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 airlineapps.com, 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
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
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!
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
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.
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