Feb 28, 2007


This video shows what happens when an aircraft slams into a concrete wall at high speed.

Aircraft in general including airliners, are comprised of light grade aluminum surrounding mainly empty spaces. There is nothing substantial about them when compared to steel and concrete. And when the fuel explodes? That just aids the destruction. Aluminum burns very well once the correct temperature is reached.

People expounding the various Conspiracy Theories around the 9/11 terrorist attacks seem to have no appreciation of this basic fact of jetliner construction.

P.S. If you're a nervous flyer, fear not. Airliners are extremely durable for the conditions they encounter in flight.

Feb 27, 2007

A Day in the Life (12) Please Release Me...

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does. (check left hand column for series index).

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Main Ramp

Departure Time: plus five and counting...

“Pushback complete. Set brakes.”

I set the parking brakes and confirm the hydraulic pressure readings and parking brake indicator on my screen before I call back;

“Brakes set.”

Check pilots are adamant about this detail. I assume there have been incidents where the parking brakes did not engage properly. In fact, this is one of the finer points of the Airbus electronic aircraft. We are trained very emphatically to never assume a control has engaged simply because the switch or pushbutton has moved. The ultimate indicator is the panel display which confirms the signal has been received and acted upon by the computer. This wasn’t often a problem in the days when things were connected by big steel cables.

I clasp my fists in the front windshield, signalling “brakes on" for our marshaller. He has his arms crossed in the “stop,” command which he’ll maintain until we are ready to roll again. The other crew-members move under us towards the nosewheel to remove the towbar.

This has been a relatively short pushback compared to some gates. There's no reason to anticipate any delay so I move my right hand to the engine one master switch.

"Starting engine one."

ENG MASTER 1 switch ..........................ON

As we work through this next engine start I feel familiar thumps and bumps from below. The banging is mild this morning but sometimes I’ve heard it become loud enough to make me wonder. What on earth are they kicking to ‘fine tune’ the alignment of the steering scissors? I’ve even called down to ask if there was a problem, only to receive a “no problem mon,” sort of reply that I’d usually associate with a Jamaican vacation.

It is a maxim in airline operations that the pilot is dependent upon others to accomplish tasks that have huge safety implications yet we have little recourse to monitor or supervise the work. This includes things like loading the cargo, doing the weight and balance calculations and ensuring the exterior of the aircraft is properly buttoned down before departure. I've experienced fueling panels only half-closed, hazardous cargo improperly loaded and at least once when I couldn't steer the airplane as I initially tried to turn out from the ramp.

But this is also a hazardous time for ground crews. Our nosewheel steering system is shut off during pushback to prevent accidental movement of the mechanisms. But some other aircraft don’t have this capability. Once the connecting pin is reinserted inadvertent movement of the rudder pedals or nose steering wheel by the pilot could cause a serious injury.

Engine one is beginning to stabilize as the pushback tractor pulls into view from beneath us and stops a few meters away. I know the crew has another flight to dispatch, so as soon as I’m sure the engine one EGT is behaving normally, I tell FO Paula; “Your engine,” and glance over to ensure she’s watching it for me. Then I call the ramp crew; “Confirm pins removed.”

“Pins removed.”

“Revert to hand signals. Thanks for a smooth push.”

“Reverting to hand signals. Thanks captain. Good flight.”

I note the tractor moving well back now out of the way. Ideally someone holds up both pins so I can have visual confirmation of their removal, and then the ramp marshaller will give me a ‘proceed’ signal. GooseAir doesn’t require a formal visual show from our crews, taking the verbal declaration as more valid. I suppose this is true for jumbo jets where the captain is too far away to really see clearly. But I do get a warm-fuzzy feeling seeing the pins in someones' hand, usually as he tosses them into the toolbox on the tractor.

I turn my attention back to the flight deck just as FO Paula calls, “Engine one, normal.”

“After Start checklist,” I say.

Departure Time: plus eight and counting...

A Day in the Life Series Index

I've added a link-index to the "A Day in the Life" series of articles. (See the left hand column just below the Archive index). Perhaps this will be useful for anyone joining the saga in mid-stream...

Airports of the future...

While I continue to procrastinate - I found some great information about the evolution of air travel and airports that may be in service before long. Someone it seems is taking a creative approach to making air travel interesting and exciting once again. What a treat that would be!

Check this Business Week article, and then this slide show of proposed terminals:

Feb 26, 2007

A Day in the Life (11) - pushback and engine start...

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Main Ramp

Departure Time: plus one and counting...

A lot of effort went into the A320 flight deck design. They got it mostly right. But one thing they got wrong in my opinion is they put the lever to set the parking brakes and the knob to initiate engine starts in the same general location and both require a clockwise twist to operate. So the physical action of starting the engines during pushback is very similar to that of setting the parking brake at the end of pushback. That’s an accident waiting to happen. I was the first officer one night a few years back when I saw it almost materialize.

We were on the last leg home after a long day, and of course there were several distractions during the pushback. I noticed the captain reach down to start the engines but actually grab the parking brake switch and begin turning it. I called a warning at the same instant he realized his mistake and corrected it. A loud jolt shuddered through the aircraft as the brakes pulsed on and off. Our tractor driver, feeling the sudden impact, lurched us to a stop and called on the intercom, alarm in his voice. The captain acknowledged his mistake and apologized. We waited tensely while a mechanic was called out to inspect the nose gear.

Thankfully no damage had been done. Tow bars do have a shear pin designed to break before serious damage occurs but that's a last resort and they don't always function perfectly. Nose gears sometimes get damaged as do pushback tractors and worst of all people when they come up against unyielding heavy metal. Ramp staff are often hurt when pushbacks suddenly go wrong. It's a dangerous phase of the operation for them.

Since upgrading to captain I've been very methodical about reaching for that particular control. More than once I've caught myself as my fingers threatened to get ahead of my thinking. A danger in any airplane.

Today the push starts smoothly. We hear the roar of the pushback tractor slowly overcoming inertia then we are moving. FO Paula stabs her audio panel selector to the VHF2 radio and tells the ‘iceman’ we’re on our way. The aircraft clears the loading bridge then the tractor driver calls; "Clear to start engines…"

“Starting engines - two and one,” I reply. Carefully I clutch the correct button and initiate the engine start procedure:

Eng Mode Selector................IGN/START

I rotate the knob then pause for just a second as the engine parameters appear on our display screens.

