Monday, July 11, 2011

Part 3: The Simulator Phase

Randy, Steve, Doug and I have completed groundschool and the Procedures phase of our 747 training and have moved on to the simulator phase, which, although far more intense, is a lot of fun. That is of course if everything is going well! We've been split off from Steve and Doug enjoying the "A" period that runs from 0500 to 1030 while Randy and I are assigned the "D" period that flies from 1800 until 2330. Surprisingly this period worked well for us. Although we finished late at night I got a good nights sleep and had the entire following day to exercise and study.

As I'd mentioned earlier, Randy and I are both captains which means that half of the four hour simulator period we'll be in the copilots seat assisting the other. Not optimum, but that's the way that it goes.

Our "D" period consists of an hour and a half brief from 1800 until 1930 and then in the simulator from 1930 until 2230. Sounds like a long time doesn't it? But you're so busy that the time literally flies by. Our schedule and syllabus are well laid out for us in our student manual so we know exactly what to expect and when, including the flight paperwork that we'd experience on line.

Randy is entering one of the two 747-400 simulators that the airline operates. This is sim session number 1 of 9 to prepare us for the LOE (Line Oriented Evaluation) nine days from today. But before we get to sim 9 and the LOE we'll have three days to prepare for our MV or Maneuvers Evaluation.

This is how our Singer-Link simulator appears as you step inside. To the uninitiated it looks exactly like a 747-400 cockpit and everything works as it is supposed to. Technically it's a "Six Degrees of Freedom Device" that refers to it's ability to move about in three perpendicular axis's. A little further along I'll show you the hydraulics that support this. It's also referred to as a Level D, full motion, visual flight simulator. It even smells like the airplane!

Let's step back in time and take a look at the old 747-200 flight simulator located just across the hall in a separate bay. Northwest operated its last 747-200 passenger flight on 12 September 2007 from Tokyo to Minneapolis with a stop in Seattle. The -200 entered service with NWA in 1975 and grew to a fleet of 22 aircraft. As an aficionado of the "three man cockpit" I'd loved to have flown this airplane. Click on this Trip Report to see pictures of NWA 76 on 21 July 2007, starring N623US from NRT to SPN.

747-200 Flight Engineer's Panel

Steve in the right seat is a 747 FO and instructor who flew with Randy on his Type Ride or LOE. Let's talk about the MV or Maneuvers Validation as we now approach Day 4 of our sim training. Each MV takes nearly two hours and includes a variety of maneuvers that include engine failures after V1, rejected takeoffs, windshear recovery and stalls, missed approaches with engines out, visual approaches with engines out, CAT I, II, and III approaches some with failed engines and missed approaches, non precision (VNAV) approaches, holding and more. 

The best advice that I was given was DON'T PLAN ON LANDING, plan on a missed approach and if you land it's a bonus. Again, if you've paid attention during the previous sim sessions, done a little "chair flying" in your room and are familiar with the procedures and manuals, you'll likely experience a positive conclusion. Another piece of valuable advise included not dwelling on mistakes. We all make them, the check pilot expects to see some, but also wants to see how you handle the adversity. If you allow the mistake to fester and infect the remainder of your ride he or she won't be happy. On the other hand if you recognize the mistake, correct it and move on things will be fine. All you've done is give your instructor something to debrief. I gave them many!

I administered many simulator checkrides in the DC-9 and 727. I anticipated mistakes and a certain level of nervousness and simply looked for a good solid ride, with good crew communications and systems knowledge. Apparently little has changed with this aspect from my days of instructing. The final criteria was and I suspect still is "Would I put my family on board with these guys?"

After successful MV's, Randy and I have been separated as we near our LOE. As Justin, sitting at the instructors panel positions the simulator at Narita, Randy preflights the airplane. Justin never planted any "Easter eggs" for us to find, he simply figured the previous crew as they exited in haste would leave enough as it is... and he was right. While he has one eye on his panel, the other watched us closely as we preflighted the cockpit, interrupting occasionally with questions or guidance.  

