Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.
– C. S. Lewis
We needn’t climb the 268 steps to the majestic Big Buddha (Tian Tan), at the Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong, China, to learn that embracing change is the path to wisdom and happiness. And the path of a pilot, especially commercial pilots, is certainly chockfull (pun intended) of wisdom and humility-enhancing changes: different planes, different aircraft systems, regulations, governments, employers, contracts and managements. You’ve been listening to me whine like a T-37 engine about l
October 2016). Well, no more. I’m letting go of that rung of the monkey bars and moving forward to the B737-800, also known as the Guppy.
Since it’s “just” another airplane and not a totally alien transportation system like a submarine or your first 10-speed bike, similarities are to be expected. Most airplanes have the same general components: a vessel to keep passengers and cargo safe, separated, warm, fed and entertained; something to make varying amounts of lift and drag; a thrust system to propel it through the air; systems for cooling, heating and pressurization; and devices to help negotiate the environment like anti-ice, radar, lighting, communication and navigation. Of course, we need hydraulic pressure and both the straight and wavy flavors of electricity to make it all go. Plus, we require a combination of wheels, skis or floats to make our landing less dramatic. Then there is the humanistic component of our flying machines: multiple interfaces for us to hold, touch, interpret and control all the above. And finally, we need warning systems to protect us from the environment, the machine, other airplanes and ourselves if we dork something up as we hold, touch, interpret and control.
Let It Go
Letting go of deeply embedded knowledge about a preceding airplane is the first step when transitioning from one machine to another. And forgetting the old stuff is just as difficult as learning the new airplane. Associating new systems and limitations with the old is the first step, followed by trying to forget the old information all together. This is not an easy task. Some of us mix in numbers and procedures not only from a GA airplane or three, but we can still recite limitations and memory items from military airplanes and several airliners, despite trying to unlearn them.
Training in a new airliner, Part 121 style, is very efficient, if you believe that fire hose-style information, delivered by a nonhuman, online, at-home course, is efficient. We now use a pre-training video series before going to the company school. Completion is tracked via the internet and it must be verified complete before going to training. It’s better than the old days when we prepared in advance of the official “schoolhouse” training by gathering homemade study material on our own from other pilots or purchased it over-the-counter.
The video series covers all the bells and whistles from aircraft dimensions and components, to aircraft systems, limitations and procedures, to the nitrogen generating system for fuel tank fire suppression, to the entertainment systems and lavatory fresh air venting.
All training is conducted under the backdrop of crew resource management and the use of threat-and-error management techniques. Once at the schoolhouse, the course is nine days of ground school and 10 days of simulator flying. What used to be 12 days of classroom instruction on systems, is now condensed to a daily briefing room discussion coupled with four hours of either VFT, VPT or FTD training. It is more cost effective for the company to shorten the number of training days, but the new, action-packed schedule invariably makes you feel behind the power curve and causes my cup to runneth over. Virtual Flight Deck is the first level of ground school training and the device represents several sections of the cockpit on 2D flat screens. It is used to learn where switches, controls and displays are located and is the first step in cockpit familiarization. The next level is the Virtual Procedure Trainer. These are many flat screens arranged in 3D and is a magnitude of reality above the VFD. It includes touch-screen functionality, which allows student interaction with the device. The final level of ground school training uses a Flight Training Device. This is an actual Level D simulator with the motion function disabled making it a Level 7 FTD. This allows complete interaction with all switches and controls.
Other than the obvious need to prepare for flying a new airplane in the real world by getting a handle on aircraft systems, the ground school devices serve a twofold purpose: the first is to prepare the student for the oral exam portion of the type rating. At my carrier, this oral exam is an ESV; Electronic Systems Evaluation. It is a computer-based, multiple-choice test consisting of memory items, limitations, systems knowledge and company procedures. The test is scenario based. Different aircraft events and situations along with the associated cockpit indications are presented and the student must select the appropriate actions, description of the event or applicable limitation parameters from three or four choices. The second objective of the nine-day ground school is to prepare the student for the next section of the training cycle: the Level D, full-motion simulator. Preparation for the simulator is validated by administering an evaluation of the procedures learned in ground school using the same VFD, VPT or FTD. Once proficient, simulator flight scenarios with bad weather, anomalies and emergencies can begin on Day One.
Training in a Class D simulator at the airlines is similar from airplane to airplane and to that of high-performance airplanes in general aviation. You learn and demonstrate both knowledge and ability in all normal procedures and a wide range of abnormal and emergency procedures. Emphasis is placed on single-engine approaches and engine failures before and after V1.
You learn and practice stall prevention and recovery, upset recovery, windshear avoidance and escape, terrain awareness and avoidance, TCAS interpretation and compliance as well as low visibility (300 RVR) takeoffs and aborts. You practice and demonstrate basic instrument skills such as holding, flying an offset course, intercepting GPS courses, navigating fix to fix, flying both climb-via RNAV departures and descend-via RNAV arrivals and ILS and non-ILS approaches including category II and III approaches and go-arounds. You also practice and demonstrate use of PRM and SMGCS procedures. Most of the simulator work is at night in IMC and icing conditions.
The Fate of Humanity Mechanization best serves mediocrity.
– Frank Lloyd Wright
While this may have been true from the perspective of yesteryear when mechanization and automation were perceived as a threat to both jobs and the social development of humanity, in the high-speed, high-altitude and high-cost world of modern jet travel, it’s a valuable tool that best serves safety and efficiency. Modern airline and business jet systems lighten crew workload and not only increase consistency and safety, but they improve efficiency. And this puts dollar signs in the twinkling eyes of our CFOs.
My piloting career has come full circle as I begin to fly another HUD-equipped airplane. Of course, the F-16 has a HUD, but the purpose and functions of the 737-800 NG Head Up Display are vastly different. For all the maneuvers in the previous paragraph, the HUD is simply great. I’ve found every function of the HUD in the 737 to be simple to interpret and extremely accurate. From engine failures before and after V1, to low-visibility departures and landings, to tail strike prevention and detection, to landing rollout guidance, it’s a great tool (despite its detriment to the social development of humanity.)
Did You Say Old?
Changes are inevitable as the old year departs and the new one begins. The 737-800 NG is a fine, modern airliner that I will thoroughly enjoy, once I learn the new and forget the old. All professions must endure this type of constant, often uncomfortable, change in order to embrace opportunities for wisdom and happiness, with or without climbing steps in China. And this includes your Twin & Turbine writers. Like learning a new airplane, associating new editorial limitations with the previous will be the first step as our writers learn the preferences of a new editor. Please flood his email (email@example.com) with letters thanking LeRoy for his writing and editing skills over the last several years as he departs the fix. And give a hardy welcome-back to our new, old editor Dianne who reached her EFC and is cleared present position direct, back to her old post at Twin & Turbine. Oh boy, I didn’t mean that she is old, I meant she’s our new, but old, previous editor. I mean, you know, it’s a change for the sake of, well, wisdom, happiness and…did I mention that it’s a new year and the 737 has a HUD? There’s just no backpedaling out of this guillotine. I hope I can keep my head but there goes my New Year’s Day bonus and prop overhaul