Pilots who are new to a company and an airplane can at times feel like they will never “get it.”

The first shot out of the firehose is information. Lots and lots of information, about everything from the company to the managers to how to get a mistake on your ID badge fixed. Then there is airplane training, which is information on steroids. There are memory item checklists and limitations to memorize, some of which feel silly or seem to have no reason (and often don’t).

Next is the simulator, where everything goes from being an abstract, academic concern to a practical one, as you try to tie up all the pieces you’ve been given so far. Callouts, flows, crew resource management…it’s a lot to master, and there never seems to be enough time to do so. Worse still, you don’t realize how narrow the scope of flying is in the sim until it’s over. Most of the time is spent flying approaches and learning how to use the flight management system (FMS), while also figuring out how to keep the blue side up during an engine failure. In fact, in sim training, you actually get very little time experiencing what the airplane flies like when everything is working. You also get almost no exposure to the cruise portion of your flight.

Simulators are great for a lot of things, but they are terrible for mastering the art of a visual approach, because the graphics, as good as they are, still lack a certain amount of depth perception. The sims also usually do a poor job of replicating terrain-induced winds and turbulence on an approach. At some point you will begin to feel a little bit cocky about how you’re doing, because you will have mastered (or come close to) this narrow field of flying in a very controlled environment.

It’s only after you get on the line and have to really and truly put it all together in an airplane with passengers and other distractions that you finally have to master the art of not crashing and flying with some degree of grace. Generally speaking, it takes around 100 hours in an airplane to get your first new level of comfort, and it takes around 500 to begin to feel less apprehension in challenging weather conditions. With larger airplanes that fly longer legs and do fewer takeoffs and landings, it may take more. Getting the hang of hand-flying and performing smooth visual approaches is a sign of comfort, and a big boost to your confidence. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with practice and repetition. You’ll also learn from your mistakes, of which there will be many at first.

But there comes a time where sitting in your seat feels like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. And that’s a great day when it comes.—Chip Wright

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