Slides ARE Fun

Wet Life Jacket

That's the best I can do for today, a wet life jacket.

Yeah, sorry about that.  I like to post articles with pictures but there wasn’t much that I could photograph today.  I’d have been thrown out of the pool and put in the local newspaper had I photographed there, I’d have been thrown out of the exams (plus there’s not much to see), a picture of the smoke training would have been a grey square and the provider of the other training equipment (emergency exits) requested that photos weren’t taken.

The day started early, way to early considering the time the last one finished.  We gathered at a local swimming pool and then went and got wet.  The first exercise was to swim a length.  No problem there.  Then, slightly short of breath after swimming the length (I know, I need more exercise), we had to manually blow up the life jackets.  Back in the pool we went to swim another length.  Once that was completed, we had to jump into the pool with the life jacket on.  Fortunately the instructor reminded us to cross our arms over the jacket to prevent it from smacking us in the face – I’m sure I wouldn’t have remembered otherwise!  Then, I played dead and was dragged to the other end of the pool by one of the other cadets.  Upon reaching the other end, I magically recovered and dragged the other cadet back who had passed out from dragging me.

Finally, the grand finale, the survival circle.  The life jackets were deflated and then six of us went to the other end of the pool.  The instructor threw in the deflated life jackets and then we swam up the pool to collect a jacket, put it on and inflate it.  It’s not as easy as you think while you’re trying to tread water.  To my great disappointment, this time round I got one of the life jackets that wouldn’t stay inflated (due to severe overuse, don’t worry!).  When we were all (kind of) life jacketed up, we formed a tight circle intended to preserve body heat.  The final part of this fine training was to sing a song.  After much persuasion we burst into ‘Happy Birthday’ despite being instructed not to (they’re sick of it).  A few words in we changed to ‘Jingle Bells’.  I feel sorry for everyone who had to listen, especially the general public who were trying to enjoy a quiet swim.  Still, I think it was better that the other groups rendition of ‘Old MacDonald’.  Oh yeah, the reason we had to sing?  Supposedly it was to ‘keep out spirits up.’  I suspect there was some other underlying reason such as a way to embarrass us!

I didn’t intend this post to be quite so long, the swimming was just that fun.  Other training we received during the day included fire and smoke training, emergency exits and escape slides.  I was so nervous about the smoke training!  You had to go into a shipping container full of fake smoke, find the PBE (Protective Breathing Equipment), put it on and then exit the container.  I couldn’t see a thing in there!  Fortunately they showed us around beforehand to familiarise ourselves with the layout (since we would know the layout of our aircraft).  I found the PBE and managed to make it out alive.

Way too much waffling (and brackets) I know.  I do have to mention the slides before I finish.  They are incredibly fun.  The surface is made so that you go down very quick and then there is a grip pad at the bottom that slows you down just before you jump off the end.  It was so fun that upon receiving the offer for another go down the slide before we did the final test of the day, I went straight back to the top of the slide.  This proves that there is no such things as growing up, only growing old.  If you get the chance, have a go, but don’t go pulling emergency exits to do so!

Safety, Safety & Safety

Humans aren’t supposed to fly – we weren’t born with wings.  Well, at least anyone I know wasn’t.  However, for the past century or so, we have been doing our best to fly and to fly safe.  One of the things we have to take into account in modern aviation is the altitude we fly at.  High altitude is great for the aircraft and the airline – the aircraft experiences less drag because the air is less dense and also burns less fuel – good for the airline.  The thing is, humans need oxygen.  That’s why you’ve (hopefully) been breathing since the day you were born!

At 30,000 feet there is a lower concentration of oxygen than at sea level.  So low that, if you take a human from sea level to 30,000 feet in a matter of minutes, they’ll pass out and eventually…well…you know.  To get around this problem, aircraft cabins are pressurised to keep the oxygen levels far closer to what we are used to.  The pressure stays in the cabin throughout the flight until the descent to the destination airport.  During the descent the aircraft systems equalize the pressure inside the cabin to the ambient pressure outside.

As you know, before every flight there is a demonstration by the cabin crew.  They talk about oxygen masks as part of their presentation.  These would be used if there was a decompression in the cabin and the inside pressure becomes equal to the outside pressure.  These oxygen masks provide a limited supply and so the aircraft would descent to a lower altitude where the pressure is back to levels that enable us frail humans to take in enough oxygen.

The following video was referred to in class today.  We didn’t get to see it so I looked it up. It’s both entertaining and informative.  I didn’t have the time to watch it all the way through and so skipped to the part about air pressure which starts at around 13:00.  For a greater insight into what happens during a rapid decompression it’s well worth watching.  For those nervous about flying, go here instead.

Crew Resource Management

Co-pilot Checklist

Ah, if only it was that easy! (Supposedly this belongs to but I don't really know the original source.)

Joining an airline as a cadet involves many things and one of them is a Crew Resource Management course.  The purpose of a CRM course is to improve communication, decision making and safety in the flight deck among other things such as managing stress and fatigue.  I’ve seen the above picture a couple of times during my training now and it’s a dig at how captains supposedly saw co-pilots (in times past).  CRM is aimed at ensuring this is not the case in the modern flight deck.

