It was so late that ordering breakfast seemed more appropriate than dinner. The food was pretty good, and the Denny’s waitress was thrilled to have two sober customers. Returning to the hotel, it was impossible to sleep on such a full stomach. Even using the rationale that my body was on Mountain Time, I still stayed up way too late and slept way too long into the morning. We were going to stay on the same simulator schedule for the next few days, so it was obvious we needed to make a change.
That afternoon, we wised up and decided to bring dinner to the training facility. Years ago, when I was a flight instructor in Florida, I would often buy deli sandwiches from Publix. Nothing beats freshly sliced Boar’s Head meats on fresh baked bread. As luck would have it, there was a Publix right down the street. We bought subs so we wouldn’t be starving by the end of the late night simulator session.
The remaining five simulator sessions were structured the same as the first. For the first hour, we attended a briefing with the instructor. The briefing always covered the agenda for the rest of the evening. Then, we would split the time as the “flying pilot” during the four hour simulator session. Upon completion, we’d debrief with the instructor for about thirty minutes. Then, back to the hotel.
It is safe to say we fell into a routine: Wake-up, eat lunch, study/prepare, Publix for subs, drive to the training center, brief, two hours in the simulator, inhale eat the subs, two more hours in the sim, debrief, drive back to hotel, sleep. Five more times. I started to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
The goal of the six simulator sessions was to prepare for the course completion check-ride. The lesson’s contents were dictated by the FAA approved syllabus. Common items on the check-ride were repeated throughout the sessions. The remaining time of each session was devoted to different, complex, time consuming problems. By the completion of the six sessions, we had been exposed to just about every normal and abnormal situation on the airplane.
I’ll briefly explain some of the more common training procedures. If you have questions or want more information, please feel free to comment at the end of this post. I’d be happy to discuss it further in the comments.
Normal Takeoffs & Landings
For obvious reasons, these are practiced every session. I suppose nobody wants to fly with a pilot who doesn’t know how to takeoff or land.
Landings are practiced in various weather conditions. Did you know surface winds have a large effect on the aircraft during landing? Even down low, the aircraft basically moves with the wind. So, a headwind will slow the aircraft’s movement relative to the ground. With a tailwind, an aircraft at the same airspeed will move faster over the ground. So, airplanes are landed to take advantage of the headwind component. But, the wind isn’t always aligned with the runway. A wind at a different angle than the runway is a crosswind.
Airplanes drift with the crosswind. With a crosswind from the right, the aircraft must be flown towards the runway angled, or “crabbed” to the right. If flown without the crab, the aircraft would drift to the left and miss the runway. Over the threshold of the runway, to avoid landing crooked, the nose must be straightened with the rudder and the wing lowered into the wind to prevent drift. In the simulator, we practiced landings with crosswind levels varying from benign to challenging. In case you were curious, the maximum crosswind component for the A320 is 38 knots.
All flights must make an “approach” to a runway. At the end of the approach, the aircraft is in a position to land. With so many different types, approaches take up a good chunk of any aircraft training course. Here’s a summary of the types of approaches we practiced:
- ILS: The Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach is the most common instrument approach used at airports in the United States. The ground based equipment emits two signals: a “localizer” for lateral guidance and a “glideslope” for vertical guidance. In low visibility, the pilot follows both the lateral and vertical track to the beginning of the runway.
- Non Precision: Approaches that offer lateral but no vertical guidance are non-precision approaches. Either a ground based navigational aid or satellite GPS provides lateral course information for the pilot to follow. The pilot is responsible for descending the aircraft at a predetermined point. Since these approaches are not as “precise” as the ILS, they are published to end much higher and much further away from the runway. So, they are mainly useful for descending below higher cloud layers and not efficient for very low visibility. We practiced several VOR, Localizer, and GPS approaches. The old and cumbersome NDB approach was finally eliminated from training.
- Visual: A visual approach is flown in nice weather by looking out the window and flying to the runway. On nice days, this is the most common clearance given to pilots.
Runway not in sight at the end of (most) approaches? Another aircraft on the runway? A service vehicle drives onto the runway? The last aircraft left debris on the runway? Deer??? Whatever the reason, the approach must be aborted and a “go around” must be initiated.
A go-around profile is very similar to a takeoff. The power is increased, flaps are retracted one setting, and the landing gear is retracted. Once on the climb-out, either ATC’s instructions or the published go-around procedure must be flown. Go-arounds are very busy and not done often on regular flights. So, they are practiced during all training events.
