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.

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.

Visit to East Midlands ATC

A great shot of East Midlands control tower.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fletcher Photography.

 A few weeks back I had the amazing opportunity to visit the control tower at East Midlands airport.  Before heading up to the main tower we had a look at the radar room.  This is where the approach controllers handle arriving aircraft before handing them over to tower for landing clearance.  The setup was quite fascinating and the active controller just worked away with a noisy crowd in the background – some serious focus going on.  I wouldn’t be able to do the job even without the noise!  There were too many screens to look at, even after half an hour in the room I didn’t know what they were all for.  While seeing the control room and some controllers in action was very interesting, it gave me no desire to be an air traffic controller.

An even better view of the best overcast sky England can muster. Wish I’d taken a proper camera rather than just my phone!

I was up for the challenge of 248 steps but in the interest of time took the lift with the rest of the group.  Sigh, maybe another day!  The tower controllers have access to pretty much the same information as the approach controllers and then an amazing view to top it off.  It was great watching the arrivals and departures from the tower, a perspective I’ve not had before.  I thought of some intelligent questions to ask our tour guide, one of the few I can remember is ‘how often are the windows cleaned?’  The response was ‘not often.’  They were last cleaned years ago – a combination of sideways rain, the rake of the glass and a special coating make it so that it doesn’t need doing often.  A good job too, I’m sure it wouldn’t be cheap!

Same as the previous picture, just with me blocking the view.

I was reluctant to leave at the end of the tour, it really was quite fascinating seeing how the controllers work to help us pilots out.  I wish I could remember the tour in a bit more detail, it’s my fault for not writing about it weeks ago.

If you get a magnifying glass you’ll be able to see the BMI Baby 737 just touching down on runway 09.

One last photo for good luck.  Training update: Ground school is complete with its various exams passed.  After a couple of weeks off I’m about to start training in the simulator.  I’ll do my best to write a little about what goes on in those training sessions but I know I’ll be busy.

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!

Crew Resource Management

Co-pilot Checklist

Ah, if only it was that easy! (Supposedly this belongs to aviationhumour.net 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...

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

Image

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.

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