This one is a story worth telling, and I hope I can convey how satisfying it was for me. I really enjoyed the challenge of working with this young lady to achieve her goals, as did the rest of the team.
Personally, I was just glad to be out of the house. The senior care we are doing at home is ramping up as the health of Bev’s 87 year old parents declines. There are always visitors at the house – everyday – including both in-laws, friends, relatives, and various medical professionals. Every single day. Combine that with the holidays and bad weather, and you get a challenging environment for an introvert to keep smiling in.
I am reminded me to be happy doing what I am, and grateful that I’m not bored out of my mind with no place to hide. I’m doing at least my share with the seniors, but I don’t want to be full-time care for Pop like Bev is for Mom. My make up is more an engineer than a nurse. This stuff is hard.
For the past two weeks my work has been helping to instruct a Canadian young lady in the Astra Jet – IAI1125. I’ll call her Sally for our purposes here. Sally’s objective was to earn an initial Second In Command so that she could take advantage of a solid opportunity in Nova Scotia where she lives.
Day one of ground school is when we get to know each other. I introduce the jet in general, and cover its history and development. I learned that this would be her first jet, but that she’d been flying the King Air as PIC for some time. I explained that we would have allot of ground to cover, but all of our instructors have seen this before. The fundamental instrument skills and King Air experience would serve her well, but if she did her part, together we’d get this done.
Sally was visibly and outwardly nervous just sitting here in class. She was picking at dry lips and repeatedly pulling loose strands of hair from her head and letting them fall to the floor. Her phone was never far from her hand, and she checked it repeatedly. As I fired up the audio-visuals, she arrayed an impressive amount of highlighters and pens across her deck and looked like she was strapping in for takeoff.
Sally followed along and contributed throughout the discussion; obviously prepared by reading ahead. In my mind she had nothing to worry about, so I hoped she’d settle down throughout the week.
How she came to be here is an encouraging story. Sally has been flying PIC in the company King Air 200 in Nova Scotia, and was recently promoted to managing that charter operation as part of her career path. That meant staffing, planning, maintenance, and all other business aspects was on her now. She shared with me that she has no real business experience, nor an advanced education, but was figuring things out as she went. I could tell she was very capable, but I could also tell that she was working very hard to keep up. The constant checking of her phone, for example, was not social as might be typical for her age. It was all business related – keeping the charter running while she trained in the Astra.
Her long term career path includes continuing to fly the King Air; running the charter ops for that airplane; getting SIC typed in the Astra and then PIC typed; and then doing it again with the company’s Falcon jet. It is a wonderful opportunity for her, assuming she gets paid appropriately, but she’ll be working very hard for the foreseeable future.
As we got to know each other better, I assured her that we’d all seen this before and would be able to further develop the skills she already had to get her where she needed to be. I was confident that flying King Air 200s in the Canadian winter spoke volumes about her capability. She wasn’t so sure, and admitted to getting physically ill – throwing up – on many occasions as she prepared for the difficult flights she was already doing.
Based on what I’d learned, I decided to ‘sneak’ her into the simulator early to dispel some of the mystery and try to settle her down. I put her in there for an hour on the first day, and again on the second day. We ran checklists so that she could find the switches and reinforce what we’d covered in class. This girl knew her stuff, and the only thing she lacked – sorely – was self-confidence.
Astra initial training typically includes 6 days of ground school and 6 days of sim followed by a check-ride. That changes somewhat based on company and the FAA, and also by the rules of the home country. I was to be Sally’s instructor for the first two days, as well as for her last day of ground school. I would also be involved in several of the sim sessions for the following week, so I’d be able to see her progress and make adjustments.
During ground school, she was taking copious notes and asking questions. Sally would often quote me on something else I had said earlier, and ask me to pause occasionally while she made additional notes to get caught up. Her handwriting was immaculate, but I worried whether those notes would help her much in the end. If I was in college again, I’d read ahead like she does, but take fewer notes in class. Listening is more valuable.
Sally was the only one in this class, so it was obvious when she was distracted by something else. She spent considerable time texting on her phone whenever there was a pause, and ran to the lunch room to communicate at each break. Those texts she was sending weren’t of a social nature. She was working to keep the King Air business back home on track. I began to wonder if she’d bitten off more than she could chew.
