Checklists and flows

May 27th, 2014

Driving and flying have some similarities. In both cases, you are responsible for the operation of a heavy piece of machinery that has the potential to hurt you as the operator, as well as others that get in your way. In both cases, poor operating practices can lead to unnecessary outcomes that can create a combination of inconvenience and high out-of-pocket costs. A case in point: Running down a battery. It’s easy to do in a car (leave the door cracked open with the key in the ignition and the dome light on) and in an airplane (leave the master switch on).

When we learn to drive a car, though, we don’t learn to use checklists. We just…do stuff. But think about what you learn fairly early as a driver. You learn to work in a pattern to start up and to shut down the car. Some of us put the seatbelt on before closing the door, some after. Some of us set the parking brake before the car is shut down, some after, and some not at all.

The reality is that we learn to do things in a predictable pattern, or flow, when we drive. We don’t use checklists. Airplanes are different. The environment is three-dimensional versus two-dimensional. Cars do not have retractable landing gear or adjustable propellers. We don’t need to memorize speeds in our cars that affect the operation of certain items like the flaps or the aforementioned retractable gear. Plus, we don’t fly airplanes nearly as often as we drive our cars.

But the idea of a flow is transferable. If you watch pilots in more sophisticated airplanes—especially those with crews of two or more—you will see that they often follow a predictable pattern for each checklist. While companies and manufacturers differ in their philosophies, the flow is a commonly accepted practice.

At its simplest level, a flow is a series of visual and tactile checks that a pilot can use to verify proper switch/lever/button/dial/control position. For example, prior to applying electrical power to a airplane, a pilot might physically touch each switch in the cockpit, or only certain designated switches, to make sure that everything is set just so. This is done primarily to avoid a problem as a result of mechanics doing work on the aircraft and forgetting to return systems to their normal condition. Likewise, after electrical power has been applied to an airplane, the pilot will usually follow a pattern of testing the functionality or set-up of each system.

In each case, the flow is followed by the checklist. It can be done as either a Challenge-and-Response (C/R), in which one pilot reads the checklist line by line and the other responds accordingly, or it can be done as a Read-and-Response (R/R), in which case the pilot who performed the flow reads the checklist aloud and verbalizes that each item is complete. What is very rare is one pilot reading each item, and then doing it. This actually slows things down and increases the risk of an error because of a radio call or other distraction.

Flows transfer well to most general aviation aircraft. In fact, some never really had a checklist (Piper Cub), so a flow is the only option. Flows are not always appropriate, but they can expedite pre-departure checks (runups) and after-landing and shut-down duties.

Work with your CFI to set one up (assuming s/he is game), or carefully practice one yourself using a poster or photo of the cockpit. A flow is not a replacement for the checklist, but merely a tool to use the checklist more efficiently.—Chip Wright

Don’t forget

May 19th, 2014

Cash DrainWhen going flying, don’t forget…

…your headset. Even in a non-radio environment, the noise of the engine will give you a headache.
…your sunglasses, especially if flying into the sun or in instrument meteorological conditions.
…something to write with and to write on. Writing clearances on your arm uses a lot of space. I knew a pilot who used a grease pencil to write on the window, but an FBO may not appreciate this. This fellow owned the airplane.
…something to eat and drink, but make sure you use the restroom first.
…a credit card for fuel.
…your cell phone and a charger in case you get stuck somewhere. Put a flashlight app and an E6B app on your phone.
…to cancel your flight plan on arrival.
…charts. Electronic is great, but paper doesn’t rely on batteries. Either way, have them—and ensure currency.
…your medical, your certificate, the pilot’s operating handbook, and a photo ID.
…to check the weather. Twice. At least.
…a back-up plan, in case the weather forces itself upon thee.
…to take as much fuel as you can.
…a handheld radio with fresh batteries.
…clothes appropriate for the terrain, especially if you are flying over rugged or mountainous terrain.
…at least one flashlight. Even during the day, a flashlight can be handy. See the tip about apps above.
…to check for TFRs, notices to airmen, and pilot reports.
…to untie the airplane from the tie-down. Don’t laugh. It’s happened. Damage can occur to more than your pride. But your pride will be damaged if you do this, because it’s funny to watch.
…to call ahead for overnight parking information, crew car info, et cetera.
…cash for vending machines and to tip the fellow putting fuel in your airplane.
…and most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. Flying is fun, and we are privileged and lucky to be able to do it. If it isn’t fun, you need to recapture that feeling—or take a car.—Chip Wright