Despite all the improvements in aircraft, navigation and air traffic control technology, the largest cause of accidents remains human error.  The primary causes of these accidents are inadequate communication, deviation from Standard Operating Procedures and errors in maintenance.  CRM is a vital skill to ensure these causes become less and less frequent.  We discussed a number of incidents throughout the day that displayed how a number of factors had combined to produce a serious incident that could have been avoided had each crew member communicated properly and essentially just watched the other pilots back.

One of the cases I found most interesting was a flight that ended with an emergency landing at Birmingham airport in 2006.  The Boeing 737 departed from Belgium and on arrival at London Stanstead airport was unable to land due to weather conditions deteriorating below minimum requirements.  The crew put the aircraft into a hold for 30 minutes to see if the weather improved and then diverted to East Midlands airport.  The weather conditions in East Midlands required the crew to make a low visibility approach to Runway 27.  At approximately 500 feet above the ground, the crew were passed a message by ATC which stated that the company (operating the aircraft) would like the crew to divert to Liverpool.

The commander of the aircraft accidentally disconnected both autopilots while attempting to reply to the message from air traffic control.  He attempted to re-engage the autopilot in order to continue the approach.  The aircraft diverged to the left of the runway centreline and developed a high rate of descent.  The commander commenced a go-around but was too late to prevent the aircraft contacting the grass which caused the right main landing gear to break off.  Fortunately the aircraft became airborne and diverted to Birmingham where a successful emergency landing was made.  In this case, the chain of events that lead up to the accident did not cause a loss of life but in many cases they do.

It’s incidents like these that cause me to say ‘what if?’  What if ATC had decided not to pass the message?  What if the crew had ignored it, landed and then asked questions?  What if the captain hadn’t hit the disconnect button?  What if the co-pilot had called for a go-around?  An awful lot of trouble could have been avoided.  CRM courses are to try and ensure things like this don’t happen by ensuring each pilot is an active team member.  Things like this really shouldn’t happen but if it can happen to the crew involved, it can happen to anyone.

For a better understanding of this incident see the following reports from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch: here and here.

Chapter 98, Type Rating Training

I don’t really know how many chapters my life covers, honest.  Still, a new chapter started today with the commencement of my type rating training.  It was a fairly long day, I got to the airport at about 08:40 for a 09:00 start and finished just after 18:00.  After an introduction to the airline we went through the vast pile of manuals, booklets and forms that cluttered our desks.  After lunch we went through the various websites and other resources we would be using to access information (up-to-date manuals, roster, briefings, airline news and so on), contact relevant people and track progress.  The day finished up with a bit of paperwork and document checking in order to progress towards the issue of relevant ID.

Aircraft Manuals

Just some of the manuals received today! Wish me luck...

Gargantuan Portions

I was over in the States recently and after an enjoyable family event, we went to celebrate at Leatherby’s Ice Cream.  I’d already had a lunch of fairly epic proportions at Thanksgiving Point and so was looking for something that would hit the spot while not over-doing it.  I scanned the menu and came to this delicious looking section:

Leatherby's Menu

Innocent looking enough isn't it?

I thought the pictured sundae was to give me an idea of what I would be getting and so settled on Jill’s Cookie Concoction (apologies for the small print, it’s the best I could get).  I didn’t really like the sound of ‘arcadia avalanche’ and so settled on the two scoops of cookies & cream.  Note the word scoops.  A few minutes later, this is what arrived (I ate the cherry before I took the picture):

Jill's Cookie Concoction

Dear reader, what is the difference between a scoop and a boulder?

What is that!?  It’s a monster.  What are those?  Boulders of ice cream.  Do I have to eat it?  Yes.  I really was most surprised to have this delivered after seeing the sundae on the menu.  Not wanting to miss such an epic opportunity, I got to work.

Almost there...

Some time later, it's 'Justification O'Clock'

It’s okay, I ordered ice cream, I ate the ice cream.  But what about the cookie?  Yeah, what about it?  You haven’t eaten it.  I know.  You can’t leave that now!  Okay.  Gets back to work….I do have to note though, during the demolition that occurred on said ‘sundae’, I managed to get ice cream on the new suit I was wearing for something like the fourth time.  I was supposed to be wearing it for my brother’s wedding just three days later.  Fortunately, someone invented dry cleaners and the story goes no further.  Oh yeah, I was really annoyed about that way it happened too.  It didn’t just fall off the spoon, that would have been okay and down to my own carelessness but that’s not how it happened.  See that giant cookie?  Is started in one big piece.  I couldn’t fit it in my mouth all at once so I decided to break it up.  I was expecting it to be soft but it was a bit of a tough cookie so I proceeded to jab it with my spoon until it gave way.  Eventually it did give way and in doing so, blasted the ice cream that was sitting underneath it down my front and up my sleeve.  Brilliant.


Jill's Cookie Concoction: 0 - Matt: 1

So there we have it.  I won, gained some weight and felt pretty pleased about it.  Portions in America are generally much larger than those in England.  Be careful what you wish for!