Another excellent instructor, Justin interspersed practical knowledge and real life scenarios that he'd encountered and passed along his experience. Thought out, scripted scenarios go a long way to effectively introduce problems and solutions, but "let me show you what happened to me one night out of Manila" from a guy thats been there is very effective.  

As I back my way out of the simulator Justin, Randy and Steve prepare to depart Narita for Manila for Randy's last sim session before his type ride tomorrow night. This nine days have passed very quickly though as the course nears completion. 

From ground level you get a better feel for the size of this machine. When the instructor selects the motion button, the ramp, in the raised position here to the right, raises and frees the simulator from its dock. The hydraulic legs provide all of the motion and direction required, in conjunction with the flight instruments and visual, to create pitch and roll, acceleration and deceleration and create a real time flight. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Which incidentally reminds me. Much of the input to new simulators is "touch screen", but keyboards still exist. Years ago, the student could easily hear the instructor "tap tap tapping" away back there and anticipate pending doom through an engine failure or some other catastrophic failure. He may simply be entering the weather at your destination, but you'd be keyed up for a major event. I never heard any keyboard clatter this time around which only added to the realism of the experience.

We're standing in front of the simulator looking back towards the dock and stairs that provide egress to the briefing rooms. There are several emergency motion shutoff switches located throughout the cockpit to take the simulator off motion. Why?? You may wonder. Many years ago when using the US Air 727 sim in PIT, Jerry Helmey and I were tossed about somewhat violently when the motion went "NUTS!" I was standing in the back of the sim with Jerry as the Flight Engineer instructor. The pilots, strapped in and secured, activated their shutoff switches located near their seat control levers and saved the day. 

Jerry retired off the 747-200 several years ago, but to see him today drop down to the Air West reunion post and you'll see him in the back row. Jerry, you look great and have hardly changed! Another excellent instructor from whom I learned much.

V1, rotate, as Randy departs off the "A" runway at Narita. The hydraulic legs rapidly thrust the machine forward and gently reach their limit inducing acceleration as he rotates towards 15 degrees of pitch attitude. Believe me... it's realistic, as you hear and feel your nosewheel tires thumping over the runway centerline lights. In reality though, we all move the airplane over just a bit to avoid these lights, but doing so in the simulator is fruitless because  these sensations are programmed in.

An A-330 simulator in the adjacent bay.

Twenty-four hours later, this is my view of the corridor that leads to the simulators and briefing rooms as I reach my moment of truth. Within moments I'll meet my simulator partner and check airman who will determine if I've prepared properly. Much goes through your mind as you proceed down the "corridor of truth;" are those my footsteps that I hear or my rapid heartbeat? I've taken this walk many times over the last 26 years at NWA and now DAL experiencing annual checkrides and type rating rides. Although I've acquired much experience over those years and know how the event is administered, this walk is no less apprehensive than my first. Doubt creeps in. You pray that you don't screw up and that you brought your "A" game with you tonight. It's a long, lonely walk as simulator scenarios, procedures and memory items pass through your brain.  

I'm here. This is room D248 where in 30 minutes or so we'll brief for my LOE.

I've arrived early to go over a few items in the QRH, Volume 1 and take one last look at the MEL manual. I've also pulled out my license, medical and radio operators license to be prepared when asked for them. It's Saturday night at 1900 hours, I've not seen another human since I entered the building and it's lonely inside my little cubicle as I hear a stall warning horn echo from a distant simulator bay. I'm not here alone after all, another pilot is demonstrating his or her skills tonight too. 

Saturday night! Most everyone else I know is out enjoying life on a Saturday night as I await my fate in this little cubicle.  What were you doing on Saturday night, 30 April at 1900 hours central time? 