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So long, Neil

May 13th, 2014

121012transatlanticA few years ago I met a pilot named Neil Bradon.

Neil stands six feet something. He hails from the United Kingdom. And he loves aviation.

Neil loves flying so much that, after trying for years to get a license in Europe, he took a job with Intel Corp. here in the states so that he could train quickly and efficiently in the bright sunshine of Arizona. He earned a U.S. pilot certificate in 2012.

Though his stateside gig was time-limited, Neil wasted absolutely none of that time. He flew as much as possible; he took friends and family flying; he made scores of new aviation friends through Facebook and Twitter. He went to AOPA Summit in Palm Springs, Calif. (that’s where we met; the photo is of Neil standing next to AOPA’s Sweepstakes Husky). He went to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. He is a tireless advocate of general aviation, and his excitement about any chance to get up in the air is refreshing and a joy to experience.

Neil goes back home on May 28. He has pledged to fly practically right up until the moment he has to board the much bigger aircraft that will take him back across the ocean.

He wrote this on Facebook recently:

“Next time you visit the airport, take time to say hello to fellow pilots. You might just inspire someone to push a little bit further with their flying adventures.

“After landing today I spoke to a C152 pilot. He asked me where I had been today and told him I had landed at Portland International (KPDX). This blew him away. Could see his eyes light up. He told me that was his dream but in the year since getting his ticket he has yet to take that dream flight. I explained to him how easy it was with a little bit of planning. I encouraged him to think about taking the flight one day. Dreams can come true.

“The U.S. has something special in terms of GA. After I leave on the 25th for Europe, I wish you all good luck fighting to keep what you have. Godspeed my aviation friends.”

The United States does indeed have something special when it comes to general aviation, and sometimes we don’t appreciate it until we view it through someone else’s eyes. In the meantime, Godspeed Neil! I hope you come back to the states sometime. I’m sure there will be empty right seats in airplanes waiting for you all across this nation.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Filling the gap

May 12th, 2014

Check Out ChecklistMuch has been made of the new federal aviation regulations that require new airline pilots to have at least 1,500 hours. This is really no different than the way the old supply-and-demand system used to work. By that I mean that fewer than 20 years ago, a budding airline pilot wasn’t getting hired unless his or her logbook showed this kind of time or close to it. It’s only been in the last 10 to 12 years that we saw the serious decline in total hours among new-hire pilots—to the point that they were getting hired at 250 hours of total time.

If you are looking to get hired at the regionals, the best route to the 1,500 hours is flight instructing (this assumes you don’t qualify for one of the total time reductions). As a busy CFI, you can rack up 700 to 800 hours a year, and you can do it without paying for it. That alone will give you an idea of how much you can expect to fly as a professional pilot. Regional pilots can expect to average 800 hours a year once they are no longer on reserve.

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, back in the day, teaching is what we did to earn our time.

What’s more important is that you find a way to take advantage of that gap in hours. If you have students who can afford it or are adventurous, try to arrange for some fairly long cross-country trips. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you try to rip someone off or take advantage of them, but if you can meet a legitimate teaching need while fulfilling other obligations, you might be able to reach a mutually beneficial end point.

For example, I had a student who wanted to go to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh one year, and he wanted to take his girlfriend and a buddy. They were retired, and affording it was not a concern. The only airplane that would work was a twin-engine Piper Aztec. As a result, my boss and I went along, and so did my girlfriend. The airplane was loaded up, and off we went. I flew the entire trip and picked up a dozen or so hours of much-needed multiengine time, along with great cross-country and real IFR experience, and it didn’t cost me a dime except for my food. My student even covered my housing.

