Follow by Email

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Accidental Airline Pilot

I accidentally became an airline pilot.

Last August, the Seattle-based wireless start up I was working for laid me off.  The project I was hired to work on ended, and the new role really required someone locally in Redmond.  I wasn't interested in moving, mostly due to the insane property prices up there.

On that day, I put in an application on, just to see what would happen, not expecting anything.  Meanwhile, I started contracting for a wireless positioning company in Richardson TX, about 10 miles away.  When a locally-based airleine asked me to interview, at first I said "no".

Around Christmastime, the CEO told me he wasn't going to bring me on as a full time employee.  I was bummed, although frankly I wasn't very excited about the company or the job.  So I told the airline I would do the interview, not expecting much.  At the interview, I was surprised to be offered a job as a First Officer (FO) for one of the companies that operates as "American Eagle".  After soul searching and a long discussion with my wife over how we could live on 1/3rd of my salary, I accepted.

The regional paid for me to attend the 7 day CPT course at ATP, it was 4 days of classroom, mostly watching videos of landmark accidents and then a discussion of the causes. Colgan, Air France and a few others featured heavily. Then 3 sim sessions, 4 hrs in a CRJ/700 sim, 4 hrs in an MD80 sim, and 2 in an A320 sim. High altitude stalls, wake upsets, ILS Cat 2 and 3 and so on. Finally sat the ATP written and passed with 90%.

I started indoc at the airline in late February, 2 weeks of classroom reading from airline ops manuals, then a week on security, hazardous cargos etc. I got to put out a cabin fire, jump down the slide, and disable a would-be hijacker. Then almost a week off.

We started on systems in the morning for about 8 days, and procedures training in a "sim" each afternoon. I was teamed up with an upgrading captain, and the sim was a large screen running off a PC running Windows. We shared a mouse to "move the controls". For most of that time I was totally lost, it only started to come together right at the end.

After a weekend off, we started "Cockpit Procedures", which was slightly more sophisticated sim, in that it had multiple touch screens, laid out like a cockpit but still all driven off a PC. You could only touch one control at a time, and you couldn't actually turn a knob. We worked on profiles and call outs for 2 days, then I took systems and procedures validation tests. I passed the systems oral, failed the procedures practical.

I got one more day of training in the CPT trainer, and it seemed to all come together then and there. I retook the procedures test the next day, and passed fairly easily. One thing that helped was that I came in on my days off and stayed late to teach myself how to program the FMS (the airline did NOTHING to teach it to us, somehow we were supposed to learn it by osmosis).

Now Sim training is almost complete. I spent 2 weeks living in the Drury Inn next to STL airport, and going to 4 hr long sim sessions at FlightSafety.

The first 5 were very hard. It's not flying the airplane (which is not too difficult, apart from the speed with which things happen), it's managing the automation - specifically the guidance panel, which is like an autopilot on steroids with a bad attitude. On the 6th and final flight of the first week, I did much better and got signed off complete.

The second week started last Monday, and that went quite well. It was a simulated revenue flight BOS-JFK-BOS, I flew the 2nd leg and it went fine. It included a simulated rapid depressurization from FL390 to 10,000, which I performed, and an ILS CAT II into BOS. All Cat II approaches are flown by the FO.

After another session focused on emergency procedures, the 3rd session was maneuvers validation, part I of the ATP. I was unsat on the LOC approach (had helmet fire and couldn't remember the buttons to press on the GP until it was really late, resulting an an unstable approach), and didn't maintain V2+-10 on the V1 engine cut. Actually I didn't realize I had to be so precise - I thought it was an emergency and as long as I got a good climb going the rest didn't matter. No, you have to control the airspeed and heading to ATP standards while managing the emergency.

After telling me I'd busted the ride, the examiner started to teach me tricks the other instructors hadn't. Then with his guidance I did each maneuver to standard. If only I'd had him as my instructor!

The airline scheduled me for a remedial training sim session the very next day, but using my new tricks I just "flew through" it all with no issues. So now I'm signed off for a retake, but sitting at home waiting for a revised schedule.

My takeaways - once you're in the program, the airline wants you to succeed. However, you won't get any extra help until you start busting stage checks. I was saying I needed extra time right from the start - I just don't learn as fast as those 20 and 30 year olds, something that pains me to admit. But I didn't get it until I got incomplete on the checks.

