Posts Tagged ‘simulators’

The interview sim ride

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Tom in simIf you’re looking to fly for an airline or a charter company, one of the hurdles that must be overcome is the interview. Some airlines simply conduct an interview, perhaps one on one or with a panel of people taking turns asking a single candidate questions, or even some combination of the two. Others also assess the candidate’s flying skills using a simulator or a desktop training device, such as a Frasca.

Frequently, it’s the flying session that rattles applicants’ nerves, because you know that the company for whom you want to work is evaluating the actual skills that you will use every day . Worse, you are usually flying an airplane you’ve never flown, or you’re flying a Frasca or a computer programmed for an airplane unlike anything you’ve ever been in before—it’s usually faster, more powerful, and with unfamiliar control inputs.

So, what to do?

If it’s possible to get some prep work in before the interview, by all means do it. If your evaluation will be in a Frasca or something similar, find a facility that offers training in a similar machine. Get a few hours of time in it, and if you have some gouge on what the profile will be, utilize that to tailor your training.

If you can’t find a sim anywhere that is close to what you’ll be flying, do the best you can. Also, ask the airline if it’s possible to come in a day early and do some practice flying on its sim. You can expect to pay a pretty penny for that, but the instructors will usually give you the lowdown on the best techniques for success, and that can be priceless.

As you’re actually flying the profile, remember that the airline isn’t looking for Chuck Yeager. They know that you are (most likely) at a disadvantage, so they are primarily looking at basic flying skills, along with your ability to continually correct any deviations. Further, they want to see the deviations get smaller and smaller as the flight progresses. In other words, they want to see that you are getting a feel for the plane.

If you know that you are struggling, or if you just feel like you’re struggling, start talking. Talk about what is wrong and what you are doing to correct it. This technique will also frequently benefit you by forcing you to expand your scan, and it helps slow things down. You are, essentially, becoming your own CFI for a few minutes. Even if you still can’t get the situation to smooth out as much as you’d like, using this technique will often help sway an evaluator or an interviewer by demonstrating that you know what is happening (or isn’t), and you know where your own weaknesses are. It also helps to convey another important message: You are trainable.

The sim ride is often the worst part of an interview, because it is so subjective, and you are so busy flying that you can’t get any feedback from the evaluator. You can’t read their faces or their body language, and you have no idea how other candidates have performed or will perform. So, in order to maximize your opportunity, do your homework, get some practice, try to relax, and coach yourself—out loud.—Chip Wright

Way back when…

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, things in the aviation training arena aren’t being done the way they used to be, especially at the airlines. In fact, in so many ways, this ain’t your Daddy’s airline world anymore.

Back in the day (there, I said it), training at an airline was done just like it was done in school. You would show up every day for a class that began at 8 a.m., and you would sit in a classroom while the teacher would lecture about the topics of the day. At night, you would go back to your hotel room and study your notes along with any books that you had been issued (usually an operations manual and/or a systems manual, along with a standards manual [basically, the “here’s-how-we-expect-you-to-operate-this-here-expensive-piece-of-machinery” book]).

You would study both alone and with a group. The next day, you would repeat the process, and at the end of the class(es), you would be administered some combination of written and oral exams. Simulator training would follow (prior to modern simulators, you would be trained in the actual airplane, usually in the middle of the night), and then a checkride, followed by training during line operations with passengers.

Nowadays, airlines have migrated towards more computer-based training (CBT) that is more self-directed, though with a schedule and a syllabus. JetBlue probably was the first U.S. carrier to embrace the CBT concept in full, since they did it very early on in their existence. Today, most carriers are moving toward some form of CBT for both initial and recurrent training. The bottom line, as you might imagine, is money. While there are claims that the newer training models have been scientifically tested, the process only works when it is properly implemented and used. Done wrong, I am convinced, it will do more harm than good.

There’s a lot to be said for the traditional classroom setting, especially with a good instructor that has actually flown the plane and not only knows the plane, but knows how to teach it. Personally, I liked the camaraderie that the classroom produced, and I liked having someone there who could explain things in English, especially when I felt like the only one who didn’t understand something.

But times have changed. Now, more and more airlines are going to the CBT model, in which the student is given a certain amount of time to go through all of the CBT modules. Online tests and quizzes verify a basic understanding of what has been learned (it’s very similar to modern online flight instructor refresher courses).