The following year, I had another student who had bought a warbird Cessna 172 and wanted to fly to Oshkosh. Once again, I was intimately involved in the planning and logistics. She flew under Foggles for most of the round trip, and this time I also got paid for the time I was there (I was busy enough at the school that I couldn’t afford to leave and not get paid for missed work).

Advertise your services to local newspapers that need aerial photos, and look for opportunities to fly actual IFR as much as possible. Go into complex airspace, and get some night experience. If you have a client who is buying an airplane (or delivering one), try to get a ride.

The gap between getting your commercial and CFI is your chance to shine. Do what you can to make your experience stand out. This will not only help you get a job, but it will also help prevent burnout and boredom from doing the same thing every day. Polish your customer service skills and expand your knowledge. Be ready and able to answer any questions any client or student might have, especially if they are in the market to buy an airplane.

It sounds daunting to get the 1,500 hours to get hired, and if you need to pay-as-you-go, it is. But if you can get paid and get great experience, then it’s not only doable, it’s fun, exciting, and a grand opportunity. Take advantage of it!—By Chip Wright

FAQ: How to join our Facebook chats

May 5th, 2014

Long-time Facebook friends of Flight Training magazine know that on the first Tuesday of each month at 3 p.m. Eastern, we host a live chat through our Facebook page. This lets us chat in real time with you. We use CoverItLive as the chat interface. It’s lots of fun, and we always have a great discussion.

This year we got an exciting new sponsor, Aircraft Spruce & Specialty, which is providing a $50 gift card for each chat. That means one of you can win a $50 gift card just for showing up and participating! You’ll find a lot of great pilot gear on their website. (And if you should want to “like” their Facebook page, that’d be nice, too.)

Our chat sponsor

Our chat sponsor

This FAQ should help you find us and get chatting to increase your chances of being the lucky recipient.

Q. When is the chat?

A. It’s always the first Tuesday of the month, and always at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Q. How will I know it’s coming?

A. If you’re like me, you have to make yourself a note on Outlook. But CoverItLive has a function where you can send yourself an email reminder. You can set it for a day, an hour, a half-hour, or 15 minutes before the chat. Click here. 

Q. How do I get to the chat?

A. There are two ways—and here’s where it gets a little confusing interesting.

  1. Click this icon if using a computer.

    Click this icon if using a computer.

    If viewing the chat on a computer, we recommend you just click the chat icon in the timeline on our Facebook page. That takes you directly to the CoverItLive window. You won’t see anything except the chat topic until the chat actually starts. Once it starts, you’ll see a window that lets you type your comments and hit “send.”

  2. If using a smartphone, we recommend you to go this URL. This is a direct URL for our CoverItLive window.
  3. If you can’t get to us through the chat icon, try using the direct URL.
  4. If using an iPad, either way should work.

Q. OK. I got to the chat, but I don’t see a window. What do I do now?

A. Check your screen resolution. It should be set to the highest resolution. Alternatively, use another browser. Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox work well; Internet Explorer and AOL, not so much.

Q. Do I have to be logged in?

A. No.

Q. I got to the chat and it has started, but it still says it is waiting. What do I do?

A. Refresh the screen; if a box pops up asking if you’re sure you want to leave the page, say “yes.”

Q. OK, I’m in the chat! I can see questions and answers from other people, but you haven’t posted my question. Why is that?

A. It takes us a certain amount of time to respond to each question. And, depending on the number of comments and the complexity of the topic, we may not be able to post each and every question or comment. We’ll do our best, though.

