Thursday, February 14, 2019

The way it is.

Slowly, and somewhat against my will, the integration back into the world of land dwellers continues. I am starting to drive a little faster. The highway part of the route to and from the shop works best when big parts of it get done in the left lane. Two of the off ramps used are left exits, with one of those dumping me off into the left lane of another highway. From there it is about 1/2 mile to get across four lanes of traffic to a right exit. When in the left lane, it seems best to try and keep up, but ten over is about as fast as I care to go. It’s usually enough, particularly when the schedule has me making the trip around rush hour. Non-rush hour traffic is light enough that leaving the lane switch to the last minute isn’t a problem. On those days,speeds in the fast lane run 20/25 over…and more. Best to leave that bit of concrete to those in a real hurry to get to their next accident.

The drive through town to the highway has its own displays of land dweller foolishness. I don’t understand those who just blow through red lights without even slowing, something witnessed on an average of once a day. I can’t get my head around the idea of someone thinking that they are so important that traffic laws simply don’t apply to them. I sometime wonder if they think the laws of reaction times, momentum, braking traction, and impact “g” forces, don’t apply to them either. Then again, thinking isn’t likely one of their strong suits. Such drivers are, admittedly, a minority. Maybe Darwin keeps them from multiplying too rapidly.

Unsurprisingly, the job is helping ease the transition. In the aviation world, the people not big on thinking don’t get very far or last very long. (Darwin rules again.) Being among the tribe of hard-core, professional aviators helps take some of the sting out of not being among the tribe of cruisers. The job, now, is to sit through the exact same class/cockpit trainer/sim sessions as completed barely a week ago. Observing is the task at hand, concentrating more on how the material is taught rather than what is being taught. There is still a lot of learning going on. Knowing enough to pass the check rides and exams is not near to knowing enough to teach.

Mike, the instructor this past week, is the fourth I have worked with since hiring on. The first three got me – six years away from a flight deck – past an FAA type ride in the Legacy fly-by-wire-gee-whiz wonder bird, in three weeks. A pretty good demonstration of just how good they are at what they do. Watching Mike, with an eye toward working the classroom gee-whiz wonders and watching how he interacts with the group did (as I fully expected) highlight just how challenging – and fun – this is going to be. And there are still two areas of instruction, the cockpit trainer and the actual simulator, to be mastered.

Another help in taking the sting away from being off the boat comes from spending time with the pilots being trained. The current class includes pilots from Mexico, France, Germany (who was born in Brazil), and the US. One of the American pilots was a contract guy who has flown pretty much everywhere there is to fly, including Russia and China. This group of seven pilots is, collectively, fluent in at least 6 languages. They are very much the kind of people we routinely met while traveling on Kintala: adventuresome, capable, friendly, smart, and at ease with other cultures and ideas. It is just flat-out fun to be around them, listen to their stories, and work with them as they get a handle on this new bird.

It all helps.

The crew of Blown’ In the Wind is spending a few days on the dock where Kintala is sitting with the broker. They say it is strange to see her there without Deb and I nearby. It is even stranger having them “out there” while heading off to work each day. I try not to think of it too often; the job, Daughters (Two), and the grandkid gang of 7 are all good reasons to have taken this path. But sometimes the nights pass slow, with the lights of the city and the noise of the adjoining apartments rubbing raw against the nights of silence and darkness riding to the anchor off some uninhabited cay. At other times a thought or memory will sneak up and freeze my world for just a moment, right in the middle of the day. Those usually pass quickly, though the ghost of a hurt may linger for a while. Some of the people I love, and a world I miss, are very far away. And that’s just the way it is going to be for a while.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Just another ride?

One thing that seemed a pretty sure bet when we left land and moved onto a boat, was that there would be no more check rides in the future, let alone two check rides in five days. It would have been a bad bet to take.

Photo courtesy of

The first was Monday’s “easy” ride, the one to check the box required by the European authorities. That one was done with my new friend from Germany and was actually two, two-hour rides. Michael took the left (Captain’s) seat for the first ride with me on the right. Then we switched for the second ride. Like most jets, and in spite of all the high tech gee-wizardry that is supposed to make this one “easy” to fly, it is a two pilot airplane. When things start to go wonky, with warning lights flashing and aural alerts filling the flight deck, they can be two very busy people, with each person’s hands being filled with different tasks. The nice thing about European (EASA) rides is that they are not “jeopardy” events. One can’t really fail the ride. If a maneuver isn’t performed up to standard the crew simply does it again, learns from whatever mistake it was that they made, and moves on. There is always the possibility that someone will come along who simply can’t figure out how to do it right, but that is a pretty rare event at this level of aviation. These are not teenaged kids working toward their first solo flight in a single engine piston banger.

