Sunday, August 11, 2019

Off to see the Wizard

I suppose that announcing I’m “Off to see the Wizard,” when headed out the door gives away my age. (Extra points if you know who said it first without going to the internet.) It also, usually, offers an ironic outlet to my inner skeptic, who suspects that all the wizards left town with the wise, making it unlikely I will actually see either one. This morning though, the quip dripped a little less irony than usual.

Much of my current “seat time” at the shop is spent acting as the Right Seat Pilot (RSP), sometimes called the Pilot Monitoring (PM), who used to be the Pilot Not Flying (PNF), though that was after being the First Officer (FO), who, before that, was know as the Co-pilot (Co). Push a lot of buttons, read a lot of checklists, do a lot of communicating with ATC, and don't do anything that makes the person in the other seat work any harder than they already are. The RSP is also the one that can reach the magic handle that drops the landing gear when multiple hydraulic systems go kaput at the same time, something the airplane can’t do for itself. A second magic handle will deploy the Ram Air Turbine when all of the DC generators pick the same moment to stop generating direct current electricity. The airplane is supposed to know when to do that for itself since making power is, literally, a matter of life and death; thus making a manual back-up prudent. And yes, we call it the RAT.

The person sitting at the Sim control panel, the Instructor of Record, is in total control over the kind of flying day we will have. Since this is training deliberately aimed at prepping line pilots for the worst possible kind of days, we get to do several years worth of “worst possible day” crammed into a few, very intense, hours. This is particularly true when the training is “recurrent” as opposed to “initial”. With the best of pilots it becomes a game, adding to the flashing lights and aural warnings until keeping the defecation from hitting the ventilation requires a near herculean effort. It is very easy to forget that the Sim really can’t kill us. It is also damned near impossible to do a "perfect ride" until you have done it a few hundred times, and made a few hundred mistakes. I'm not there yet.

This kind of training isn’t actually all that useful, at least insofar as day-in and day-out flying is concerned. Imagine if you had to retake your driver's test every 6 months. Get in the car, drive it around. Killer boring, right? But now imagine that six month "ride" involves race tracks and skid pads. Would that make for better drivers? Sure. Would it make for safer roads? Maybe, then again, maybe not. It depends on what the drivers do with their skills, and if they ever run across any race tracks or skid pads on the way to work. (Okay, maybe for some people that wouldn't be a bad idea. Around here many drivers have, apparently, forgotten what the word "STOP" means while acting like every highway is their own, personal, race track.)

Recurrent flight training goes the race track / skid pad route. It  does give those already experienced in the airplane a chance to do something different for a few hours, polish their skills, and add a few magic spells to their box of tricks. Spells that, in all likelihood, will never, ever, be needed.

A few weeks ago I was PM for an Instructor of Record while he endured his own recurrent training and check ride. (Yes, it is like requiring the college professor to sit through his own class.) We finished off all the required maneuvers in pretty short order, leaving some time that simply had to be filled in order to keep the regulators happy. For people who teach this stuff every one of their working days, even fire, smoke, multiple system failures, and jumping wayward pick-up trucks becomes routine.

So, when asked what else he wanted to do, and to keep the boredom from becoming terminal, the pilot I was with asked that the Sim be moved to Aspen’s mountain runway. Once cleared for takeoff we started doing touch and goes. He was making the circuit too quickly for me to keep up with updating the take off and landing speeds with the Flight Management Computers. It didn’t matter; he didn’t need them. That got boring pretty quickly so he shut down an engine and kept going: single engine touch-n-goes at Aspen. That got boring after a couple of times around so he asked that the WX be reset to 1/4 mile vis, indefinite ceiling, snow, and at night. The moving map display coupled with the Synthetic Vision system was enough for him to find the runway surrounded by tall piles of granite. And when that got boring he started doing some things with and to the airplane that discretion suggests be left inside the sim.

It is rare, as in near impossible, to impress me much when it comes to pilot things. My own collection of “And there I was…” pilot tales checks most of the boxes. About the only one I don’t have is joining the Caterpillar Club, riding a parachute to the ground rather than going in with a crippled airplane. (Had I been wearing a ‘chute one particular day I would have gotten my membership card but, given no choice, barely managed to get back to Mother Earth on a flight whose memory still gives me the willies.)

Being a part of this crowd, however, is like becoming a part of some wizard's council. The "magic spells" of abnormal check lists are memorized and honed over and over again. I still get them out because; a) doing so is the first line of the spell and, b) I don't have all of them memorized yet. It will take a while to be on equal footing with some of these folks. But I suspect flying with them every chance I get will allow me access to the table one of these days.

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