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.

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.

Magnificent Sky

An attempt to capture this evenings sunset.

My study desk is in front of a west facing sliding door and for once I could get a glimpse of the sun as it set.  My phone camera didn’t do a great job of catching the real colour.  Sunsets are one of the best things about the sky – I can’t speak much for sunrises, I’m not often around for them!

A few weeks ago I had a study week to get through as much of the thousands of pages of materials as I could.  That was then followed by a week of computer based training, a study filled weekend (and a 16lb hamburger) and then we get to this week.  The majority of it is also computer based training with a little mix up of things – using the procedure trainer, a flight management computer trainer and an exam to name a few.  On Thursday I have a technical exam which will test the knowledge I have gained in the last few weeks of study through 120 questions.  Little time is available for much else, plus it doesn’t leave much to talk about.

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!

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...

Airline Interview

Before I get into this just a couple of notes: 1. I never gave a follow up post for my IRT.  Looking back now there isn’t much point – the description of the 170A pretty much covers it.  2. I didn’t write about MCC/JOC.  That’s because it was a really really busy couple of weeks.  Now, months later, I probably couldn’t write a great description.  I still have a video of one of my training sessions that I may chop up and put on here with a few words, I can guarantee you won’t want to watch the full two hours.

Right, the interview.  31st January was a beautiful day.  I was watching trees, fields and four legged beast fly past the train windows as I headed into Bradford with a friend.  Not long before we stopped in Shipley I received a call from someone at Oxford asking me about how things had been since I finished the course, including who I had applied for a job with.  After explaining what I had been up to I was informed of an interview opportunity with an airline.  They explained a couple of details and also mentioned that it was the following day, 1st February.  That was a real shocker!

Opportunities like this don’t come along every day.  Although nervous about the short notice, I accepted the invitation.  I got off the train at Bradford and went straight back home.  There was now a pile of paperwork and preparation to do in order to be ready for the interview.  The day ended with a journey to the airport where the interview was to take place and an overnight stay in a nearby hotel.

I slept quite well considering what I would be facing in the morning – I’d been hearing horror stories from interviews ever since starting ground school.  Once at the interview location, I became one of five to be interviewed throughout the day.  We were greeted by some of the airline staff and then given a presentation on how the day would run and also covered some frequently asked questions.  We were then paired up (kind of because of the odd number) with a simulator partner so we could discuss the departure and arrival procedures we would be using.

Hours passed and then I was finally called for interview.  I had spoken to both the interviewers throughout the day and was relieved to see now familiar faces.  We covered many topics during the interview.  Firstly we talked about the airline and then about my experience to date.  Part of my CV highlights my volunteer service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this was even covered during the interview.  We talked about what I did, how I interacted with people and how I dealt with the challenges that come along with such work.  For more information, see here.

The rest of the interview covered my training and also some technical questions relating to aircraft I had already flown and also a little about jet airliners.  These topics included electrical systems, engines, performance and instrumentation.  Overall it was a good experience.  The guys behind the desk were very friendly and made the interview seem more like a normal conversation rather than a grilling.  Once done with the interview, I felt like I could stomach some lunch and so off I went to eat and look over some things before going in the simulator later in the afternoon.

The simulator sessions were brilliant.  The simulators we used were very advanced and made for an enjoyable and challenging experience.  I flew first and flew a simple departure, did some manoeuvres and then on the way back to the airport dealt with an abnormal situation and then flew an ILS approach, had a go around and then a visual approach to land.  Unfortunately I have to say the ground hit us quite fast to make for a less than smooth landing!  I then switched seats with my simulator partner and acted as pilot monitoring for the duration of the flight which followed a similar profile to mine.

And that it, job done.  I made sure the last guy had a flying buddy and headed outside for some fresh air.  Thus commenced the almost three week wait to hear whether I would be offered the position.  I’m very pleased to say that I was offered the position.  Much more paperwork followed and much more hard work is ahead.  The transition to airline operations isn’t going to be easy but I’m looking forward to it after all – it’s what I’ve been aiming for.  For now, I will enjoy a trip to the States for my brother’s wedding and a nice read of the operations manual.

Instrument Landing System

Last Friday (9th) I had my last lesson in the Seneca.  I flew to Birmingham for a radar vectored ILS approach.  Thanks to my failure of keeping this blog up to date, I haven’t described what an ILS is.  As a simple and brief introduction, here is a paragraph from Wikipedia:

An instrument landing system (ILS) is a ground-based instrument approach system that provides precision guidance to an aircraft approaching and landing on a runway, using a combination of radio signals and, in many cases, high-intensity lighting arrays to enable a safe landing during instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), such as low ceilings or reduced visibility due to fog, rain, or blowing snow. For further reading click here.

