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.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Phase 3: Procedures Training

After the systems portion was complete, I had just over a week to learn all of the procedures in the Flight Training Device, or FTD.  The FTD is basically a simulator that doesn't have motion. It's what most pilots are used to using while going through instrument training.  At the airlines, most of the checklists need to be memorized, and the easiest way to do that is by having a 'flow' for each checklist.  Some airlines have a required flow they want all their pilots to know, others don't care what the flow is, just as long as each required task is completed.

For me, there was a recommended flow, but not a required one, so I was able to use the flows that were given, but change some things around if the order didn't work for me.  For example, after landing I always start with the items next to me and move my way up- Transponder to Standby, Flaps Up, Speedbrakes Stowed, Radar Off, Icing Equipment (on or off as required).  I complete the checklists tasks in the same order every time, which helps me not to forget an item.  After I've completed the items by memory, I pull out the checklist to make sure I have completed all of the required items.
Me and my crew saying goodbye to the ol' Brasilia

I wish I would have been taught checklist flows from day 1 of my training because it makes checklist completion that much easier, but I had never used a flow until my first airline job flying the EMB-120 Brasilia.  

Memorizing the checklists seems daunting at first, but after a couple of days of practice, it really is no big deal.  Also, once you've done it on one airplane, it gets easier each time you have to memorize a new flow on a new airplane; many checklists and flows have similarities from one plane to the next.

Once the checklists were memorized, my sim partner and I were able to move onto some fun stuff in the FTD, like learning how to takeoff and land the airplane and how to fly some approaches.  Every maneuver, like the checklists, has items, or callouts, that need to be memorized.  For example, on takeoff, the Pilot Monitoring (the pilot that isn't flying) will callout "Positive Rate" once airborne and a positive rate of climb is established, and the Pilot Flying will callout "Gear Up."

Again, memorizing all of the callouts in the beginning seems incredibly daunting, but after doing it a few times, it starts to come naturally.  And having the callouts is helpful and keeps both pilots 'on the same page.'

At the end of the procedures training, there will be a Procedures Validation or PV where the FTD instructor will grade how well each and every checklist item is completed.  The checklists need to be memorized to near perfection by this point... if an item is missed on the flow, it should be caught when the checklist is reviewed to make sure each item has been completed.  This part of training isn't meant to trip anybody up, but if the procedures aren't memorized well, moving onto the next part, simulator training, would be incredibly difficult and stressful.

I always enjoy this phase of training because I can memorize pretty quickly.  However, when I went through the procedures training on the Brasilia five years ago, I had no idea we were supposed to have all of this stuff memorized on day 1, and went to the FTD that first day with no clue on the flows or callouts.  Let's just say I had a pretty stressful next 24 hours memorizing all of the flows before my next FTD session.  I remember the instructor telling me I had until our meeting the next day to get everything memorized, and he doubted that I would be able to do it.  I could have given up right then and there, but when somebody doubts me, I must prove them wrong.  :)  So for those of you going to your first airline gig, make sure you have all the flows memorized BEFORE your first FTD session- that's world class advice right there.  ;)

Next up?  Simulator training!  Stay tuned for that and Happy Flying!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Phase 2: Systems

After my first two weeks of ground school were complete, I was sent home with a USB drive with the systems and a bunch of study material to learn over the next few days.  Some of the guys in my class only had 7 days to learn the systems, but I had ten and I was grateful for that.  I flew home from Atlanta on a Friday and took the next day to relax my brain a bit.  Then I made a study plan for me to follow so I could make sure I was done studying everything before I had to go back to class.

At the time, my son was still less than a year old and needed a lot of attention, so I had my sitter watch him for 4 hours each weekday so I could get some solid studying in.  This was so helpful!  Not only did it give me uninterrupted time each morning, but I made sure those were very productive hours.  In fact, I had finished studying all of the systems after only 4 days, which gave me plenty of time to review them again and make sure I knew each system front and back.  By the time I went back to Atlanta, I was well prepared.

As a side note, I think many of the airlines nowadays are doing self study learning on the systems (like I did with the USB drive), but when I went through the Brasilia and CRJ training at my last airline, all of the systems were learned in a class.  I enjoyed the USB method so much better because I could go at my own pace- I learn better that way.  Both times I took the systems classes at SkyWest, they were about 3 weeks long.

