Monday, June 27, 2011

Part Two of my 747-400 Checkout.

A quick thank-you to everyone at who have discovered my blog and sent along many kind remarks. 

And another thank-you to APO Armed Forces, Europe, Middle east and Canada, I appreciate your stopping by and hope that you're safe.

Thanks again, Rand (former 05B20)

OK, time to resume my 747 adventure. Sorry for the delay, but after finishing a ten day Asian trip and a ten day Tel Aviv trip I needed a little recovery time to square myself away. Four Pacific crossings with inter port flying in between, followed by two North Atlantic crossings beyond Europe is fatiguing. Also, Delta is moving much A-330 and A-320 flying from some bases to others, mostly to ATL, thus opening up a new system bid and a reshuffling of the deck. After just a month on the airplane I narrowly avoided getting bumped from the 747 in this large shift of assets. 

As much as this would have displeased me after a long training program... that's the way that it goes! You have to be flexible, it's all about seniority.

This is Part 2 of my 747 training that includes ground school and Procedural Training.

On 28 March I showed up at the Delta MSP training center, formally NATCO, to start my 747 training program. I'm still acclimating to the new signage. My classmates and I would be here for approximately one month for ground school, SIT training and simulator training. The training department shipped my manuals a month earlier to my home in New Hampshire allowing me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the airplane. The more you know before arriving the better so I utilized layovers in Narita to learn aircraft systems, limitations and checklists. It was time well spent.

Our accommodations at the downtown St. Paul Holiday Inn along the Mississippi River are excellent. My room is spacious, clean and quiet and the hotel personnel are very accommodating. In fact when I checked out I complimented the manager on his staff. 

The hotel makes every effort to sequester flight crews, separating us from the general population thus avoiding crying babies and tourists next door. There are many good restaurants nearby, a small grocery store and ample walking routes for exercise. I learned years ago to get out and walk everyday after school to clear my mind and move my body. Good rest and reasonable exercise are key for me to complete a program.

Before leaving home for training I called the Holiday Inn and requested a corner room with a river view as instructed by my friend and 747 FO Dave Larsen. They graciously accommodated me and here's my view. But the problem was I'd constantly push my books aside to look out the window at river traffic that I found interesting. To make matters worse... downtown St Paul Airport is in the background! Airplanes and boats, how can I be expected to study?

Now out of my room and past the sign, here's the training center. I've spent much time here over the last 26 years checking out in or taking check rides in the DC-9, 727, DC-10, A-320, 757 and now the 747. I had the opportunity to visit the ATL training center when NWA pilots checked out in the 767 a year or so ago. By the sounds of things and a few local newspaper articles though, it appears that all training will be moving to ATL shortly and NATCO will be a thing of the past. I also worked here as a DC-9 and 727 sim instructor and check airman. The difference when you walk through the front door as an instructor rather than a student is entirely different. It's jeopardy versus non jeopardy. This is when you know if you've prepared well enough or wish that you'd done more if your anxiety level rises as you approach the door. 

On the other hand, training departments seem to have become much more friendly over the last ten years, so much of this anxiety can be self imposed. With one exception, many years ago, every training event and checkride that I've experienced has been with instructors who have been nothing but helpful, if not encouraging. But that one guy always sticks in your mind.


We're inside the main reception area and many of you will recognize the blue/yellow Link Trainer from previous posts. This migrated here from Wisconsin Central Airlines, the predecessor to North Central Airlines. I had two of these trainers, stored in my barn for years and donated them to the National Museum of Commercial Aviation in Atlanta. Started by former NWA captain, now DAL A-330 captain Chuck Maire, he's accomplished great things with this new museum. I've also reincarnated my old flight bag and given it new work as I used it to transport my new manuals to MSP.

We're in classroom C211 outfitted with the basic podium, computers and aircraft panel layouts. We'll be in this classroom weekdays between 0800 to noon listening to lectures and watching videos with time available for questions and clarification from instructors. Most courses work on the 50 minute hour concept with a ten minute bathroom break or stroll to the cafeteria. I like this approach as it gives your brain a moment to rest, take a break and absorb information. I also appreciate the opportunity to get up and move a bit.