Engine Master 2 switch…….ON

I announce “Starting engine two.” I lift the engine master two over its gate and let if fall into the ON detent. I'll hold onto it until the engine has stabilized. Despite the ‘automatic’ start cycle there are several situations where I may need to take action. For example if we prematurely lose electrical power I'll terminate the start and apply a procedure to purge any accumulated fuel from the engine. Our manuals list several other cases where the Airbus auto-matrons won't help me and besides, they aren't the ones who'd be fired if a five million dollar engine gets cooked during startup. So I pay close attention and wonder again at this entire philosophy of automation.

Turbofan engine primer:

Modern jet engines are comprised of two sets of compressor blades driven by their own exhaust turbines attached through concentric shafts. They vaguely resemble empty thread spools and are named N1 and N2. Both spools spin at such high revolutions that it is frightening for pilots to think about while suspended over inhospitable environments, hours from the nearest airport, hoping nothing goes wrong. So the tachometers are displayed as a percentage of maximum rpm. Much easier on our nerves.

Turbofan basics are covered at wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turbofan
For those more technically inclined a detailed description is available at: http://www.b737.org.uk/powerplant.htm


On previous aircraft models I had key startup parameters I was required to note and emphasize with a verbal callout. On the Airbus we are still responsible to monitor the sequence, but we no longer make these calls. This inspired someone to quip that these engines are so smart they actually start without anyone talking to them. But decades-long-habits don’t just go away. The eight-track in my head still plays the callouts “silently” as I confirm each step:

Engine Master 2 switch…….ON
The start valve opens, the bleed pressure remains ‘green’ and the N2 tachometer increases. Within a few seconds the oil press increases. When I see 16% N2 I also see a message telling me which set of ignition “spark plugs” kicks in. We have two, named A and B. Usually they alternate between starts.

At 22% N2 the fuel metering valve opens and we check that the fuel flow reading increases. Within fifteen seconds of that we need to see the EGT (Exhaust Gas Temperature) begin increasing. If the fuel flow behaves abnormally it can be a sign of a couple of different start malfunctions. This morning it’s just right.

By this time we should see some increase in the N1 tachometer. This confirms that the fan section of the engine isn’t jammed. I’ve read at least one report where pooled rain or snow inside an engine literally froze the N1. I've also read of someone in another company attempting to start an engine with a plug still in place. Now, an engine plug or cover looks a lot like a kid’s round plastic wading pool. It's usually colored bright yellow and is inserted in the front engine opening to keep out debris. I can only assume that someone slept through their exterior inspection. But our fans spin up freely this morning just like usual.

At 50% N2 we see the start valve close and the igniter switch off as the engine becomes self-sufficient. It should now continue to accelerate to a normal idle. If it hangs up though, we are responsible to notice and do something about that too.

At about 52% N2 we feel a thump in the airframe as the engine two generator comes online and takes over from the APU.

FO Paula looks for the stable engine parameters. In ground school my instructor drove these into me by chanting after every engine start; “twenty, forty, sixty, thirty." Just how much can that old eight-track of my mind hold I wonder as I look for approximately: N1 20% ; EGT 400°C ; N2 60%; Fuel flow 300 kg/h.

Our airplane jerks softly to a full stop against the towbar. The outside ramp noises in my headset warn me that someone below is keying his microphone:

“Pushback complete. Set brakes.”

Departure Time: plus three and counting…

Feb 23, 2007

A Day in the Life (10) - Before Start Checklist...

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Departure Gate

Departure Time: minus one minute

We need a de-icing spray this morning and we have a supplemental checklist for this. So FO Paula quickly skims the Quick Reference Handbook and confirms that the next item says: "Normal Before Start Checklist --- Accomplish."

"Okay," I say. "Before Start Checklist." It seems redundant to repeat what she just read, but it's funny how not saying it would throw off the normal flow we've fallen into. And as we accomplish this check it really does flow. Each challenge item follows closely on the heels of the previous response item and a procedure that took us hours of study and memorization to learn, happens in just a few seconds. When it goes well it is almost like poetry. But when it gets interrupted and we start stumbling and talking on top of one another, it can suddenly become very awkward. She begins reading and I respond as I check each item or carry out any necessary step:

FUEL "Checked"
NOSE WHEEL STEERING "Disconnected and OFF"
CABIN ... I pause and turn in my seat to look down the main aisle, just as the head flight attendant enters, still writing on the passenger count form. She hurriedly hands it to FO Paula and reports; "Cabin Secure." I can hear the main cabin door close behind me with a distinctive thump.

On the center pedestal the printer springs to life and pumps out our weight and balance numbers. At the same instant my headset registers the background noises from the ramp as the lead calls up; "Ready for pushback, Captain."

"Standby." I reply.

FO Paula glances at the count form, quickly compares it to the printout and signals that the numbers match. The flight attendant departs, slamming our security door on the way out and we're locked in for the next six hours.

"Cabin Secure," I call and Paula reaches up to close the checklist item.

The sound of the purser rises in my headset as she begins the passenger briefing; "Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard GooseAir flight One Eleven to Vancouver..." I quickly reach down and select my PA monitor off. Her voice drops to become barely audible through the back wall.

I nod to FO Paula, "Push back clearance," while adjusting my radio volume.

She flicks her microphone on. "Montreal ramp, GooseAir One Eleven at gate five alpha is ready to push."

As she releases her microphone button we hear the tell-tale screech in our headsets indicating that another aircraft has been calling at the same time. The other pilot jumps immediately back on the frequency and gets his clearance.

Then the controller calls; "Other aircraft calling for pushback, go ahead..."

FO Paula repeats her transmission.

"GooseAir One Eleven pushback, nose east" comes the reply.

"Finish the checklist."

WINDOWS & DOORS (we each check our sliding windows as well as the ECAM indicator.) "Closed/Closed"

YELLOW PUMP & CROSS BLEED (We'll be needing both engines to taxi so it's,) "Not Required"
THRUST LEVERS (I reach down and ensure the levers are pulled right back) "Idle"

FO Paula: "Before Start Checklist Complete"

I flip the parking brake OFF, which causes the onboard computers to register our departure time.

I click the mic button; "Tractor from flight deck. Brakes Off - we're ready for pushback facing east."

The clock says:
Departure Time: minus zero...

Feb 22, 2007

A Day in the Life (9): I Will, You Will...