Q. I have a question, but it’s not about what the topic of the chat is. Can I post it anyway?

A. Of course, as long as it’s related to flight training or flying.

Q. I’m in the chat, but it seems to be frozen. What do I do?

A. Try refreshing your screen.

We look forward to chatting with you! If you have any other issues with the chat that weren’t addressed here, please email me (jill.tallman@aopa.org).—Jill W. Tallman

 

 

Operations specifications

May 1st, 2014

If you talk to pilots from different airlines, it becomes pretty apparent that they are very different in many ways, and in other ways, they are exactly the same. The reason is that they each must operate under their specified operations specifications, commonly called their ops specs.

Every Part 135 and 121 airline has an ops spec, which is essentially the blueprint that has been approved by the FAA for that airline. Ops spec C55, for example, deals with certain required weather criteria for determining the suitability/requirement for an alternate.

Every airline has some form of C55, but there may be exceptions within the ops specs. The details are negotiated between the airline and the principal operations inspector, or POI, the individual at the FAA who is responsible for the oversight of the airline. As you might imagine, that alone is a huge job, and it’s one that requires a staff of experts in all areas of airline operations. There are folks who work in flight operations, maintenance, in flight (the flight attendants), security—you name it. The POI is the head honcho.

How much latitude an airline gets depends on a number of things. If the POI is comfortable with the managers of the airline, he or she is more likely to grant some leeway and relax some of the restrictions. However, if the airline is fairly new, or has a questionable safety record, or is staffed by relatively inexperienced pilots, expect the requirements to be a bit tighter. Likewise, if the company is mature and has a long history of solid operations, you’ll see less resistance in doing more complex operations.

Some POIs are just conservative and are very reluctant to approve of changes that the airline believes it needs. Others are pretty progressive. The pace at which airlines are moving toward electronic flight bags, or EFBs, often is a reflection of the personalities of the POIs and whether they are willing to do away with paper charts.

Another good example might be Category II ILS approaches. CAT II approaches are much riskier than CAT I, and they have a slew of extra maintenance requirements, along with pilot training needs that need to be met. Financially, it’s an expensive program to have, and so many regional airlines opt not to pursue the CAT II certification, even if the equipment is capable. I was at Comair for nearly 10 years before we finally pursued CAT II operations. When we started doing a lot of flights into Atlanta, we experienced a lot of delays, cancellations, and diversions caused by fog that had the ILS approaches down to CAT II. Delta owned us, and finally agreed that it was costing more money not to have the option than we were saving, and the investment was made.

But we didn’t just start flying 1,200-foot runway visual range (RVR) approaches right away. We had to train pilots, dispatchers, and mechanics.The pilots had to fly a certain number of approaches at 1,600 RVR to test the equipment in the airplanes in real-world conditions. It was months before we could fly CAT II without restriction.

Ops specs also spell out everything from approval for EFBs to what airports an airline can use, and for what purpose. Some airports may not be approved for regular service but can be used for refueling or diversions. Still others can’t be used at all except in an emergency.

If you pursue an airline career, you will become intimately familiar with ops specs, POIs, and the relationship they have with your carrier. Most sections of the ops specs will mean little to you as a pilot. Others will be your bread and butter, and you’ll memorize them chapter and verse. After all, we’re talking about the FAA here!

Fly safe!—Chip Wright

CFI: Curious Flying Individual, Crazy Flying w/Idiots, Can’t Fly Inough

April 29th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about a flight lesson in a Grumman Tiger. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

Who knew that a closed flight school would open the door (you get in, open it, and he gets in) to so many styles and manners of certificated flight instructors? Really, I am not checking them out for my next CFI. I am simply learning from them. In January, with 15 hours under my left seat and a long way from solo in 2015, I decided to see how many CFIs I could fly with in 2014.

Jean's logbook, with endorsements from some of her many CFIs

Jean’s logbook, with entries from some of her many CFIs.

I get itchy to go up only once a month, so I am not expecting much progress until I settle down with a field, an airplane, and an instructor.

While I have the time and money to progress as fast as I want in learning to fly, I am in no rush. I plan to take three years to solo. This puts me into a unique category. I would like to become competent flying an airplane, yet I am not interested in continuing on to my pilot certificate (or so I say now).