My seat perspective in room C211 as we discuss rudder control. These slides or schematics are generally very good and reveal much with just a glance. The upper and lower rudders are pretty straight forward. The upper rudder is powered from hydraulic systems two and three while the lower rudder is powered from systems two and four. All of the flight controls for that matter receive hydraulic pressure from more than one system insuring redundancy. The electrical system even lends a hand as a backup source of power for some flight controls.

The only component that you may be unfamiliar with is the "Rudder Ratio" system that controls rudder movement by airspeed. In other words the slower you're flying, the more rudder "throw" or authority you have. As airspeed increases your rudder authority diminishes to protect the vertical stabilizer from large movements at high speeds that could do damage. The ailerons operate in the same fashion. The inboard ailerons function at all times, but the outboard ailerons, to avoid unwanted rapid roll rates, diminish with airspeed and lockout entirely above a pre-determined airspeed. Years ago we'd be required to know that speed and likely have it surface during a type rating oral, but today it's enough just to know that they lockout.

During my DC-9 and 727 type rating orals many years ago, I'm convinced that if I'd brought my roll around tool chest with me I could have disassembled and reassembled both airplanes during the oral phase. Fortunately, check airmen rarely delve into such minutia these days. At this age I only have three brain cells left. I use one to remember my first name, another to remember my last name and the third to store everything else!

Generally when the electrical system of most any airplane surfaces you can hear an audible groan from the class. These systems are complex, but for some reason it's one of the systems that gives me the least heartburn. On the other hand I cringe when asked questions about pneumatics. I only hope the next guy to administer my annual training doesn't read this!

Here's the AC electrical system schematic concerning aircraft 6301 through 6314. Apparently aircraft 15 and 16 have subtle differences that require a separate schematic. It's pretty straight forward; we have four engines that drive four generators or IDG's as they're designated (integrated drive generators) that power a variety of AC busses, emergency busses and eventually DC busses through TR's or transformer rectifiers. A TR changes, or rectifies AC to DC and inverters change DC to AC. 

The electrical system can as well be powered through its split bus system from ground power or from the APU. What's new for me, is that this is the first jet that I've flown that you're prevented from starting the APU in flight, nor can you use that APU's electrical capability in flight. You can take off with it running and pneumatically power a single air conditioning pack up to 15,000 feet but design engineers determined that with four generators supplying ample electrical power, the APU generator in flight was simply overkill. Three IDG's and even two with some auto load shedding can furnish all electrical capability needed.

On two engine jets, like the 757, 767 or the DC-9, the APU generator is considered a standby source of electrical power in flight should an engine fail or if one or both I suppose, generators should fail. An engine failure checklist or a generator failure checklist would direct you to start the APU and bring its generator on line. Engineers, they think of everything don't they?

Finally, here are my classmates: Randy seated, Steve standing to the left of the cockpit panel and Doug to the right. Robin to the left of the projector screen is our classroom instructor today. He's a former Naval Aviator, A6's and is the voice on most of our video and slide presentations. He's extremely knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge; attributes of an excellent instructor.

This is the first time in my career that I've been to upgrade training with such a small class as I've generally experienced groups as large as 30 with a variety of captains and copilots. We're all captains here which presents a problem once we get to the simulator phase. We'll be switching seats depending upon whose turn it is to fly which is less than optimum. But once again... that's the way that it goes. Nearing the end of the simulator phase and for our type ride we'll be separated and have a fully qualified FO.

Randy and I were hired together in the same class on 22 April 1985 at Republic and hadn't seen one another in many years. Steve and Doug, whom we'd never met before were senior to us by several months and had been hired at NWA. With the exception of Doug who was coming off the A-330, Randy, Steve and I had years of experience on 757's and 767's certainly giving us a leg up. Probably the most formidable segment of training is learning the FMS or aircraft computer system which Doug, who spoke Airbus needed to learn from scratch.