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Departure Gate

Departure Time: minus five minutes

There have been too many aircraft accidents where the first officer suspected something was not right but was too intimidated to speak out. And then it was too late. I believe first officers will speak up sooner if they know the captain is actually interested in what they have to say and especially if the flight deck atmosphere leans towards informality.

So turning to FO Paula, I launch into my patter:

"I try to follow the SOPs without getting too tense about it. So, anytime you notice me doing something you don't understand, it's probably not a display of my superior airmanship. It's more likely that I'm screwing up and the sooner you ask me about it, the sooner we can figure out what's wrong and fix it.

"When it's your leg make your own decisions regarding operational items like runway preference, flap setting, thrust setting and so on. I'll back you up as the PNF and call out any discrepancies or concerns. Hopefully we'll get through the cycle without scratching any paint or damaging any carbon-based units and even enjoy ourselves along the way.

"If something bad happens while you're flying, keep flying unless the drill requires me to take over or I say the magic words: 'I have control...' In the event of..."

A voice interrupts in the headset; "Captain, are we okay to remove the ground power?"

"Negative - standby one," I hastily call back. "Thanks for checking."

It's not uncommon for a busy ramp hand to just pull out the big cable and plunge us into darkness. I should have started our APU already, but this morning I've been distracted with the programming duties. A button push or two is followed by a long thirty seconds until the indications stabilize telling us the small auxiliary engine in the tail is ready. I push the next button in the sequence. Our lights flicker as the electrical load shifts onto the internal generator.

"Okay to disconnect." Then I reach up to select another button and hear the swoosh as the internal air conditioners begin working as well.

We return to our rehearsal for the three "scripted" drills. As we recite the litany, we move our hands to the appropriate controls mimicking the motions. This rehearsal is known as the "I wills..." Under more leisurely conditions we might stop along the way to discuss some finer points. For example, how would we handle a rapid loss of pressurization if it happened directly over a field of thunderstorms? It has happened. But this morning we keep to the basics.

Departure Time: minus four minutes

Me: "In the event of a Rejected Take Off I will call 'Reject' and immediately close the thrust levers, ensure maximum braking is being applied either with the autobrakes or manually, and I'll use maximum reverse thrust."

FO Paula: "I will monitor the braking, call 'Reverse Thrust Deployed' or 'No Reverse on 1 or 2' and monitor indications. I'll call '70 knots' and advise ATC."

Me: "I will apply maximum reverse and maximum braking until stopped, select forward idle thrust, set the parking brake, and call 'ECAM ACTIONS.'”

(ECAM = Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor - displays checklists in certain conditions.)

FO Paula: "I will accomplish the ECAM actions."

Me: "If an immediate evacuation is not required, I will make a PA announcement: 'Remain seated. Remain seated. -- In-Charge Flight Attendant report to the flight deck.' If an evacuation is required, I will call: 'Stop ECAM', and call for the Passenger Evacuation checklist."

FO Paula: "I will read the appropriate checklist."

Me: "In the event of an Engine Fire or Failure after V1, I will continue the take-off and rotate normally at Vr to 121⁄2° nose-up and follow the flight guidance system."

FO Paula: "I will call 'Engine Fire' or 'Power Loss' and cancel the Master Warning. When established in a definite climb I will call 'Positive Rate.'"

Me: "I will call 'Gear Up.'"

FO Paula: "I will select the landing gear up and disarm the spoilers."

Me: "When stabilized climbing above 400 ft, with an airspeed minimum of V2, I will call 'Auto Pilot ON' and have you select it for me. Once it's ON I will select the required heading and call, 'ECAM Actions.'"

FO Paula: "I will accomplish initial ECAM actions and advise 'Fire Out; Fire Not Out; or Engine Relight Initiate.'"

Me: "I will call 'Stop ECAM.' At the appropriate altitude, I will call and select 'Vertical Speed, Zero,' accelerate in level flight and call for Flap and Slat retraction on schedule. At the best climb speed (green dot) I will call and select 'Altitude - Pull; Speed - Pull; Maximum Continuous Thrust; and Continue ECAM.'"

FO Paula: "I will continue ECAM."

Departure Time: minus three minutes

Me: "In the event of a pressurization problem I will assume control with Autopilot ON and call 'Rapid Depressurization Drill,' I will don my oxygen mask, set my com panel and call 'Captain on oxygen.'"

FO Paula: "I will don my mask and call 'First Officer on oxygen.'"

Me: "I will select SEAT BELTS switch ON and call 'ECAM Actions.'”

FO Paula: "I will accomplish ECAM actions."

Me: "I will advise ATC. If we've had a complete, or explosive loss of pressure I will call 'Emergency Descent,' and we'll skip straight into that drill. Otherwise, I will make a PA 'Attention, Flight Attendants secure the cabin; Passengers take your seats.'"

FO Paula: "I will assess the pressurization and call 'Cabin Okay' or 'Cabin uncontrollable.'"

Me: "If you say cabin uncontrollable, I will call 'Emergency Descent' and initiate the drill, which is: Altitude Selector to an appropriate altitude and Pull. I'll Pull the Heading Select and turn if required depending upon known traffic or terrain. Pull Speed Select. Ensure engines reduce to idle thrust. Extend speed brakes to Full."

FO Paula: "I will complete the ECAM silently, and advise of any omitted items or pertinent ECAM messages. I will confirm ATC has been notified and set the transponder as required. If Cabin Altitude exceeds 14,000 ft, I will press the MASK MANUAL ON pushbutton for more than 2 sec."

Departure Time: minus two minutes

I now switch my communication panel to the PA system and say good morning to the folks. It's mainly an assurance that there are real people up here taking care of them and we actually do appreciate their patronage. I even do it in both official languages. Over the years I've become more confident in French -- just so long as there's nothing complicated to explain.

I hear the sounds of galley doors and storage units slamming shut behind me. I glimpse someone in the bridge swinging the main cabin door shut. It must be time to go...

Departure Time: minus one minute

Who's on first? Where's First???

Right-click to enlarge this photo of the JFK ground movement chart (or drag a copy to your desktop), then click this MP3 audio link to hear a strange day at JFK. Looks like someone taxied somewhere unexpectedly and the ground controller is having a hard time getting everyone straightened out. The Alpha and Bravo are the long taxiways encircling the main ramp. Victor is taxi 'V' that crosses these in the top right sector. Uniform is the extension of A along to the button of runway 13Left. And you'll find the others mentioned as you scan the chart.

It's not often you hear a situation like this develop where the controller seems to have lost the picture (notice how often he has to ask pilots to repeat their call signs, etc.). But all in all he does a great job of keeping his cool and even recovering his sense of humor! American controllers at the busiest airports are the best - imho!

Feb 21, 2007

SOPs, Briefings and Checklists

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedures. They comprise a rather specific set of instructions about how crew members are expected to accomplish their roles.

For example, at the beginning of each crew cycle, it's my responsibility to review with the first officer specific items about crew coordination, such as who will act as the PF (Pilot Flying) and PNF (Pilot Not Flying) on each flight leg. Many of our standard procedures are defined according to these roles.

All our checklists specify exactly who will read out the checklist, who will accomplish each item, and how he or she will indicate that it is completed.

SOPs, briefings and checklists are part of the reason that we can meet as strangers in the flight planning room yet function smoothly as a team right from the start.

More human birds...

If you liked the 'jet man' thing -- you might enjoy flying like this too...!


Feb 20, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL (8)

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Departure Gate

Departure Time: -10 minutes

One way in which automated airplanes are more demanding than their "steam-driven" counterparts is the setup required before each flight. We must now register with the onboard creatures of automation, our plans for the entire upcoming flight.

We do this through the Macdoos who can be awkward little trolls sometimes but this morning Macdoo One is cooperating. Or at least my finger is in fine form and finds all the best ways to tickle his fancy and he accepts my data inputs. By tapping his keys I give him information like our flight number, our origin and destination, the current airport temperature and winds, the planned runways, route and altitudes and the forecast winds. Sometimes the little grinch even tries to be helpful by offering menus of Standard Departure or Arrival routes he's been forced to memorize.

Finally, our data is entered and displayed in our flight and navigation screens and cross-checked. FO Paula now conducts a concise preview of the upcoming departure being sure to mention all the key points. This ensures we're all on the same page for the choreography to come.

While she'd doing this the data-link is cranking out a strip of paper listing our preliminary weight and balance computations. She finishes her review, then tears off the dispatch, and holds it over the pedestal, circling the main numbers as we confirm the information. No significant changes. Good. Last minute increases to our takeoff weight can trigger the need for more fuel, and that would certainly cause a delay. But not this morning.

She neatly folds the slip of paper and sets it aside, then turns to me. It's time for the official emergency briefing. I clear my throat...

Departure Time: -05 minutes

Feb 19, 2007

Martin Hartwell

I just posted this comment on Sulako's blogsite in response to his excellent story of life as a medevac pilot. It is an interesting, though sad and perplexing story from Canadian aviation history:

For a short summary of a medevac flight gone horribly wrong, check this wikipedia entry: Martin Hartwell

This was one of the most famous air search and rescue missions in Canadian aviation history. At one point the search was called off, and it was only through determined lobbying by Mr. Hartwell's friends that it resumed.

A year or so later, Hartwell showed up at the flying school where I worked. He needed some dual time to brush up his skills and re-establish his proficiency to return to work.

I remember him as a shy quiet man and certainly a capable pilot. Sadly, there were jokes made behind his back along the lines that I'd better check his flight bag for salt and pepper shakers before agreeing to fly with him.

Until we face a situation like his, we have no idea what we would do to stay alive.

Feb 17, 2007

How Big is Big?

More procrastination... oh well. Call it inspiration time....

Here's an excellent site that reveals the relative sizes of some famous space and air craft, real and imaginary:


And for comparison, here is a site for exploring dimensions of various Airbus aircraft:


Feb 16, 2007

Low and Slow

If Jet-Man is too fast and furious for you, how about a Shovercraft - cute.

Dreams of Icarus

One of our culture's earliest visions of men flying free as a bird is that of Icarus. Apparently, the dream is still alive -- and perhaps closer to reality than ever!

Check out this link:


Feb 15, 2007

Powerback on the DC-9

To reduce our reliance on ground support the powerback maneuver was developed for the DC-9.

It works well-enough on a lightly-loaded DC-9, where the tail-mounted engines are less likely to ingest ramp debris and turbulent exhaust air.

The drawbacks include jet-blast hazards and an increased chance for mishaps such as dumping the aircraft on its tailskid if the pilot hits the brakes while rolling backwards. And of course it's noisy.

Feb 13, 2007

Airbus Creatures of Mythology and Automation

I've already mentioned the exotic Arabian Adiroos in the context of our imaginary flight-series from Montreal to Vancouver. And having just introduced Macdoo, the strange Scottish trolls, I thought it might be useful to write about the entire suite of Airbus automation at once. Here then is a definitely capricious guide to Airbus Automation (links to Jerome Meriweather's excellent site used by permission):

ADIRU - Air Data and Inertial Reference Unit.
(Adiroo the Arabian Genies - we have three)
They absorb information from air data sensors and inertial reference units and then determine our position and speed and altitude and such. They share this information with us through our flight displays and instruments and also provide it to other mythical creatures as they see fit.

FMGC - Flight Management and Guidance Computer.
(Effemmgeecees are pointy-hatted wizards - we have two)
They use magic incantations formulated from all the numbers and codes we send them, along with other sources, to provide useful flight calculations and predictions. When we are courageous enough we can even link them to the autopilots and let them guide the airplane. But no one ever sees them or knows where in the airplane they actually live. Some mechanics are rumored to have visited the wizards' lair deep in the electronics compartment under the flight deck. Where we can't get to them. So to communicate and feed and control them we are dependent upon the MCDUs.

MCDU - Multifunction Computer Display Units.
(Macdoo the Scottish Trolls - we have two)
Macdoos mainly serve as gate-keepers for the wizards. They let us poke at them to send messages to the wizards and other creatures, such as the Adiroos during alignment. And while we may be able to bypass Macdoo to communicate directly with Adiroo on his overhead panel, we have no such direct access to the Effemmgeecee wizards. So if Macdoo doesn't play nice, we have no way to influence the Effemmgeecees.

FCU - Flight Control Unit
(Effceeyoo - a solitary cyclops - with a split personality)
He glares at us from the aptly-named glareshield panel which hovers like a giant eyebrow over our workspace. He's fearsome enough to over-ride the wizards but first we must get his attention by pulling and twisting his various appendages. When he's following our commands and usurping the wizards he will share vital information with us in his little windows. But when we force him to give control back to the wizards he sulks and shows only meaningless dashes, as if he no longer cares.

AP - Auto-Pilot
(Probably some sort of elf - we have two)
Illusive creatures in the form of two little buttons on the FCU. With them we indicate our willingness for either the wizards or the cyclops to guide the airplane.

A/THR - Auto-Thrust
(Another elfin creature - we have one but like most Airbus creatures, she is double-minded)
By her we signal our permission for either the wizards or the ogre to control the engines.

FD - Flight Director
(A visual Pixie - we have two)
She appears and disappears in our instruments at the touch of a button. She reveals the inner musings of the wizards by which we can then monitor or guide the airplane ourselves.

The Airbus Creatures of Mythology and Automation realize that we can banish them with a simple click of a red button and take for ourselves the reins to this wonderful winged horse. So they generally behave themselves and charm us with their winsome ways. But woe to any Pilot who trusts them too much or too-lightly takes them at their word. For while they are helpful and enchanting critters still they harbor one fatal flaw.

You see, never having lived, they are not in the least afraid to die.

Feb 11, 2007

Vibrators and stress relief...

Altimeters installed in jet aircraft are equipped with an item that no propellor-driven aircraft ever needed. It's called an altimeter vibrator. Because jet-engined airplanes are so smooth the altimeters need to be constantly shaken (but presumably not stirred) to overcome mechanical friction so the needles will not stick.

Here's a link to the B747 standby altimeter (click on the altimeter face to see the note):


I've never seen an altimeter vibrator but after listening to them work for a few thousand hours, I suspect they are comprised of a little 'hammer' that taps away on the casing. When the unit is brand new you barely hear them. After several years the rubber 'isolator' must harden or wear away because the noise can become loud and irritating. I've heard rumors that some pilots resort to pulling the vibrator circuit breakers while parked at the gate to relieve this constant racket. The sudden silence can produce a huge sense of 'aaaaah' -- that feels so good. Or so I've been told.

This is probably not the best solution, but when snags about noisy vibrators are constantly written off as "considered serviceable," and so the "beat goes on and on..." it can become frustrating.

In general, items that are considered to be merely pilot-comfort items such as noisy altimeter vibrators, deficient chart holders, worn seat cushions, inoperative lumbar supports, and so on, get minimal attention from maintenance departments. I've often tried to establish the link between these deficiencies and pilot absentee (sick) days during my annual medical checks with the company docs. If the two items were more directly linked via the budgetary bottom line then perhaps the word would get back to the maintenance department. After all human beings wear out prematurely just like any other aircraft component when their support equipment is not properly maintained.

I'm stepping off my soap box now, my stress somewhat relieved. What did you think I meant?

Feb 10, 2007

The Pilot - hilarious cartoon...

I don't have anything ready to post today, so I thought I'd share these hilarious animations of Flight DC132. The language is a kind of French-Canadian slang. There are some colloquial terms I'm not completely sure of but I think my translation is close enough to give you the idea... The accents, and facial expressions themselves are pretty funny.

I don't know how this will come across, but perhaps try reading the script below, then click the linked-titles to watch the vids. I hope it works.


CPT: Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is flight 132 requesting emergency priority to land

ATC: This is the control tower. What is your problem?

CPT: My flight attendant just informed me that we have a passenger behaving suspiciously.

ATC: What about this passenger?

CPT: He has a nail clipper.

ATC: A nail clipper?

CPT: Yes, yes. He's clipping his nails in MY AIRPLANE!

ATC: But... What's the problem....?

CPT: You know! It's prohibited!

ATC: Yes, but perhaps you're over-reacting...?

CPT: But No! I'm not over-reacting. What if he hurts my eyes with this clipper, who's going to land the plane?

FO: Well, actually -- I'm able to fly the plane...

CPT: Ah - shut up!

ATC: .. Keep calm Captain.

CPT: No, no... I'm not calming down because that's not all! He's also has a can of grape juice.

ATC: What's wrong with grape juice?

CPT: Who says it's really grape juice? What if he has an atomic bomb in his can of grape juice?

ATC: Listen flight DC132, I can't authorize an emergency landing because you have a passenger who's cutting his nails and has a can of grape juice.

CPT: Hey! ??? Do you listen to the news a little?

ATC: Yes, like everyone.

CPT: Alright then, wake up!

ATC: Uh, okay, You're right... we can't take a chance, can we?. We're sending two F-18s to shoot down your flight. Thank you for your vigilance. We won't forget your "sacrifice." Over.

CPT: Hello? Control Tower? Hello?

FO: Bravo! Well done, really well done!

CPT: Control tower? Hello? This is DC132... Control tower?



Le PILOT (part 2):

FO: Captain?

CPT: What do you want now?

FO: The air traffic controller - when he said he's sending two F-18s to shoot us down, do you think he was serious?

CPT: Of course not! You know they're a bunch of jokers - those air traffic controllers.

FO: Then what are those two little dots on the radar rapidly closing on us?

CPT: Oh no! It can't be true... It can't be true.

F18: Hello flight DC132... Are you receiving me? (speaks with a definite English accent.)

CPT: Yes, This is Flight DC132. Ah.. What can we do for you?

F18: This is commander McCoy of the Royal Canadian Air Force. You have an atomic bomb hidden in a can of grape juice and I have orders to shoot you down.

CPT: Whoa! Just a minute there....commander McCoy... heh heh... let's all remain calm...let's not push any buttons. This whole story is a big misunderstanding. There is No Atomic Bomb in the can! There is no atomic bomb in the can!

F18: Are you absolutely sure of what you're saying?

CPT: "Full" certain. The can of grape juice contains nothing but grape juice. It's confirmed and verified. There is NO ATOMIC BOMB IN THE CAN. Abort! Abort!

F18: Okay, but can you describe for me the passenger who's behavior is suspicious?

CPT: It' just some little guy from Chicoutimi with freckles. He does not have a turban. I repeat "He doesn't wear a turban..." There are no suspicious persons on my airplane. Everything is fine. We have started the film, and everyone is happy. Abort! Abort!

F18: Well, okay. But as a security measure I request you land at the military runway in the far north of Quebec situated near Kuujuak.

FO: Where's that?

CPT: Kuujuak... it's way at the other side. Even the eskimos find it far. Commander McCoy, our passengers are going to Fort Lauderdale and I can't take them to Kuujuak.

F18: This is 'non negotiable.' Change heading right away or I will be forced to shoot you down.

FO: Turn the airplane! Turn the airplane right now - captain?!

CPT: Roger, commandent McCoy. "Take it easy... don't push the little button on the joystick..." We are taking the heading for Kuujuak "right away."

F18: Understood. Over

FO: Bravo (well done). A little routine flight to Fort Lauderdale with a stop-over in Kuujuak.

CPT: Ah, shut up.

FO: Well done. Way-to-go...

Le PILOT (part 2):

Feb 8, 2007

A Day in the Life: CYUL - CYVR - CYUL (7)

A description of a typical day's flight from Montreal to Vancouver and back - as a backdrop for a detailed, non-technical description of what an airline pilot does.

Log Entry 2003 - A320 Capt - CYUL - Departure Gate

Departure Time: -15 minutes

It's the first flight of the day for this airplane so we have some extra pre-flight checks to do. Later, I'll tick the box in the logbook to tell subsequent crews they can revert to the abbreviated ramp check.

FO Paula sweeps rapidly and precisely across the instrument panels. I watch as she starts at the top left hand corner and proceeds efficiently through the required pattern checking the position of each switch, cycling some units through the first-flight-of-the-day test procedure, and generally ensuring that the aircraft is configured properly. This entire procedure, which took hours of tedious memorization to learn, can be completed in less than five minutes, if all goes well and we have no interruptions

This morning we have only two. The Purser drops in to ask if we need a cup of coffee - which we do. Then just as we've picked up the scan again, the lead ramp attendant calls into our headsets from the push-back tractor:

"Good morning flight deck. Communications check. Confirm brakes set."

I fumble for the intercom button, while glancing towards the hydraulic brake pressure gauge. "Communications okay - brakes are set."

Funny thing is - our manual is written as if I initiate this call when I'm ready. That seldom happens. The lead is usually moving around the aircraft monitoring the multitude of tasks his crew is performing. He knows where to reach me when he needs me - this confirmation tells him it's safe to pull the wheel chocks.

Managing interruptions is something we do every day. Yet our manuals are written as if we are in control of who calls us when. Which of course is completely unrealistic. The controllers at ORD for example, aren't going to hang around waiting for us to finish a checklist. So we all learn to deal with interruptions while our manuals and training procedures pretend they don't happen.

I quickly re-scan anything I missed during the interruption. FO Paula finishes checking the center console, then reaches for the sacred clip board and looks to me to confirm I'm ready to listen in. I check my radio control panel and headset volumes and give her a nod. There’s a short wait until the clearance delivery frequency falls quiet, then she jumps in:

“Clearance Delivery, GooseAir One Eleven at Gate Five Alpha with information Charlie to Vancouver.”

At most US terminals and now many Canadian ones, our IFR clearance arrives by printout on the Data-Link system. Montreal isn’t there yet. So we have to do it the old fashioned way.

“Goose One Eleven, to Vancouver. Runway two-four right with a Dorval Five, flight planned route, maintain flight level two eight zero, squawk one zero four four. Have a good flight.”

(translation: flight plan to Vancouver is valid with no alterations; Take off on runway 24R and follow the initial route and altitude instructions on the Standard Instrument Departure (SID) chart labeled Dorval Five; initial cruise altitude is flight level 280 (approximately equivalent to 28000 feet); set the transponder to code 1044)

“GooseAir one eleven, Dorval Five, squawk one zero four four. Good day,” FO Paula replies.

"GooseAir One Eleven readback correct, departure frequency 124.65, contact apron ready, bye"

Sweet and simple as long as there are no last-minute alterations to deal with. She reads the Dorval Five details and I set three-thousand into our altitude alert window. She twists the four-digit code into the transponder then prepares to recite key information from the flight plan while I poke furiously at my MCDU. (Multifunctional Control Display Unit - often pronounced Mcdoo).

If Adiroos are Arabian genies, then Macdoos must be some sort of strange Scottish trolls. We have two trapped in the center pedestal, one near each pilot’s knee. They provide our main gateway into the mysteries of Airbus magic.


Departure Time: -10 minutes

The Coldest Flight of the Year (2)

Our entire escape, er I mean, departure plan depended on the ramp crew starting that last air cart.
We huddled in the flight deck, using flashlights to find our way, and began our preparations. Partway through a particularly inspiring Beach Boys head-tune rendition of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" I was interrupted by the mechanic bouncing back into the flight deck. "We got it!" There was a definite smile in his voice.

"Okay," captain Dal stated. "Let's do this. 'Battery Start' checklist". I began reading the items. When we got to 'Battery switch...ON' one or two needles on the engine gauges flickered, ready to give us minimal insight into the engine's status. A few warning lights also came on. I kept reading the items while the Captain and FO accomplished them. We stepped through the engine fire warning test and were rewarded with three red lights and a weak-sounding bell. We were 'go' for number two engine start.

The noise of the pneumatic air cart just behind our flight deck windows shot up several decibels. "Air's ready," a voice called into our headphones. I looked up at the pneumatic pressure gauge and saw the needle hovering near the required value. "Looks okay - barely" I called out the reading.

"Start number two," Captain Dal commanded and FO Bear reached up and hit the start switch. I saw the pneumatic pressure drop indicating the valve had opened. "Valve Open," I confirmed. The captain was closely monitoring the N2 indicator. (N2 refers to the the inner spool in our JT8-D engine. Its rpm is given as a percentage of full speed). It began to move. "N2." We all stared at the gauge as if we could force it higher. The needle crept slowly towards the magic value where the captain could open the fuel valve.

"N1," Captain Dal confirmed as a second needle flickered. Airflow through the engine core was now causing the outer spool to rotate as well. The N2 RPM was stalling at eighteen percent, ideally we needed twenty. "Now or never," Captain Dal muttered, throwing the fuel lever "ON." There was a short hesitation. Then the EGT flickered and began climbing. "Light on two," the Captain called in a flat tone, his hand still on the lever ready to snap it back to "Cutoff" if the EGT began rising too quickly.

The N2 accelerated sluggishly towards the key point where it could run without the starter's help. EGT continued to rise slowly. "Forty," captain Dal called with a satisfied tone. Bear released the start switch and I glanced up to the pneumatic gauge. "Valve closed," I confirmed.

We gave the lead agent the 'all clear' to remove the external air. Then we turned back to the engine parameters. FO Bear was intently watching the oil pressure. "There we go," he finally called when almost a minute had expired. "Oil Pressure."

"After start checklist," capt Dal called finally removing his hand from the start lever. I continued reading. When I closed the generator breaker we felt a small shudder through the airframe as electrical power came on line. Lights, gauges and the normal flight deck sounds sparked to life. For the first time that morning, things seemed almost normal.