However, if they don't think you CAN make it, they will punch eject quickly - or you will. Several have dropped out already, but I'm still here. I'm not quitting.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Bye bye 2018

It's the end of another year.  Ooo, 2 posts in the same year - what can that mean?

This is me in August 2018, holding a freshly printed CFI Multi Engine Instructor (MEI) certificate, obtained in this very same Cessna 310R.  Oddly, the whole checkride went much better than the commercial checkride.  Perhaps it was just that I had more multiengine time and felt more confident.  Perhaps it was because I didn't have to do the dreaded single engine instrument approach.  Anyway, I knew as I approached for the final landing that I'd nailed it with nothing even close to exceeding the PTS parameters.

A friend and student of mine "K" came along for the ride, and on the way back I let him fly from the left seat and I gave him a free multi-engine lesson.  Now he wants to buy a Cessna 310.  Don't blame me, I was just the "connection".  It is a heck of a plane.

In other news, the Seattle-based company I was working for laid me off.  It wasn't a surprise, the aviation-related project I'd been working on was cancelled by the customer, and I wasn't prepared to move from Dallas to Seattle as was really needed to make work what they wanted me to do.  I almost instantly got contract work, although I think that's ending soon.

Around the same time, I flew the Bonanza up to Geneva NY to pick up Sally after she had driven from Dallas to NY with Thing 2.  I stopped for one night in Cincinnati to visits "D" who now lives there, but we didn't have time to fly his 172.  The next day I flew to Niagara Falls, and rented a car to drive up to Toronto to visit family.  While there, my uncle showed me a model he'd made of my Bonanza - and here it is, with the real thing at Niagara:


Meanwhile I've been doing a lot more instruction, with "M", a high school senior planing a career in aviation, "T", the owner of fence company who wants to buy a Cessna 182, and "D", an exp-pat Brit living in Dallas.  And "A2", another ex-pat Brit, and several others.

So I passed the ATP experience minimums in December 2018.  What next?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Year Later

An update from the path of life - subtitled "At Least I Blog Once A Year"

May is about to wilt and wither from the Texas heat and become June.  Time to update my few but loyal followers!!  ;)

First, what happened to the Cessna 150?  Who knows?  The insurance company took it, and the registration hasn't been renewed.  My guess is that it was parted out and is no more.

The Bonanza got better, and my wallet got thinner.  I had almost all the old radios taken out, and some are as I write, on eBay being sold so that they can grace another airplane.  I bought a used Garmin GNS 530W to supplement the existing 430W, and replaced the old Garmin transponder with a new GTX 345 to add ADS-B in and out and become 2020 compliant.  While I was in there I had the Garmin 496 moved from it's wobbly mount to a Gizmo panel mount, and coupled to the other GPS.  So now I have weather and traffic on 3 displays if I use my iPAD with Foreflight, which seems to be enough duplication.

I finally finished the Commercial multiengine add-on.  An MEI friend owns a Cessna 310R, and I started to train with him at no cost to me, because I'd helped him out a few years ago while he was getting his initial CFI license.  But life and maintenance intervened, and I went to a small flight school north of Ft Worth which has a Piper Aztec available at a reasonable price.  So in April I took and passed the test in the Aztec, in my opinion flying the worst I had ever flown.  I knew I could do everything, but on the actual test nothing went as well as it should have - nerves, I suppose.

But I passed.  Now I'm flying the 310R again and getting ready to do the MEI add on:

I stretched the legs of the Bonanza on my last trip to Upstate NY.  I flew my wife "Sally" and Thing 1 from Dallas to Walnut Ridge (KARG), a 2.3 hr flight, then another leg of similar length to Dayton Wright Brothers (KMGY) where we spent the night.  The next morning, another 2.5 hr leg took us to Penn Yann NY (KPEO) where I rented a car, and we drove to Thing 2's college in Geneva NY.

By early the next morning I had the Bonanza loaded up with all the "stuff" from her room, including a bicycle and fridge.  Sally and both Things together started off to drive the little red car back to Texas, and I flew the whole way in 2 legs of just under 4 hours each.  Good job my panel upgrade also included a Bluetooth link so I could play music over the headset, and make phone calls.