Steve, Randy and Doug. Robin at the computer.

Earlier I referred to SIT training. It's also known as PT or procedural training. Although I have no idea what the acronym stands for here's what it is. In the afternoons, after classroom lectures, videos and computer work, we take that knowledge into this room and apply what we've learned with some hands on training. Robin, sitting at the control monitor, introduces problems that we discover in the normal course of flying. Using Volume 1 and our QRH we set about solving these problems while we fly, thus performing approved procedures, familiarizing ourselves with manuals and checklists and learning exactly where system controls are located in the cockpit. Solving just one problem covers a large area of learning. 

Randy with Brian, another instructor whom we enjoyed. Brian (former Air Force) gave us our PV. Unfortunately I have no pictures of Deb who guided us through the emergency equipment and administered our SV.

This device is interactive and is touchscreen activated. As we solve fuel, hydraulic or electrical problems we can follow along on the systems pages to see our progress or watch exactly what occurs with that system as we move switches. 

"Oh, so that's the valve that closes when I move this switch." A picture is worth a thousand words as they say.

Here's a better view of the screens set up like a cockpit. Everything works as it does in the airplane. It really is a great learning and procedural tool. Randy has Volume 1 open on his lap as we'd just finished solving a pneumatic problem.

As nice as our SIT trainer is, this is what the Airbus crews have to work with across the corridor... joystick and all. I remember using these devices when I checked out as an A-320 captain. Rather than using a touch screen, all the switches and computer inputs work exactly as they do in the airplane.

OK, we've had enough for a while so we'll shuffle down the corridor to the social center of NATCO and visit the cafeteria for lunch. It's rather empty now, but shortly will be a bee hive of activity as classes and sims break for lunch. The food here is rather good and the caterer provides a remarkably good variety including Starbucks coffee. I try to stick to the soup and salad bars for lunch to avoid over indulgence and that sleepy feeling that follows in the afternoon. 

It's fun to run into old friends here that you've not seen in years attending for annual check rides or checking out in new equipment. 

Lunch break times vary from 30 to 60 minutes depending on your afternoon activity and when the class wants to finish for the afternoon. I've even brought lunch back to a classroom and eaten during a lecture to expedite our release time. 

A variety of on board life rafts

Today, after our lunch break we'll visit the emergency equipment room and learn about life rafts, doors, fire extinguishers and medical kits. My last visit here a year ago, we needed to travel to another building for this, but now Delta has moved all flight crew training (pilot and flight attendant) under one roof. 

One of many door training assemblies

Fire extinguishers and medical kits

Deb is our instructor for our first PT briefing as we go over procedures and learn how to use the QRH, Quick Reference Handbook. We used this computer to practice navigational skills too. For the last eight years in the 757, practically, we pretty much were given "direct to" clearances in flight even though the computer is capable of so much more. But we spent a fair amount of time brushing up on how to fly radials to or from a point, intercept airways and fly non precision approaches. A quick thanks to Nicole for getting me up to speed in this area. It's interesting the information you forget when little used.

I'd mentioned earlier the manuals that DAL issues before the start of training. One of those is "The Student Guide" that lays out specifically what you'll be doing each day of training. It lists exactly what systems you'll cover during each day of ground school with a synopsis of those systems and source references for additional reading. It spells out in detail how your day in the PT trainer will go including flight paperwork that you'd normally receive on a flight. It's a fantastic organizational tool that eliminates guesswork. You won't be sitting in your room wondering "how should I prepare for tomorrows events?". 

I found this partially reconstructed 747 cockpit trainer deep in the bowels of the building. It's not yet ready for use, in fact it's a long way from that, but I found it helpful to spend a few minutes each day, sitting in my seat finding switches, locating systems and learning flows and checklists. It helped with PT training and certainly gave me an advantage in the simulator phase.

