This post is split into smaller sections. Click/tap a heading to get started.
No rest for the wicked...
What an incredibly manic week that was!! There wasn't a single moment to relax and it's true when they say the AQC course is akin to the intensity of ground school! There's so much going on you need to devote your evenings / mornings to studying with your simulator partner in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Despite all of this it has been incredibly fun so far and certainly ups the excitement levels. Sitting in a jet simulator and operating as a two man crew gets those hairs on end and it's clear to me now more than ever that I've chosen to follow the right career path. I can't wait to fly these things for real! Let's crack on with this weeks blog post...
The Multi-crew Cooperation Course, known as MCC, was developed to introduce qualified commercial pilots to the multi-crew operating environment. It's not a pre-requisite that a trainee holds type specific knowledge as the simulation environment is used primarily as a platform to introduce non-technical aspects of a multi-crew operation. When the MCC is delivered alongside a Jet Orientation Course (more on that next week), it bridges the gap between single pilot light-twin operations and the much heavier and considerably faster airliners of today. In other words, a trainee must pass both an MCC and JOC as proof of ones ability to cope with the additional pressures of the incredibly fast-paced airline and jet-specific type-rating courses.
Useful information for current/future cadets:
At the time of writing EASA has released a new standard for MCC/JOC courses called "APS MCC". This new standard essentially regulates the delivery of the JOC portion of such courses, which I'll complete next week, and is designed to ensure flight schools deliver the same output. APS MCC doubles the minimum number of simulator hours, brings about a new marking scheme and mandates 'advanced swept-wing jet aeroplane handling' and 'advanced airline operation scenarios'. The new APS MCC can also be failed should a trainee be marked "Unsatisfactory". It is not a legal requirement for flight schools to deliver this new training, but airlines will likely require it sooner rather than later - what with Ryanair stating APS MCC is preferred over the traditional MCC/JOC. At the time of writing I've been told by those responsible for the AQC at L3 CTS that discussions are in place to have the L3 CTS AQC offering signed off as APS MCC compliant. The new course structure will then be delivered to Integrated cadets in place of the existing MCC/JOC. It is likely this will happen in coming months and with it, Integrated ATPL cadets commencing AQC after such date will receive APS MCC complaint certificates.
This sim was an introduction to the Boeing 737 aircraft we were to use for the course. To facilitate it's delivery it was expected trainees commit the checklists and memory flows to take the aircraft right from the gate all the way to air, as if we'd got onboard for the first flight of the day. We were a little rusty given it was our first time doing it, and it took us roughy 50 minutes! Thankfully this got considerably quicker as the week went on. We had to learn both captain and first officers roles here as we'd be acting as both during the week. It was great fun fun to be truthful and nice to finally be in a cockpit environment that looks the part. Sim sessions are two hours long but are repeated so each trainee gets to cover the content as the pilot monitoring and the pilot flying.
This lesson covered;
- Start up from cold and dark
- Full cockpit briefings
- Takeoff to Acceleration Altitude (Jets climb like a rockets! - you've barely anytime to think!)
- Takeoff, and subsequent departure via a standard instrument departure route
- Aircraft familiarisation
- VOR Holding and Tracking
- Full Approach briefing, and the approach itself
- Radar vectored ILS approach
- Full taxi and shutdown.
Throughout this lesson my sim partner and I were starting to get used to the standard calls required, such as "V1, Rotate", "Positive Climb", "Gear Up", "Glideslope Alive" etc that you'd find in the day-to-day environment. It's quite interesting how much you step on each others roles given the fact we'd been so used to flying alone and doing everything up until this point. That was the main debrief point ultimately and was something we aimed to work on throughout the week.
I knew it wouldn't be long before the simulator was used for it's primary purpose: the training in non-normals. What is a non-normal I hear you ask? Well.. anything that happens to an aircraft that isn't typically expected on your day-to-day flight. That could be the failure of an engine, the failure of an electrical generator, failure of hydraulic systems etc etc you name it; if it's not expected to happen it's a non-normal. Given our rather limited Boeing 737 technical knowledge there were only so many failures the instructors could throw at us, but those they did use we could somewhat deduce the causes of from our ATPL Theory and/or a little guidance. It's important to note we weren't being assessed on the aircraft here but more so the way each of us handled the situation. The MCC is ultimately a focus on non-technical skills after-all.
The non-normals we faced were a Generator Failure, requiring the use of checklist to then restore power to the failed systems via the APU (small jet engine in the rear of an aircraft), a cabin depressurisation which required the use of oxygen masks, the subsequent emergency descent to 10,000ft and, lastly, the incapacitation of a crew member. Of course this sim also featured the typical take-off, approach and landings with all briefings associated with them. For the vast majority of these lessons we rely on the autopilot to actually fly the aircraft thus reducing our capacity and enabling the development of the CRM mindset. Our manual flying skills are honed next week in the jet orientation course.
