Sunday, May 27, 2007

I did 3 1/2 Pilot Proficiency Checkrides yesterday. Let me tell you all about it.

Last week, two company pilots and I went down to a FlightSafety training center in the United States to undergo recurrent training, leading up to a checkride which renews our certification on the jets we fly.

I talked a bit about the actual recurrent training in my last post - it consists of groundschool and lots of training in a full-motion simulator, which is a fairly accurate computer-driven model of our cockpit, complete with fancy graphics projected through the cockpit windows to give the illusion that we are actually flying our jet, but without any risk of dying if we screw things up.

I have taken the Company Check Pilot course, which will eventually see me certified to conduct checkrides on our company pilots, but I still have some additional training to do before that all goes through, so I had to arrange for a Transport Canada inspector to conduct our recurrent checkrides.

In our company, we are all qualified as Captains. But we legally need 2 pilots to operate our jet, so we also need to be qualified as First Officers, or 'co-pilots' in non-aviation-speak. In order for a Transport Canada Inspector to sign us off, the inspector needs to see us demonstrate our proficiency in both roles and seats.

In airplanes, the left seat in the cockpit is the Captain's seat, and the right seat is the First Officer's seat. We swap seats on every other flight, so half the time we act as Captains and half the time we act as First Officers while the other guy acts as a Captain. In our operation, the person sitting in the Captain's seat flies the airplane, and the person sitting in the First Officers seat operates the radios and runs through the normal checklists (when things are operating normally) and the emergency checklists (when things aren't operating so normally).

The ride sequence went thusly:

First Ride: A fellow pilot acted as Captain, and I acted as First Officer.

Second Ride: I acted as Captain and the fellow pilot acted as First Officer.

Third Ride: A second fellow pilot acted as Captain, and I acted as First Officer.

Third and a halfth Ride: I acted as Captain while the second fellow pilot acted as First Officer. This ride was shorter as the Inspector only needed to make sure the second fellow pilot was capable of acting as a First Officer during an emergency.

Each checkride takes around 1 1/2 - 2 hours, and we either pass as a team or we fail as a team. That means that even if I'm just acting as the First Officer (co-pilot), if the other pilot makes a serious mistake and I don't catch it and do something about it, the Transport Canada Inspector can suspend our licenses to fly our jet, and our licenses to fly in cloud.

As I was a crewmember on all our checkrides, my license was in jeopardy the entire time.

After the second ride was over, I had successfully completed both portions of my recertification, so it was really hard for me to get back into the simulator for the remaining checkrides. But the other pilot needed a crewmember and I drew the short straw, so after chugging a diet Red Bull, I dragged my sorry behind back into the sim and we went at it.

When I get a .pdf scan of my actual checkride report I'll post it here and go over the Inspector's notes so you can get a better sense of it.

But for today's post, I'm going to go over the sequences that we covered during my Captain's ride (ride #2).

So let's do it:

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Four of us were in the simulator; myself and the first officer, the Transport Canada Inspector, and the FlightSafety guy who operates the simulator from the control panel behind the cockpit.

The Transport Canada guy had given the sim operator a script of our checkride beforehand, so the sim guy had everything queued up when we got in.

He set the simulator to Memphis International Airport. No particular reason other than the simulator database of Memphis is pretty detailed, and we had done some of our previous simulator training in Memphis, so we were reasonably familiar with the airport layout.

Our initial weather was a 200' ceiling with 1200 rvr, which is pilot geek-speak for 1/4 mile visibility in fog. For those of you who aren't familiar, that's pretty low visibility - at 1/4 mile visibility during takeoff, we can see about 7 seconds ahead of us. In fact it's the minimum visibility that we can legally attempt to take off in.

We ran through the before-start checklist, and got ready to fire up the engines. The first engine start was uneventful, but when I went to start the second engine, the engine temperature quickly soared, and I had to abort the engine start before the fan blades melted. That's known as a 'hot start' in jet pilot parlance.

The simulator instructor reset the sim, and I started the second engine without difficulty.

After the after-start checklists, we got taxi clearance to a nearby runway. Because of the low visibility, we had to make sure we knew exactly where we were at all times, lest we accidentally taxi down the wrong taxiway and end up on an active runway. We also had to consider the possibility of encountering other airplanes on the taxiway, so we lit up all our available lights to make sure we were as visibile as possible.

We found our assigned runway, and taxied onto it to await our takeoff clearance.

The FlightSafety sim guy was acting as our simulated Memphis Tower control, and he made a point of telling us that there was a large puddle of standing water on our simulated runway, about 2,000 feet down. I discussed that with my first officer, and we had to recalculate the previously computed takeoff and landing distances to take into account the wet runway. But the most important part of having a big puddle on the runway is that in the Citation 550 (my jet), the nosewheel is designed to deflect water to the sides, away from the engines, but if it is damaged, then water can possibly get into the engines during takeoff. If too much water gets into a jet engine, it can cause the engine to flame-out and stop working.

This was my cue to expect something dramatic on takeoff. Oh, also the fact that I was taking a checkride in the simulator. That also told me to expect something dramatic.

With quivering hands I pushed the engine power levers forward and had the first officer set the engines to our maximum allowed takeoff thrust settings. I released the aircraft brakes and we started to haul ass down the runway.

//A brief aside:

In a multi-engine airplane, before every takeoff we calculate a certain speed, called V1. If something bad happens on the takeoff roll, but before V1 is achieved, we pull back on the throttles, stomp on the brakes, and stop. If we reject a takeoff at significant speed, like a hundred miles an hour, our brakes are going to heat up to 700 degrees C, and possibly fail, which might lead to us running off the end of the runway at high speed, which is a BAD THING. If something bad (like an engine failure) happens after we are going faster than V1, it's safer for us to continue the takeoff, climb out and return to the airport than it is to attempt to stop on the runway.

We had calcuated our V1 for this takeoff at 102 knots, which is just under 120 miles per hour.//


Anyway, we were hustling down the runway in Memphis, right as we drove over the simulated pool of water, and at 103 knots, my left engine failed.

Quelle surprise.

We were past V1, so I continued the takeoff and we started to climb out with only 1 engine working. In 1/4 mile visibility. At our maximum gross weight. That's when things got kind of busy...

More tomorrow.

4 comments:

Evgeni said...

Oh, come on. You had to stop there?!?!
I'm looking forward to the continuation.
I always assumed that a pilot's biggest stressor was the medical, I guess not. A necessary evil to make sure you're always profecient.
How often do you have to do this?
Also, once you become the check pilot, are you going to be responsible for doing the TC' job for your crew? If so, who will judge your performance?

Pedro said...

Can't wait to read epsiode II :D

BTW, loved the // to start and end the sidenote... it reminds me of the C++ programming language comments LOL... boy you are geek! hehe

Anonymous said...

wow, already looking forward to the next on :)

/a fan in sweden

Anonymous said...

great place to stop :)