Throughout the training it was obvious that she was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. She could be seen depositing the loose hairs from her head on the floor, and putting blistex on her super dry lips throughout the day. Talking about it with her, Sally admitted becoming physically ill (throwing up) under the pressure of some of her King Air flights, let alone all this new stuff she was dealing with now.
She had to want this badly.
Her first sim introduction was just that, the very first time she’d seen a simulator. I decided it would best to start getting her familiar with it early, dispelling some of her preconceived notions in an attempt to make her comfortable. We don’t typically even see the simulator this early, but this girl was wired tight and I needed to do something different. After a solid hour of running checklists and explaining how the sim sessions would run, I went on motion to see if she could handle it without getting sick.
Sally did well that first day in class and during the impromptu sim session. When I shut down the simulator though, see ran straight to the restroom. She was soldiering through it, but this wasn’t going to be easy for any of us.
The second day of class allowed us to dig into the electric system and a few other topics more deeply. Sally was prepared and had plenty of questions to fire at me, while continuing to respond to the needs of the business back home. I put her in the simulator again at the end of the day, hoping she’d settle down and begin developing muscle memory on some of the tests we do before flying. The girl impressed me with what she was able to absorb, but ran right to the restroom at the end of the session again.
I had a few days off while Mike continued her ground school. I briefed him on where we were and Sally’s nervous tendencies before I left. Mike does good work and would train her up in great detail.
I returned for her last day of ground school and told her this would be an easy day for her. Nothing new today, and stop fretting about the written test. I spent about 2 hours of our day going over every subject that either Mike or I had taught earlier in the week. I followed up with a discussion of CRM and how we apply it, and the FAA stall video and a YouTube windshear video showing a rain-bomb that is instructive.
For the written test, I reviewed every single question on the exam and Sally did an impressive job of explaining each subject in detail. There were just a few misconceptions we had to clear up. In each case she was amazingly proficient and giving me back the very words I used when I taught the subject. In some cases I could see where the confusion set in, and would different words next time. Sally got a 100% on her written and now could focus all of her nervous energy on the SIMs and maneuvers.
After our session, I was upstairs doing the paperwork that would clear her to start sims and Sally was In the break room talking with her company. She was getting more concerned about the check-ride at the end of the week after learning that her right seater was only SIC rated in the aircraft. She wanted an instructor to improve her chances of passing. Fact is that our full time co-pilot, Chris, is a better co-pilot than I am. He is only SIC rated, but this is all he does and he is very good at it. Never the less, Sally asked me to find out if that could be changed.
I spoke with my program manager and he asked me how I felt about Chris in the right seat. I told him Chris was rock solid, in my opinion, and even better than I was at times. The verdict was NO – we’d leave Chris there and she’d be fine. Sally accepted that answer.
Lloyd will be doing her first two sim sessions, so I briefed him on what I’d observed with this client. He is the most proficient, gentle, and knowledgeable instructor I’ve ever encountered. Sally is in good hands. I would instruct the third sim session, and then my last time with Sally would be as her co-pilot on the fourth of six sims. I made sure to put sickness bags into the sim for the first time ever, and even asked my manager who would be responsible for clean up in the event things got tangled up.
We were ready to start sims and make the best of it.
Sims 1 and 2 apparently went well with Lloyd, as I expected that it would. I read his comments and progress reports while preparing for my Sim 3 session. It looked like only a few procedures needed improvement, which is not unusual for new transitions into the jet. She was doing well and this was going to work.
I held nothing back in our session, taking her through all the maneuvers as planned, as well as reviewing the identified weak areas from previous sessions. Towards the end of the session, I felt she could take it and introduced a few of the maneuvers she’d be seeing with Dave on Session 5. She performed well and didn’t appear to falter appreciably in any maneuver or skill.
Sally was still battling nerves and disappeared smartly to the restroom as soon as the sim came down. I’m betting she was getting sick again, but didn’t ask. I got a cup of coffee and waited for her in the briefing room to review the flight and be as encouraging as I could be.
At the conclusion of or debrief, I was doing the paperwork in our office while Sally was in the break room on the phone with her company. My manager, Scott, walked over and asked me how she was doing. I opined that she was a solid candidate, but she was at risk due to a lack of self confidence. Her nervousness and physical illness was making it more difficult for her than it needed to be.