Following the basic structure of a typical airline flight my sim partner and I faced a developing situation which ultimately led to shutdown of the engine in the first sim session and the failure of an engine in the second. Once again this required use of the checklists but at this point greater elements of a pilots non-technicals come into play. CRM is also vital here as both pilots must work together to solve the problem without harming flight safety. L3 CTS make use of the DODAR framework to do this. I'm sure i've discussed this in the blog before, but nevertheless, i'll do it again.
As an example we were given an engine fire in this sim. The initial actions, in terms of putting the fire out, are all committed to memory and are done soon after the event. It's what happens post-fire that sees the flight safely end up at it's final destination or if need be, an alternate/diversion airfield. DODAR, or rather T-DODAR in this case, was used as follows for this non-normal:
- T - Time
Okay, we've 4,000kg of fuel left. That gives us "x" amount of time in the air, including reserves.
- D - Diagnose
We've had an engine fire which has now been contained but what does this mean for our current situation? Okay.. so we can no longer fly at 36,000ft with one engine. We also can't perform as well in cruise and climb. We've also lost our redundancy in terms of electrical power from that engines generator. If we lose that other engine we'd become a massive glider which is less than ideal.
- O - Options
With the above taken into account, what are our options here? What does the engine fire checklist say? What about the single engine landing checklist, is there anything I need to note? We need to re-introduce some redundancy for the aircrafts power supply so we could use the APU for that. As we can't maintain 36,000ft we also need to tell ATC about our problem so we can fly at a much lower altitude. What about diversion options? Do we continue to our destination? Do we turn back and land at our point of origin? Or do we start to look for other options along our route? What about Edinburgh? Do they have enough runway available for a single engine landing? What's the weather like there? Do they have fire services, maintenance etc available for us to use?
- D - Decision (as pilot in command)
Right, let's start the APU and put it onto the electrical buses that engine two powered. Based on our discussion on options the weather is most suitable at Edinburgh. It also has enough runway for us to get in safely on one engine and has emergency services available. Let's put out a Mayday call to ATC, get a lower cruising level and ask to hold overhead while we sort out this aircraft for arrival.
- A - Assign Tasks (as pilot in command)
Okay First Officer, I'd like you to take control of the aircraft please and you've also got the radios during that time. Please put out the mayday call as discussed. During this time I'm going to brief the cabin crew, inform the passengers, call our company operations and also plan how i'm going to bring the aircraft in on this approach. Once i've done all of this I'll come back to you, okay? Good. Let's go.
- R - Review (periodically)
Is our current plan working? Is the weather still suitable for us or should we consider somewhere else? Do we still have enough fuel? If needs be, repeat the whole DODAR process again to find another suitable option.
It's amazing how our bodies goes into a somewhat fight or flight mode when under pressure and it's important for us pilots to truly fight this and cohesively work together to solve the problem. Our instructor was actually very impressed and just gave a few pointers on how we could become stronger crew members going forward in that regard but did say we need to work on hearing the others' options out - a flaw which see sees in every crew she's ever instructed for the MCC. Our instructor for these first three lessons was lovely and was a former British Midland first officer from the Airbus A320 family.
My sim partner and I felt quite happy after sim three. We'd believed we'd finally meshed as a crew and could come up with suitable options for non-normal situations but oh how wrong we were. Thursday's session brought with it a new instructor whom happened to have over ten years of flying experience on the Boeing 737 at Ryanair, both first officer and captain, and has since side-stepped onto the Airbus with easyJet. He knew his stuff. He knew the Boeing methodology and brought with it a wider appreciation of the technical issues poor CRM or non-technicals can introduce. As a current pilot this instructor was able to draw on his own experiences of non-normal situations to help both of us understand the importance of solid teamwork.
Sim four is designed as a positioning flight from Manchester to Birmingham and as trainees we're very much left to our own devices. It's by no means the MCC assessment as that's sim five but we sure felt like we were worked to capacity. Our instructor deliberately acted difficult when roleplaying Air Traffic Control which pretty much shoe horned us into some tricky situations. For example, when telling them we were wanting a specific approach he then cleared us directly in for that approach making me, the pilot flying, rather rushed and incredibly flustered to get the plane down on the ground in the time I'd been given. He did this to demonstrate just how quickly our best friend and arch nemesis, the Swiss Cheese, can come into play. That said, he was incredibly impressed with how high our levels of situational awareness were. He gave me a verbal slap on the wrist for spending too much time looking down when planning for an approach and therefore not monitoring my partners actions with the aircraft, but then said despite looking away for so long I could very quickly fix our location and current flight path which is just what an airline pilot needs to be able to do.
It's safe to say we left this sim feeling inadequate. His very limited input during the session (deliberate, as per syllabus) let us dig our own holes. It certainly opened our eyes to the weaknesses airline crews could face. We actually passed it to quite a high standard (to our amazement) as both of us felt pushed to our maximum capacity. Having left with a few debrief items and a clear appreciation of what we needed to study ahead of Friday's assessment it was time to grab some dinner and crack on with studying.