Another good thing about EASA rides is they focus on crew coordination and decision making, using the aircraft's capabilities to minimize risk. When things start to go wrong, the crew is expected to reduce the risks involved as much as possible. Checking destination weather, finding alternate airports, requesting priority handling to simplify the approach procedure as much as possible, are all expected to be part of the crew’s actions. Of course things still go wrong on an EASA check ride. Though there is a good chance that a pilot starting out today will never see a honest to goodness flashing red light in an actual cockpit, you have to practice something.

The second ride, the FAA sanctioned ride, was Friday. The FAA is the last aviation entity on the planet to still insist on “jeopardy” rides. Lose too much airspeed during one kind of maneuver, gain or lose too much altitude during another maneuver, and the examiner is required to terminate the ride, no second chances. The applicant is sent home with a “pink slip” and a notice goes in the federal records of a failed attempt to get a new rating. They can’t take away your birthday or anything, and a second ride can be scheduled after a certain amount of retraining is logged. The bitch with this approach is that anyone can have a bad day, and a ride can be “busted” even if the outcome of the flight was never in doubt. (You can read that as meaning it didn’t get near to crashing and no one was going to get hurt.)

During this check ride, one gets to demonstrate all kinds of skills that will never be called upon again. Steep turns in an airplane deliberately designed to correct any roll attitude greater than 33 degrees is one. The required 45 degree angle can be commanded, but one is literally fighting the airplane’s flight management system the entire time. Oh, and don’t gain or lose about a wing’s span worth of altitude while doing so, even if the ground is 10,000 feet away. Do so and the ride is a bust, come back another day to try again.

The same can be said for performing aerodynamic stalls, when the wing quits flying from too low an airspeed. Millions upon millions of dollars were spent when designing this aircraft to ensure that it could not be stalled. So, during an FAA check ride, some (not all) of the multiple layers of protection are switched off. Then the pilot can provoke a stall warning (not an actual stall) in order to demonstrate the “skill” of recovering from something that hasn’t actually happened yet. It is a bit like chopping off a foot to demonstrate the skill of hopping around on one leg.

After doing things in the airplane that the airplane was designed not to do, one gets to demonstrate the ability to handle multiple, cascading failures by making the poorest possible risk management decisions. No pilot I know would ever, with an engine shut down (OEI), press on to an airport where the weather was at minimums for making the approach. Nor would any airport I have ever flown to allow a piece of equipment to blunder onto a runway in front of an emergency aircraft, thus provoking a single engine low altitude (barely 50 feet in the air, less than the length of the aircraft) abort and missed approach. But an FAA check ride requires pretend stupid topped with a dash of silly. After the abort, the sky will miraculously clear and turn into day for the next landing, but the flaps will fail. A OEI / no flaps landing is like tip-toeing through a mine field. One faltering step will have the airplane careening through the grass on the side of the runway. (A sure way to bust any kind of check ride is to crash, even if it is a Sim.)

A saying that floats around the aviation world goes something like this, “It is best to exercise superior judgment and avoid demonstrating superior skills.” On the FAA ride we do just the opposite. The good news is that the Legacy 500 is such an overpowered little brute that it barely notices that an engine has packed it in for the day. So, what it taketh away in cooperating with steep turns, it giveth back when jumping over a wayward dump truck. The no flap, OEI landing? Just take it easy with the single thrust reverser, don’t pounce on the brakes with too much enthusiasm, and all should be well. (That is, by the way, just the highlights of the things that go wrong on this two hour check ride.)

For me the ride mostly demonstrated that it takes more than a few weeks to scrape off 6 years worth of salt water accumulated rust. Still, it went okay. The Check Airman was fair in his assessment of the things I could have done better and, to a large extent, all involved are well aware that check rides have little to do with actually using the airplane to move around the country day after day. I would have been quite comfortable to walk out of the sim, climb up into an actual Legacy, and head off somewhere; the Check Airman would have put his family on board behind me. When it comes right down to it, that is every Check Airman's actual pass/fail criteria. And it is the best one I can think of.

After the “official” ride was over, we had a good discussion of how I, as a flight instructor, can help him do his job as a Pilot Examiner. The people he checks will soon include people I have helped train. We are on the same side when it comes to getting them ready for both the check ride and the real world. Sometimes that is a delicate balancing act between two contradictory sets of standards.

With the rides over, and a new type rating in my pocket, the heat is off a bit. I am past the point where the job could still have gone very wrong, leaving us with few options for getting back to a boat someday. I have been “at the shop” pretty much every day since training started three weeks ago. When not working the GFS I was at home pouring over manuals, procedures, and test questions, often far into the night. Though not the FAA’s doing, to me this check ride carried more potential “jeopardy” than any other I have taken.

It will be good to get back to a more normal schedule. I am really looking forward to concentrating on getting to the front of a classroom, rather than to the front seat of the airplane. After all, they hired me to teach, not to fly.