In a mature training program, the CBTs will mesh with what is being done in the simulators or fixed training devices. The advantage is obvious. The old 10-to-14-week training footprint can be reduced to eight or nine weeks, and for a crew that is familiar with the company but is just changing equipment, it can be pared down to six weeks. This represents a huge monetary savings for an airline, while improving the efficiency of the training program to get as many pilots through as possible. Given the huge hiring surge that is coming at the majors, they need all of the help they can get.

As a pilot, if CBT is not your forte, you can help yourself by taking advantage of the books, guides, and other resources available on just about any airplane you might fly. You don’t need to memorize the aircraft before you show up for class, but you can do yourself a huge favor by at least familiarizing yourself with some of the systems. If you aren’t sure which airplane you might fly, you might have to take a gamble or just wait until class.

No matter what, you will be dealing with the “firehose” of training, and if you aren’t prepared to work, and work hard, you will be sent home.—Chip Wright

It’s just a seat, right?

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Boeing_737_cockpitIt’s always funny when it happens to somebody else, but it isn’t so funny when it happens to me. And it’s especially not funny when I watch it happen to someone else and swear it won’t happen to me, only to find that it does.

Sometimes it seems like half of learning to fly a new airplane is just figuring out how to get in, get out, and plug in your headsets. Cars are built with certain standardization requirements that we can all count on: the gas pedal is on the right, the key goes on the right, and the gear shift on an automatic follows the same order of P, R, N, et cetera. The intention is that a person can easily transition from one car to another. Even when there are noticeable differences, it’s easy to navigate them.

Airplanes, on the other hand, do not always have such luxuries. I am currently going through training on my second new airliner in the past six months. In both cases, my training partners and I ran into some frustrations and difficulty with something as simple as getting the seats and rudder pedals situated. In a car, you can bet that the seat adjustment tools will either be a handle on the side or under the front of the seat. The handles are immediately recognizable, even if the seat is electric.

Worse still for pilots is the battle with muscle memory fighting not just the novelty of a new airplane, but often of a different seat, which might be left versus right, or an altogether new seat design. Years ago Bombardier introduced new cockpit seats for the CRJ series, and even with memos and photographs, pilots who had flown the aircraft for thousands of hours struggled at times to remember the location of the new handles. There we were: two pilots fumbling around, wiggling in place like we had ants in our pants, charged with flying a $20-million-plus airplane, equipped with two new seats that cost more than $15,000, with some of the best training money could buy, and we couldn’t even move the seats. We looked like idiots.

Every time I get in a new airplane, I vow that this isn’t going to be a problem. And every time, it is—at least just a little.

In my most recent adventures, the problem hasn’t been the airplane, but the training devices, one of which is a fixed-base, non-motion simulator with actual cockpit seats. The other is just a seat on rails, but each is different. Plus, we are taking turns flying left seat (normal for all of us) and right seat (not so much). Various manufacturers put the levers in different spots, and they don’t all work the same (credit julien). Some have plunger handles and some don’t. Some have both. Some have lumbar supports. Some have lumbar supports that actually work. Some have switches—under the seat, of course—that adjust the flex in the front of the seat where your leg bends.

And it isn’t just the seats. I’ve run into the same problem with the headset jacks. Sometimes, if you don’t know where the jacks are, it feels like a scavenger hunt. Once you find them, their location seems obvious, but deep down you know it isn’t.

Even the rudder pedals are different. Some are electric, but most are manual. But some of the manual ones are a simple turn device. Some, like my new one, have a spring-loaded doohickey that you pull to release the turning thingy. It took me several lessons to figure that out, and it’s important information for me because I’m just barely tall enough to reach the ground.

I often think that the first lesson of any new airplane should be a 15-minute session just on getting in and out. It’s a simple task, but when you can’t do the simplest things, and you are already overwhelmed with what you need to learn, your frustrations are just compounded.

And then there are the different designs for the cockpit doors…—Chip Wright

Training showcased at Sun ‘n Fun

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Usually airshows such as Sun ‘n Fun and EAA Airventure in Oshkosh are dominated by news from aircraft manufacturers, GPS makers, and headset companies. Rarely is flight training ever discussed or featured. This year’s Sun ‘n Fun was different. There were a number of exciting announcements, including some from AOPA. Here’s a wrap-up:


When a simulator company announces the biggest nonairplane order of any company at Sun ‘n Fun, you take notice. Redbird is growing at a breakneck pace, and the company’s $1 million sale to a Brazilian customer was some of the top news of the show. With the simulated ATC program Parrot now shipping, look for more to come.

