It has been a couple of months since my last post and I’m sure some of you may have been wondering why. The short story is that I got a job flying for a new company and have been busy training for the new job. (I have had some time off but I have spent it with my family) While two months may seem like a long time for training for a new job, as a pilot it’s not, and that is the purpose of this post. It’s easy to assume that because we fly airplanes for a living that we can fly any airplane, which if taken at the literal level of manipulating the controls of an airplane is a true statement, though the reality is much different.
For those aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds and not being turbojet powered (jet engines), as far as the FAA is concerned, that statement is true because the basic hands-on skills of flying an airplane don’t change. I can hop into a multitude of airplane types I’ve never flown before, do a few takeoff and landings, and take my family flying but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Even though the basics of flying don’t change, each airplane model flies a little differently though the differences in small airplanes are minimal which is why the FAA doesn’t require specific type training for small airplanes. Insurance companies are a different matter and typically require some training for aircraft owners and there is renter’s insurance which covers the pilot, occupants, and the airplane (renter’s insurance is commonly required for aircraft rental). For airplanes weighing over 12,500 pounds or any turbojet powered airplanes (there are some jets that weigh less than 12,500 pounds) the FAA requires what’s called a type-rating, which is aircraft type specific training, to be able to legally fly those airplanes. (Type-ratings can cover multiple models of the same airplane, like the various models of the 737, or even different models which are similar enough that the FAA considers them to be the same, like the 757 & 767). That means if a pilot who is type-rated on the 737 gets a job flying a Learjet, that pilot has to get specific training and get typed on the Learjet. Getting back to topic at hand, my two month absence on the blog, the bulk of the previous two months has been on me getting typed on the new plane I’ll be flying, the Embraer Phenom 300, and the rest was on company specific stuff. The rest of the post will explain the process I’ve been through and what training I have left to do.
When starting a job at a new company, the first bit of training we do is called indoctrination or indoc training is learning that company’s operating policies and procedures and typically lasts one to three weeks. It typically starts with a bunch of standard Human Resources gobblygook (drug policies, what to do if harassed by a fellow employee, etc) and is boring as it sounds, unless you find HR stuff interesting which I don’t. The rest of indoc is related to how that company operates and how they do things. They may have company specific procedures which require higher weather minimums for operating into and out of certain airports, they may have a unique customer service model that needs explaining, etc. Everything they is covered in indoc training is applicable to the company’s entire fleet of aircraft but doesn’t cover how to operate the aircraft, which is done at a later date. Indoc training, like pretty every bit of aviation training, ends in a test and is typically multiple choice. Once indoc training is complete, we move on to aircraft training.
Aircraft training is comprised of two parts, aircraft systems and the simulator. Aircraft systems training comes first and lasts 1-2 weeks. Aircraft systems training is where we learn everything we need to know about the airplane we are going to be flying. If it has to deal with the operation of the aircraft, we learn about it. From the number of batteries and electrical generators to the number of emergency brake applications we have when we lose hydraulic power, we learn it. We learn how the failure of one component of a system may affect the rest of the system. After we have finished with systems training, there is an oral knowledge exam and possibly a written knowledge exam. Some companies may not have the written knowledge exam but the FAA requires an oral knowledge exam and the exam may done before or after simulator training. From systems training we move to simulator training where we learn to fly the airplane, but not in the way you may be thinking of. When the general public thinks of a flight sim, they think Microsoft Flight Simulator but when a professional pilot thinks of a flight simulator, we think of a behemoth of a machine that sits on about 6 large hydraulic legs and where we know we are going to have a lot of systems failures. The outside of these sims look very similar but the inside is basically an exact copy of the airplane cockpit, down to the position of switches.
