Nov 20, 2015 – Tough Sim Lesson

This would be Lesson Four of the six lesson syllabus, and it didn’t go well.  We’d had a very long day yesterday – 6 hours of total briefings and 4 hours in the simulator. I was sleeping at the most 4 hours a night, and the stress was mounting. This is not fun, but I’ll try to describe how it unraveled for me.

We left for the simulator at 4:30 am. Breakfast would have to wait. At the start of the lesson, the instructor played the role of a ramp person getting ready to push me back. I didn’t know the origination flow to get the airplane configured , and let him know that in the brief. This particular flow is not emphasized, but is required to pre-flight the airplane and get ready for departure. I’d guess that if I asked the instructor today if that flow was important – he’d say no. Catch 22.  You need it to set up the switches whether or not you do all the tests.

So – the instructor let me fumble my way through it and we consumed 55 minutes of the sim time getting to the runway. Not too bad considering a typical turn might be 3o minutes. I’d have to get this down before the next lesson though. Thank God for the upcoming weekend. Now I just had to get through today and hopefully get some sleep later on.

The content of the lesson itself was really not the issue. Any pilot could do what was required in a normal setting, but doing so in this setting and in a scripted and standard way would be my challenge.  I had allot of catching up to do and would need to do the best I could at cleaning up my standardization while simultaneously learning new skills, including the originating flow and it’s associated systems tests.

It would turn out to be a monumental effort to unravel line habits while developing a smooth process that gets the airplane off the gate smartly. Triggering flows, calling for checklists, and communicating clearly as a Captain is still new as well. I was working hard and learning at a prodigious rate, but would it be enough?

Because I was non-standard in my use of checklists and flows, now I was doing a poor job of setting up the cues in our little play for the FO. The FO had his own challenges, as you’d expect being new to the airplane, and I wasn’t helping him as much as I should. Both of us knew this stuff cold conversationally, but integrating all of it with the physical moves and processes in real time is another matter.

The cues and triggers aren’t natural because they rarely are provided for me on the line. Now that is my fault too, and one that develops by my nature. When I have a product to provide in the course of my work, it has always been better to deliver the product before it is asked for, and just as it is required. Anticipation of customer needs rather than reacting has been an admirable trait, rather than a bad thing. In this industry, however, I acknowledge that it is safer to stick to the script and wait to be asked. Briefing precedes the flow which precedes the checklists. Captains call for all checklists on the ground and PF does so in the air.

Trouble is that line flying compresses time and schedules matter. Some Captains constantly demand more speed, and thus efficiency displaces the script in our play. Our natural desire to exceed expectations leads to executing checklists before they are called for, and the script breaks down. This is a standards disconnect that Training knows about; warned me about during my initial training; and one that I didn’t have the experience or context to fully appreciate. Until now.

Being non-standard made both my life and the FOs life more difficult at the start. Not knowing what context I was flying in has also been a consistent challenge for me. It is often difficult to tell what an instructor is trying to accomplish or teach. If their stated intent at the start of a session is to train the FO and let him fly, then I could reasonably expect the instructor to be consistent in that direction. How and when one reacts when the FO gets in trouble quickly becomes a no-win situation.

For one flight while the FO was learning the airplane, he ended up calling a pitch jam while in a steep turn at high speed. It wasn’t jammed at all, but this was perceived by him while I was planning a hold and busy. I ended up confirming the jam, but the actions he was supposed to take next didn’t happen (in fairness, maybe I should have given him more time). Subsequently, I took the controls; disconnected the A/P; and pulled the pitch disconnect after verifying we had one. I expected one, so with the increased airspeed I found one. Why would the instructor have done that if he wanted him to be flying?

Turns out that in fact, there was no jam. The unusual attitude made it feel that way, and the instructor decided to let all this play out instead of keeping the FO flying. I had the expectation that he’d refocus on the stated goal and get us reset, but that wasn’t to be. Instead of making this a teaching moment – we were allowed to fly at least another 25 minutes, and that flying didn’t go well. I was tired, trying to guess where he was going with all this, and did a terrible job getting into a hold and flying a precision approach.

All this mess started at the gate with originating flow, was compounded by the lack of proper cues to the FO, and culminated in never getting caught up to the airplane.

All the things I did wrong in this training session would need to be rectified and proved proficient. Even those repeatedly demonstrated as standard in previous flights and training, but botched in this mess, would have to be done again.  Sliding backwards…..

The next day was Saturday.  I couldn’t sleep, so at 6am I was on a paper mockup of the cockpit at the hotel, learning originating flows and practicing being standard. 5 hours later I had it down, so the FO and I spent the rest of the day studying and working together.