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The Ultimate SO Guide By Second Officers X, Y and Z.
Ever dreamed of soaring among the clouds, pushing the throttles forward as you accelerate 400tonns of metal down the runway? Watched aviators navigate the skies, arriving with a firm touchdown some fourteen hours later and wonder if that could ever be you? Remaining calm as you’re confronted with an emergency requiring all your knowledge and skill to be applied in just the right sequence to save the lives of your passengers and crew?
As a Second Officer, you can forget all that. Your function is to eat any food not consumed by senior crewmembers, prepare the bunks for the real pilots and stare into darkness knowing that if anything actually happens which require the last bit of decision making or actual pilot skills, you’re on your way to the back of the cockpit as fast as you can say “sandwich?”
Since your job doesn’t really amount to much, the company hasn’t bothered to write a job description for you. The only place you’re mentioned is when describing your place in the food-chain; squeezed in tightly between the ISM and the safety pilot. In real life, mind you, you’re below the ISM, the captain’s wife, all first class passengers, as well as any positioning aircrew. If you want some respect as a result of your fancy title and giant hat, the 19 year old stationed at L5 is your best bet. Anyone wearing black, blue or purple uniform is above you, and if it wasn’t for the fact that there are actually two pilots required in the cockpit, you’d never see any of them from takeoff to landing.
So we’ve written this guide to help you along in your new role as a Second Officer. With the ink still wet on your P2X rating and your hat still looking like a nuclear mushroom cloud, reading the following pages will at least let you pretend to know what you’re supposed to be doing.
Sign on time is 70 minutes prior to departure. You’d be an idiot to actually show up 70 minutes prior to departure, giving away your newbie status immediately. As a Second Officer, you’re expected to be there early enough to stock the flight documents bag with all the essentials; ear plugs, sanitary wipes, moisturizers and covers for the headsets. You’ll ultimately be blamed if a missed NOTAM causes any problems down the line, so you’re also expected to memorize closed taxiways and shortened runways for airports you’ll never see from your windowless seat. You should retrieve the DDG from dispatch if there are any ADD’s raised, and be prepared to wait outside the circle as the rest of the crew huddle in secrecy to discuss any implications the DDG might have. Once they’ve finished, you take the DDG back to dispatch without a clue as to what just happened.
This takes us on to the flight documents. Gross-error checks are big part of the operation, and just like real pilots you’re expected to make your own little notes on your own little paper in your own non-standardized way about the flight. Make a note of the estimated ZFW on your paper, and when the others decide on how much fuel to bring, add that to the ZFW. You now have your very own ramp weight, and after deducting any taxi burn you should be able to estimate your TOW. A further deduction of trip-fuel should give you the landing weight, which as the SO has no meaning to you what-so-ever.
Some captains, having recently completed a CRM course, might ask you about relevant NOTAMS or weather of concern. But most don’t. Keeping your mouth shut, your back straight and your eyes down will make you look the role of a seasoned SO; not expected to provide any useful information and not deemed worthy to share any with.
As the “briefing” comes to a close, expect the ISM to approach the table having finished her own separate briefing for the cabin crew at a different location. You have no idea what she has told her crew, and in the best CRM fashion she has no idea what we're expecting from the flight. She will smile, introduce herself to the Captain, and shake your hand.
With everything set to go, your job is to collect all the paperwork, less the Initial Dispatch Message and Crew Currency Sheet. Place them in the flight documents bag and carry them to the aircraft like the junior crewmember you are. If the captain wears a jacket, put on a jacket. If he wears a hat, put on your hat. And off you go to board the bus.
Once on the bus, it’s customary to introduce yourself to the girls if you haven’t already done so. A big wave while stating your name is just fine, and expect a synchronized greeting in return. The girls sit in the back, while you take your seat somewhere in the first two rows. Once the bus gets rolling, expect the Captain to make a “briefing” to the girls, which includes the flight time, the weather at destination, the taxi-time and the procedures to be used for opening the cockpit door. Any query for questions at this stage will be met with silence.
When arriving at the aircraft, enter the aircraft via the L2 staircase; not the L1 leading to first class. An engineer or refueller will approach the captain with a water sample, and the operating FO will hand the refueling record to the same guy with either flight-plan fuel (minus X tons standby depending on your fleet) or some other fuel figure unknown to you on it. Climb the stairs to the door leading into the jet bridge, preferably behind the captain as it’s common courtesy to let him enter the aircraft first.
Making your way to the cockpit, the magazine rack looks very tempting. Try not to let the girls see you grabbing the last copy of The Economist, Newsweek, and Car and Driver, and depending on whom the captain is it might be a good idea to keep them out-of-sight until the first fuel-check is complete and you're sitting in deafening silence over Indonesia with the poor sod who's been nominated RQ.