King Schools

You probably know King Schools from the company’s video training. Now they are getting into the business of requalifying flight instructors. A new Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic will be aimed not at traditional content, such as FARs and aerodynamics, but rather on soft subjects, such as how to make sure your students pass the checkride, and how to get better at teaching risk management. I couldn’t be more excited about this. Flight instructors treat FIRCs much like students treat the written test. It’s a hurdle with little applicability to the real world. I’m hoping the King Schools course is a good step toward changing that.


Of course I had to throw in AOPA’s news. The association is doubling down on its efforts to grow the pilot population. We’re creating a center within the organization dedicated to the flight training initiative, and strengthening the pilot community. It’s a sign of the association’s commitment to fixing the problems we face.

As another part of the press conference, we announced the latest winners to the flight training scholarship program. There are some great stories here, so make sure you take a look and apply again later this year if you didn’t win this time.


Every pilot in the world, and many people who aren’t pilots, recognize the Piper J-3 Cub. Finally, someone who leads Piper Aircraft recognizes them as well. For far too long the company has ignored its flight training heritage and has not embraced its roots. People have a deep love and affection for the Cub, and while Piper has known enough to sell a few hats and T-shirts around the iconic  brand, it’s done nothing to further capitalize on the good feelings the Cub brings about. For the first time in some years, Piper displayed a Cub at the show. No, don’t get too excited because it will be a cold day in product liability litigation before the company will manufacturer them again, but at least they are telling us they get it. And to top it off, new President Simon Caldecott said, “I want to get Piper heavy back into the training business.”


Didn’t win a flight training scholarship from AOPA? Try again with Sennheiser. The headset company is launching its Live Your Dream campaign, which provides eight $1,500 scholarships. Applications will open in May.

Did you go to Sun ‘n Fun this year? What did you think about the show? What was your impression for those who went for the first time?—Ian J. Twombly

Line checks

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

If you read any number of aviation periodicals, you will probably note that some of the stories are written by pilots who designated as “check airman,” or “line check airman.” It may be tempting to think that this position is the same as a designated examiner or a position on a football officiating crew. Both assumptions are wrong.

In the piloting ranks, there are a variety of “checkers” or evaluators. Examiners are generally pilots that conduct checkrides in the airplane or simulator. For example, when you took (or take, as the case may be) your private pilot checkride, you do so with an examiner. While it is possible to undergo that evaluation with an FAA employee, it is far more likely that you will do so with an examiner “designated by the Administrator.” This examiner isn’t just some guy with connections. He or she has to work up the experience chain as an instructor, meeting a number of other criteria along the way before applying to the FAA for the position. Further, the number of examiners capable of giving various checkrides is limited to the actual need for such examiners within a geographic region based on known levels of flying. That is why there are far more examiners in Florida than, say, Maine. The hope is that the examiner pool is sufficient to keep all examiners steadily examining, while preventing pilots from being able to shop around for the easiest checkride. It should be noted that the training process to become an examiner is pretty rigorous, the selection process is not easy, and the standards are high.

Examiners also exist in the simulator training world, with some significant differences. An examiner for a particular jet, like the Citation X, may be able to give evaluations in the Citation X and nothing else. Likewise, at an airline, the examiners are likely to be pilots employed by the airline. A letter of authorization from the FAA will allow them to administer checkrides and evaluations on say, a 737, to their own pilots as representatives of the FAA. But they will not be allowed to use that letter to provide training or checkrides to any Joe who walks in off the street. It is still a 737, and the examiner’s expertise does not change. But the scope of his authority is limited to what his letter allows. Now, this does not mean that he cannot apply to the FAA for a separate letter to conduct Part 91 checkrides, and it does not mean he cannot apply for an examiner’s letter to conduct general aviation checkrides on his days off. In fact, many airline guys do exactly that.

Line check airmen, on the other hand, are a different breed altogether. Commercial airliners have a third seat in the cockpit called the jumpseat, which is there as a requirement for the FAA to be able to observe flight crews, conduct flight tests, or engage in any other business as a part of their jobs. It is also used by line check airmen. Again, like other examiner positions, the line check airmen (the title can vary from company to company) usually come from the ranks of the airline’s pilots. They are put through a training process that covers not only the ins and outs of the job, but also qualifies them to fly the airplane from both seats.

During line checks, the check airman’s role is to sit in the jumpseat and watch a crew do their job. Often, it is technically the captain who is being checked, but in reality both pilots are being observed. (Sometimes it really is only just the FO, but that isn’t as common.) As you may surmise, the nature of the job is such that the check airman must be extremely knowledgeable about the company and aircraft flight manuals, the FARs, and the how’s and why’s of the jobs of both pilots. While the crew is conducting a revenue flight, the check airman scrutinizes every aspect of their performance from checklist usage (including proper terminology) to approach briefings to weather analysis to their communication skills. It is, in fact, a checkride, but instead of being conducted in a simulator with a blizzard of emergencies, it is done in real time, in the airplane. This actually gives the crew a big advantage, as they are being examined doing what they do every day.