In one blog I read, “Twenty hours to solo at age 21, and one hour for each year of age after that.” While my hours are slowly creeping up with much review and some new material, at age 68, I will not panic until my presolo hours hit 50.

I am delighting in each review flight I take with different instructors in different airplanes at different airports. I am surprised how each CFI adds to my learning and understanding. Each instructor seems to emphasize different aspects or teach/reteach the basics in a different manner. While each skill I use in the air is not a totally new one for me, I learn more each flight. I love the way my prior understandings and my new ones come together to slowly increase my comfort and my skills.

In some ways, checking out new instructors is almost as much fun as flying.

I have had nine different CFIs in 20 hours of instruction. I’ve flown three different types of airplanes; most were Cessna 172s.

The CFI entries in my logbook tell you a lot about their levels of expertise and what I learned or reviewed. “Discovery flight,” says one. “Climbs, descents, constant rate and speed, medium turns, trim, taxi, airport and airplane protocol,” says another. And these two CFIs took me up in the same airplane at the same airport, albeit a short 0.3 flight versus a 0.9 flight. One was just starting his time in this role. The other had taught many.

EPSON MFP imageI was quite impressed by the handouts the more experienced instructor gave me before we headed to the airplane. While three of the flight instructors I have flown with handed me a list for radio calls, and the one who took me through my first 14 hours drew many diagrams before our flights, I especially appreciated one handout from this instructor.

The illustrated runway layout included instructions for radio calls and what to do with the instruments at each point on the way to land this particular airplane. I have had less than two hours at airports without towers, so radio calls are a bit different. Abeam the number on the runway on downwind, “Carb heat, cut power, 1st notch flaps, trim to 90 mph.” At 45 degrees and turn to base, “Call base and 2nd notch flaps.” Yes, these become second nature to pilots. Not yet for me. The diagram and the notes are particularly nice to study for this particular airplane and airport.

Another CFI, on a similar airport diagram, included altitude. So many details for landing in the pattern. Complicated considering the ease of takeoff. Once on the runway you just stay straight, throttle on, and lift that nose at speed.

Even the first time up in the air with me, the more experienced flight instructors seem a little bit more confident in talking me into a move rather than taking over the controls. I did understand one grabbing the controls to quickly taxi our small 172 off the runway for a large commercial flight coming in behind us.

Some flight instructors are a master at my comfort level, the absolutely most important factor for me. If I am feeling comfortable in the airplane with the instructor, I remember more and I learn more during the lesson. And that CFI can ask and receive much from me. Steep turns, sure. Stalls, bring them on. No help on the landing. Well…

Instructors vary on how much they talk or tell you what to do, or ask if you feel confident and want to do a maneuver (takeoff for me, fine, landing, talk me down please in the crosswind). Some just confidently expect you to do what they suggest. “Play with it,” one says. And I do. And after he evaluates my skill we play with it even more. Steeper, faster, funner.

Learning something each time. Getting different teaching styles and experiences. One thing though—most have told me that I taxi a little too fast. I think it is because it took me so long to learn it. I promise to get that right next time. Fast taxiing will slow down to match my slow solo progress.

While I have several airports and dozens of flight instructors within an hour of my home, right now I am leaning toward LebanAir Aviation at Lebanon State Airport (S30). The friendliest (and probably cheapest) little airport in Oregon: $80 airplane, $40 instructors.

This might be the one. I have eight more months to check out CFIs. At LebanAir alone, two instructors down (I mean up) and six to go at that small airport.

Six years ago I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. My guide got ill, and I finished that trek on my own. Polé, polé, slow and steady, was the mantra. Both with and without my guide it worked. Guess I am doing that in learning to fly. I’ll get there slowly. And some CFI and I will land, he or she will get out. This CFI will leave, not because of illness, but because I am ready. The CFI will send me up into those heights. Alone.—Jean Moule

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Time to get serious

April 23rd, 2014

Adam Brement soloed April 18 in a bright-red Cherokee 140 at Griffiss International Airport (KRME) in Rome, N.Y. Here’s his story.—Ed.