Three “V-Speeds” are calculated and marked on the airspeed indicator for all jet takeoffs. Here’s a real basic overview:
- V1 – Takeoff Decision Speed. After this speed, short of both engines failing, the takeoff will continue.
- Vr – Rotate Speed. The speed used to determine when to start the liftoff.
- V2 – Takeoff Safety Speed – Speed referenced during engine failures.
I mention the speeds now, but, will reference them again in the next section. Notice the first speed: V1. Below that speed, if anything abnormal occurs, the takeoff will be aborted. Just like the aborted approach, the takeoff may be aborted for numerous reasons.
During an abort, the thrust levels are pulled to command full reverse thrust. If above 72 knots, the automatic brake system applies maximum braking. The pilot must use the rudder pedals to keep the aircraft moving straight. The first officer radios ATC and reports the aircraft is aborting the takeoff. If at high speed, fire and rescue assistance will be requested to inspect the aircraft. When the aircraft comes to rest, the captain must assess the situation and advise the flight attendants and passengers whether to “remain seated” or evacuate.
In the real world, aborts are always anticipated but not expected. So, the simulator instructor generally gives no indication that a problem will occur.
There’s that V1 speed again…. it must be important.
Regulations require all takeoff performance to be calculated using the balanced-field concept. The runway will be long enough for the aircraft to takeoff or stop if an abort is performed. Before accelerating to V1, the aircraft can be stopped without going off the end of the runway.
So, what do you think would be the worst time for something to go wrong? If an engine were to fail right at V1, what would you do? Well, we go. They call it a V1 cut.
The V1 cut is used in all jet training courses. When the non-flying pilot announces “V1,” the instructor fails one engine. Due to the asymmetrical thrust, the pilot must keep the airplane rolling straight with the rudder pedals. Then, the airplane begins a slow climb when the pilot pitches up about ten degrees. Continued rudder pressure keeps the airplane aligned with the flight path. The pilot must adjust the pitch to climb at V2. Reaching a safe altitude, the appropriate malfunction checklist is completed. If there’s no obvious damage, an engine re-light may be attempted. If not, we’re stuck with just the one engine.
Regulations require airliners to be capable of meeting minimum climb performance with an engine inoperative. We can climb, cruise, descend and land the A320 with just one engine operating. Once the V1 cut climb profile is completed, one of the previously mentioned approaches is practiced using one engine. Basically, everything practiced on two engines is also practiced using one.
There are situations in flight where you just don’t want to find yourself. If any of these occur, an escape maneuver must be initiated. Fortunately, the A320 has complex systems to warn of each situation:
- Windshear: An abrupt change in wind, usually associated with thunderstorms and microbursts can be detrimental to flight. A full power escape maneuver must be initiated anytime indications are present or the airplane warns of “windshear.”
- Traffic Avoidance: All airliners come equipped with a Traffic Collision and Avoidance System (TCAS). The TCAS displays other aircraft relative to the current position. In the unlikely event another aircraft gets too close, the system will instruct the pilot to climb or descend.
- Terrain Avoidance: The A320 has an enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS). The system compares present position and altitude to a terrain database and maps surrounding terrain. If the system calculates a collision is possible, it instructs the pilot to climb.
Malfunctions and Other Procedures
As I mentioned, each simulator session included a few major malfunctions or procedures that are more time consuming to complete. These included:
- Hydraulic system failures
- Flight control failures
- Landing gear malfunctions
- Flap/slat malfunctions
- Electrical system failures
- Pneumatic/pressurization system failures
- Emergency descents
- Fuel system failures
The repetitiveness of the training helped tremendously. By the end of the sixth session, we were both comfortable with all the routine items and how to handle just about any malfunction.
Our course completion check-rides were scheduled for the next two days. I would complete mine first, and my partner would finish his the second day. We would be each others “non-flying pilot” for the check-rides. After working exclusively together for the last few weeks, we were both fully prepared to help each other succeed.
There were no jitters. Maybe because I’d already been through so many A320 check-rides? Maybe because the same examiner who conducted the orals was conducting the check-ride? Maybe I just wanted to go home? Or, maybe it was because our instructor said, “unless you guys fail to show up, you’ll pass.” Who knows… but, I enjoyed the night before the check-ride and slept very well. It was almost over and we were both more than ready to be done.