Scott pondered that for a minute and brought up the crew change request she’d suggested earlier. In my opinion, anything we could do to make her more comfortable would increase her changes of being successful. I then offered to make myself available if he decided to use an instructor instead of an SIC. Right then he decided to reverse his previous call and assign an instructor for her check-ride. He asked if I’d like to be the one to do it.
Instead of my jumping in there and saying yes, I suggested he find out if she had an instructor preference. She’d spend time with all of us, and might as well pick the person that will make her the most comfortable. I didn’t want to assume that was me and end up making things worse, even thought I wanted to help. Scott went to the break room and asked her how she felt about the crew change, saying he was willing to find an instructor if she still wanted that. She said she did, and Scott asked if she had a preference. ‘Frank’ was her immediate response. That made me feel good, and I added a Canadian check-ride to my schedule for Saturday. Hopefully this made her feel like she had a bit more control over the process. It would give us a chance to work on our crew coordination in the meantime.
Sim 04: I was Sally’s co-pilot today, with Dave as the instructor of record. Dave was instructing while we went through all of the procedures and review as a crew. Somewhere along the way I inserted myself in the process and began instructing from the right seat. I just felt quite a bit of ownership at this point, Dave’s style is different than my own, and my A-Type tendencies took over. Dave didn’t mind, and I think it gave Sally and I an opportunity to practice working as a team. I believe it made her more comfortable, and we got it done with some hands-on experience.
SIM 5 and 6 had Dave as the instructor, and the LOST was done by Mike. Reviewing the notes I could see continued progress and no red flags. However, I did noticed the V1 cuts had given her some trouble, but met the standard in the end. Sally was signed off to do her ride the next day.
The Canadian Checkride: I arrived 2 hours early to make sure the simulator was ready and I had the chance to review the voluminous Gulfstream checklist one more time. I met the Canadian Examiner, Andy, and hour before Sally arrived. He briefed me on what he expected of me during the event, and made it clear how I should conduct myself in various scenarios.
The check-ride began with Andy and Sally in the briefing room for the oral segment of her check-ride. Toward the end, Andy asked me to join them and began asking me questions about the airplane and my procedures. It was a mini-oral for me, but easy for me to accomplish. I told him what I’d do in various scenarios and why, and structured the response in my role as second in command. He was happy with my responses.
Andy explained to the candidate that this was a single jeopardy ride. Had I been a company employee here to ride with her, then two of us would be at jeopardy if a failure were to occur. Since I was not an employee, nor a Canadian, I was not at jeopardy today. I’m not sure why she needed to know that information, but I’m sure he was required to review it. She already knew she was at risk.
Andy had briefed me early that I’d be switching seat and flying the aircraft toward the end of the ride. Sally would then be evaluated in her actual roll as second-in-command. He told me that he’d do a minor failure of some kind and evaluate the crew’s response in the process. He also told me I’d be acting PIC for the entire flight. That last fact would have an impact during the ride.
Orals complete, Sally ran off to the restroom. When she returned, she confided that I was correct in telling her that her oral would be easy for her. The oral questioning she got from us everyday far exceeded what any check-ride oral would command, and she nailed all of those. Her confidence was somewhat bolstered going in, which would be good.
The Ride begins: Kathleen and I get the jet started and holding short of 4R at JFK. We depart on the DEEZZ5 departure and climb to 10000′ for steep turns and the stall series. We’d typically include unusual attitudes after the stall series, but they weren’t called for today.
The first approach was a GPS approach, and that went very well. She was doing her pilot thing and getting it knocked out. We had some kind of failure at this point, and I gave her time to call for the correct check list while heading back to the airport for a second approach. She had kept our speed high when it might have been good to slow down and give the right seater time to get the work done. I was really hustling to clean up an emergency checklist and working to get ready for an approach, and her inexperience as a crew captain was showing. We ended up in a classic situation where they were clearing us for the approach before we were ready, and Kathleen missed an opportunity to decline it.
I pushed even harder to catch up and cover the error, knowing that she was being evaluated for pursuing the approach and not recognizing that we weren’t ready. The one thing I could do was get us set up properly in spite of the timing.
