Miami will always be special to me. Before I transferred to F.I.T. in Melbourne, I spent my first year of college at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. It was a great year of school, but it started a little rough. On the first night, Hurricane Andrew roared through the campus. While we stayed huddled up in the hallways of the dorm, just about every tree on the campus was blown over or broken in half. In the morning, the campus looked like a war zone. Turns out, my location was actually spared from Andrew’s full wrath. Areas just a few miles south lost everything. My college debut was delayed three weeks while they put the campus back together.
So, I had to laugh when I saw the weather report on the CNN Airport Edition. For the second time in my life, I was about to board a flight to South Florida with a tropical system forecast to strike. Fortunately, this one paled in comparison to Andrew. It was forecast to dissipate to a tropical depression before reaching the Sunshine State.
Leaving the hotel for the Airbus Training Center, I wasn’t sure whether to drive the rental car or charter a boat. You know the kind of rain that you cannot see the space between the drops? It rained like that all night and all the first day. It took us almost an hour to drive the twelve miles from the hotel to the Airbus Training Center. Once there, we were given a briefing, tour of the building, and then set free to prepare for our Airbus A320 Oral Examination later in the day.
The course completion, or check-ride, of any aviation course always consists of an oral exam and flight proficiency exam. It has always been that way and probably will never change. (Sometimes I wonder if Orville and Wilbur orally quizzed each other before they took that first flight over one hundred years ago.)
Traditionally, both parts happen on the same day. Usually, an examiner administers the oral exam and immediately moves to the flight portion if the candidate exhibits sufficient knowledge. In Miami, this was done a little different. The oral exam was given first…. before any of the simulator training. Since we had just come out of the procedure trainers and computer based ground school, all the information was fresh in our head. Plus, that would be one less thing to be concerned about during our simulator check-ride. Some of my training partners needed the “rating” oral to earn the A320 type rating on their license. Others, like me, would complete the “proficiency check” oral since we were already rated on the aircraft.
On the first afternoon, I met the examiner in a small briefing room of the Airbus Training Facility. I liked him immediately. He was a retired airline captain with a calm, soothing demeanor. I sensed this would be a relaxed, professional oral exam. After the introductions and a bit of small talk, he launched right into the questions.
Rule number one of any oral: Never show up without having the aircraft limitations memorized. Examiners almost always start with the Limitations Chapter of the flight manual. It will set the tone for the rest of the exam. When asked a limitation, you must give an immediate answer with confidence and without hesitation. If not, it will raise serious red flags for the examiner. This guy was professional, but thorough. We went through them all. If you’re curious, here are a handful of the A320 Limitations:
- Maximum wind for passenger door operations : 65 knots
- Maximum altitude landing gear can be extended : 25,000 feet
- Maximum tire ground speed: 195 knots
- Maximum brake temperature : 300 degrees C
- Minimum oil temperature for starting engines : -40 degrees C (brrr!)
- Total fuel : 42,000 pounds
- Maximum takeoff weight : 169,700 pounds
- Maximum landing weight : 142,200 pounds
Rule number two for any oral: Always have “memory items” memorized. Yeah, that does sound redundant doesn’t it? In a few unique abnormalities, there isn’t enough time to pull out a check-list. So, the procedure must be memorized. My examiner stated the title of the procedure and I listed the memory items. Again, any hesitation with any of these items would have set a negative tone for the rest of the exam. We went through them all and quickly moved on to the systems questions.
For the aircraft systems questions, the examiner used the cardboard mock-ups of the A320 cockpit. Going in a logical flow, he asked questions about all the various buttons and systems in the aircraft. All the questions pretty much fall into one of the following types:
- What happens when you press this switch?
- What does a “fault light” on this switch indicate?
- How does this system work?
- What is the difference between AUTO and MANUAL for this system?
- Have you ever been in a Turkish Prison?
- Do you like movies about gladiators?
Well, ok, the last two are actually from the 1980 movie Airplane! I just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. 🙂
Usually, there are follow-up questions that lead to discussions and ultimately a “teaching moment” for the examiner. Examiners, especially retired airline pilots, always take the opportunity to teach a student something. To this day, I’ve never been to an oral exam I didn’t learn something new.
At the end, the examiner was satisfied with my knowledge of the A320. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. All eight of us passed our oral exams and were signed off to begin simulator training. It may have rained, but it was a great day in Miami.