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 AOPA.com

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. 


LifeOnTheHook.com said...

Back when I was operating nuclear reactors on atomic submarines, our philosophy was that all training scenarios had to rate a 100% evaluation so that you could reasonably hope to pull off a 65% D- rating during a real world depth charging while flooding and fighting a reactor compartment fire during a loss of lighting. Training is always supposed to be way harder than real life.

Heartland said...

To bad Rocna doesn't have an "Anchoring Sim". Practice anchor dragging, hard bottom sets, midnight tide changes.....hmmmm an idea for you Tim!!!

Once again your description of life in the "sim" is spot on. A life time of practicing skills that will most likely never be used!

The problem is...that "most likely" part of that comment.

Congrats on your check rides and the stress that is now removed by having them behind you. I fully get it!!!


B737 First Officer
(Wannabe sailor)

TJ said...

Its true that the training should be harder then normal flights, practicing for the "ugh" day. (Truth is we would all be bored to tears otherwise.) If some of the stories I am hearing are true, Sim Instructors are the people to talk to when it comes to finding out where the hard edges of survival lay. A cold and dark ex-fly-by-wire airplane being flown on differential power only, batteries dead and all three hydraulic system dry? Someone has tried it and no, don't count on surviving the landing. Follow Sully and Skiles over the bridge and into the river? Why not, think fast and make it up as you go; though rumor has it a Legacy could have made the glide to Teterboro. How about a wake hit that puts the airplane on a wingtip, half way down the ILS? (Do that one with the sim motion shut off else you risk breaking 15 mil worth of hardware.) All good stuff.

Put me at the end of runway, at night, 600 RVR, airplane loaded to max T/O, then pop an engine at V1. Once safe and flying, (or not) reset the sim and do it again, and again, random picks on which engine goes. Rinse and repeat until doing it perfect becomes habit. Then, 6 months from now (if ever) when that engine goes "BANG" 85% of perfect will get the job done. Same with that hand flown OEI ILS to minimums, though I still think practicing truck jumping is a waste of time. Brake something so one or more of the gear stays in the wells, slide it in. We can't get hurt in the sim, so that's the place to push deep into musty and scary places. But do so without the foolishness of "busting" such an foray into the dark side. Push it until you crash it.

Set up a LOFT like a maze, mixing fuel, thunder snow, ice, winds, a wonk or two, some pressure from the boss to get the girlfriend out of town before the wife gets home...the kind of day where the right answer is only proven after the flight is done and the engines are winding down. Practice making decisions on bullshit information...but do it all as a learning exercise and not a test. That is what sims should do.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Commercial flight is another world.