Moments later, Gary walks into the room, extends his hand and says hello. After a little small talk we jumped into the computer to pull up and print my paperwork for tonights flight from Narita to Manila. There are eight different LOE flight scenarios; Gary simply enters my employee number and the computer chooses one of them and prints out everything we need. During the ensuing discussion of the flight, the flightplan and our MEL item, Gary has done a wonderful job of setting a comfortable environment. Any anxiety that I may have harbored has dissipated as we move forward. 

I didn't have time to take pictures though. I also thought it inappropriate to ask Gary if he'd mind if I periodically interrupted him to take pictures, so stashed my camera until the outcome was determined.

Steve (another Steve, not the fellow who flew with Randy) and I discussed our flightplan and MEL item before entering the simulator to accomplish our preflight inspections. I then briefed Steve and our lead flight attendant (Gary) concerning such items as our taxi route, departure procedure, flaps setting, weather, rides, and time en route. 

After taxi out and completing all of the appropriate checklists, we departed off runway 34L, flew a close in community departure and followed a standard LNAV/VNAV departure procedure. As is normally the case departing Narita, ATC stopped our climb at 7,000 feet and started issuing headings. I knew what was coming next!

Using "heading select" I followed the clearances, including a clearance to continue the climb to 10,000 feet when ATC called and cleared us to fly a particular heading to intercept a published airway to a point further along our flightplan. A sincere "thank-you," to Nicole, Justin, Brian and Rusty for squaring me away on these procedures.

While climbing through 25,000 feet at 320 knots, on course, on the airway our comfortable little environment was suddenly jolted to reality as red lights glared and shrill bells shattered the silence. Well, this is a checkride after all and a quick scan of our displays revealed that we were experiencing a forward cargo fire. There are few emergencies that demand your immediate attention, but a fire within the fuselage area is one of them. I handed the airplane over to Steve, asked him to declare an emergency and get a clearance directly back to Narita with an immediate descent while I reached for the QRH and selected the proper procedure. 

Steve's job is to FLY THE AIRPLANE AND COMMUNICATE and mine is to attend to the emergency and, as the captain, keep an eye on the airplane and maintain situational awareness. I need to be mindful of where we are, where we're going and catalog in my mind what's been completed and what remains to be accomplished. It's busy, very busy, but performing in an unrushed, methodical manner is crucial.

The index indicates that the Forward Cargo Fire procedure is in section 8.16 which I flip to quickly , read the title out loud and ask Steve if he agrees with the checklist that I've chosen. There's nothing worse on a checkride than working a procedure for many minutes, only to discover that as the procedure unfolds, it's apparent that you've chosen the wrong one. In this case we're in agreement and I move forward. Another important item. When you move a switch, first identify the switch and then confirm that what should have happened ... did! If you're opening or closing a valve, look to insure that the valve moved and that it didn't fail which would change how you proceed. Don't rush... identify your items first.

Upon completing the Forward Cargo Fire checklist, I checked in with Steve to let him know that I'd completed the procedure and to get an update. "Narita is closed" I've learned, it's gone below limits, so I ask the controller for the Haneda weather which is at CAT I limits. 

"Steve you still have the airplane and the radio, lets' go to Haneda" as I update the FMS and enter the anticipated runway, it's ILS and pull up an ATIS. At this point I'll leave Steve for a moment, call our lead flight attendant and brief him. "We have a possible forward cargo fire, will land in 10 minutes at Haneda and MAY have to evacuate... any questions?" Then I'll make a quick passenger PA and announce that we have a problem and will be landing in 10 minutes and to please follow the directions of our flight attendants.

The QRH procedure automatically leads me into the Descent and Approach checklists, so everything that I need is handy. I've determined that I don't have time to call my dispatcher, there's not much he can do for me now anyway, so I ask ATC to call them for me. Don't forget, I'm an emergency airplane and can do as I please.... that is as long as I'm right!!