The lead re-appeared at the flight deck door, cheeks burning raw from the cold.

"We're in business!" I proclaimed.

He grinned back, "Just in time too. The cart died. We can't get it re-started. Must be your lucky day."

'California, Here We Come' began playing on my internal eight-track.

Our flight attendants were soon on board preparing the galleys and cabin. The re-fueler had us tanked up, including extra for our over-sized APU. We soon realized however, that little heat was coming from the number two engine. We reckoned this was due to the engine being at idle, along with the fact that we had switched on the anti-ice system to protect the large S-duct. Whatever the cause, the flight deck and cabin remained frigid. We warned the passengers to dress in all their winter finery as they boarded. What a strange-looking bunch we made when we were all seated and bundled up in parkas and gloves and hats. I could imagine the jokes to come about how Goose Air was cutting costs by leaving off the heat. Or, "I should have flown business class. This economy-coach ticket just wasn't worth freezing my toes off." (Or or any other sundry anatomical bits.)

Within minutes we were closed up and ready to push back. The ground crew tractored us off the bridge into the dark morning. I had the 'Cross-Bleed Start' checklist ready and it wasn't long before all three jets were idling normally, the generators were online and a draft of warm air was dribbling out of the ducts.

The leg to Edmonton was routine. Routine except for the temperature. It was actually a degree colder than Winnipeg. But no mind. With our aircraft fully warmed-up nothing could stop us. Even the APU fire test returned to normal. We made quick stops in Edmonton then Calgary and were soon sailing southwards over the Rocky Mountains, San Francisco bound.

Later that day I rented a car and drove to Manteeca to visit my American cousin and her family. In the morning we wandered out to the back yard and picked an orange which she used to garnish our breakfast plates.

The coldest-ever recorded temperature in Canada was -63C (-81.4F) at Snag, Yukon on Feb 3, 1947.

Meanwhile, some things never change: Winnipeg METAR Feb. 4/2007

Feb 6, 2007

The Coldest Flight of the Year

Log Entry 1975 - B727 S/O - CYWG Departure Gate

Arctic air gripped the prairies as Winnipeg's overnight temperature sank to minus forty. A frigid wind sucked heat from everything it touched including our Boeing 727. I peered through the boarding lounge windows to where it sat gleaming and cold in pools of feeble yellow ramp light. Blowing snow-streams snaked across the concrete and swirled around the tires. During the night small drifts had formed. I could easily imagine it was an icy sculpture rather than an aircraft and mostly I wondered why it was still dark, cold and dead.

I made my way down the bridge, tensing against the cold. By now I'd expected the ramp crews to have the lights on and the heat turned up full blast. The ramp door suddenly swung open and a burst of cold snow blew in along with the lead ramp agent. He approached me still holding the bare heel of a mitted hand to his frozen cheek as he explained. The ramp equipment wouldn't start. None of it. Not the GPU (ground electrical power unit); nor the heater; and so far not even the push-back tractor. I thought briefly of my warm bed at home and wondered if I'd see the warm Pacific ocean today after all.

"Maybe the APU will start," I said doubtfully. He followed me into the dark flight deck where I fumbled in my flight bag for a flashlight. The APU (pronounced Aaay-Pee-Yew which stands for auxiliary power unit) is a small turbine located in the wheel well. Its' sole job is to produce electricity and air and so render us self-sufficient. But before I could start it, I had to comfirm the integrity of the fire protection system. Many such systems, including those on our main engines, pass an electrical current through the sensor wires to ensure integrity. But for some reason the Boeing 727 APU designers had another idea. This system actually has to sense heat to prove itself. Not a good idea in a frigid Canadian winter. No test. The loop simply couldn't get hot enough.

I thought about hitting the start switch anyway. But as a newbie-pilot on probation, I realized setting a perfectly good airplane on fire might be frowned upon. Airlines are so fussy about stuff like that. I asked the lead agent to call the mechanic. A big burly fellow soon tromped into the flight deck pulling back his hood and heavy mitts. He looked irked at having yet another cold-related problem thrown his way.

"I just got the push-back tractor started. Now what did you break?" I explained the problem and he immediately reached over and hit the start lever. "When it's warmed up, we can try the test again..." He apparently was not on probation and had no fear of fire. But the frozen APU battery could not even crank the turbine fast enough to engage the starting sequence. We were stumped.

We retreated into the semi-warmth of the bridge to confer. Captain Dal and FO Bear arrived with our flight attendant crew close behind and we huddled around taking stock of the problem. No external electrical power. No external heaters. No APU. The Shell driver also joined in. Without electrical power he couldn't load the fuel.

Our much-coveted layover in San Francisco was in jeopardy. But apparently the prospect of California in February is a powerful motivator to get out of Winnipeg. No one voiced my own fleeting thoughts about that warm bed back home.

"If we can just get pneumatics," I finally offered. "we could do the 'Battery Start Procedure' and then use one of the engines as big APU..." I trailed off. Even as I said it, it seemed like a strange idea. The mechanic turned to our lead and consulted for a moment, then turned back to captain Dal who nodded enthusiastically.

"Someone really wants to dangle their toes in the ocean today, don't they? Well, let's try it. We have one last pneumatic cart over by the main hangar. Let's see if it starts." He spoke to the the lead who then headed off into the bitter cold.

A short discussion followed about the best engine to start. We decided the center engine was our best choice because its air inlet is above the fuselage posing the least risk to ramp personnel. It could easily give us electrical power and heat so we could finish our ramp preparations, then after push-back it would provide pneumatic pressure to start the other engines.

Meanwhile the cabin was frozen and dark. We couldn't board the passengers so our flight attendants trailed back to the warmth of the passenger lounge. The rest of us moved into the flight deck, shivering in our skimpy airline overcoats which we kept on along with our hats. It's the only time other than in a B-movie that I actually saw pilots wearing hats while seated at the controls. Anything to ward off the cold.

I opened the manual to the abnormal procedures pages and in hope we began preparing. That solitary start-cart somewhere on the other side of the field probably half-frozen into a snow bank represented our only chance of seeing California that day.

Songs of San Francisco swelled and faded in my frozen brain... Tony Bennett then Eric Burden who faded to Scott McKenzie, followed by the Mamas and Papas and even the Beach Boys. I know there's not much sand around San Francisco, but I was getting desperate. Minus forty will do that to you.

(to be continued...)

