* L3 Airline Academy - A320 Full Motion Simulator (CT250) *
Before I kick off with the content of this weeks blog post I'd just like to explain the reason for the gap in blog content. A type rating is a very short and somewhat intense period of training and while the individual sims themselves are more lesson-like versus those in the AQC at the end of my initial training, they come with a hefty amount of pre-reading.
For example, if a simulator session covered hydraulics failures and you expected to walk away from a 4 hour lesson understanding everything about that topic then you'd struggle to make it through the course. For that reason there is a mutual understanding among trainees, their instructors and the school that we will have read up on the applicable systems/procedures prior to each session. The published syllabus tells us what to read and the manuals we'll find it in. There's 3 different manuals available to us depending on the context.
So there you are. I've not been able to spend any time writing up blog posts as I knew deep down that if I took an hour out of my day to do so I could have better spent that time preparing for my next lesson.
I've collapsed the following sections, so click on a title to read more about it.
* Airbus A320 cockpit. Taken inside of one of the older A320 simulators *
The simulator programme, at least in the case of the easyJet type-rating as some airlines can customise things slightly, is formed of:
Each of the sessions are four hours in length and are split in two in order to provide an opportunity for both you and your sim partner to have a go as the pilot flying. My sim partner and I have been quite fortunate with our schedule in that we get days off over the weekend. In our case we typically have three to four sims during the week followed by Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off before kicking off again on Wednesday. This has meant that we could go home on the weekend before coming back for some self-study on Monday or Tuesday. So far having that weekend away from study has worked quite well and I don't feel guilty or as though i'm falling behind.
At the time of writing I have completed the pre-sim, all 5 fixed base sessions and one full motion session although this blog post will only cover the first weeks' worth of sessions. While we've only 'technically' completed one full motion pre-sim session and one full motion syllabus lesson, if a fixed base session happens to be scheduled on a full motion device then the instructors tend turn the motion on anyway. In that sense I'd say we've used the motion in around half of the details to date.
From the ground all of the jerky hydraulic motions often look excessive, but when you're in the hot seat it's mental just how well it replicates the bumps of airflow and the feeling of turning, climbing/descending, acceleration and indeed... the landing gear making contact with the runway on landing. I bounced my first landing and sure did feel the firmness of the second impact with the tarmac. Eerily realistic.
* CT161 - One of the very original A320 simulators (apparently) *
This session existed purely to introduce us to the A320. Until now everything we had covered was purely theory with the assistance of the Virtual Flight Decks. Today was the first chance we got to use all of the real-to-life push buttons, control panels, side sticks etc. We started on a random gate in Gatwick airport and were given the opportunity to run through a full start-up from cold and dark (as if we'd walked on the aircraft first thing in the morning).
Once we'd done that we learnt the correct taxi technique on our route to the runway. We practiced a couple of takeoffs to get used to maintaining that centreline as well as the correct rate of rotating the nose into the air so to avoid tail strikes. It was then time for some general handling exercises to get us used to flying the aircraft. This may seem trivial really as by now we should surely know how to turn left or right? - Well you'd be forgiven for thinking that but this was the first time either of us had flown a fly-by-wire aircraft. The Airbus A320 is dreamy in that sense as you simply move the sidestick left a bit, let go and it'll maintain that rate of roll until you move the sidestick in the opposite direction.
There's not really a lot more I can say about this session. It was ultimately our chance to have a play and gain exposure to the aircraft. This meant we wouldn't waste valuable time in the 1st syllabus driven lesson doing much the same. I was buzzing after this session - what machine the Airbus is!
* Flying the visual circuit in the Airbus A320 *
This session showed us how to fly visual circuits, manual raw data ILS approaches and Go Arounds. It is the visual circuit we'll be flying during base training in late February / early March.
Out of all of the items in this session it was perhaps the Raw Data ILS that was the most challenging and hands-on. As I'm sure you'd expect, the A320 is a fairly automated aircraft and even when manually flying an A320 most pilots tend to leave the AutoThrust in so that the aircrafts computers handle any required engine thrust. However, the Raw Data ILS removes all possible automation and sees us simply "pilot" the A320 down to the runway following basic ILS indications and inputting manual thrust where required. Compared with an ILS flown in the Diamond DA42 in Bournemouth, the A320 is a heck of a lot faster and intertia driven. Thus, the instrument scan rate is incredibly quick and it sure did take a few tries to get the hang of it. It was very rewarding though getting the aircraft down onto the ground. It sure does take a lot of concentration - as a new starter to it, at least - and i'm sure i'll improve in subsequent sims and during line training.
One thing that bothered me out of this session was my centreline management. All the way down the approach I was bang on the ILS indications so knew I'd be coming out of the cloud with the runway directly ahead of me with the aircraft on the correct descent path, however, for some reason whenever I entered the flare I seemed to drift off to the left of the runway. This was also with no wind so I couldn't blame it on that. My sim partner monitored my actions in the flare on the next couple of tries and noticed that due to the way you grip the sidestick in your right hand I must have both inadvertently and simultaneously applied a bit of left roll. With that in mind I consciously input a small bit of what I felt was right roll, which subsequently neutralised any roll input during the flare resulting in a perfectly centred touchdown. It was rewarding to now be able to manually fly the A320 down to the runway and land perfectly on the centreline as it was bugging up until that point.
