I have a 747 type rating on my pilot’s license flying at Cathay. Because I fly an airliner with a type rating, I have to get checked out in a simulator every six months, like all airline pilots. Pilots always sweat these checks because they are stressful and our job is somewhat riding on our performance in the simulator. Obviously we want to be proficient during emergencies but these “tests” aren’t like the kind most people take with pencil and paper. I can study all day and night for weeks, but if I don’t perform on the day, my immediate future will have a lot of trouble in it.
We sit in a large box that has the exact cockpit set up inside. It pivots and moves up on large hydraulic lifts and has a wrap-around visual system that we can see through the cockpit windows. These sims are scary at how realistic they can be. For example, when we set the power up for takeoff, the sim tilts backward so we fall into our seats so we feel the acceleration during the takeoff roll. The sims are real enough that we can be certified to fly the real aircraft without having flown the real aircraft.
With that type of realism, the sim instructors put us through our paces with engine failures, windshear, and all the rest. It’s a stressful two days of checks, but when they are all over, the weight of the world is lifted off our shoulders and we are safe for six more months. What a feeling, indeed. The stress comes from not passing and also because even though the sims are pretty real, they aren’t the same as the real thing, and that can mess us up at times. For me, the stress is over as I passed, and am safe for the time being. That is, until six months from now.
Our sims for Cathay Pacific are in Hong Kong, so when I have a checkride, it begins with a trip across the Pacific to headquarters. This trip turned out to be really great as far as timing. My sim slots were set for 10 pm to 3 am Hong Kong time, which is 10 am to 3 pm East coast time for my body clock. Yes, I said sims, plural. We start one checkride as a “recurrent training” sim, or RT. It supposedly isn’t graded, but I’ve come to learn that everything at this company is graded. After that is complete, the following day is the PC, or proficiency check, the big momma, the graded evaluation, the one that really counts.
Each six months, the profiles for the RT/PC changes so we cover different aspects of training each time we go to training. There are regulatory items that we have to cover for our licenses to remain valid, like engine failures and approaches, that happen each six months. Then there are training events like windshear recoveries and emergency descents that get rotated in each six months.
This time around, we practiced engine failures at V2 (instead of the regular V1) because a lot of data shows that most engines fail at V2 or later, not at V1. V1 is a speed based on our weight, for the decision to abort a takeoff or continue it, and V2 is the speed where the aircraft is just lifting off the runway. We also practiced visual circling approaches, rapid depressurization and descent, system failures, and even a point where I got incapacitated and my captain had to set up and execute an autoland approach by himself. The PC ride was a lot more tame than the RT, and focused mostly on manipulation of the autopilot. All in all, it was a good session but I am certainly glad that is out of the way.
I was able to get some practice time in our IPT — integrated procedural trainer. The IPT is a multi-computer screened computer with touch screens that simulate the cockpit controls. It’s good to practice procedures, but it also simulates flying the approaches that we may see in the checkrides. Its a great tool.
Like I said, this turned out to be a pretty good trip. Because I am based in New York, the company flies me to Hong Kong and I went direct on our 777-300ER for the 16 hour flight. Arriving early to JFK, I was able to sit in the Business lounge for a few hours of free everything: drinks, wifi, food. That was a nice touch for a few hours. Then it was time to board. I normally ride in business class as a copilot. First class was open and the captain made sure I was put there for the flight — nice! First gives passengers who are willing to cough up the coin a bed, a private “cocoon”, a closet, pajamas, caviar, and a second seat for a spouse or business partner to join you for dinner, along with excellent service and small subtleties that make the hours fly by and deplaning a sad affair. Yes, I enjoyed all of that in first. The caviar is okay, but I think it makes a lower society person like myself at least feel like high society, if but for a few hours.
It was amazing for me to sit in that huge seat, eating the fancy food and sipping wine, over the north coast of Greenland, remembering back to being a small kid dreaming of being a pilot. If I could have only seen myself now, as a boy. I know I would have studied harder, been more focused, and worked more tirelessly. That’s the way life is though, isn’t it? If we can see the end goal, we work harder. That’s why successful people succeed: they can envision that end goal clearly. Me? My end goals can get murky at times.
After the checkrides were over, it was time to relax. I had the dinner of champions: rice and beef. Then, I headed into town around 10:00 am (evening for my body). I checked out the camera shops and took a stroll though the bustling streets of Hong Kong. Whenever I head downtown, I always try to ride the Ferry across the Mersey. Oh wait, that’s a song, never mind. I rode the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor. It was a good trip indeed.
I operated a cargo flight back to Anchorage and then on to JFK to come home and that was fun because I got to be the pilot flying on the sector to ANC. It was awesome because we took off out of Hong Kong at 370 Tonnes, or 815,000 lbs. Setting the thrust for takeoff, it’s easy to tell if we are heavy or not. If we are heavy: the engines roar to an unbelievable level and the aircraft just sits there, not moving. Then it starts to lumber down the runway before it really starts to hum. Once airborne, it’s easy on the controls and steady as she goes. No quick movements on the yoke or the airspeed will drop off below the flap speed or go over the max speed limit. There is a very fine window that the aircraft has to be flown in at heavy weights. Sometimes, only a few knots (seven) is all we have to play with.
I feel good that the checks are out of the way and now I can start studying for my next one. Fun times. For more pictures from the trip, click on the photo of the simulator at the top of the blog.