal!

This is the full motion 767 simulator, aka torture device :)
The maneuvers training and then testing typically consist of what most pilots are used to in their training and checkrides- stalls, slow flight, crosswind takeoffs and landings, wind shear recovery, TCAS TA/RAs (how to respond when there are aircraft approaching and could impede your flight path), approaches, missed approaches, go arounds, engine failures, fires, major emergencies, etc.  The Maneuvers Validation feels like in instrument check ride with maybe a few more maneuvers specific to the airline or aircraft.   The MV is a company check ride, not an FAA checkride, so if this portion is failed it won't be on the FAA record.

The maneuvers training always seems a bit stressful for me because I feel like I need to perform all the maneuvers perfectly the first time, though I am still learning the feel for the airplane.  Stalls and slow flight, for example, are (hopefully) never practiced in the airplane, so I always feel a bit rusty when practicing and performing these maneuvers the first couple of times.  I know, I shouldn't be so hard on myself, and I've always flown the maneuvers quite well, but this still isn't my favorite part of sim training.

The LOE training consists of LOFT (Line Oriented Flight Training) scenarios.  There are usually between 3-5 LOFT simulator sessions to get pilots prepared for the LOE.   These simulator sessions are treated like the real deal.  As a crew, we will receive all of the paperwork that we would for a typical flight.  We have to get the weather, the clearance, and set the aircraft up like we would while the passengers were boarding.  The sim instructor is ATC, dispatch, maintenance, flight attendants, and anybody else we would speak with outside of the flight deck.  Instead of flying circles in the air for hours, we fly from point A to point B.  There will be minor maintenance issues, but usually nothing major.

This is the phase of the simulator training that I enjoy because it feels like a normal day of flying.  One pilot will fly the first leg, then there will be a 15ish minute break, and the other pilot will fly the second leg.  At the end of the LOFT scenarios comes the LOE.  This is the FAA check ride.  The simulator instructor cannot help in anyway- they are just there to run the sim.  It will be similar to the LOFT scenarios, so it's really nothing to worry about.  Work as a team, use the QRH (Quick Reference Handbook) when there are maintenance issues, and treat it like flying an airplane full of passengers.

Once the LOE is completed and passed, the simulator instructor will give the FAA Type Rating certificate.  It feels so good to get the tiny piece of paper!  I had a few days off after this to relax and rejuvenate before my IOEs (Initial Operating Experience) in the actual airplane.  That post is for next time.