Once arriving on the flight deck, the first thing usually done is a read-through of the aircraft log. Most captains will work their way from the front to the back, highlighting any noting exterior damage to be verified on the walk-around by the RQ. SADDs, PADDs and ADDs are reviewed, with any open items requiring DDG dispatch. As a second officer, you merely observe this process and are seldom asked for any input or comments. Once the log review is complete, the RQ departs the flight-deck for the walk around leaving you with three all-important tasks; making the bunks(744 only), eating the sandwiches and performing the safety-checks in accordance with FCOM 3. Performing the safety checks should take you 2-3 minutes, leaving plenty of time for the sandwiches and bunk-making. Take note, however, that making the bunks is catch 22. Almost all captains, increasing with seniority, expect you to make the bunks. Some captains, however, expect you to be on the jump seat observing every entry made into the FMCs, and will reprimand you for preparing the bunks when there’s “real work to be done” (like watching the back of someone’s hand punching fingers into a keypad you can’t read below a screen that you can’t see for reasons you can’t know because the ATIS and final ZFW are lying face down above the throttles.) Make the best of it.
You’re usually done making the bunks about the same time as the RQ returns from his hike around the aircraft. He’ll often take the middle seat, although FOs waiting to hit the bunk at clean speed might offer you the seat. Once seated, you’ve now got ages of time to enjoy those tasty sandwiches before it’s time to complete your final task; checking the fuel figures.
The engineer will bring the fuel order form to the flight deck once refueling has been completed. This can’t be done before we’ve received the final ZFW, which means checking the final fuel load is one of the last things we do before departure. Your job will be to verify that the expected upload matches the actual upload. Add the sums of all the liters (or US gallons) uploaded from the fuel receipts, multiply it by the specific gravity to arrive at the total upload in tons. Compare this with the expected upload, allowing +2t/-1t of discrepancy, and at the same time compare the actual fuel distribution in the tanks to the pre-calculated fuel distribution tables found in the overhead console. Pass the fuel-records to the skipper and let him know you’ve checked them to be correct.
Once this is complete, you’re all done. Sit back, fasten your belt and try to stay awake. The final visit to the cockpit will be done shortly by the gate-agent, who provides the captain with the final passenger number and load-sheet edition. She’ll close the cockpit door on her way out, and as soon as the L2 door shuts the guys in the window seats will ask for a pushback.
If you’re sitting in the middle seat, it’s expected that you open the Jepps and follow what is going on via a third set of charts. This, of course, would require you to actually know what departure they’re going to fly and what speeds have been briefed. Unfortunately, you were probably tucking in the sheets on the Captains bunk during that part of the briefing. But normally, reclining in the seat behind the captain, just try to keep your eyes open while reminding yourself why you’re even there in the first place.
The last task which may be assigned to you prior to takeoff will be obtaining a new RTOW if any significant weather changes have occurred since they entered the takeoff data at the gate. Now you’ve got to mobilize yourself from complete apathy to vigorous engagement in a matter of seconds, finding the latest ATIS, remembering how the ACARS actually works, and re-enter the data which you haven’t entered since, well - Never. Because the change was not given until just before takeoff, we don’t have a lot of time and the RQ FO steps in to save the day. New thrust figures are subsequently derived, the V speeds fall out and are rapidly reentered, and seconds later the jet rumbles down the runway. As the centerline lights turn from white to alternating reds the aircraft is rotated and the sandwich tray you’ve heroically been trying to finish launches off the back of the desk and hits the wall in a loud crash, while the padding for the escape hatch (744) falls to the floor resulting in a significant rise in cockpit noise during the critical phase of flight. At this point, shrug your shoulders to the RQ and hope that the skipper didn’t have a(nother) heart-attack.
After the takeoff has been completed, it’s not unusual to hear the DEFO ask for flaps up during a turn while accelerating through the clean speed. As a result, expect either strong buffeting or a strong reprimand. The latter is more enjoyable, rest assured.
Once clean (and out of the buffet), ask for the clipboard and start doing the arithmetic of modern aviation. After you’ve added together all the individual leg segments to the departure time, you should be presented with an expected arrival time. Once complete, you’re once again free to relax and enjoy the tranquility of the modern flight deck.
At top of climb, you either hit the bunk or climb into the seat for the next X monotonous hours. Once you’re in the seat, you’ll probably be performing the function of PM as you’re getting the worst rest (SO, remember?), and with the captain taking the good rest the only guy left for you to fly with is the poor guy who’s been nominated as RQ. He can only perform RQ from the right, and since you’re not allowed to “fly” the aircraft from the left the only possible outcome entails you doing all the paperwork, radio work, and staying-awake work. Touching the heading bug or pressing the "level change" button is years beyond your qualification level, even though the guy sitting next to you (who only joined about 6 months ago) is "relief command qualified" and should theoretically be capable of protecting you from your own incapable self.
Once you’ve got the seat and pedals adjusted, it’s time to start the paperwork. But not before missing a radio call because you can’t find the microphone since you’ve never actually been in the seat without a headset on. Even if you did, you still don't have a clue as to what the Chinese controller is saying. But not to worry, most don't. Reply “Roger. Maintain FL[XXX]m, report [next FIR border waypoint], estimating [FIR border waypoint] at [xxxx]. That should safely get you through most of China, Mongolia and Russia.
