Posts Tagged ‘simulator’


Monday, August 10th, 2015

It’s early on in your academic training these days when a teacher refers to the GIGO principle. Simply stated, if you are using a computer, it doesn’t matter how great the machine or the program is if you input bad data. If you put in garbage, it will give you garbage results. Garbage in, garbage out: GIGO.

In flying this is a very real concern, particularly when it comes to programming a GPS. It’s one thing if you inadvertently put in a wrong fix that’s close to the right one, but that’s rare. What’s more likely to happen is that you put in the wrong fix or the wrong piece of performance information, only to suddenly find yourself asking what is going on. When the airplane makes a turn you aren’t expecting, you’ll be scrambling to figure out where the mistake is. It’s great if it happens on the next fix. That usually becomes readily apparent. It’s not so great if you programmed in the wrong fix several legs down the road.

This is an easy mistake to make on a GPS that is programmed with a knob, and it’s an easy mistake to make in a crew environment. I’ll give you an example: I was in a simulator event, and I had the airplane doing exactly what I wanted it to do. Trying to stay ahead of things, I decided to program the climb performance, not registering that the performance I was asking for was for the cruise climb. Asking the airplane to change its profile would cause all kinds of problems on the departure procedure. Following our prescribed procedure, I asked the captain to verify what I was getting ready to do. He did. I hit the button and executed the new plan. To my horror, the airplane began to accelerate and climb like it had a date with Mars.

I quickly turned off the autopilot and autothrottles, and I asked the captain to reprogram “the box” while I hand-flew and kept us out of further trouble. In my peripheral vision, I saw the instructor smile and write furiously. In the debrief, we got kudos for catching the problem immediately and fixing it, but we also got a reminder that GIGO can happen at any time, at any place. It was a great lesson, and it happened in the sim, where nobody could get hurt.

I’ve flown now for more than 20 years, and I have a litany of such GIGO examples—some mundane, some not so much. What I can say is that I don’t tend to make the same mistake twice, but I’ve learned that I am never going to be immune to this kind of error, which is good, as it keeps me on my toes.

But if you want to see how catastrophic GIGO can be, just look at the report for American Airlines Flight 965, which crashed into a mountain in Colombia in 1995 because of a flight management system programming error. It’s a stark reminder of how quickly things can go wrong, even for an experienced crew.—Chip Wright

The training wall

Monday, 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

Don’t assume

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I’ve been doing this aviation thing now for a long time. Twenty-two years, in fact. I may not always know what I don’t know, but I do know what I know. One thing I know is that I tend to take certain things for granted. In the airlines, there are certain industry standards in the way things are done, and having been part of the system now for nearly 17 years, I know that I can fly with a pilot from just about any airline, and we would be able to fly from A to B with much less stress and uncertainty than you would be inclined to think. Why? Because as a group, the airlines have adopted so many of the same procedures, policies, etc.

This was driven home to me recently while in training for my new job. Prior to the simulator events, which are four-hour sessions during which two pilots each fly for two hours, we were in fixed training devices (FTDs) for a single two-hour session per pair of pilots.

Four of us took the opportunity to watch each other in pairs. My partner and I came from different regional airlines, and although there were differences, we fell into an immediate pattern of doing things the way we always had. The similarities were stunning. The real learning was learning the new airplane and company specifics, not the generalities.

Compare that to the two pilots that we were splitting time with. Both were ex-military, and one had flown very little time in crewed aircraft (he flew a lot of fighters). Neither was at all familiar with Jeppessen charts, which may not sound like a big deal, but to a pilot who has not been exposed to them, it can be very frustrating trying to find a chart for Houston Intercontinental but not realizing that you are looking at Houston Hobby. Everything about Jepps is different from government charts.

There were other challenges as well. The checklist procedures and protocols were different, as was the compressed time schedule. While the military has schedules and can be in a frenetic pace during combat operations, the airlines run on a schedule that is often cast in stone, and minutes lost equal money lost. Profit is critical, and the effects down the line of running late are drilled into your head early in the game. Safety is never sacrificed, but in the back of your head, you know that someone is watching to see if you will be on time.

We all had to learn some new ways of doing things, but I had forgotten just how much I take for granted simply because I have lived this life for so long. I know, for example, that there are certain certification standards that drive designs, and often times the same part is used in multiple models of aircraft (ice detectors are a good example). Emergency equipment (and its location) is mostly homogenized with some exceptions for over-water flying. Radio techniques and practices are well established.

The two pilots in question both adapted quickly and well, and they will be assimilated into the ranks in short order. But it was still interesting to watch them have to pick up so much information that my partner and I just…well, had. They commented a couple of times about it, and picked our brains for little stuff. Our goal was to make them realize that there are no dumb questions, and I believe we succeeded. I’m glad that my foundation was already set, as I had enough to worry about for myself.

Some lessons in life are worth reinforcing, and in this case, it’s simple: Don’t assume that we all have the same foundation, and offer what help you can.—Chip Wright

A collective personality

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Airlines, like many other organizations, consist of groups and subgroups. While seniority is the rule—marking forever your place within the corporate structure—there are other markers of your place in the pecking order. One of them is your new-hire class. Among pilots and flight attendants, initial training is something that, even years later, remains crystal clear in so many ways.