I managed to get everything was all set up by the time we joined the final segment of the approach, and I was able to begin backing her up with an instrument scan as we started down. The first thing I notice is that HER CDI was centered, but the course line was set at 015 degrees and not 045 degrees. It could be very confusing flying a single engine ILS approach like that.
I could have left it alone, but told her about it instead. We were at the final approach fix and I wondered what else we might have missed in our haste. When I told her about the error this late in the game, her attention began to drift along with the airplane. I set in the proper course for her and at the same time called out a two dot deflection to the localizer. I had lost situational awareness at this point, she was getting task saturated, and I invoked my PIC skills commanding from the right seat that she fly the missed approach. NOW!
I pronounced to her that I’d overlooked setting the proper CDI course before the approach, and was concerned what else I might have missed. Having done that I thought it best to command an immediate missed approach as acting PIC. I said it loudly enough to ensure that Andy heard me declaring that I had lost situational awareness at a critical time. It cost Andy some time in his process, but it was the right thing to do. Kathleen used the time to relax and get all of the approach checks done for the next try. I used it to ensure I backed her up appropriately.
The Big Mistakes came later in the ride, toward the very end. Sally’s weak areas were V1 cuts, and those came back to bite her. On a departure out of Kennedy, the left engine failed at 80 knots. I was doing my co-pilot thing, and saw no indication of the failed engine via instrumentation. Sally felt it in the controls, but continued rolling instead of aborting immediately when she noticed directional control issues that early. After trying to achieve V1 for several seconds, she finally did the right thing and aborted the takeoff.
Andy said nothing from the back, but reset us to the takeoff point.
Everything was fine on the takeoff roll until the wheels left the ground. The right engine failed at this critical time and we were off to the races. What should happen is that lots of rudder should be applied into the operating engine, and your heading should be maintained at you fly the numbers to a safe altitude. What did happen is that we started to turn and stopped our climb.
I gave loud commands to CLIMB!, CLIMB!, CLIMB!; followed by HEADING!, HEADING!, HEADING!. I knew at this point that we were in trouble if she didn’t get the aircraft under control. Normally I’d have taken the controls at this point, but that would have spelled failure for her right then. I opted to bully her into getting the airplane under control.
‘Don’t let this airplane fly you!’ I commanded. ‘Climb right now to 2000’ – CLIMB!, CLIMB!, CLIMB!. Right Now!’. Once the climb began I could see that she’d re-engaged and finally got the appropriate rudder in there. ‘Great – now turn left 095 degrees – RIGHT NOW!‘. The sense of urgency had her moving, and I got on the radio telling approach we had some control issues after and engine failure and were climbing and turn to rejoin our missed approach.
Andy didn’t stop the ride at at this point, but one more screw up and we’d be toast. I didn’t verbalize this, but I knew it. We did a few other maneuvers and then it was time to switch seats for evaluate her SIC skills.
Andy leans forward and informs Sally of the maneuvers that were not meeting standards. The 80 knot engine failure should have been aborted earlier, but the wild ride after the V1 cut was just unacceptable. He explained that he’d decided to give her another try at the maneuver (V1 cut), and that if she didn’t get it done the ride would be unsuccessful. He stated further that the missed approach I commanded, and her V1 response ate into his time. Instead of switching seats, I’d fly the last leg from the right seat.
Sally’s repeat of the V1 cut met the standards, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I took the flight controls and expected nothing more than a trip around the pattern. What I got, however, was a complete hydraulic failure from the right seat and an autopilot that wouldn’t engage in that condition. Andy didn’t know that the co-pilot instruments would not sync properly due to a sim issue, so I’d be flying an instrument approach with no hydraulics, flown manually from the right seat using left seat instruments and no autopilot.
So now I’m working hard and if I don’t get this done – she fails. The airplane is flying like a truck while Sally runs her check-lists. We get to the emergency gear extension, and she cannot pull up the emergency gear release. I know this is also a sim issue, and now I’m flying this truck with my right hand while I lean over and get the emergency gear handle pulled and the gear down.
We land – thankfully, and Andy apologizes for working me so hard. He didn’t expect me to be flying manually and so forth. I’m happy it’s over; and shake both of their hands in the briefing room before I bid them farewell.
Sally went home with a very nice Christmas present, and I went home feeling very satisfied to have been a part of that. Good job to the entire Astra team, as well as to Andy for working with us so well. She deserved that second try and we appreciate it.