soarlikethebirds.com Redirect

soarlikethebirds.com has been redirected to this address: matt.midgley.name as a result of a site merger. I’ve had a blog of some form or another for at least eight years now and until recently was attempting to run two – neither of which got updated often. In an attempt to keep things simple, I’ve decided to have all my content on one blog/site. Please be patient while these changes are made, things could be a bit of a mess for a little while.

Should’ve Gone to Specsavers

HSS Hire Shop

What is the silliest thing you’ve mistaken for something else? We’ve all done it. The first thing that came to my mind was something that happened years ago. We passed an HSS Hire Shop (industrial hire company here in the UK) and I quickly glanced over my shoulder and said: What’s a Hiss Hair Shop? Much to the amusement of the rest of the family. It’s easy to mistake something for something else. I’m sure there are many more recent examples but none have come to my mind just yet.

The following story takes things to the next level. Early last week and fresh out of the simulator, I was preparing for a flight to Chania in Greece. We had a slot time, which meant we had to be airborne by a particular time otherwise the slot would expire and we’d need a new one. All flights have to depart at a particular time but if you don’t have a slot time then it’s usually easier to recover from delays.

Everything was going to plan until we’d started the first engine and completed the pushback. There was a loud ding in the flight deck indicating the cabin crew wanted to speak to us – never a good sign during the push. In my relatively short time I’ve had all sorts of things from passengers losing passports to medical issues and nervous flyers. Today was something new. A passenger was claiming to have seen their bag on a luggage cart back on the stand we had just left. Okay. Interesting claim. We had no reason to doubt it at first and so made contact with our handling agent who had the stand searched and confirmed with the baggage handlers that the bag count was correct. Procedures are in place for this very reason.

The story should have ended there but it goes on a little further. The searching caused us to almost miss our slot time. Tower had kindly managed to arrange an extension of a couple of minutes. Enough time to taxi to the runway and take off. We approached the runway holding point and waited for another aircraft to land. After which we were cleared to enter the runway, backtrack and line up ready for departure. During this time we were waiting for a signal from the cabin to say everything was secure for take off. I pressed a button which tells the cabin crew we’re ready and then we wait for a response. The response didn’t come and we were occupying the runway at a peak time so we dinged the cabin again. Then they picked up the inter phone and explained the situation.

The cabin crew inform us that said passenger is still insisting their bag is still on the stand and won’t go without it. The cabin was not secure, the safety demo hadn’t yet been done due to all the commotion and we were still occupying an active runway. We asked tower for taxi instructions back to stand while we sort out a baggage issue. Instructions were provided and the slot time went out of the window. We make it back on stand to be greeted by a sea of high visibility jackets. The passenger was invited to lead the way to this forgotten bag.

Much to my relief, we hadn’t left a bag after all. The forgotten bag – was a pile of chocks. You read that right, aircraft chocks. Yes, they were black, yes, there were a few of them and yes, they were stacked on a luggage cart but no, they weren’t a bag. The passenger returned to the aircraft, we uplifted an extra 300 Kgs of fuel and awaited a new slot time. When was the new slot time? Almost an hour after our original scheduled departure time.

chocks

As a result of this case of mistaken identity, people were delayed, fuel was wasted and one passenger kept their head down for the rest of the trip. Not a very warm welcome to the working week having completed a six monthly simulator check the day before. Fortunately all ended well and we made it back to Leeds only 15 minutes late. What things would you be willing to delay a flight for? If I was certain my bag was still on stand, sure, I’d mention it but if we had to go without it I’d be cheesed off enough but I’d live. I wouldn’t dare delay the flight. I’d only have the guts to demand a return to stand if I felt desperately unwell.

Line Training

Time for a long overdue update.  The more I leave it the harder it is to update so I need to crack on.  So much has been happening that I haven’t been writing about so if I get more up-to-date it should be easier to keep current.

Pictures are great.  The only way this picture is related to line training is that it was taken on evening on a walk in Chelmsford.  I stayed in Chelmsford throughout line training at London Stansted.

Pictures are great. The only way this picture is related to line training is that it was taken one evening on a walk in Chelmsford. I stayed in Chelmsford throughout line training at London Stansted. The dust was caused by harvesting in nearby fields.

With simulator and base training complete, the next stage to complete was line training.  Line training is essentially on the job training.  Training is done by a very experienced line training captain and for the first few flights, there is another pilot on the flight deck as safety pilot.  When the criteria to be safety pilot released has been met, flights are then carried out with the line training captain only.  Items that must be covered to be safety pilot released include: pre-flight safety inspections, altimeter setting procedures, low visibility approach and procedures for pilot incapacitation.

Line training continues for approximately 80 sectors (a sector is one flight, from A-B.  Number of sectors varies between operators and level of experience) and covers many procedures and discussion items.  These procedures cover all parts of a flying day: planning, aircraft pre-flight, push back, start and taxi, take-off and climb, cruise, descent and approach, landing and taxi.  Further discussion items include critical safety items such as rapid de-pressurisation, level bust avoidance, winter operations and terrain awareness.