Weather was moving in over Indiana and Kentucky, so I diverted my IFR flight to Monroe County  (KTZV) in Southern Kentucky, a totally deserted field with cheap fuel and an clean but unmanned FBO.  After taking on nearly 60 gallons, I blasted off again to dodge light rain showers near Memphis (which showed up nicely on my ADS-B WX display), and landed in North Dallas around 4pm after another quick refueling stop in Sherman (KSWI).

Probably I was the only person in the Universe amused by the fact that I had to make use of the portable "Travel John" right as I was flying over Hot Springs at 11,000ft.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Big Update

Well, it's been almost 2 years since I last wrote in this blog.  So what's been happening?

In the Summer of 2015, "D" passed his private pilot test, and soon afterwards, so did "P".  And not long after that, in the late fall of 2015, I lost my job.

So for the next 4 to 5 months I flew most days, and also taught some ground school.  By Christmas of 2015, I went over 1,000 hrs total time.  In the spring, I had another 200 hours under my belt, when I found a consulting job, working for a start-up company in the Seattle area.

I also started working on adding multi-engine to my commercial license.  I began in a Beechcraft Baron, but the instructor (and owner) had a difficult schedule, and I switched to a different school with a Beechcraft Duchess.  I took my commercial ME checkride between Christmas 2016 and New Year 2017, and failed.  A couple of problems, one was clearly my fault, the other I think was my instructors fault.  But either way it was a failure (first ever), and now I'm about to get on the horse again and finish. Especially since I'm going to need a BFR - I prefer to get more ratings instead!

In March of 2017 I sold my Cessna 150 - to the insurance company.  A spring TX hail storm broke the canopy and dented the wings and horizontal tail, and the insurance company wrote it off.  Fortunately they are reselling it and I hope it will fly again.

D moved to Cincinnati OH, and tomorrow I'm flying his 172 from TX to OH, and with luck and fair weather, getting to visit the USAF museum in Dayton on Saturday.

Of course, a lot more than this has happened, Thing 1 finishes college in Arkansas next week, and Thing 2 just accepted an offer to attend college in upstate NY.  Our dog died and we got 2 cats.  Still have the Bonanza, thinking about adding ADS-B and a bigger display.  But that's for another time.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Long Haul - D becomes a Private Pilot

D came to me in March 2012, frustrated.  He owned a very nice Cessna 172N, and had around 60 hours in his log book, and wasn't satisfied.  "He won't teach me how to land!" he said, referring to his prior instructor, the same person who was my own instructor for my commercial test.

Looking through his logbook, I found he'd had 3 or 4 instructors over the past couple of years, several of whom had been my instructors.  D is a naturalized American citizen, born in Brazil, he speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and English and works in international tech support for a telecoms company.  He is very intelligent, and very, very careful and methodical - in all 4 languages.

We started to fly together, I found he could do the basics - take off, set a course and hold altitude, do normal turns and slow flight.  After a while, we went to Mesquite airport (KHQZ) and started touch and goes, making 4 turns around the pattern.  At the end of June 2012 after about 25 more hours, D finally soloed.

Next on the task list was to learn to handle flying in and out of AeroCountry (T31), where D kept his Cessna.  While Mesquite and McKinney (KTKI) each have long and wide runways suitable for jets, T31 has a 3,000 ft, more narrow runway with trees alongside the northern end, a road with a fence and telephone wires at the south end, and hangars running all along the West side.  The winds are difficult at best, and any cross wind results in unpredictable swirls from all sides, as the wind whistles over the trees or around the hangars.  In July, D soloed at T31 too.

AeroCountry Airport from the South, looking at Runway 35

You might think this was slow progress.  But D is very methodical, and can't be pushed.  He looks down to make sure the ground is secure before taking a step (metaphorically speaking).  He drives well within the speed limit at all times.  His pre-flight check takes half an hour, and involves flash lights and dental mirrors.  After each flight, he gets a rag and wipes down the wings, cowling and tail.  Arrggghhhh!  Not like me at all.  I need a checklist to make sure I check everything.  D needs a checklist to prevent him from fixating on step 2.

In August, we did a couple of dual cross countries.  Then, he vanished for a year.  In June 2013, we started flying together again, this time working on crosswinds, emergency procedures and I signed him off for 90 days of soloing.  In September 2013, we did a night dual cross country, and he did his solo cross countries, but mostly seemed content to fly the pattern.