When we are in the simulator, we do very, very little of just flying around to learn how the plane flies, the majority of the time is spent working through systems failures and different scenarios. What little “normal” flying we do is spent doing maneuvers such as steep turns and aerodynamic stall recovery. Steep turns (45° of bank) may sound simple but require a lot of coordination and a lot of division of attention to heading, altitude, and airspeed (we have to maintain altitude within 100ft, airspeed within 10kts, and roll out of the turn within 10 degrees of our assigned heading) and they are supposed to demonstrate a high degree of aircraft control. Aerodynamic stall recovery procedures vary from plane to plane but at the basic level the procedure is lower the nose and add power and we practice these in various aircraft configurations simulating a departure (takeoff and climb out) stall, clean or cruise stall, and an approach to landing stall. We practice these to learn and recognize the indications that the airplane is about to stall. (I’m referring to an aerodynamic stall where the wing stops producing enough lift, not an engine stall). The rest of our time in the sim is spent getting emergency after emergency and failure after failure thrown at us. We practice what we call V1 cuts, which is where we lose an engine just during takeoff, typically just as we are raising the nose to liftoff, which is the worst point for an engine to quit because that’s when we are the heaviest, slowest, and have the least amount of energy (airspeed) and we do multiple of these. V1 is our takeoff decision speed or the speed by which we have to make the decision to reject or abort the takeoff. In other words, if something happens below V1 we will reject the takeoff and at or above V1 we’re going flying, even if an engine were to explode and catch on fire, because once we reach V1 we may not have enough runway left to stop the airplane and it is safer to continue the takeoff and handle the situation in the air. Also, don’t worry about the airplane not being able to climb on one engine because all jet aircraft have to demonstrate single engine climb capability before they are certified, which means that they will climb on one engine. We also practice a multitude of other scenarios from hydraulic failures, to loss of pressurization, to an inflight fire, to responding to conflicting traffic, to landing gear malfunctions, to flight control malfunctions, to flight instrument malfunctions. Basically if it can happen in flight, we practice it over and over and over. The purpose is to learn how to respond to a scenario in our airplane, how to work through a checklist, down to the call outs we need to make. We practice so this stuff becomes second nature so that if something happens in the real world, we can respond to situation calmly and efficiently and without over reacting.
If and when something happens in the real world, pretty much the first universal pilot response is something along the lines of “Oh, crap” in a calm, cool, and collected voice, of course, and then we work through the situation. For the best example of this calm response, listen to the ATC tapes of U.S. Airways flight 1549 (the Miracle on the Hudson flight), and you will hear no overacting or freaking out in the voice of Captain Sullenberger. Surprising to many we do not practice dual engine failures, though sometimes if we finish a training session early or have extra time we may have some fun and the sim instructor will fail both engines. The reason we don’t practice dual engine failures is because it is impossible to realistically train for because beyond a checklist, you cannot develop a standard response to a dual engine failure like you can a single engine failure. What I mean is that the actions we would take would be predicated on a multitude of factors, where we’re departing from, what the weather conditions are, where we’re at over the ground, how high we are, what other airports are close by, are there any large fields nearby, etc. and changing just one of those factors will change the response to the situation. (If the weather would have been bad, or if the plane would have been higher or lower, the outcome of U.S. Airways 1549 would have been a lot different.) I assure you though that if, and it is a really, really, big IF, you’re on a flight and both engines quit that the pilots will quickly come up with a plan of action.
Getting back on topic, once we complete our sim training, anybody want to guess what comes next? That’s right a test, or a checkride as it’s commonly referred to. During the checkride, we demonstrate proficiency on the aircraft, V1 cuts, stall recovery, handling an emergency, instrument approach procedures, basically demonstrating we can fly the airplane both normally and during an emergency. Like all test, checkrides are pass or fail but a failure on a checkride stays on our record permanently. Once this is complete, we move onto our initial operating experience or IOE.
The easiest way I can explain IOE is to say that is basically on-the-job training. IOE is designed to help transition us from the training environment to the real world, day-to-day environment. IOE cover pretty much everything we do from our preflight inspection to how to handle day-to-day operational challenges. IOE is also where we learn to fly the airplane under normal circumstances, because typically up to this point we may not have even seen the airplane up close. IOE is done with a training or instructor pilot, commonly known as a check airman and typically lasts for at least 25 hours. Once we complete IOE, we are signed off and can start flying with any captain or first officer. (Newly trained captains go through the same process.) Even though it may seem that training would be over at this point, training for pilots is never truly complete. At least once a year we have a recurrent ground school where we re-cover important or new or changed company policies or procedures, etc. and lasts 1-3 days. Also, twice a year we go back to the simulator and we typically alternate between a proficiency check (checkride) and a LOFT (line-oriented flight training) which represents a normal flight from A-B with an abnormality of some sort which can be as simple as a generator failure or as serious as an engine fire. LOFTs are non-jeopardy events which mean there is no pass or fail aspect, but a recurrent checkride, like our initial checkride is a pass or fail event. We attend these recurrent ground schools and sim sessions every year, unti we retire. And if we upgrade to captain or get assigned a new aircraft type, we go through whole systems & sims, and IOE training. Hopefully this post gives you an idea of the training process we go through as pilots and I also hope this assures you that your pilots are well-trained to handle any situation that may arise. As far as where I am at in the training process, I am scheduled to start my IOE today (June 24, 2015).