Now, start the paperwork by doing a fuel check, noting the difference between the totalizer/calculated totals and the expected total on the CFP for a certain waypoint. Note the difference on the CFP, and compare this figure to the takeoff fuel. Once every hour, you’ll do a new one. It might be a good idea to mark these off on the CFP so that you don’t forget amongst all the other important things you’ll be doing, but we're confident you'll figure that out all by yourself.
When you’ve managed to ascertain that we’re not going to run out of fuel just yet, it’s time to “put the steps in.” By itself, the FMC will calculate the optimum FL based on the aircrafts current weight and speed, and subsequently display this figure on the VNAV cruise page. However, the “optimum” flight levels stipulated on the CFP are based on aircraft weight, aircraft speed and forecasted winds along the routes. It may not always be smart to step up into a 50kt headwind to save a few kilograms of fuel due to weight. Therefore, you must manually enter the steps as found in the CFP into the FMC. This should update your arrival time to a more correct figure, which is further improved once you’ve entered the expected STAR and approach into the FMC. When the ISM calls up and asks you for the expected arrival time, you’ll hopefully have finished this and be able to provide her with an accurate ETA. Keep in mind that the service schedule onboard is built backwards from the arrival time; screw this up and you’ll be drinking coffee sweetened with saliva and cyanide.
With the initial fuel check being completed, the steps entered and the expected arrival set up, you’re now looking forward to several hours of complete and utter boredom. You are, as a matter of historical tradition, expected to know where the hell you are, for which the Jeppesen enroute charts do wonders. If you ever actually manage to locate yourself on one, get a highlighter and mark the spot, because the chances of doing that twice are next to none. Your best bet for maintaining situational awareness is to print the maps off the route briefing pages on IntraCX, and keep track of the airports listed in the NOTAM list as you progress. Along with the magnitude of information available to you in the AERADs, this should be plenty to keep yourself oriented as you cross Continents and Oceans.
Apart from updating the CFP, there is really nothing else to do. Your trusty RQ will fly the aircraft single-pilot, get all the weather, and make any decisions which may or may not need deciding. You are truly being groomed for the responsibilities that lie ahead. With nobody expecting anything from you, there is no need to deliver.
About halfway through the flight, wake the guys up and creep into a nice, warm bunk.
Descent and Landing
Expect to be awoken from the bunk either by someone shaking your foot at TOD or by your own eardrums popping as the cabin equalizes during the final descent. Exiting the soothing comfort of the dark bunk, you’ll stumble down the stairs into bright daylight still wearing your pyjamas and earplugs. The guys are all wearing sunglasses and configuring for landing as you notice the toiletries have been removed from the bathroom and you can’t find your toothbrush. So you put on your uniform, run water through your face and pop a piece of gum before taking your seat and strapping yourself in as we descend on the glideslope and drop the landing gear. You’ve probably never been to the airport before at this stage, but what does it matter? After touchdown the airplane makes its way off the runway and taxis among all the other jumbos on its way to the gate. You’re still wondering where we are as the aircraft docks and the PF cuts the engines and turns off the seatbelts. Time to work.
“Pass the Charts, Gentlement” is your statement at this stage. Taking over the charts and the mini-jepp, you meticulously place them back in the binder in numerical order, making the extra effort not to put them back into the departure airport. You then unlock the cockpit door before removing all the garbage, magazines, newspapers and water bottles and placing them outside the cockpit. Retrieving your jacket and hat, you exit the cockpit and comb the upper deck for earplugs, toothbrushes and socks to take home as presents for your girlfriend. Once the real pilots have shut down and secured the aircraft, everyonel exits the aircraft in an orderly fashion, making sure to thank all the girls you can’t remember the names of.
Now, get on the bus, check into the hotel and get some sleep, watch some porno and drink plenty of beer before doing it all over again on the way home.
Do this for 4 years straight and you just might become suitable to move into a window seat.
It is an opportunity to work for one of the greatest airlines in the world. Who cares if you have to live in a 400sqft box and eat cuppa noodles 8 times a week. You get great sandwiches when you go to observe someone fly a big shiny jet. What !!! No more sandwiches .... I got my own pack of noodles
Wonderful. I miss-quoted (probably because I'm a thick Cathay wannabe lacking self-respect), but I'm still keen to know why we lack said 'self-respect'?
Jesus Christ I'm usually one of the few trying to scrape some use out of this thread and avoid these clashes but the perpetual cadet bashing is wearing thin. Pick out the faults of the scheme, but keep your patronising thoughts on our personalities to yourself.
I don't think the 'self respect' statement is related to the cadet scheme and any implied lack of amongst the cadets.
I think it is related to a motivated pilot joining as an SO and having to live the life so aptly described by AKOTA. I think any of us would have to do a bit of soul searching after spending a few years making the bunks and filling in the flight plan. When any highly motivated and trained individual is put in that position, it has to have some impact on your own feeling of self worth and I guess by extension; self respect.
But then again, this is only my take on the statement.