Adam Brement (right) with his grandfather, Luigi Bottini.

Adam Brement (right) with his grandfather, Luigi Bottini.

I have been flying my entire life. I grew up around aviation, all thanks to my grandfather, Luigi Bottini. Luigi is a Master CFII. He owned and operated a flight school called Galaxy Aviation. I officially started logging hours back in 1992 but never had the consistency to apply the knowledge and hours to solo. Back then dating my high school sweetheart had taken priority over flying.

But over the years after high school and college I married my high school sweetheart, started a family, and am now the proud owner of Galaxy Aviation Flight School & Pilots Club. Since taking over the reins of the flight school, I figured I should get serious about getting my license.

Adam on solo day, in Rome, N.Y.

Adam on solo day, in Rome, N.Y.

On April 18, 2014, I finally got the opportunity to solo! What a surreal feeling. After all these years of flying with my grandfather (best friend) by my side, I was now about to be all by my lonesome. It was awesome. I took what seemed like an eternity to do my preflight check/runup, double checking everything, I didn’t want to miss a thing. The tower cleared me for takeoff, and down Runway 15 I went.

Takeoff went beautiful. I climbed to 1,500 feet, made left traffic, and proceeded to fly the pattern. As I came around for my landing I had everything lined up and it was smooth. I did it!

I talked to myself out loud through the whole thing making sure not to forget anything. My grandfather is 80 yrs old, and is my best bud. We fly every chance we get. I spent my summer vacations from the age of 12 till I was 18 flying cross-country to Oshkosh, Wis. I know my grandfather couldn’t be more proud of my accomplishment.

On top of running the flight school, I am the director of maintenance for Saint John The Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Rome, N.Y. I am in charge of the maintenance for the buildings and grounds of two churches in our parish. In the winter I am a level 1 hockey coach, and I coach my son’s hockey team. My wife and I also run the Cub Scout/Boy Scout program in the city of Rome. I have two kids, son Kyle, 7, and daughter Emily, 10. I hope to someday pass this experience on to my kids.—Adam Brement

Are you interested in learning to fly? Would you like to experience the thrill of flying an airplane by yourself, like Adam did? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

Never too old to fly

April 22nd, 2014

Ted Brother’s Success Story is just a little bit different than our usual wonderful solo and checkride photos that turn up on our Facebook wall. For one thing, Ted is in his 70s. For another, he started out learning to fly in a taildragger. Here’s Ted’s story in its entirety.—Ed.

“I’ve taught 10- and 12-year-olds to fly, so yes, I can teach you.”

With these words Paul Santopietro started my odyssey on Aug. 14, 2012, when he took me on as a student at Katama Airfield (1B2) at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. I was not 10 or 12; I was 76 years and two months old when I started my dream—to learn to fly.

Katama is a National Heritage grass field, and Paul’s 1975 Model 7KCAB Citabria N8680V was the airplane. The eight to 10 hours normally reserved to learn how to taxi and maneuver a taildragger on the ground soon turned into 12 to 15 hours. Learning to get my septuagenarian body into and out of this tandem two-seater proved to be equally as challenging.

My introduction to flying lasted until the end of September when Nancy and I headed to Naples, Fla., for the winter. With 18 hours of dual under my belt

student pilot solos Cessna 172 at age 77

Ted Brother (left) with CFI Skip Bentley after soloing the Cessna 172 in Fort Myers.

I joined the Fort Myers Flying Club at Page Field (KFMY) as a student pilot and transitioned to a Cessna 172S. Skip Bentley now had the oldest student he ever taught, and the flying club had its oldest student member ever.On May 15, 2013, just 23 days before celebrating my seventy-seventh birthday, I soloed N3512Q at La Belle Municipal (X14) in La
Belle, Fla. After eight months of Class D airspace, with tower, ATIS ,
ground, and jet traffic to contend with, I looked forward to my return to the
grass at Katama and the stick and rudder of Paul’s taildragger.