As with all other stages of training, this stage is intense.  Intense for a few reasons.  Reason one: you’re operating with paying passengers.  I was a little nervous the first time I flew passengers but not as nervous as I thought I would be.  I was too busy to be really nervous and what is there to be nervous about?  It’s still an aircraft that you’ve already learned to fly, only it’s just a little heavier!  Reason two: line training is intense because of the long days and the busy schedule.  Never in any stage of training did I do four flights in one day and suddenly here I am doing just that.  It’s all good though, along with the four flights you get four take-offs and four landings which are most certainly the best bits!  Soon you get in to the flow of things and build a routine that works for you.

Reason three: you’re still learning.  Even though flying on scheduled services you’re still learning how to operate safely and efficiently.  The learning continues long after line training too.  One thing that takes a lot of practice is the descent profile.  In a world of clear skies, still air and no air traffic, this would be easy.  Weather, air traffic and winds all affect the descent from cruise altitude to the destination airfield.  If air traffic control keep you high while another aircraft passes below, it’s up to you to then get back on the descent profile so you’re at a suitable airspeed and altitude when it’s time to make an approach.  As with all things that require practice, you improve over time.

Line check.  Checks, checks and more checks.  What stage of training would be complete without a check?  Line training concludes with a line check and then you’re qualified to fly with regular line captains.  The check takes place over two sectors, one as pilot flying and one as pilot monitoring.  Pilot monitoring does radios and paperwork amongst other things while the other pilot flies.  The check is supposed to be just a couple of normal line flights to ensure that you are proficient in safe line operations.  That’s it.  Do what you’ve been taught to do, do it well, and the line check is complete.

There we have it.  A short essay on line training.  I’m sure there is much more to say but I’ll keep it brief for now.  If anything crucial from my line training comes to mind, I’ll pop it in another post.  Overall it was a great experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  During the first couple of days I wasn’t sure if I’d chosen the right job but I soon got into it and now, months down the line, I’m absolutely loving it.

Post A Day 2013 Resignation

Well there we have it.  We’re 21 days into 2013 and I managed just three posts.  I enjoyed the few posts I did and I still would like to continue but I have discovered that I just don’t have the time.  I’ll have to find another way to post regularly that fits in with my schedule.  That’s all for now, hopefully I’ll be back before too long with something more interesting.  But then again, if I’m not blogging about the post-a-day subject, what will I blog about?

Kick It

What’s the 11th item on your bucket list?

I’m really not doing a very good job of all this.  I don’t have a bucket list!  I don’t really plan on making one yet either but there is one thing I’d like to mention.  If I get to a ripe old age and still haven’t learned to play the piano, I’ll be most annoyed to put it lightly.  I love to listen to the piano and I’ve wanted to learn for some time now.  The problem is, I always have the greatest desire to lean when I’m in the busier times in my life.  I will do it, and I need to do it sooner than later.  So for now, learning to play the piano is 1-11 on my bucket list!

Stroke of Midnight

I’ve heard of this Daily Post idea before so thought I’d try it.  I’m always up for a good excuse to write.  I don’t know how successful I’ll be, I’m already behind!

Where were you last night when 2012 turned into 2013? Is that where you’d wanted to be?

I was on Dublin Bus 747, heading from the city centre towards the airport.  It’s the second time I’ve ever been chauffeur driven in a double decker bus.  The only two people on the bus were me and the driver; I almost asked him to drop me off at the hotel, a very small detour, but chickened out.  I did and didn’t want to be there.  I wanted to be there because it meant I didn’t have to walk or get an expensive taxi.  I didn’t want to be there because I could still have been with friends had I not had to get the last bus back.

Ultimately, I didn’t want to be in Dublin either but had to be because of work.  Where I really wanted to be when 2012 turned to 2013 was with my girlfriend and family in London.  We organised the trip a while back, none of us had been there for New Year before and so we were excited for the experience.  All the time I knew my roster couldn’t guarantee I would be there but I kept hoping.  And so it worked out that I couldn’t make it.  Rather frustrating to say the least but I’m grateful that I had Christmas at home, not all of my colleagues did.  Back at the hotel I spoke to my family and my girlfriend and called it a night.

The view my girlfriend (Jess) and siblings had of the fireworks.  Thanks Jess for the picture.

The view my girlfriend (Jess) and siblings had of the fireworks. Thanks to Jess for the picture.

12/12/2012 Geocache Find – St. Doulagh’s, Dublin

A while back, on the Latitude 47 Geocaching Blog, there was an invitation to ‘join in a celebration of numbers and all those who count themselves as geocachers.’   Well I don’t know how good I am at celebrating numbers but I definitely count myself as a geocacher and always like a good excuse to go and find a cache.

Currently I’m working from Dublin airport and by chance, 12/12/12 has fallen on one of my standby days so I could get out during the hours of daylight and find a cache.  I’m currently staying at a hotel and don’t have access to a car.  The nearest geocaches required me to cross a motorway, something that I wan’t willing to do so I looked east and found a cache called St. Doulagh’s.  Only being about 4 km away (line of sight) I decided that I could make it.  The route I took turned out to be some where in the region of 5.8 miles (9.3 km) which isn’t too bad.

