Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hoops and boxes

Training goes on. Sometimes it is kind of fun. Sometimes it is enormously frustrating. Note to self, don’t take nearly six years off from doing something complex, then expect to go back to it without any kind of drama. The salt water rust on what were more than adequate aviation skills is embarrassing. The good news is that one need not be an expert pilot to teach other expert pilots how to make friends with a new piece of equipment. The regulations require that one carry a type rating to teach but the goal isn't to fly the thing out on the line, it is to help those who do to keep sharp.

It is a bit like being a riding coach for a MotoGP racer. All the coaches are ex-racers themselves, though not all of them are past champions. Past champions tend to have enough resources to do whatever they want after hanging up their leathers. Not many of them want to gypsy around the world, living in hotels, and spending work days at race tracks. But past champions or no, the coaches don’t race anymore. Yet they are an important part of the package that gets the racer to the top step of the podium.

There is no desire, on my part, to join the working pilots back out on the line. Hotel rooms and working days spent at airports stuffed full of human kind don’t hold much attraction. And, truth to tell, I don’t think getting a type rating in the airplane myself is all that important, though it is kind of fun to add another one to my license, just for boasting’s sake. In the aviation world type ratings are a bit like the gold star one got from a favorite teacher back in Kindergarten.

It would be more useful to run though the various scenarios, V1cuts, engine fires, ect., over and over to get the procedures down pat, sniffing out the smallest details of how to get it perfect. Then we could pass that along to the crews, like a riding coach helping get that last 0.1 of a second out of a difficult corner on the race track. But endless hours spent grinding through simulated skies setting up instrument approaches, doing circles in holding patters, talking on the radio? These folks do that day after day, and have been doing so for years. When it comes to a new airplane a bunch of hours figuring out the particular switch work is what they need, and they don’t need a full motion sim for that. Sim time should be spent concentrating on those difficult corners. Spend an hour doing V1 cuts, one after the other, where it is less then five minutes work from engine failure to flying or dying. Do ten of them in a row and the muscle memory will be there when needed. The same goes for engines blowing up, flight control failures, and electrical emergencies. Once the correct actions are taken, most problems are just an annoyance until the wheels touch down again. Then it becomes the maintenance department’s headache.

Repeated runs of low visibility departures and landings, the airplane at max take-off or landing weight, with the cross wind at maximum and / or the runways covered with snow would be time well spent. More of those difficult corners that lie at each end of a long, boring straight. Each of those only lasts a few minutes as well. A couple of hours in the sim and the crew could hammer out more of those twitchy departures and landings than they are likely to see in a year out on the line.

Still, as in all things in this modern world, the proper hoops must be jumped through, the boxes on various forms must be checked, and some sort of official blessing must be bestowed by both government and corporate powers-that-be. Though the sailing world has its own hoops, boxes, and brushes with officialdom, one rarely has to deal with such when out on big water in a small boat. Out there might be the last bastion of being completely responsible for ones’ own choices, answering only to Sister Ocean, Father Sky, and Mother Earth. That is not the same for the modern pilot. Cockpit voice recorders, data boxes, recorded communications, and radar flight track data will all be waiting to judge every action the crew took, and every word they spoke, after things went wonky. Even if they get the plane safely back to Mother Earth without putting a scratch on a passenger or bystander, some Monday morning quarterback somewhere will find fault with what they did. Human nature I guess, another advantage to being out on big water. Not a lot of humans milling around out there, looking for something to sound off about even if they don't have the slightest clue as to what really happened. Or what it took to survive.

Fortunately for me, when it comes to the effort of knocking off the rust, my Sim partner is one of those past champions who likes hanging around a race track. He is a retired check airman / instructor on Airbus airliners, flying mostly in Europe. His knowledge of instrument procedures / approaches / holds / misses / FMS operations is nothing short of encyclopedic. He even stumps our Instructor once in a while. It will be a bit embarrassing if, at some point down the road, he comes back for recurrent training and I end up as his Instructor. Sometimes the hoops and boxes are just short of silly, but at least I’ll know how to start up the Sim so we can work on getting the last bit of performance out of those difficult corners.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Had to go look up V1, VR, V2. Now that I know how crucial those few seconds are, I'm going to pay a lot more attention!