The information provided by this system is presented to the pilot on an instrument called a HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator).

Above is a typical HSI.  Very similar to the one we have in the Seneca.  When the ILS is tuned in on Navigation Radio 1 (NAV 1) and the aircraft is within range, the yellow indicators will show where you are in relation to the centreline of the runway and the correct descent path.  When setting up for the approach you put the course select pointer on the runway heading.  Both the course deviation bar and the dual glide-slope pointers are ‘fly to’ indications meaning that if the glide-slope pointers are above the middle point, then you need to decrease your descent rate until they are back in the middle.  Don’t climb on an ILS, it would just make it rather more difficult!  Similarly, if they were below the middle point, you would need to increase your rate of descent to get back on to the correct approach profile.

If the course deviation bar is to the left, it means that you are to the right of the runway centreline and that you need to fly left to correct it.  As you get closer and closer to the runway, these indications get ever more sensitive.  Throughout the approach we are to maintain the localiser (centreline) and the glide-slope to within half scale deflection.  Going outside these limits would result in a fail for the precision approach section.  On the CDI, half scale deflection is 2.5 dots left/right and on the glide-slope indicators half scale deflection is the next marker above/below.

There are two ways of doing such an approach.  One way is procedural and the other is radar vectored.  Most of the time we can get a radar vectored ILS which means the approach controller directs you on to the runway centreline using radar vectors.  Radar vectors are heading instructions given to the pilot by the approach/radar controller.  The final heading they give you is usually a 30 degree intercept to the localiser.  It is then the pilots responsibility to intercept and maintain the localiser and glide-slope.

The approach is flown with reference to an approach plate.  Please note: plate use with permission; neither the CAA or NATS accept any liability or responsibility for the content of the information; plate is for information purposes only and not intended for operational use.

The plate above details all the information to carry out either a procedural or a radar vectored ILS approach into Birmingham using runway 33.  As stated earlier, when being radar vectored, the controller will direct you towards the inbound track of 328 degrees.  The pilot then follows the recommended profile glide-path which is detailed on the plate just below the area diagram.  DME I-BM is your DME distance from Birmingham and below that are the recommended altitudes for the relevant distances.  Checking these as you go down the approach verifies that you are on the correct glide-path and that your altimeters are set correctly.

When carrying out a procedural approach you would navigate to the BHX (an NDB on Birmingham’s airfield) when cleared to do so and then hold over that beacon until cleared for the approach.  The hold is shown on the chart as right hand and with an outbound track of 328 degrees and an inbound track of 148 degrees.  When cleared for the approach, category A aircraft (the Seneca is category A) fly outbound from the BHX on a track of 160 degrees to D7 (7 miles DME) and then turn back inbound to intercept the ILS.  This way the pilot it entirely responsible for positioning for and intercepting the ILS.  Being radar vectored is much more convenient!

During lessons this approach is flown with the screens covering the windows so we cannot use any outside references.  We use plates that are provided by another company and different minima are specified.  The approach is essentially the same.  The plate is used states that I can descend to 530ft (DA – Decision Altitude) on the approach which would put me at 204ft above the runway surface.  Oxford Operating Procedures state that 20ft must be added to ILS minima to compensate for errors that could be shown by the instruments with the aircraft in it’s landing configuration making the DA 550ft for Birmingham.  At decision altitude there are two options, land or go around.  Land if you’re visual with the runway, go around if you’re not.  We always leave the screens up to simulate still being in cloud at this point and so our ILS approaches always result in a go around.  There are go around instructions on the plate which are followed unless otherwise directed by ATC.

Oxford to Birmingham


Yesterday afternoon I flew from Oxford to Birmingham – and back again – as a passenger.  It’s always useful to sit in on others lessons to learn from their strengths/weaknesses and to also listen to the air traffic control.  There is a lot more  talk about in instrument flight and it’s taking some getting used to so I’ll take all the radio chatter I can get.  Another advantage of being a passenger on a training flight is that you can see!  England looks magnificent from the air, something that you miss when you’re the pilot because you’re behind the screens.

The prop looks pretty crazy on this picture of the left hand engine!

Birmingham director had us fly a 360 which took us over Coventry airport. A Swissair 146 landed before us and a Ryanair 737 afterwards.