Feb 5, 2007

Foolish Earthling - Rocket Science

Foolish Earthling's production called "Rocket Science" is an excellent DVD series documenting the history of the early U.S. space program and moon landings. After catching episodes here and there on T.V. I finally ordered the full set. I highly recommend it.


And if the Boeing Bus doesn't work out -- how about this? Not quiet sure what to call it ... A Boeing-O-Rail?

Boeing Bus - rival to Air Bus?

So, I didn't get the stories written today I'd hoped to. But it was at least a semi-exciting Super Bowl.... In the meantime I discovered this - could it be a Boeing Bus?

Feb 4, 2007

Coldest Night of the Year...

I just logged into a live aviation frequency monitor to overhear this conversation:

PILOT: Winnipeg, Jazz 8569 is with you.

ATC: Jazz 8569, Winnipeg. Cleared direct TESOM for a straight-in approach runway 31.

PILOT: Jazz 8569, direct TESOM for straight-in runway 31. We hear a nasty rumour that it's minus 36 degrees there tonight.

ATC: Affirmative. Minus 36, wind 300 degrees at five knots.

PILOT: Okay... guess we'll bundle up warm.

ATC: Unless you want to turn around and go back.

PILOT: Ah - if we only had the fuel...."

Here's the METAR in effect during that conversation:
This reminds me of a morning departure from Winnipeg several years ago when the temperature overnight had been close to minus 40 Celsius. For those readers who prefer Fahrenheit, thats still minus 40. It's cold no matter what you call it.

Due to the frigid temperatures the ramp crew had all sorts of miseries getting ground support equipment running and we had to resort to some creative tactics to get our Boeing 727 powered and ready to leave. You could say we were highly motivated -- our destination was California!

I'll try to get that story posted tomorrow. Stay warm.

Feb 2, 2007

Jet Transport Training

Visit an airline training center and you might be surprised to find a lot more than the stereotypical rows of multi-million dollar flight simulators. Modern training programs flow us through a cascade of training tools, some of them decidedly low tech. In truth we'll spend most of our time splashing around in this low-cost end of the pool, before we get near the costly full-flight simulators.

Our most common training device is made of paper -- the aircraft operations manual. Most pilots begin lobbying to lay their hands on one as soon as they have a training date assigned. Throughout the course we'll pour over it marking key passages with coloured hi-lighter pens and memorizing the basics of the fuel, hydraulic and electrical systems. Much attention is focused on the section of the manual detailing the ramp check - the exact sequence we follow before each flight to confirm every switch and indicator in the flight deck is tested or set as required. From there we’ll continue memorizing the standard checks and drills at every phase of flight from ramp-to-ramp. Anything we can do to get ahead of the learning curve with these normal operations leaves us extra time later for the emergency and abnormal procedures. Airline training, in a bid to keep costs low, requires a rapid absorption of the new material, and has been likened to drinking from a fire hose.

When ground school officially begins we'll cycle our time amongst the computer based training kiosks (CBT) the panel mock-ups and of course the inevitable classrooms.

Computer-based training (CBT) is comprised of self-paced learning modules along with some simple simulations and animated diagrams we can interact with. Most pilots like it because we can zip quickly through the familiar parts and concentrate on the more difficult areas.

Time saved at the CBT kiosk will usually be reinvested in the panel mock-ups - the so-called paper tigers or bamboo bombers. These low-tech aids are merely large graphics of flight deck panels, mounted on wooden frames and arranged in the same relative position as we'd find them in the aircraft. Add a couple of classroom chairs, and they become the closest thing we'll see to an airplane until we prove we know our new procedures cold. Consequently, pilots huddle for hours amidst these pretend flight decks muttering mantras and waving their hands across the panels “touching” each switch and indicator as they go.

Classroom time is a chance for the instructors to reveal other mysteries such as the use of aircraft performance charts, checklists or quick reference booklets, and cover rapidly changing material that is unsuited to CBT.

Moving along the technology river as the course progresses, we'll encounter part task training (PTT) devices. With increasing electronics in the flight deck, PTTs are more important than ever. Most of us know from our own computers it takes pages of text to explain relatively simple tasks. Simple that is, once you can actually manipulate the controls. There is no substitute for actual button-pushing to learn the complex flight programming steps and to delve into the multi-functional possibilities of computer interfaces.

The creme-de-la-creme of PTTs is the fully integrated avionics suite that provides a stepping-stone from the paper tiger to the full flight simulator (FFS). Becoming familiar with the magic tubes is the key to mastering the new generation of 'glass' aircraft. Top-notch avionics trainers will fly us through a complete ramp-to-ramp sequence while we manipulate the mojo.

Finally we graduate to the so-called flight training phase -- which is actually accomplished on the ground in the full-flight simulator. It does confuse the language, doesn't it? Use of the airline's expensive, flying, fuel-sucking assets to shoot touch-and-goes at the local airstrip is not common any more.

This cascade of technology has been carefully developed not only to reduce overall training costs to the airline but it also optimizes the company's investment in the FFS. Each full-flight simulator is so expensive (as much as the actual aircraft) it must be used to the maximum. New-technology simulators are expected to routinely deliver 23 hours each day of training while the 24th hour is set aside for maintenance. Each time slot that's not needed internally becomes a commodity to be flogged to other airlines. It’s now routine to see pilots from smaller companies all over the world using these extra slots at larger airline training centers. Extra FFS training time is also sold by dedicated flight training companies.

Cascade training is also important in assuring that when the new pilot is turned loose on the line, to continue practicing on the unsuspecting public, he or she will have had many opportunities to repeat the normal flight operations. On the line we are constrained by the realities of the ticking clock and the unrelenting airspeed indicator. Even though newly-trained pilots will inevitably work more slowly for a while than their experienced colleagues they must still operate with a degree of speed and accuracy that only comes through repetition.

Despite all that, I still like the badge.
(link 'badge' to the newbies article)

Feb 1, 2007

Flight Simulators

When I began my career, flight simulators were pretty crude. They had a limited degree of motion and the visual system if installed at all, was a CRT screen mounted in front of each pilot which only displayed the outline of a generic night-time runway.

Top-of-the-line Level D simulators now go way beyond accurate flight and systems simulation. Through the use of sounds and vibrations and wrap-around 3D visual displays they produce a convincing experience of flight. So much so, that now pilots progress directly from their flight test in the simulator, to flying the line under supervision while carrying a normal load of unsuspecting revenue passengers.

This all comes with a large price tag though. A Level D simulator may cost as much as the real plane.