Me and the 767 engine.  What a beauty!
I flew out to Atlanta the day before class so I could get all settled in and spent the rest of the day relaxing, since I'd studied some more on the flight and my brain was full.  The next day began with a one-on-one learning the FMS on the 757/767.  It's pretty similar to the CRJ so it wasn't too difficult to learn.  I think it was day 3 that the rest of the 757/767 students arrived (they were already pilots at the company so they didn't get the extra couple of days that I got) and we started reviewing the systems.  There were a couple hours of class in the morning and then an FTD session to help us tie all the systems together with hands on knowledge.  This part was done with an instructor and our sim partner, and it was so helpful!  Learning a system from the book is one thing, but being in the flight deck to see how the system actually works- how we can control the system- brought everything full circle for me.

I continued to study the systems after class each day, and by the end of that block of training, I was ready for my systems test.  The test was completed on the computer so I knew my results immediately.  I passed!  Phase 2 of training was now complete.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Phase 1: The First Day of Ground School

The first day of ground school on February 13, 2017 proved to be an incredibly exciting day.  Interview attire was required, so we all looked the same as the last time we had seen each other.  Most of the other guys in my class I had interviewed with, so it was nice to see them again.  There were a few introductions and then we headed down to the museum to take a class photo with the sexy DC-3 on display there.  I wish every company would do this because I really enjoy having the photo hung on my wall now.  I have great memories with all the guys I went through training with, so it's nice to remember all those good times.

For class, they had us sit in seniority order.  Seniority was based on the last 4 of our SSNs with the first number of 9 the highest seniority and a 0 the lowest seniority.  The last four of my social started with a 2, so I figured from the moment I got hired that I would be one of the most junior pilots in class.  Much to my surprise, however, I was smack dab in the middle.  How did I luck out with that?

As a side not, from the moment I got hired the year before, my husband and I planned on me getting the MD-88 and being based in either Detroit or New York, because my social number was so low.  I'd heard there was going to be a 2-year seat lock, so my husband and I planned on having to move because commuting for 2 years is not our cup of tea.

Right before lunch came the most nerve-racking time of the entire day-- the listing of the airplanes and bases that were available for us to bid on.  For our class drop, there were a few A320 slots [Atlanta or NYC], four 7ERs [Atlanta] (757-200, 757-300, 767-300ER), a few more 717s [Atlanta or NYC], and quite a few MD88s [Atlanta or NYC].  During lunch, I began to get a feel for what some of the guys were going to bid for.  I knew if I could get the 7ER I would be able to eventually get back to Seattle as that plane has a base here, but I had to play it off cool because I didn't want some of the guys senior to me to know how much I wanted that.

The 7ER was my first choice, for obvious reasons stated above.  The A320 was my second choice because I knew I could at least get to SLC with that plane, and we have family there so we could always move.  My third choice was the 717 because I knew I could eventually get to LAX, and I was okay with living in SoCal again.  My fourth choice was the MD88, and I really hoped it wouldn't come to that.

I took this photo from the back seat of the 767ER
After lunch all our nerves were high as the bidding began (except maybe the 4 most senior guys in class who knew what they were going to get).  The A320s were all gone within the first few guys, so my option 2 was gone.  One guy senior to me bid for the 7ER, then another.  There were still more than 2 guys ahead of me at this point, and only 2 7ER slots left, so it wasn't looking very promising for me at this point; I was already telling myself I'd have to go to option #3.  However, none of those guys bid for the 7ER- they bid for the 88s and 717s.  What?? This allowed me to get the 7ER.  Being able to announce my bid out loud, "I'll take the 7ER Atlanta" was a wonderful feeling.  I could not wait to tell my husband the good news.

This doesn't have to do with the first day of class per se, but a few times a year the company will come out with a bid for pilots to change bases, airplanes, and/or seat position.  It just so happened that there was a bid still open for 2 more days, so for those of us that wanted to, we were able to put in bids to change our bases.  I wasn't that confident I would be able to get Seattle from that bid, but I put a bid for #1 Seattle, #2 SLC, and #3 LAX hoping that I would at least be able to get one of those 3 bases.  The results for that bid came out the following week, and I got Seattle!  What?  How could this be?  I was going to be the most junior first officer on that category for who-knows-how-long, but I didn't care.  I wasn't going to have to commute and I was going to be on reserve at home.   I could handle that.

After the bidding was over we were finally able to relax and enjoy the rest of the day.  We learned a bit more about the company, which got us even more excited than ever to work for them.  We all left class feeling motivated and excited about our future careers.