The purpose of the line check is to ensure that the standards as defined by the company and the FAA are being followed both in spirit and letter. Crews are expected to use their best judgment when unusual circumstances arise, and like any checkride, an intervention by the check airman or creation of doubt about the crew’s ability to safely do their jobs means the event will be a failure (sometimes called “an unsat”).

I’ve been a check airman for almost four years now, and it is a job I am proud to have. It comes with a certain amount of prestige, and it generates a certain level of respect among my peers. It also means—and this is something I take very seriously—that my company and the FAA trust in my evaluation and judgment skills. They trust that I am willing to remove pilots from duty if necessary, no matter how it may mess up the flight schedule. It means I may have to make a decision that ends another pilot’s career. But most important, it means that I will do whatever I can to ensure the safe operation of our fleet and our pilots.

I enjoy doing line checks, as it gives me a chance to learn from other pilots as well as get their feedback about what is working and what isn’t. I then turn that feedback over to my bosses, who decide how to incorporate it or how to ignore it. Line checks also reinforce what I already know: The guys and gals flying the line are among the best pilots and people in this industry, and placing the lives of my family in their hands is something I readily do. They take criticism with an eye to being a better pilot themselves, and they always ask if they can do something better. That, in my mind, is the hallmark of a professional.–Chip Wright

The simulator

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Simulator training is the backbone of airline and biz jet training. Early Link trainers worked by allowing a student to learn how to navigate solely by reference to the instruments. Half the battle was not getting sick. The basic procedures of instrument flight could be trained, learned, and understood, but little about the Link was airplane-model specific.

These days, some simulators cost more than the airplanes they represent, and the degree of realism is uncanny. The Brasilia sim that I flew in 1996-97 was extremely realistic, but the visuals only showed night-time scenarios. Needless to say, my first several day landings were…interesting. But the sounds of the engines, the bounce of the tires on the lights, the incredible amount of leg effort to handle a V1 cut were all spot-on accurate. I’d come out of a day of V1 cuts with my legs just shaking.

The CRJ sim that I use now has both daylight and night capability (twilight is most realistic), and every part in the sim (save a few) could be put in the airplane–and vice versa. The visuals are much more realistic, including the depictions of other aircraft, the ramps and terminals, even fire trucks.

Like the Link trainers, the modern sim is primarily a procedures trainer. Unlike the Link, it is specific to the airplane, and it can be—and is—used to teach basic, everyday operations as well as a slew of emergencies. In airline or corporate flying, it is assumed that you can already fly IFR proficiently, so the normal procedure training concentrates on the specific way in which your company operates the aircraft, using company flows, checklists, protocols, et cetera. Further, each company will outfit the sim so that it looks like their own cockpits. While a CRJ is a CRJ and a 737 is a 737, there are some differences in avionics (or in avionic locations), displays (especially on screens, which can be programmed in a multitude of ways), and even in the style of seats. Realism counts, especially if the operator is seeking FAA approval to do initial type rides in the sim without ever making the student get in the airplane.

Sims are popular for three reasons. First, it is safer to learn in the sim than in the airplane. If you crash a sim, it’s no harm, no foul (and at some point, you will crash). Second, it’s cheaper than doing it in the airplane. You aren’t burning fuel or wasting time on the ground waiting for takeoff or vectors to final. You also aren’t putting wear and tear on the bird, and cycles are minimized. Finally, the sim is efficient. The instructor can immediately flight-freeze the sim and start a discussion. He can also back the sim up to any given point and start a maneuver again. No go-arounds are required. Weather possibilities are endless. You can practiced all manner of crosswind takeoffs and landings, and choose from among dozens of windshear models to fly, some of which are designed to make you crash. In an airplane, you simply cannot replicate malfunctions and emergencies safely. In the sim, you can throw whatever you want at the students, and if they work it correctly, great. If they make it worse, the instructor can smile sadistically as the crew tries to go from worse to bad before working on getting on up to good.

Sims and sim technology steadily improve as computing power improves, and the flying qualities are improved as more data is collected and added. As realistic as sims are, they do not fly “exactly” like an airplane, especially on landings. But they are awfully close, and they are tremendous tools for teaching and learning. If you have never been in a full motion sim, and the opportunity presents itself, jump on it!–Chip Wright