Cockpit Chronicles: Back to the simulator

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston.

“You have training!” read the message at the top of our company website.

Unlike our vacation or monthly schedule, we have no choice in the timing of our training. So every nine months, plus or minus a month, we know that we’ll be called back to the flight academy for four or five days of what we call “recurrent.”

Ground School

The first two days consist of classroom training that covers subjects such as performance, (which mostly deals with takeoff performance calculations), emergency equipment, federal regulations, security and finally a review of the aircraft’s systems, such as the electrical, hydraulic and flight controls of both the 757 and the 767.

At times, these courses can be tedious. Watching a video on the proper way to set up a 56-man life raft every nine months can test your abilities to stay alert. In fact, it’s torturous.

This year, however, we had a redesigned human factors class. Human factors training covers some of the common mistakes discovered through a pilot self-disclosing program known as “ASAP.”

Often these mistakes are re-created in a simulator and filmed for use as a training aid. This year, one of my flights was featured in the class.

Usually this isn’t something anyone would be proud of. Fortunately it was a video I made for entertainment purposes only. It showed a typical three-day trip from Boston to Paris and it’s now used to lighten things up a bit in the class before diving into more serious topics.

A Shiny New Toy

The other new experience came during the simulator training. The company is in the process of retrofitting all their 757 and 767’s with a new type of cockpit display. These LCD screens are much larger and they replace many of the round dial instruments that are common in the older Boeings.

Currently only one of our airplanes is flying with these new panels, but two of the simulators have been modified, allowing us to get some training in the new layout before flying one for real.

The LCD screens are larger and they display more information without having to switch pages as we’ve had to do in the original design. It’s bright and clear, and it makes flying an approach a little easier, eliminating the requirement for one pilot to display a raw data page while the other displays their map page during certain approaches.

I know there are some people out there who prefer the round dials and old ‘steam gauge’ cockpits, but these people probably would prefer we did away with enclosed cockpits, too. At some point, you have to embrace new technology.

Eventually these screens will include satellite weather and Jeppesen approach plates with airport diagrams built in, an upgrade called the Class 3 electronic flight bag. This will allow us to shed a couple of heavy books from our kit bags.

Since I’m a gadget nut, I’m always in favor of any new technology we can get in the Boeing. Small, general aviation aircraft have had some of these features available to them for years and it’s about time we caught up.

The Simulator

This time I’d be going through the class by myself, which meant that instead of being paired up with another captain, I’d fly with an instructor who would play the role of captain for the scenario. After a two-hour briefing, the instructor, also known as a “sim-P,” or simulator pilot, put me in the box to practice a few maneuvers while getting used to the gorgeous new displays.

The two sim-Ps were retired from Braniff and Eastern Airlines. I’ve always been impressed with these former line pilots. They know what they’re doing and they approach their jobs with surprising enthusiasm, even though they’ve been flying or instructing for quite a few decades.

George and Gary, both former pilots of now defunct airlines, get the simulator ready.

The FAA requires the training of certain maneuvers. You can expect to see aborted takeoffs, an engine failure during the critical phase of flight [like just after lifting off the ground] and a windshear scenario. We also fly a variety of approaches–ILS’s, VOR, RNAV and visual approaches–often times with only one engine operating.

After the required maneuvers are completed, they often give you a chance to see or try something you could never do in the actual airplane. I asked to do a no-flaps takeoff, since that had been in the news lately as well as a landing where I attempted to fly slow enough to touch the aft fuselage at touchdown.

The flaps-up takeoff went surprisingly well. I suspect the 757 has the wing design and the added thrust to handle that situation better than the DC-9 or MD-80’s that have had problems. Of course, there would never be a situation that you’d want to be in this predicament, but it’s nice to know more about what the airplane can do?

The intentional tail strike turned out to be much more difficult than I expected. Even though I was 15 knots slower than the normal approach speed for our weight, we still didn’t touch the aft part of the fuselage to the ground. After touchdown, I pulled back and I was surprised to see how much of an angle was required to finally get a strike. This 757 was much less prone to a tail strike than the 767-300 or even the 737-800.

We continued down the runway dragging the rear end. I imagined huge sparks flying from our tail section. This would have been an expensive lesson in the real airplane that would have resulted in a visit to the chief pilot’s office followed by some remedial training.

After 4 hours in the simulator, George was confident I’d pass my checkride with a check airman the next day.

Fortunately, I’d have Gary, the former Eastern pilot who acted as my captain during the training session, with me in the left seat for the checkride.

The next day from 6 to 8 p.m., I answered the questions the check airman asked about the airplane’s systems and then we discussed some of the problems pilots have seen on the line.

At 8:15, Gary and I jumped in the simulator and flew a variety of maneuvers and dealt with some equipment failures and fires for two hours, and then we took a short break before coming back to the 757 simulator for the official checkride.

For the next two hours, we operated as a normal flight from Reno to San Francisco. We discussed the unusual two-eng
ine and single-engine departures from Reno, that require a variety of turns to avoid the high terrain in the area, and we also looked at the arrival into San Francisco.

We made sure to discuss the procedure for a one-engine go-around at SFO and how its path differed from the two-engine go-around. Had we not briefed this difference, the check airman would have almost certainly given us an engine failure followed by a go-around.

With just a push of a button, our instructor could have created one of literally hundreds of problems for us to contend with. But this flight was to simulate a more normal scenario with a single mechanical problem, which is more realistic.

After taxiing out and taking off, the check airman gave us a small air-conditioning problem that was resolved quickly. The issue, a ‘pack trip,’ was small enough that we could continue the simulated flight to San Francisco.

Compared to the day before and the first two hours of the checkride, this was a rather simple task. We landed, pulled up to the gate and finished the parking checklist before the walkway was lowered to the hydraulically-actuated simulator for our ‘deplaning.’

The check airman gave a short debrief. His only issue for me that night was that I hadn’t annunciated “Autopilot Off” loud enough when I clicked the button on the yoke to hand-fly the approach. A legitimate gripe that I’ll happily take after four-hours in the simulator.

While I enjoyed the initial training that lasts four to six weeks and the excitement that comes with learning a new airplane, no one ever looks forward to recurrent training. And even though I managed to crack a smile and have a few laughs with some great instructors this week, it was an exhilarating feeling to leave the flight academy knowing I was good for another 9 months.

After training, I had to fly a four-day trip over Thanksgiving, but you might want to hold off with any sympathy for me until after you see where I’ll be going. Stay tuned!

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston.