When I finished 727 Engineer School, I felt like I could build the airplane. The airplane was old, and so were the instructing methods. Logic dictated that the more you knew about a jet, the more likely you were to come up with solutions to complex problems. In more recent years, with heavier emphasis on checklists, the amount of memorization of facts, parts, and pieces has reduced dramatically. Today’s aircraft require more operational knowledge and less about the nuts and bolts.
Sitting sideways on the 727 was both fun and educational. Although I did have some important responsibilities, the most beneficial part of the job was watching and learning from the two seasoned United pilots in front of me.
Seniority was coming so fast that any flight engineer had the option to immediately upgrade to first officer on the 737, Airbus A320, or 757/767. Many captains reminded me that some pilots sat in the engineer seat for 15 years before having the opportunity to upgrade. Not me…. it was going to be smooth sailing compared to those poor guys.
So, I went back to training and was certified as a first officer on the Airbus A320 in September, 2000. Training went well, and because I successfully trained on a new aircraft, I did not have to complete my first year proficiency check (PC).
Now, let’s fast forward a year. I was very comfortable flying the A320 and thoroughly enjoying my trips. My first PC was scheduled for September 7-9, 2001.
Being my first check, I was both nervous and determined to prepare as thoroughly as possible. Fortunately, I had vacation scheduled immediately following the PC. I knew I could tirelessly prepare and then enjoy some rest and relaxation following the training event.
So, on September 7, 2001, a very jittery me walked into the training center in Denver. I wasn’t hungry, but, I grabbed a light breakfast at the cafeteria and reported immediately to the briefing room. A few minutes later, the captain I was paired with came into the room. I felt at ease. This gentleman was obviously in his late 50s and had a very warm demeanor. But, after pleasantries were exchanged, he looked me right in the eye and said, “I want you to know I’ve been through a lot of these….. and, I get MORE AND MORE NERVOUS about each one. I turn 60 soon, so this will be my last PC. Help me through it, will you?”
Great. I was the new guy and now I need to comfort him?
The PC at United is three days of ground school and simulator sessions. The first day is practice. The second day they test on maneuvers proficiency, and the third is an oral exam and simulated “actual flight” as a check ride. (Well, “actual flight” in that it starts and ends at a terminal gate. Something always goes drastically wrong between point A and point B.) I’m not sure why my partner was nervous. He did a great job and we both passed the PC without any major hiccups.
I left the building that day with renewed confidence. I suddenly realized I’d handled all United could throw at me. In the last two years, I’d interviewed, been through 727 school, A320 school, and now the PC. There would be no more mystery or unknown as I progressed forward in my career.
Remember that stupid grin from the new hire dinner? I must admit… it returned. Not in an arrogant way…. I was just plain happy. The whole flight home I smiled and thought about my family, our upcoming vacation, and the huge pay raise I was about to get going onto third year pay. I felt truly blessed.
It was September 9, 2001.
I literally didn’t have a worry in the world. Life was perfect.