When I arrived I saw a car and a work van and thought ‘Oh no! I’ve walked all this way and won’t get chance to find it.’ I approached the church and they were working on fitting some new doors so I headed round the back to start my search. Fortunately they kept busy enough with the doors for me to find the cache and sign the log. I then went for a look inside this amazing building. On my way out, one of the workmen asked if I’d been upstairs and when I said I hadn’t he took me on a quick tour through all the narrow passageways and spiral staircases up the tower.

It was a brilliant adventure that I wouldn’t have had had it been for geocaching.  See pictures below, they’re not amazing because they were taken on my iPhone 3GS.  Should start carrying my ‘proper’ camera around more often!

Base Training

Once the Licence Skills Test was complete, there was one more hurdle to complete before starting on passenger services – taking the jet into the air for the first time!  It was an absolutely fantastic experience.

Me, in the right hand seat of a Boeing 737. Apologies for the low resolution and the poor lighting, we didn’t have all day!

I changed seats with the previous cadet at the edge of the runway so there was no time for messing about!  Headset on, belt up and adjust seat.  The captain looked over and asked: ‘Ready?’ and then I must have said something that communicated that I was because the safety pilot told the control tower we were ready for departure and before long we were on the runway all ready to go.  I knew the simulators were good but I didn’t realise how good until I was in the aircraft.  The layout and feel is exactly the same.  Everything felt familiar, the only thing that was different was the view.

After confirming runway heading on the instruments and starting the timer, I pushed the thrust levers forward to 40%.  When the engines had spooled up I heard the call from the captain ‘stabilised’ and then I pushed the TO/GA buttons and said ‘set take-off thrust.’  On take-off, pushing the TO/GA buttons activates some servos in the throttle quadrant which drive the thrust levers forward to a pre-set position which was calculated and set earlier.  When the engines have spooled up to this thrust setting, the captain calls ‘take-off thrust set, indications normal’ and then places his hand on the thrust levers.  He does this so that if the take-off needs to be rejected for any reason, he is ready immediately.  The next call I hear is ’80kts’ and I respond ‘check’ as we continue to accelerate down the runway.  Moments later the captain called ‘V1, rotate.’  As he noted V1, he removed his hand from the thrust levers.  At V1, you’re going into the air!  A rejected take-off at or above V1 would see you overrunning the end of the runway.  I applied some pressure on the control column and raised the nose and we became airborne.

Man it was fantastic.  Things happen quickly in a jet!  I had to complete six take-offs and landings for my base training to be complete.  Because East Midlands was fairly busy at the time (including another aircraft in the circuit) it took just over an hour for me to complete the training.  I had no problem with that!  Afterwards it seemed like just a few minutes.  It was just thrilling to be piloting an aircraft with a tailplane larger than the last aircraft that I flew.  There were five of us who needed to complete base training so it took some time, but it was an absolute blast.  Quite possibly the only time I’ll ever experience 30 landings in one day.

So there we have it, base training.  I wish I had written this much sooner afterwards, much of the detail has already been forgotten.

Licence Skills Test

Yesterday afternoon (and on into the evening!) and after almost 4.5 hours in the simulator, I passed my licence skills test.  The test was conducted with my flying buddy, who flew for the first part and then I flew for the second.  What is a licence skills test you ask?  Here’s a quick summary:

The purpose of the LST is to establish:

  • whether you have acquired the standard of proficiency necessary for safe operation in controlled airspace under IFR (instrument flight rules) conditions,
  • are familiar with company SOPs (standard operating procedures) and checklists, both normal and non-normal,
  • are competent to operate the aeroplane accurately in both normal and non-normal operations
  • and whether you are able to use effective Crew Resource Management skills.

The LST contained various instrument approaches throughout and also some failures and emergency procedures.  The most challenging flying is with an engine failure.  We practised an engine failure on take-off which occurred above a speed called V1.  At or above this speed there is no longer enough runway distance to stop on the runway and so the problem needs to be taken into the air.  That’s what we did.  We flew around on one engine while we did some checks on the failed engine and planned a landing with the one remaining engine.  On the first approach the weather was too bad to land and so we went around for another approach – another interesting manoeuvre – a go-around on one engine!  The second approach was successful and then we landed which was just about the end of the test.  I like examiners who don’t keep you in suspense – as we were doing the shut down checks he said something along the lines of: ‘well done lads, you’ve passed the test.’  Off we went for a debrief and then a bite to eat at the local curry restaurant.

How often do we fly single engine?  Not often.  It’s a rare occurrence that needs to be dealt with right and so is practised in the simulator on a regular basis.  Check out this video of an engine problem on take off at Manchester.  The pilots did a great job and sounded far cooler on the radio than I did in the sim.  This video shows almost the same exercise that we did during the test only these guys got to land off the first approach, were in a real aircraft and had a bunch of passengers in the back.

It’s great to have the LST done, as you are probably aware, every step of training has written or practical exams and sometimes both!  The next step now is base training which is going to be next week – it will be the first time I take a jet aircraft into the sky.  I’ll see if I can put on a bit about the simulator sessions, I was incredibly busy and as expected didn’t have the time or energy to write.