The typical class has anywhere from 10 to 30 pilots (it’s almost always an even number so that the time in the simulator is more easily scheduled). Over the six- to 10-week period that a class is together, a certain bonding takes place. After all, most of you will be staying the same hotel, and you will be cooped up in the same classroom for eight to 10 hours a day, after which you will study in pairs or in small groups or even in full classes for a nother four to five hours a night. You will spend your weekends together both at work and at leisure, and in very short order you will get to know much about each other. The natural leaders will emerge, and the ones who need extra help will get it. More than a few have married classmates.

Much of how a class developes its collective personality is determined by the instructor. A good one will crack the whip early on and take control, then relax a bit once he knows everyone is on board. Most ground school instructors are easy to get along with and are well-liked. More importantly, they like what they are doing, which makes your experience easier to endure. The instructor then becomes a part of the group. Unfortunately, on occasion the instructor can be reviled and hated, thus bonding the group in another way.

I’ve flown with pilots who have been with a company for decades, and they still recall their new-hire class in great detail and with great memories. In fact, more than one has told me that they stayed on because a close friend from their class was still with the company. Most pilots and flight attendants keep close tabs on who has left versus who is left, and those who have left often become the contact point to get the next job. That’s just how the industry works.

comair_largeIn my new-hire class at Comair in 1996, we started with 14, and when the airline shut down in 2012, only three of us were left from that class. even our instructor had moved on. Interestingly enough, I was able to fly with one of them, as he delayed his upgrade while I took one early on. That’s unusual, but it does happen. Today, I consider him an important friend whose advice and counsel I often seek. He’s the kind of guy I hope one of my daughters will eventually marry.

In another odd coincidence, the three remaining from my class all became check airmen—two of us in the airplane and another in the sim. That, too, is unusual, and for me, it’s a source of pride.

At my new job, one of my classmates was another former Comair pilot whom I used to fly with regularly. SHe’s one of the best pure pilots I’ve ever known, and she too is a dear friend. We were sim partners, and one reason we chose each other was that not only are we comfortable together and with taking criticism from each other, but it was also more than likely the last time we will ever fly together.

But our class was a good one, and while we had some rough patches, we had a definite cohesion, and many of us will be in touch with each other for years to come—not out of necessity, but out of friendship. Likewise with our ground school instructor, who became the butt of many of our jokes, and was just as good at dishing it out.

New-hire classes are fraternities in a way. They represent great potential and opportunity for both the members and the airline. It is up to you to realize that potential.—Chip Wright


Evaluation by the Administrator

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

I was recently in the simulator helping out with some training, and I had an epiphany of sorts. You may have noticed when you read the FARs that in all too many instances is the phrase (or something similar) “will be evaluated by the Administrator, or his designee.”

In short, this means that the head cheese of the FAA is supposed to personally evaluate or test just about everything in the aviation universe. To do so would be a monumental and impossible task, even if the Administrator did nothing else. So, by law, the Administrator can have designees do the work. That way, the Administrator can spend his or her time Administrating.

I’ve explained in previous posts how some of this works with regard to check airmen/-women/-persons at the airlines. I have the honor, privilege, and responsibility of fulfilling this role as a line check airman at my company.

What struck me this week was the level of respect and integrity that this process really does engender. On my first day in the sim, I was flying as a captain for a first officer who was undergoing some training in the right seat. The sim instructor was a friend of mine who is quite a bit junior to both of us. The session went well, and when necessary, Joe asked to see the FO re-fly a maneuver that could have been done better the first time. He did, and when the session was over we all went our separate ways.

The next day, Joe was working with two very senior (and in this case, much older) captains who were being brought back to the training department after having flown the line for awhile. One of them was also being qualified for the first time in our 700/900 variant, and he was wrapping up his training by being officially qualified in the right seat. He won’t fly the line in that capacity—he won’t fly the line in the left seat of the 700/900 either—but he needed to be qualified nonetheless.

I happened to be in the break room with all of them, shooting the breeze and talking shop while waiting for my own session to start. What struck me was the way the tone of the conversation changed when one of the “students” asked a question about the lesson plan for the day. All three of them immediately fell into a very professional mode and demeanor, and Joe was accorded the same respect and decorum that the Administrator himself would have garnered.

Here were two fellows who had at least 10 years of seniority—one had close to 20—on Joe’s time at the company. They were older. Out on the line—heck, it had happened just a few minutes before—Joe would have been the subject of some good-natured kidding and ribbing as an FO or as the baby chick in the henhouse. But at the drop of a hat, when the talk turned serious, he was recognized as the man in charge. He had the ability and the authority to stop the training process in its tracks if necessary or if warranted by poor performance. In my own sim session the day before, he could have grounded me, even though the event had nothing to do with me.

I’ve seen this kind of thing a thousand times in the past, but I never really appreciated it as I was watching it happen. For some reason, it caught my attention this time. I left the room before they had finished their discussion, but I didn’t need to be there to see how it would end. And I knew that once in the box, all three would be professional, cordial, and respectful of one another.

This sort of interaction goes on every day, and it is a testament to the success of the system that allows—forces—the FAA to place a great deal of authority and autonomy in the hands of its field representatives.

Pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, doctors, and dozens of others treat their burdens and responsibilities with great care, and exercise the extreme limits of their duties with restraint and when circumstances require. They don’t do it because they have an axe to grind or a seniority number to gain or vendetta to exact. In fact, in cases where two people simply can’t get along, they will often agree to seek another evaluator to avoid allegations of a conflict of interest.

This system works, and we should all be grateful that it does.—By Chip Wright