Almost one year after receiving the real 747-8 aircraft, we finally have a simulator to actually train with. Our chief pilot says that it looks like something out of Star Wars, and I think he’s right. It certainly looks different than the older 747 sims that Cathay Pacific has. No one has flown this simulator yet, but when I do, I’ll update the blog as to what it is like.
Supposedly, it has a much better motion computer for better realism and feel, and upgraded graphics out the front windscreens. Even with great graphics, we almost always fly on instruments in the simulator with nothing to see out front but clouds. However, everyone once and a while we do visual approach training, and that ought to be fun with the new visuals and motion.
The entrance door on the back is nearly seven feet tall to give some perspective as to how big this thing is, and it sits in a bay with a huge garage door so it could be placed in the training building. We start our sim training sessions by walking into the “box” from an entrance ramp because it sits ten feet off the ground. When we are ready to start, the motion is turned on, and hydraulic feet raise the box up even higher so everything can pitch, tilt, and lean, all as one unit, to provide the realistic sensations of flying.
For example, when we push the thrust up for takeoff and accelerate down the runway, the simulator pitches backward to give us the feeling of being pushed back into our seats. This tricks the brain because the visual out the front stays horizontal, so the brain says, “Oh, I’m moving forward.” Just the same, when we come to a halt on the runway for landing, the sim pitches forward so we “decelerate” in our seats against our seat belts.
That’s all fun and all, but while we are under check, it’s stressful. We are fighting fires, flying with engine failures, learning new procedures, running through multiple checklists, and all while being graded on our performance. We need to be able to do this well, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a stressful part of our job as pilots.
Speaking of running checklists, the new 747-8 has an electronic checklist that is pretty sweet. 777 and 787 pilots will yawn, but I’m a -400 driver and am excited by the new checklist system. In the old days, as in a few days ago on the 747-400, we had to pull up laminated paper checklists for our normal situations like starting, takeoff, landing, and such. In an emergency, we have to pull out a big binder that has every possible checklist, and we have to find the right one. With electronic checklists, or ECL, the aircraft automatically pulls up the correct checklist on a computer screen and we can tick off items as complete with a little cursor.
At the gate, the before start checklist is waiting for us when we pull up the ECL on our display. Since the parking brake is already set, it shows green and is ticked off the list already, because the aircraft knows that the brake is set. When we finish that checklist and clear the checklist screen, the next checklist (the start check) is ready and waiting for us to pull it up, so everything flows in sequence.
In an emergency, like an engine fire, we run memory items before doing anything else — pull the thrust lever to idle, shut off the fuel switch, and pull the fire handle. When we press the checklist switch to bring it up on our screens, the Engine Fire Checklist is already displayed, and the first three items are already ticked as green because the aircraft can tell that we have accomplished the memory items and knows there was an engine fire. Cool. This is a huge advancement for safety and 777 guys probably can’t imagine flying without an ECL. In a little while, I won’t be able to imagine it either.
The only trouble for us 747 pilots at Cathay is that we are dual qualified on the 747-400 (Classic) and the new 747-8, so we will be going back and forth between the older and newer models. It’s just enough difference to keep us on our toes, and at 3:00 am crossing the Pacific, that might just be a good thing.