Speaking of phases, let's discuss the different phases or events that occur during training. Times have changed; when I was typed in the DC-9 and 727 very little checking occurred until the last week or so of training when you'd experience an extensive oral and a type rating ride. This caused high anxiety because you'd still be burning the midnight oil preparing for your oral while in the simulator phase only days away from the type ride. Now, checking events are broken down, almost on a weekly basis rather than piling on at the end. It allows you to "check that box" and move on, far more efficient and far less stressful.

There are four hoops to jump through; the SV, PV, MV and type ride. That's it! Get through these and you graduate from the schoolhouse and move on to OE, or Operating Experience in the airplane.

The SV is the Systems Evaluation or a timed, 100 question systems written exam taken on the computer. An overall 80% is required to pass... but you also must score 80% on each section of which there are ten. In other words, you may score an 80% overall but less than that on say hydraulics or electrics or the dreaded pneumatics system. Fail a section and remedial training is administered by an instructor and a retake of that section follows. 

Sounds ominous doesn't it? But you'll be very well prepared when you reach day seven if you've followed the course as designed. Put in a little extra effort ahead of time by studying before showing up and you'll ace the SV. The trick here is to RTFQ, "read the freaken question" entirely and carefully before selecting an answer. There are no tricks, but some answers are "close" particularly questions with diagrams that ask about valve positions. 

The reward at the end of successful training... you get to fly this magnificent airplane.
Pushing back at Honolulu, bound for Narita

I probably need to give equal time to the Delta livery, so here's one awaiting departure off the "A" runway at Narita. The problem is that I just don't have that many "new paint" shots in my collection.

A few days later and you'll experience the PV or procedures evaluation. Again, you've been well prepared for this and if you've experienced a problem intercepting radials or airways or finding info in the computer... "what page is that on?" they'll happily give you individual, one on one time with an instructor until you're comfortable. This is administered on the computer as well and is simply an instructor giving you navigational problems and watching you solve them.  The other evaluations, the MV and type rating I'll explain later as they're in the simulator phase of training.

And finally here's my "paper trainer" taped to the wall in my room. What's that you ask?
On day one we were issued these slick, colorful aircraft panels that we use to study and make notes on. Many of us tape them to our wall, pull up a chair and practice preflight cockpit setups, flows, checklists, normal, emergency and supplemental procedures. It's learning by rote. After practicing the preflight a dozen times I had it down and could competently perform in the simulator. Delta does things differently here. They have a pilot flying (PF) and a pilot not flying (PNF) cockpit preflight setup. At NWA we simply had a captains and first officers preflight.

Pulling out the QRH and solving problems planned for the next days PT or simulator sessions increase your comfort and confidence levels markedly. If you try to look upon the training experience as fun, or a challenge it will pass quickly and more easily. But if you find reasons to complain, you've done nothing but burden yourself. 

With the help of a dedicated training department, many good friends, my family and staff at the hotel and NATCO who supported my every need, I successfully completed my SV and PV and we all moved on to the the simulator stage. 

Standby for PART 3, The Simulator!

But before I go, I noticed that this propeller, that's been displayed at NATCO for years, is still here but in a new position. Few at NWA knew its significance so I suspect no one from DAL knows its historical background. Do you have any idea what kind of prop it is? What it came off of? or most importantly where did it come from and why? I only hope that it's not lost in the shuffle as NATCO is shutdown and everything is moved to Atlanta. Maybe they could donate it to Chuck Maire at the Commercial Aviation Museum or relocate it to the Delta Museum in Atlanta. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on "The Prop" or anything here for that matter.



  1. Fantastic update,Capt Rand!I love how you contrast the mood in the school house between the evaluators and the"plank walkers" You can usually judge the phase of training a person is in by the dour expression on their face.Week one,all smiles.A couple of days till checkride,don't talk or even look at me!And when training is all done you find yourself saying.."This building aint so bad,any more donuts?"