Here we are, the first assessment of the AQC. My partner and I felt quite nervous going into this given our performance yesterday and had absolutely no idea what to expect, other than having a briefing pack for a two sector flight. The MCC assessment is designed to be yet another LOFT exercise yet the instructor ran it more like an airline Line Proficiency Check to give us a taste of type rating assessments. Given the short time we had the two sector flight was obviously a lot shorter than a typical jet flight and could be seen as more of a positioning flight than a true airline flight but nevertheless, we planned Manchester to Stansted for the outbound leg. My partner was the pilot flying (first officer) for the first sector and I took up the role of Captain. The Captain role during MCC isn't a true captain / authority figure and is simply the Pilot Monitoring. This is deliberate such that the pilot flying makes most of the decisions during their sim session and is subsequently marked for such. The left hand seat will taxi on the ground and act as Captain during all the ground sections of the flight, however.
To our surprise the first sector to Stansted went by without one failure. I ended up flying quite a bit of the arrival into Stansted with my partner taking over for the final approach segment, which is typical of many operations. Just as in Thursday's sim our instructor acted as a pressured air traffic controller handling lots of inbound traffic meaning he required us to fly faster speeds. In the debrief we were told that as I'd fallen into the ATC trap the day before he was then trying to see if my partner would do the same. The arrival into Stansted has several 'altitude' restrictions which must be met on the way in. The sim was set up to have quite a strong tailwind which meant I only just managed to meet these with a 2000 feet per minute descent and the speed brake up for the vast majority of it. This was perhaps an indication of the first slice of cheese and while I didn't fly through it at that point, it just went to show the pressure on some arrivals.
My partner took over shortly after but both of us then happened to miss the fact we then needed to lose yet another 6,000 feet within the next 10 miles and as such flew the aircraft level for a mile or two. This reset the Swiss Cheese and we flew straight on through it to the next slice. My partner and I had realised this a little late and tried to recover it by descending rather quickly once again with the speed brake up. What neither of us realised is that on the final approach it was was still up meaning we were way too slow, way too low and unable to maintain the glide path. My partner called "Go-Around, Flaps 15" which was the perfect decision. During the Go-Around I looked down to move the flaps up and said "Ah. The speed brake was up. No wonder why we weren't stable". It was clear my partner was at max capacity at this point just as I was the day previous and was beating himself up a little. I knew exactly how he felt and I suppose this is where two man operations are a godsend as, given my spare capacity, I offloaded some of the pressures from him by setting all of his navigation aids up etc for the next attempt. I also prompted points to configure the aircraft to ensure we were stable for the second try. It's not that he wasn't capable of doing this himself, it's simply that when you're maxed out your brain practically gives up and you spend so much time trying to fly the plane - going right back to the Aviate part of Aviate Navigate Communicate - that you somewhat forget the rest. We smashed the second approach, but in all things simulator related were given our emergency on landing. Having tried to start the APU we got a heat/fire warning so immediately pulled the fire handle which disconnects the APU from all aircraft systems and fires extinguisher bottles into it's chamber.
At this point we took a little break for a bite to eat - a quick turnaround if you like - before then switching seats to fly the return sector back to Manchester. This time we suffered a failed generator on one of our engines and given the incident on the ground our APU was unserviceable meaning we couldn't restore power to the systems on the second engine. Over time a loss of oil pressure developed and the engine subsequently failed on us. Just as we did in sim three we worked through checklists and completed the DODAR process. In the end we diverted to Birmingham. The instructor threw in an engine fire on the opposite engine during final approach to see what our actions would be. He was impressed that neither of us went about shutting it down and instead continued to land despite the fire. Apparently some trainees have previously gone on to shut down that engine on final which is alarming, but then again... when you're at max capacity the brain does weird things.
Having safely landed and secured the aircraft we popped into the debrief room to find we'd both passed our MCC assessment with an overall score of "Above Average". That's an excellent result given how hard we were worked in the past two days but it's amazing how quickly you begin to develop those multi-crew skills. I truly see the benefit of the MCC at this point and already feel much better suited to an airline than a single pilot operation. It's so much nicer to be able to offload work to your peer when you're maxed and also be able to support a crew member in their task. I look forward to flying the line for real one day.
Next week comes the harder part, the JOC. We continue with the a multi-crew focus but this time without the use of autopilot or auto-thrust. Everything is to be done manually which changes the roles of the pilot monitoring and pilot flying somewhat. The pilot monitoring's workload is set to increase significantly as not only is he monitoring the pilot flying, he's also got to monitor the aircraft's power settings to ensure the speed doesn't at any point taper off to an unsafe point. The last thing you want in an airliner is an overspeed or under-speed situation. The former could lead to airframe stress and the latter a stall and potentially irrecoverable situation. With only four days left of training I'm now incredibly close to the end of my training with L3 CTS. What a journey it has been. I'll be back with another post next week before the job hunt then well and truly commences.