On July 31, 2013, I soloed N8080V and received my tailwheel endorsement.

Student pilot solos Citabria at age 77.

Brother soloed this Citabria in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. He’s shown with CFI Paul Santopietro.

In November 2013 I passed the FAA knowledge exam. After six days of patient instruction by David Abramson at Pompano Airpark in Pompano Beach Florida (KPMP), and just 70 days before my seventy-eighth birthday, he scheduled my checkride.The oral went well, but the check ride was discontinued because of weather. After two agonizing weeks of waiting I returned to KPMP, passed the checkride, and received my certificate, 57 days before my seventy-eighth birthday. As I approach my seventy-ninth year having fulfilled a lifelong dream, I am thankful for my wife Nancy’s support, for the great instructors I have had, and for the wonderful new and interesting acquaintances and friends I have made through this flying experience. I have no dream of getting my ATP; I just want to fly in clear skies and have the opportunity to buy a few $100 hamburgers—well, maybe an SES endorsement might be next.—Ted Brother

Are you interested in learning to fly? As Ted knows, it’s never too late to start! Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.

The training wall

April 21st, 2014

06-496_SimmCommThe worst part about transitioning to a new flying job is the training. Specifically, the sim training. It’s in the sim that you begin putting all of the pieces together from the previous weeks. The company operations manual, the procedures, the systems—it all comes together here.

In many ways, it’s no different than other training you have taken on during your climb up the aviation ladder. The hardest part in the private syllabus is learning to land. In the instrument, it used to be the NDB approach; now it’s making sure you hit the right button at the right time on the GPS. In the commercial, it’s…well, the commercial is pretty easy. For the CFI it’s mastering the right seat while learning to talk, teach, and fly at the same time. In each of these, at some point you have to combine the physical skills with the academic knowledge required.

In airline or corporate flying, it’s no different. Sort of.

The difference is that you have a defined period of time to put it all together. Usually there are anywhere from six to eight sim sessions for training. There is a bit of a movement afoot to integrate procedures training in a non-moving sim sooner, so that the students have the ability to practice more and master the basics. But at some point you are in “the box” and under the gun for a fairly short period of time, and it’s intense.

When I was a new hire in my first airline job, I was told that it was Sim 3 or 4 that caused everyone to take a giant step backwards. My instructor was right. On Sim 4, I forgot how to fly. I was awful. It was just a matter of going through the motions. But, the next day, I came back and it was like nothing had happened.

I’ve had the same problem with every training event since. Somewhere in the middle of full-motion sims, I have a day when I’m task-saturated just trying to tie my shoes. At least now I know to expect it, and it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve had instructors critique me by saying, “Well, you’ve mastered the range knob.” That’s like being told that you have mastered the headlights in your car. But on those days when you can’t seem to do anything right, take the positive comments where you can get them.

It isn’t just me. Every sim partner I’ve ever had has had a bad day as well. Fortunately, we’ve never had them on the same day. My most recent sim partner had his bad day the day after mine, and we carried each other through. Another one had hers the day before the checkride, and she was so distraught she didn’t sleep that night. She aced the ride (I knew she would). I used to do a lot of “seat fills,” where I’d sit in to help a student when another pilot wasn’t available. Every time I heard that it was Sim 3 or 4 in the syllabus, I’d brace myself. I was rarely disappointed.

We all hit a wall on occasion, and a good instructor will coach you through. On those days, the learning experience is often just learning how to accept that you aren’t perfect. It’s humbling, and it can even be humiliating. But you just need to shrug it off, get some sleep, recognize what you did right, and come back the next day. That good instructor will encourage you and remind you that you aren’t the first, and you probably aren’t the worst.

And when you do, you often can’t believe that you had so much trouble in the first place.—Chip Wright