  2. Anonymous, you hit that right on the head!


  3. Also,you were dead on about that dreaded feeling that while in the sim trying to get flows,procedures,callouts and programming the FMS correctly sorted out,important oral info was leaking out of your ears.On a somewhat unrelated topic,Im curious to know your thoughts on the 2 man v 3 man cockpit.I've heard a strange dynamic would arise and two of the crew would form an alliance against the one.Older pilots v young FE or younger FO and FE v crusty old Capt. Thanks! Mike V

  4. I'm pretty sure the prop is from a DC-3, but not sure which one or why... Glad your stay in St Paul was enjoyable!
    Tim G in MN

  5. Thanks for posting about your training in the 747. I enjoy reading your blogs and look forward to new updates. A close friend of mine, previously of NWA, is now also with Delta and is a captain on the 757/767. I had the opportunity to visit NATCO a few years back during my annual visit to Minnesota and I enjoyed seeing the simulators. Again, thanks and keep them coming! Chad

  6. Thanks Rand, for taking the time to share this very interesting part of your career with us.

  7. Wow...what a detailed post! Thanks Rand - it's a great read. It's amazing to see all the shots from the training center and what is involved in it all. They really do an amazing job setting up the cockpit on those screens. Can't wait to see the simulator stuff and the check rides!

    If you don't mind, I'm going to post a link from my blog - learning to fly the 747!

  8. Interesting to see the NWA logos on the manuals-probably cheaper than getting the FAA to approve the Logo change on the manual.

    As far as SIT....if I remember from my 757 training days it was Systems Integration Training as in SIT1 or SITS 2 (Systems Integration Training Session).

    OUCH Back-to-Back 10 day trips.

    Glad you didn't get bounced in the Shuffle.

    See you down the line....

    Tim (8DME.W.ORD)

  9. Anonymous: Sounds like you've been there a few times yourself. Yes, trying to maintain oral knowledge while trying to pack in more info during the sim phase is anything but easy. Two vs. the Three man crew. Having a 727 and DC-10 background I loved the three man crew particularly during "abnormal" operations when two would work the problem and one was dedicated to flying the airplane. The personality problems that could occasionally rise were interesting. Only once did I experience this as an FO with an autocratic DC-10 captain who wasn't the slightest bit interested in what the FE or I might have to offer. His attitude was keep quiet and I'll let you know if I need you... and that's what he got. He did everything for five days while Max and I pretty much looked out the window and drank coffee. Fortunately CRM was beginning to evolve at about this time. I've mentioned in the past all the good captains that I learned from... well, I learned a lot from this dolt too!

    Chad, glad you had the opportunity to visit NATCO. Being a former instructor, I find the behind the scenes, or the area off limits to most of the flying public interesting. During the normal course of events, the public see's us in uniform "swaggering" our way through terminals, to or from the jet. What they never see though are the tedious training events and the effort required to develop that "swagger!" Over the years I've utilized many excellent training facilities operated by many major airlines and have never failed to be favorably impressed. NATCO was right up there with the best in my opinion and will be missed.

    Mark H, thanks for writing to let me know that you've enjoyed my writing and stories. That's a key component that motivates any author.

    Mark Lawrence, Thanks so much I appreciate your help and love your photography. Particularly because you get to enjoy it now with your son.

    Tim, Thanks, you're right about the "Systems Integration Training." I spent much time trying to find this acronym and couldn't. The manuals at NATCO still had the NWA binders, but the ones that they mailed us were contained in the basic black binder... but were still the NWA manuals... COLOR and all! Two ten day trips in a row, one was OE with Gene Peterson (an absolute delight) and the other was my first trip after OE with two fantastic crews who couldn't have been any more helpful to the "new guy". What I may have failed to mention though Tim, was that I had 10 days off in between! Over all my 747 checkout was a very pleasurable event, administered by a really great group of people who were pulling for me all the way. And yeah... I barely survived the shuffle, but interestingly, "reserve" which has been a foreign concept to me for 27 years isn't bad at all with this short and long call concept.

    Tim G, you've got part of the puzzle, it's off of a DC-3.