* easyJet A320 crosswind landing at Bristol Airport - Photo: @MrAviationGuy *
This lesson built on the takeoff technique and introduced crosswinds which enable us to ensure a safe takeoff in windier conditions. A crosswind is one which comes from the left or right of the takeoff / landing runway. Due to the size of modern airlines and the surface area of their fuselages they act like massive sails. As soon as an airliner picks up speed on its takeoff roll the wind takes hold and tries to weather cock them into the wind. In flight this isn't much of an issue but close to the ground it can be rather dangerous - especially with the limited clearance between the engines / wings and the ground. We therefore covered how to handle the aircraft in these situations to ensure a safe takeoff and a maintained runway centreline.
Flight Control Laws
Once airborne the lesson then took a look at the flight control laws. A law in airbus land is essentially the level of protections the automation afford us. For example, in Normal law an A320 will not allow a pilot to stall. The other end of the speed spectrum, the overspeed, is equally forbidden although these traditional protections are only available in a given set of conditions and so should an aircraft develop a failure it could well drop down a level to Alternate Law, or even Direct Law. While I would like to hope that I never find myself flying in a non-Normal law scenario, it is highly beneficial that we covered these items in the syllabus to understand how to handle the aircraft in said situations.
Continuing the theme of automation and fly-by-wire concepts, we moved on to looking at the topic of reversions. A reversion is what happens to the autopilot when it can no longer automate flight in the manor we'd expect or that we'd requested. For example, if I give the aircraft a route to fly from overhead London to overhead Bristol but then gave it no further instructions it would "revert" from automatic Navigation mode, known as "NAV" mode to flying the current heading referred to as "HDG" mode. It does this because as far as it's automation is concerned, it's completed exactly what's been asked of it. Another reversion can be seen if we ask the aircraft to climb at a rate of climb greater than that of which the engines can provide thrust for, whereby the autopilot limits climb at the rate it can safely achieve. According to instructors reversions have been known to catch pilots out in the past and that is why we covered them today.
A final items was Sidestick priority - which is exactly what it says on the tin. Each sidestick has a red button on it which acts as both an autopilot disconnect button and sidestick priority button. The priority button exists for circumstances such as pilot incapacitation - whereby the other pilot may lean forwards and put an undesired input into the aircraft via their own sidestick - or a failed sidestick. One pilot can take sidestick priority over that of their peers by pushing the Autopilot disconnect button for a few seconds.
Lots was covered in this lesson and it's been a similar theme throughout the other lessons to date too. Thankfully it is going in though and isn't simply entering one ear and going out of the other.
Looking at that diagram you're probably thinking - "What on earth is all that rubbish?!" - and i'll admit the diagrams in the manuals do sometimes make things overly complicated. What you see depicted in this diagram is what we call a circling approach. These are used in situations where weather conditions do not permit a fully visual approach and an instrument approach does not exist for the currently active runway or any equipment that does exist for the active runway is currently inoperative or the active runway is surrounded by terrain which would otherwise prohibit a traditional instrument landing procedure for that runway.
Due to the winds Runway 27 is active but is surrounded by high terrain. Weather does not permit a suitable visual procedure for landing on Runway 27 so pilots must fly a circling approach. To do this we fly the ILS for the opposite end of the runway, Runway 09, before breaking off into a more visual manoeuvre and circle around to land on Runway 27.
These manoeuvres were quite straight forward and nice to fly thanks to us being allowed to use automation for parts of it.
EGPWS - Terrain Warning
EGPWS stands for "Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System". The EGPWS provides several warnings to pilots about their aircrafts trajectory in relation to the ground and can prevent collisions otherwise referred to as "Controlled Flight Into Terrain" or "CFIT". The EGPWS systems are incredibly useful when flying in cloud with limited visibility around mountainous areas among other situations.
In our lesson the instructor acted as air traffic controller and provided us with a heading to fly on. Unbeknownst to us that heading took us on a direct collision course with a mountain. It wasn't long before the aircraft sounded an alert saying "TERRAIN AHEAD, PULL UP". A pilots response to this must be known by memory (a "MEMORY ITEM"). A fast response assures survival of all on board the aircraft as aircraft systems provide a limited window before impact.
We will be covering other EGPWS alerts later in the syllabus.
TCAS is another computer system aboard which is designed to warn pilots of potential collisions with other aircraft. It stands for Traffic Collision and Avoidance System. Just like an EGPWS event has memory actions, so does TCAS. Should a TCAS system believe the aircraft is on a collision course with another aircraft it will demand a specific action, i.e. a climb or descent in order to avoid that collision. The pilots must act immediately to ensure safe flight. We practiced several of these TCAS events to ensure our actions were adequate in providing a safe outcome.
A hold is nothing new to me, it's a race track pattern in the sky which is most often flown to delay the arrival of inbound aircraft to an airfield. The reason we covered holding in this lesson was to see how we can automate the action. During the instrument rating a manually flown hold soon became repetitive when you had to keep the aircraft on speed, wings level etc and go around and around. So... why not automate that action freeing up useful human capacity for approach planning etc?. Well, with the Airbus and other airliners you can do just that. With a few button presses on our flight computer (MCDU) we can program the auto-flight computers to fly a hold in any direction, of any length, around any GPS waypoint, lat/long or physical ground aid.
Given the lateness of this blog post I've actually completed the next few lessons already. We have covered the following in those, among other things:
I'll be sure to write up a blog post about the contents of the above topics as soon as I find some more time. If I'm honest that'll likely be after I have completed my line skills test which, nervewrackingly, is only four lessons away now. I'm looking forward to just getting the tests out of the way now as it'll then only be two weeks until I start my career at the airline. Not long now at all!
Until next time,