No, nope. No-one has messed up my front lawn.



The route I flew on Microsoft Flight Simulator in preparation for the real flight.

Yes I know I still need to write more about the flying I did in the States.  I can’t express well enough in written words how much I enjoyed the flying out there.  It was an incredible experience, even if there were many early mornings involved.  They were offset by the numerous breakfasts/lunches we had at the various airports we stopped at.  Instead of waiting to finish writing about flying in the States before writing about the flying in Oxford, I’ll just get on with it because if I don’t, it may never happen.

The majority of the flying in Goodyear was with reference to what you could see outside and a map.  It was a fun way to navigate: that mountain is there, that lake is just there and this road is just to my right, I’ll go this way.  In the built up areas of AZ this was an excellent way to navigate.  It was very easy to pick out the various town and other features to know where you were and which way you were going.  However, it became a little more tricky if all you had was a bumpy desert floor.  One small hill looked like another just west of it.  Which was the right one?  When flying at 30,000 feet or in cloud, the ground is either too far away to use for navigation references or you can’t see it.  That’s where radio navigation comes in.

Despite popular belief, it is sometimes possible to see the ground from the air in England (or to see the sky if you're looking up from the ground!). Since this is the case, it is necessary to use screens to ensure the trainee pilot cannot see out and so must fly with reference to their instruments.

Having an instrument rating qualifies you to navigate from one location to another with reference to instruments that receive signals from radio beacons.  In AZ, to know where I was going I had to be able to see the ground.  Now, with the help of these radio beacons I can takeoff from Oxford and navigate to another airport without seeing the ground again until I’m almost at the destination airport.  I haven’t done that just yet, but I will do.  Instead, I’ve just done routes around the Oxford area without going to other airports.

The route in the image at the top of this page started at EGTK, Kidlington airport.  I took off from Runway 19 and climbed ahead until about 1nm out.  I then turned right to heading 330 so I would head away from the NDB OX which is located to the right of Runway 19.  When about two miles from the beacon (measured using DME) I turned right again and headed straight to the beacon.  Once overhead, I intercepted a 161° course outbound towards a waypoint called BOTLY.  Waypoints can be anywhere and defined by a bearing and distance from one or more radio beacons.  BOTLY by definition is located at D43 (43nm as measured by DME) on the 161° radial from HON (Honiley) which is a VOR.  As you can see, I went into a holding* pattern once arriving at BOTLY.  This was a nice easy direct entry into the hold since I was arriving on the inbound leg.

After holding at BOTLY I departed to the north-east towards the Westcott NDB (WCO).  Here I went into the holding pattern again (left hand) this time using the ‘offset’ entry seeing as this time I wasn’t arriving on the inbound course of the hold.  Once done at WCO I headed back west to the OX to practice the NDB 100 procedure.  This is an arrival procedure used for locating the airport in low visibility conditions.  Some procedures will line you up with a runway and others will just locate the airport for you and then it’s your job to get to the active runway.  I’ll leave this here for now, I’ll be amazed if you stuck with me this far!  I flew this for real on Monday evening and it was a great experience.  I had forgotten how different flying was to using a simulator!  Simulators are great for practicing the procedures but they just don’t simulate the workload too well.  In the air you have constant radio chatter in your ear and an aircraft that just will not pause in mid air no matter how much you would like it to!

*Holds/holding patterns are used when you need to remain in the same place.  Since you can’t stop most aircraft once in the air, a holding pattern can be used to keep you in a safe place while you wait to receive clearance into an airport, diagnose a fault or setup for an approach.

What is going on!?

Despite what this blog indicates – the fact that I went solo and was never heard of again – things are going really well.  I became very busy after going solo because when I wasn’t flying with my instructor I could fly solo.  I did a number of solo navigation flights, each of which were a very enjoyable experience.  I’m trying to think of the best way to talk about them – I’m so behind.  I’ll see if I can post about a couple of them in the near future.

Eventually I finished on the Piper Warrior and moved on to the Seneca – two engines are better than one – apart from when one fails but that’s still possible to live with.  The Seneca was an incredibly fun aircraft to fly, even though it was more work.  I did all the Seneca flying in less than two weeks and then passed my CPL skills test two weeks ago today.  It was a challenging flight, there was so much to do and so much to remember but it was an overall success.  I’m glad to have it done!  I’ll be back in Oxford on 31st May where I’ll do a week of foundation degree stuff and then I’ll be back to the flying.  I’ll try and update a little more often but I expect things to be pretty busy back in Oxford too.