As I'm reviewing what we've accomplished, Steve starts calling for flaps as the localizer comes alive. We've determined to do a flap 30 landing with auto brakes 3 and once more confirm that emergency equipment is standing by. The Emergency checklists, descent and  approach checks are complete, the weather is sufficient to land, the radios have been tuned and identified, flight attendants, ATC, company and passengers have been briefed. We're final approach fix inbound, configured and cleared to land. What could possibly go wrong??

As it turned out, nothing. Steve was still flying so I let him continue, freeing me to address anything should it occur. The landing was without incident; we turned off the runway and my ride was over. Gary slapped me on the back, congratulated me and welcomed me to the club.

OK, time to get the camera out!

I was tired, but it was a good feeling. It's still Saturday night though and I have time to celebrate.

Thanks very much to everyone in the training department who sincerely had my best interests in mind as I navigated the 747-400 training course.

Next up, OE with Gene.


  1. Thanks Rand,

    Great read as always. If you have a relief pilot or jumpseater sitting behind you, is it appropriate to use them during an emergency? Maybe have them talk on the radio or coordinate with the flight attendants while you and the FO fly the airplane and run checklists?


  2. Ha ha ha.What a great post!I love the description of the long,lonely walk.All that was missing was the priest reading from the Bible as you are marched from your holding cell to the"device".At least you know that's the last time you'll have to go through that process.Have you made a decision on flying past 60? Thanks,MikeV

  3. Awesome story Rand, felt like I was riding in the jump seat with the crew. Or in this case the simulators jump seat!

  4. Wow - another incredible read in the saga! That's quite a scenario they threw at you - cargo hold fire - then Narita closed? I guess all in the days work of a top airline captain! Thanks for sharing Rand!

  5. Quick question when you are talking to ATC in the simulator who are you talking to? An actual person or the computer?

  6. Captain Peck, your latest post is an incredible and interesting read, thank you! I felt as if I was there with you. Reading your posts makes me want to trade my desk job and Microsoft Flight Sim hobby in for the real thing!

    Ron in Phoenix

  7. Brandon,
    Yes, the jumpseater or extra crew member in the cockpit is a resource that we're encouraged to use. By all means, put him/her to work!

    Mike V,
    Excellent use of hyperbole, I wish that I'd thought of the priest angle and tied it in with Edmund Dantes, Abbe Faria and the forboding Chateau d'lf from The Count of Monte Cristo. Damn!
    By the way... I'm past 60. I'd thought about retiring, right up until I got the 747 bid.

    Haven't heard from you in a while. Thanks, that's my goal and I'm glad it worked.

    Thanks for your vote of confidence. The degree of difficulty all depends on the comfort level that the check airman brings to the table. If he opens with all the items that will end the check in failure... hold on, but if he dwells on success and a positive outcome, it most likely will end that way.

    When ever I speak with a resource outside of the cockpit, ie. ATC, dispatch, a flight attendant etc, the role is being played by the check airman administering the check ride or training. He wears many hats! Here's the trick though. I can't just pick up the mike and make a call, he's checking to see if I'm on the correct transmitter/frequency. If not he won't answer; they want realism.

    Don't give up your day job, but I'm glad to hear that you felt like you were in the cockpit with us.

    Thanks-you all,


  8. If you had a crosswind on your left engine and also had an engine failure on that side, which crosswind technique would you use to handle this situation?

  9. Rand, What a wonderful story. As you know I was recently Hired to my first 121 job. Reading about your ground and Sim experience really brought back the feeling I had just a few short weeks ago. Just so you know, I did pass my checkride, and I have now completed 6 days of IOE and should be signed off after one more two day IOE trip! One of my stops was in DTW and a Delta 747 gave way to us as we taxied to our gate. I had to smile looking up at that huge bird thinking of you!
    I appreciate all the advise and kind words you have given me, both (indirectly) in the blog and in personal contact. You are very much a part of my inspiration to have joined the 121 world!
    Congratulations on the new type, and the chapter in your book of life. I Look forward to reading about it.

  10. PS...I too had a March 28th class date at the American training center in Dallas.