Formally, it is a commercial pilot's licence with multi engine and instrument ratings. Informally it is called a 'frozen ATPL', and is basically a licence to act as a first officer on passenger-carrying flights.
|One of CTC's Airbus simulators. We'll be on these next week.|
Next week we move on to the flight phase of the type rating in some very fancy new full-motion simulators. You can actually take a look around these machines yourself, thanks to a recent visit by Google Streetview. Pretty impressive I think you will agree.
"If it's not Boeing, I'm not going"
For years there has been something of a rivalry between pilots that like Airbus and those that prefer Boeing. From the outside perspective this seemed to make little sense as there's really isn't a lot to differentiate them visually.
Our (admittedly limited) training on the Boeing 737-400 simulators didn't really shed much light on the mystery either. We had a lot to learn in adapting from our simple light twins to the 737 but fundamentally it flew and felt fairly similar, that is like a conventional mechanically controlled aircraft.
Boeing have moved on a long way from the 737-400 of course, and the tools to help the pilots to fly safely and efficiently are incredibly good, even going as far as heads-up displays on the 787. Fundamentally though it is a conventional aircraft that is flown in a fairly hands-on way to which has been added lots of clever extras.
Airbus, I'm starting to realise, have taken an entirely different philosophy to their design. Rather than asking "how can we help the pilots to do their job?" they ask "how can we stop the pilots from making mistakes?"
Central to the Airbus is the fly-by-wire concept. No longer are the pilots' controls connected to the elevators, ailerons and so on with cables and levers. The only connections are electronic ones through the many and varied flight computers.
This ability to intervene between what the pilot commands and what the plane actually does fundamentally changes the way the plane is flown. The pilots do not have to worry about overspeeding, stalling, over banking or over stressing the airframe because the aircraft will to prevent it happening*. A lot of the tricky secondary effects of the controls are cleverly eliminated, making it far easier to hand-fly.
On the face of it this seems to take control away from the pilots whose job is to control the aircraft. The buck, after all, stops with the captain. But in fact it gives pilots the ability to respond quickly and aggressively when the situation demands without fear of losing control or breaking anything. It's safer.
|The 'glareshield' panel contains the commonly used controls for|
both controlling the autopilot and manipulating the navigation displays
Line pilots spend hardly any time flying manually, so the control columns are smaller and positioned out of the way. There are two computer interfaces, the glareshield (above) for short-term control inputs located right in the centre and unit with a screen and keyboard for longer term planning and navigation affectionately known as the McDoo down below.
Two basic principles ensure the pilots are not dazzled with a messy array of lights and gauges; 1. if a system is normal, it will be 'lights out', and 2. almost everything you need to know or touch is right in front of you.
|More key information is shown on two small screens that the multitude of gauges and |
dials on older aircraft.
On the left is the navigation display. Finally, a proper moving map display such as car drivers have been enjoying for years! Again it is well thought out and can combine all sorts of data including weather radar, terrain, airports, approach procedures, you name it.
|When things go wrong, 'Fifi' won't just bombard you with|
alarms, she will actually help you fix the problem...
This aircraft will help out the pilots in all sorts of clever ways. Anything that could possibly be automated has been; eliminating a large amount of error-prone switch bashing and mental arithmetic. Yet careful thought has been given to how this automation can be overridden if required, and the consequences of one system on another in all sorts of situations.
It's not perfect of course. Already I can see that the manuals are a bit of a linguistic mess and the obsession with acronyms has got way out of hand. With so much automation, you have to work much harder on situational awareness (knowing where you are, where you are going and where you should be). And the lack of any movement or force feed-back on the primary flying controls is going to take some getting used to.
My initial impression is the Airbus is a very complex aircraft to really understand — its logic is full of 'what if' situations and deeply nested trees of causes and effects — but hopefully a safe and an easy one to fly.
I'm not going to have to wait long to find out.
* When it is operating normally. If enough systems fail it will revert to a simpler mode, in other words it becomes like a conventional aeroplane again.