Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Sim

Sometimes I sweat when I fly.  That's usually when it's over 100 degrees outside, and we don't have our APU working to blow air, and the station's air cart is out of service.  The hottest I've seen in the actual airplane is 39 degrees Celsius...or roughly 102 degrees.

It gets hot.

But today I sweated in the sim.  THE SIM!!!  It's an air-conditioned environment for crying out loud!

Yup, today I went in for my Loft ride.  It's basically a ride in a fancy-schmancy simulator (costs more than the actual airplane itself...true story).  Every six months our company puts us through a Loft ride...a normal flight just like out on the line, and one flight involving an emergency.

Frankly, it's a great idea seeing as how we [hopefully] don't get engine failures out on the line.  Of course, it could happen at any given moment, but it's not uncommon for an airline pilot to fly for 30 years and never see an engine failure.  But it can happen.  So rather than have him brush off 25-year-old training when it does happen, it's nice to stay proficient and have the flows in your memory from just a few months ago.

Enter Loft rides.

Well, the first ride was simple.  We flew an easy leg down to one of our airports.  Nothin' doin'.

The ride back we had an engine failure.  Our remaining engine showed low oil pressure.  Our airport went below minimums as we were landing, but we chose to take it on down rather than risk a single-engine go-around on a possibly bad engine.  Nothin' doin'.

Fairly simple stuff.

Then we did some other maneuvers which I was slow to act on.  I was ridden hard.  For good measure.  That's why we practice in the sim, because out on the line, we only get one shot.  But I was pretty slow on some maneuvers, and my instructor let me know.

Well, after we wrapped up our necessary training, the instructor asked if we wanted to see anything else.  Sure, I said.  I want to have an engine failure on my leg.

So we did just that.

Little did I know (you never really do, I guess) that my engine was going to quit on departure.  So I was given a V1 cut with an engine fire.  I elected to take care of the fire immediately.

That was fine.  We took care of the situation at hand.  No problem.

But all was not well.  As we circled back to the heading given to us by the instructor, my auto-pilot overshot the heading.  Crap.  I immediately took the airplane off of auto-pilot and flew by hand.  My Captain was immersed in the single-engine checklist, so I did that on my own.  The instructor didn't like that.

Anyway, I let my Captain know that I was flying the airplane on my own, but I realize that I could only turn...but couldn't change altitude.  We quickly realized that I had control of the ailerons and rudder, but I had no control over the elevator.  Unbelievable.

So here I was, flying a single-engine airplane with a former fire, and now I had no control on the pitch.  So the Captain was in control of the altitude and power, and I was in control of the roll and yaw.  We both had our hands on the flight controls then.  But every time he made a power change, I had to compensate with the rudder.  It took some getting used to, but we managed to keep the airplane [somewhat stable].

But it was NOT easy.  I was so frustrated at the situation, too.  It was tough!

Basically, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.  High workload (we had by now by-passed the checklists and were focused on just keeping the airplane flying) and stressful situation.

I starting sweating.

As we stablized the aircraft, I just sat there and fumed at the situation!  I was mad!  Not only did we get an engine failure, but all this?!  Sigh.

And I continued sweating!  EVERY maneuver the Captain did required a change on my part, too.

What's more is we had to shoot an ILS approach.  Yup, not only did we get all of these emergencies thrown at us, but we couldn't see, too.  Unbelievable.

We were able to work together, though, and after realizing the gravity of the situation, we started verbalizing all changes.  "Ok, now I'm going to reduce the power levers, be prepared on the rudder."  It helped out immensely knowing when the Captain was going to make his changes.  Of course, as we intercepted the localizer (me hand-flying) and then the glide-slope (the Captain hand-flying), it provided a whole new set of challenges, but we stuck with it.

It was so easy to get behind that airplane, but we stuck with it.  And we worked together.

But my back was soaked, and I recognized it!

We shot the ILS approach and saw the runway.  We were a bit offset but not bad.  I gradually brought it to centerline as he pitched for the runway.  We touched down with a bit of a hit, but we were down.  And we were down safe.

"Ok, that's it."

And just like that, the Loft ride was over.  No congratulations, no praise, just a "Ok, we're done."

Sigh.  What a flight.

We headed upstairs and talked about everything we did wrong over the past few hours.  It was honestly good to have criticism, but in the same breath, I'm thinking we just salvaged a flight that couldn't have been any worse.

At one point on an unrelated note (windshear go-around), he said I was frighteningly dangerous, a comment that stung and stuck with me!  Again, though, the criticism is decent.  I can recognize my weaknesses and slowness in reaction.  The comments were there, just NOT swiftly.  I'll concede on that one.

All in all, the process was good.  It's certainly a strength to have to fly through these emergencies in the sim, so that they are not really emergencies out on the line.  They would be "just another day in the life."  We are fully-prepared so that we're not confused or stunned out on the line.

Here's to hoping I never see a legitimate emergency, but here's to knowing that I will be well-prepared for when/if one does happen.

But oh, how I hate the sim.  If it can go wrong, it certainly will.

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