Monday, August 17, 2015

The Truth About Sim Training

Maybe I've been procrastinating this post... okay, I have definitely been putting this off.  Not just for days or weeks, but for months.  I just wasn't sure how to write it.  Be honest about how it really is for me, or only tell the good stuff so I can seem macho like I'm sure all of the guys are?  Being one of the few females in aviation, sometimes it is hard to let my guard down and admit something is tough for me.  I don't want to seem like a wimpy girl trying to fit in in a man's world.  But when it comes down to it, I want to be me.  I want to be honest.  So here it is- I detest simulator training!  I said it... it feels weird to finally admit that.  And a little scary, but that's the truth.

I love the ground portion of training.  All the book work, the studying, learning all that cool stuff about the systems, acing the test at the end.  Love love love!  The simulator, on the other hand, not so much.  In fact, I dread it.  I've never enjoyed the sim.  I always get so nervous and worked up and screw up on things I wouldn't normally screw up on.  They never fly like the actual plane, and the motion thing always throws me off- I get spatial disorientation, which is never a good thing when flying and in a stressful environment.

I started my simulator training on May 8th and finished on May 31st (though it felt like I was there for my entire life).  I was hoping to get simulator training in Salt Lake, since I have family close, and it's an easy commute home to then Palm Springs, but I was awarded training in Atlanta.  Yep, humid, super far away from home, HotLanta.

The first few days of training were super fun, actually.  We had 4 days to learn and master all of the checklists and flows.  That I can do!  If at the end of each lesson we had extra time, we would practice an approach or something equally fun.  I had an awesome sim (technically it was FTD... but it was in the sim, so call it what you want) instructor who made the experience very rewarding.  On day 5 we had our Procedures Validation and I think I did the entire thing in less than 30 minutes.  You essentially go out to a cold dark plane, get it started, get all the paperwork done, do all the checklists, taxi out to the runway, get cleared for takeoff, abort the takeoff, and then do all the checklists back to the gate and shut 'er down.  I was nervous, but I passed no problem.


I had 3 days off after that, which wasn't enough time to go home to Palm Springs.  A few of the others stayed in Atlanta on these days off, so we de-stressed by exploring a bit and going downtown.  We went to the aquarium and found a delicious BBQ to eat at.  It was the best way to spend some time off without my hubs.

After the 3 days, sim started again.  This was the beginning of the real meaty stuff- approaches, balked landings, emergencies, crosswind takeoffs and landings, etc.  I did well during this section, but I did have a pretty discouraging day on day 2.  I got cleared for a back course approach and instead of hitting B/C on the FCP (flight control panel... the buttons that tell the autopilot what to do), I hit APPR (approach) mode instead.  When the needle became 'alive' the airplane began a turn in the wrong direction because I had put it in the wrong mode.  On no!  I realized it pretty quickly, but the needle went full scale, and now I was high, not quite on course yet, and getting behind; in a new airplane, these were not mistakes I could afford to make.  I asked my captain to request vectors from ATC so I could try the approach again.

I was so embarrassed!  The sim instructor then made me fly the entire missed approach, which took forever, before I could try the approach again.  I finally got vectored back around and mastered it the second time, but I had wasted a lot of time on this one approach; so much time that I wasn't able to complete all the maneuvers that day.  Maybe I just need to be less hard on myself, but it sucks messing up on something when I actually do know what I'm doing.

Thankfully the next day went well, but I was so freaked out from my costly mistake on day 2 that I was super nervous going into sim this day.  I'll be honest, making mistakes is not my favorite thing to do.  I know failure is all part of the experience, but it sucks!  ;)

I had another chunk of 3 days off after that but decided to stay and get some serious studying in instead of trying to commute to and from home.  I think I am somewhat of an extrovert.  I need people around me to stay sane.  Some time alone is nice, but only for so long.  The quiet drives me crazy!  Those 3 days felt like forever.   :)

The next 3 days of sim training were the most intense days of my life.  I'd heard stories of this sim instructor, but stories didn't compare to what I was about to experience.  He was a nice guy, and I'm sure he treated people kindly, but not in the sim!  It was awful.  Even when I did something right, I felt as though I had screwed up royally.  Day 3 was the MV (the maneuvers validation), and I was super nervous.  I knew I could do the maneuvers if I could get him out of my head, so that is what I did.  Of course he sat there the entire time, but I blocked him out.  I couldn't let an ounce of negativity into that sim session.  I had to pass- because I knew I could.  And I did (because I'm a bad A**... haha).  But sim that day was not enjoyable at all.

After those 3 days were over, I had a block of 4 days off, and I was going home.  I needed some time to destress and forget sim training for a few days.  I got done with the sim at 6pm and was on a flight to SLC at 8pm.  Flying standby can be so crazy sometimes.  The flight showed oversold, but when I finally got a seat and boarded, the plane was half empty.  I lucked out- there were a ton of misconnects!  My husband was in Salt Lake for those few days so we met up there and spent some time together.  It was just what I needed.  Thank goodness for an amazing, supportive spouse!  Seriously, be careful who you marry in this industry- make sure you choose someone that will lift you up when you need it most.

It was hard for me to go back out to Atlanta after those amazing days off, but I had to finish what I started.  I had 3 sim sessions left.  Two LOFT (Line Oriented Flight Training) sessions, and the LOE (Line Oriented Evaluation).  The LOFTS are simulated line flying; one leg out and one leg back.  You treat it is as if it is a real flight with passengers; no major emergencies occur, unless they are self inflicted.  I had a super nice sim instructor for all of this, which was great.  But by this point I was stressed out, missing home, and just ready to be out of the sim.

I passed my LOE with no problems.  The LOE is the checkride for the type rating, so it is a big deal.  It is very similar to the LOFT scenarios- a pretend real life scenario.  I can't tell you the relief I felt when I had finally passed.  I wanted to laugh and cry all at the same time.  I felt like I could leave prison... I know that sounds dramatic... but I really felt picked on having to go through sim training for an entire month so far away from home.  It is the worst thing ever for me.  Even though I always do well, even though I have never failed, and even though I do have some good times, I dread it like you would not believe.  I am a basket case during sim training.

So there you have it- the hardest thing I have ever shared to the public- my weakness, my secret of dreading simulators, the fact that something is difficult for me.  I just had to get it out there.  Maybe there is just one other person who has felt this way?  Or maybe I am just a wimpy girl next to all these macho aviators.  Haha.  Either way, I am me, and I like me the way I am- wimpiness and all.  Thankfully flying airplanes is so fun that the excitement of flying the real jet gets me through the stressful sim training.

So know that if something is hard for you or stresses you out, you are probably not the only one.  Keep pushing forward, even if it is hard, because the reward at the end is worth it.