In November, we started working towards his test, but while doing touch and goes at McKinney, his engine started to run rough.   I took over, and climbed above the field in case it was about to die.  We had about 80% of full power, and I decided to head back to T31 (8 miles West) at 3,500ft, keeping above the fields to the north of 380.  Once on the ground, we determined that the engine ran well on the left magneto, but sputtered badly on the right.

A few weeks later came the bad news.  The airplane, built in 1977, still had the original engine which was now over TBO and the shop was recommending an overhaul.  D didn't have the money to get a re-manufactured or new engine, and in his painstaking way, started to overhaul the engine himself, under the supervision of an IA.  This took FOREVER!!!

In August 2014, D called me to tell me that the engine was ready and installed, and he wanted me to help him test fly it and break it in with several hours of high power flying.  One of those flights was to Arkansas, to deliver my daughters left-behind computer when she left for college.  Finally in September, the engine was broken in and we could start to recover lost time.  I thought.

However, once endorsed to solo, D vanished again, reappearing every 90 days to get a fresh solo endorsement.  Until in May 2015, he discovered that his written test, which can be used as part of the requirements to take the private test, was about to expire at the end of June.    That meant his choice was either to take it again in July, or finally finish his training and take the test.  Quickly.  So we started flying together to get him ready to take the private pilot test.

We did a simulated test, with me acting as the examiner.  He was awful.  Many of the maneuvers he hadn't practiced since 2012 or 2013.  Other we hadn't done at all.  However, with a scheduled test looming D finally had incentive and drive to get it done, and on June 23rd 2015, D got his Private Pilot license at McKinney TX with 135 hrs in his logbook.  "I never thought I'd get this far", he told me.  "I just wanted to fly!"

Monday, April 13, 2015

First solo!

After using the Eastman method to increase the number of touchdowns per approach, P soloed on Saturday.....

And then came the traditional clipping of the tail feathers.....

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Eastman Method

Last week I read an article in CFI-to-CFI by Rod Machindo, about something called the Eastman method (by him).  Now Rod likes to write funny things, and much of what he write is not to be taken seriously.  But this was about a gentleman called - wait for it - Eastman, who built his own single seat airplane many years ago and taught himself how to fly it.

Yes, a single seater.  Illegal nowadays, but back then just following in the Wright brothers tradition.  So what Mr. Eastman did was to taxi slightly faster each time, until the airplane just started to fly, then he'd land it and taxi back.  That way he learned to land at the same time that he learned to fly, and by the time he gave it full power and took off around the pattern, he already knew how to land.

Student P has been ready to solo for the past 5 hours, but he's been unable to conquer landings.  At about 50 feet his careful co-ordination goes to pot, the nose starts to wander left to right, up and down, and he gets too slow and levels out too high and lands with a thump thump thump, and no matter what I say he doesn't get it.  So then we take off and 10 minutes later we've flown 8 miles around the pattern for 10 seconds of thump thump thump.

It wasn't working.

So last Saturday morning, P and I headed north to Grayson County airport, now known as North Texas Regional.  KGYI has a 9,000 ft runway, and a cooperative control tower.  I called the tower 10 miles out, and at 5 miles asked if we could do multiple touchdowns on each approach using the length of the runway.  "Sure!" they said.  "Cessna xyz cleared for the option runway 35 Right!"

Our first approach we did 4 touchdowns and used 8,000 feet.  They weren't good apart from the first one.  The rapid transitions were too much for poor P.   The next time around we got 3, which worked better, as I handled the take offs and handed controls back to P at about 30 or 40 feet.  The third time around we'd worked out the procedure.  He did all the landings, then I would take over, keeping the flaps down I would add power, climb to 30 feet and accelerate to normal landing speed.  Then I'd hand him the controls in a more normal configuration of speed, height and flaps.

By the end of 90 minutes, we'd done more than 20 touchdowns, and P was handing them like a pro.  Next step, SOLO!!

The keys for any CFI or student - allow about 3,000 for each touchdown, roll and take off (3 was comfortable on the 9,000 foot runway, using 7,000 ft and departing with 2,000 ft remaining; 4 was not).  The CFI should do the funny/weird stuff like taking off in landing configuration and only expect the student to do the actual landing.  Once airborne, the CFI should accelerate the aircraft to normal approach speed before handing over control - not doing that sets up the plane for a nose high, slow speed mush to the ground.  And find a place with a cooperative tower or a quiet uncontrolled field.

Thank you, Mr Eastman, and Mr. Machindo.  P thanks you too!