    Thanks to you all and I'll get around to the "prop" shortly. Captain Tom Helwick... you don't know the history of the prop?


  10. If you receive your fuel slip electronically, when would you receive it?Also, what kind of information is displayed on the fuel slip?

  11. Great post, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your training process with everyone. Very interesting to see how things differ from say the airplane I fly. It's a bit sad to see such a nice facility slated to be closed, I wonder if that will end up benefiting Delta in the long run.

  12. Tim,

    We receive our electronic fuel slip anywhere from 10 minutes prior to pushback to anytime during the taxi out, but normally just prior to pushback or during pushback. Occasionally we'll get an ACARS message to delay pushback until we've received our electronic fuel slip too. What's on it? Let's see... I'm doing this by memory. To insure that we have the correct data for our flight we check the info at the top of the slip: date, ship number, flight number, departure and destination stations. Next we check the load info: number of PAX broken down by cabins, number of FA's and jumpseaters. Then we get to the meat of the exercise and check the fuel load, ramp weight, takeoff weight, zero fuel weight, flap setting and center of gravity and check to see if we have a tailwind, headwind or no wind. I read certain numbers to the FO who enters them into the FMS and he reads back certain numbers to insure that the computer and fuel slip either match or are reasonable. We then select the temperature and flap setting from the slip and enter it into the computer along with our designated V speeds, V1, VR and V2. We then check the bottom of the slip to ensure that any MEL's that apply have been factored into the takeoff data. Generally we have two cockpit crews on board and on the flight deck for the takeoff and landing, so I hand the slip to the other captain who verifies our work. Sounds a bit complex doesn't it? It isn't though and takes about 30 seconds to complete this exercise.


    Thanks for writing and as we've discussed, good luck with your journey down this career path.


  13. Rand,
    Glad to see you made it thru. How long will you be stuck on reserve most likely?

  14. Hello John,

    Forever!! Or until I retire, which ever comes first.


  15. Hey Rand,rode a dh on an ex MuseAir DC-9-50 dtw to mci.Stuck my head in the cockpit.Wow!Every inch was covered with some switch or dial.Looked like a Soviet submarine.Did you enjoy flying it?Was there a different technique used to land the longer models v the-10?I look for you when I see a 74 parked by the fountain in dtw.Thanks,MikeV

  16. Mike V,

    That's the first time I've heard a soviet sub analogy but it's probably very accurate, particularly when compared to new glass airplanes. Yes, I very much enjoyed flying all four versions of the DC-9 that we operated. And yes, they each had unique characteristics. Landing a -10 you'd pull the power early because it would float forever. To get a good landing on this model you actually held it off until you got the stick shaker and then gently touchdown. I know that this sounds foreign to todays pilots flying glass, but that's the way to land a baby 9. Now on the -50, where you pulled the power is where you landed "THUD", so we carried power longer and lower. The -30 and -40 were somewhere in between, but certainly, you needed to know which model nine you were flying to even think of getting a good landing.

    Comrade Rand

  17. "Hi again Rand" from Yellowknife, NT.Canada
    Just wanted to say thanks again for writing about your very interesting experiences.
    Always a pleasure to read with my morning cup of Java.

    Keep the dirty side down,

    B200 Medevac F/O

  18. How did you enjoy your time at Tel Aviv?
    If you remember, when you first posted about the 744 training I wrote a comment here about the visits to Israel.
    Could be great to know in advance when you are planned to fly here and catch you on the radio :)


  19. Hello Jordan,

    Yes I remember, Unfortunately I'm on reserve on Big Bird so don't get much notice of when and where I'm going. I've visited Tel Aviv once now and look forward to my next opportunity... when ever that may be!

    Hi Bill,

    Yellowknife, beautiful place to enjoy one's morning coffee.


  20. Could that be the same DC-3 prop that was displayed at North Central's headquarters over on 7500 (Northliner) Airliner Dr. for many years? I think it may have been from the famous #728?


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