Monday, 28 July 2014

Base training complete... passengers tomorrow... goodbye!

Neat and tidy circuits (not mine sadly) but a bit larger than usual.

Base training

We have just returned from a quiet airport in the middle of France, where we spent the weekend flying circuits.

Nothing unusual about that for a trainee pilot, but these circuits were flown not in a little Cessna or a Warrior, but in a company Airbus A320.

Trusted with sixty-odd tons of extremely valuable aircraft we proceeded to fly it around and around, about 50 landings between us, until we had all reached the required standard.

The poor thing worked its socks off with a full-power take off every seven or eight minutes and touch downs varying from the excellent to the rather firm.

I hate to even guess at the costs and fuel used, best not to think too hard about that! Base training is a rather special one-off experience that every airline pilot goes through just once in their career.

The obligatory cheesy photo

A quick trip to Aviation House at Gatwick Airport this morning with all the reams of paperwork, and I now have the A320 type rating on my licence. Legally, I am fully qualified as a first officer (co-pilot) to carry passengers on the whole A320 family from the baby 318 to the super stretch 321.

The four members of the A320 family
Practically though, the training continues. Just because I can legally fly, it does not mean I have must of a grasp of what the job is really like  nor much experience. This is where line training comes in.

For the next 40 or 50 flights, I will be operating on actual routes with actual passengers on board, which is a scary and humbling thought. Keeping an eye on my progress will be an experienced training captain, and for the first few trips a safety pilot will come along too. This is largely to step in should be captain become incapacitated. Nobody would want someone as new as me going it alone on the flight deck just yet, me included!

There is no hanging around, my first trip starts tomorrow. It's a busy two-day trip with six flights, four of which are quite short and hectic. It just so happens that we fly the 319, 320 and 321 on the same trip as well as visiting some fairly tricky airports (I will refrain from telling you where) In at the deep end...


And so, "Future Airline Pilot" is no longer an appropriate name for this blog, and "Current Airline Pilot" does not have much of a ring to it. The dream has become real and this story is at an end.

The last almost-two-years have been quite an adventure. A great deal of hard work has gone in as well a scary financial investment. I have come out of it with not just a licence but a whole new career, expanded horizons and lots of new friends.

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout morally, emotionally, factually and financially. Without my wonderful wife, family and friends I would not be where I am now looking forward to a quite different future.

Thank you for reading.

Onward and upward....


PS. Friends and family only: if you have a smartphone or tablet computer, you can download the Roster Buster Friends & Family app and follow where in the world I am and see my roster for the next month or so. Install the app then use either your facebook account or my mobile number to connect with me. Here are the links for the ipad/iphone and for Android.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Type rating part II

I'm writing this entry with about half my brain switched on, after waking up at 4.30am and reporting at Heathrow at 6am for a four-hour Operator Proficiency Check in the simulator. As the title suggests I am now working for an airline as a first officer complete with uniform, salary (finally!) and almost all the training completed.

The six weeks since my last post and we have been kept so busy I have not had the time or energy to write anything up. Yet despite the lack of updates, this blog has now been read over 50,000 times, a frighteningly large figure which I can only attribute to continuing public fascination with aviation rather than any skill on my part. I feel I owe my readers an quick insight at the very least.

Type rating part II

One of CTC's Airbus simulators outside...
The simulator phase of our type rating course in Southampton went smoothly thanks in no small part to the hard work of my flying buddy. Each detail is an action-packed four hour lesson with an hour and a half briefing and an hour debriefing, plus homework.

As simulator time is expensive a lot of material is crammed in to each lesson. As well as covering all the items necessary for the generic type rating test at the end of the course, the syllabus includes training for low visibility procedures and British Airways operating procedures and call-outs.

Thankfully we didn't find the Airbus a difficult aircraft to fly, at least in terms of manual handling. The clever fly-by-wire architecture and control laws means the aircraft will magically hold the flight path you have set once the stick is released and only tiny inputs are needed to keep it on track. It trims automatically so there are no control loads, and the instrumentation is superb both enabling and encouraging very accurate flying.

...and inside.
But really the line pilot's job involves very little manual flying and a lot of aircraft management. Managing the Airbus is not so easy.

A simple aircraft only has one level of control — manual flying. Large and more complex machines will generally have two — manual and automatic, where basic data like heading and altitude can be set on some sort of autopilot.

The Airbus has three different levels of control. Manual, selected (like a conventional autopilot) and managed, which is more of a strategic long-term control level.

Managed control is mostly set up before take-off and gives the aircraft some autonomy to select speeds and calculate descent points in the interests of economy. It makes life easy for the pilots while everything is going to plan, but when things change reprogramming can be complex and distracting. Using the right level of control at the right time is key, in fact Airbus call it a 'golden rule'.

Sorry. Pilot joke.
The type rating is focussed much more on abnormal and emergency situations than day-to-day flying. On the Airbus, most but not all of these events are dealt with with help from the aircraft's own Electronic Centralised Aircraft Monitor (ECAM) which prompts which steps are required to deal with the situation.

But some situations require a quick response from memory, some are not detected by the ECAM and others are done with reference to the paper manual instead. Again it's a complex system designed to make the job easier, which mostly succeeds but also causes a lot of complex repercussions. In fact that last sentence, in a nutshell is my summary of the Airbus!

We had twelve four-hour simulator sessions covering everything from manual flying to low visibility operations, non-precision approaches to engine fires, pilot incapacitation to single engine landings. Finally, it was time for the dreaded licence skill test.

We had a pretty good idea of what to expect... a lot of engine failures both before and after take-off, various other faults and emergency situations, and lots of single engine flying, approaches and landings, all presented in a line-flying scenario. Very similar in fact to the instrument rating test, only in a very different machine and with two pilots. Although both my buddy and I had to re-fly one or two bits of the test twice to satisfy the examiner, we both passed first time and headed home mentally exhausted to sleep for about a week.


After the intensity of the type rating training, the induction period was a welcome break in the form of relatively low intensity office hours activity. Lots and lots of admin, of course, and lots and lots of new names and faces.

We toured around the operation department and terminal 5, collected uniforms, listened to presentations and were generally made to feel very welcome in our new workplace.

Those of you that watched BBC's recent series A Very British Airline will have some idea of what came next — just like the cabin crew, we had to train in emergency medical care, learn about all the emergency equipment on board and how to use it, how to fight fire, security briefings, how to safely operate the doors and so on. Though we had only four days to complete everything. And, it almost goes with out saying, sit more exams.

There was a visit to a local swimming pool to practice donning life jackets in the water, lifesaving techniques and climbing into a life raft unaided. And yes, there were the obligatory emergency slide descents, cue cheesy picture. Fancy actually being paid to jump down slides for the afternoon... almost as good as being paid to fly!

Conversion course

But the easy life did not last long, as next up was the conversion course. Five days of back-to-back simulator details designed to consolidate our flying to company procedures, allow the training staff to evaluate us and complete the operator's proficiency check I mentioned earlier.

Our first flying test in a professional capacity, the check is a regulatory requirement that we can look forward to every six months for the rest of our flying careers. Happily it went well enough, given the lack of sleep, another tick in another box!

But anyway I must go and get some rest as it is a 6am report again tomorrow... next time I post I will have something very exciting to tell you about. Base training day, a once-in-a-career event and the first time we will get our hands on a real jet. Until then.