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Sensible Checking or Training in simulators

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Sensible Checking or Training in simulators

Old 15th Nov 2019, 14:24
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Sensible Checking or Training in simulators

The Autumn edition of the UK General Aviation Flight Safety Council magazine (GASCo), makes for interesting reading. In particular, David Unwin's article "From the Cockpit." One extract states: In his excellent book Flying Know-How, Robert Buck relates a story of receiving an instrument check in a Lockheed Constellation. The check pilot was new, keen and had already failed an engine. Then on the downwind leg the check pilot failed another engine. A cold front had just gone through and it was a winter's day of snow showers, gusty winds and strong turbulence.

A two engine approach in such conditions was - as Buck wrote "the kind of manoeuvre people get killed trying". He refused to do it and re-started the engine. The check pilot wasn't happy and when he said it was part of the check, Buck replied "oh well, I've just busted the check, so we might as well turn on the other engine and go home." The check pilot wasn't happy about that either (Buck was already very senior) and he eventually substituted another manoeuvre, Buck completed the check and returned to line, but the lesson here is that if you're uncomfortable, speak up.

Nowadays we practice these sort of manoeuvres in a simulator and no one gets hurt despite the simulator sometimes "crashing." What doesn't change is the type of check pilot or simulator instructor who consciously or unconsciously over-loads pilots under test with numerous unrelated non-normal events and emergencies despite the likelihood of these combinations happening in real life being a big fat zero. Some may say this never happens in their airline and that this sort of behaviour belongs in the past or only in the military. That may be true depending on the airline. It is a brave pilot that raises a strong objection against an instructor who persists in such an attitude designed to see if a candidate can "hack it." Job security is probably uppermost in his mind before an over-loaded pilot calls time on a simulator session and says enough is enough.

This scribe knew a check captain known for his biting sarcasm. He was a big man who had flown on operations against the Japanese in WW2. He was handy with his fists as well, so it was advisable not to annoy him. Management knew of his reputation yet refused to counsel or remove him from checking duties because after all he was one of them.

One of the captains had had enough of this check pilot's arrogant behaviour. After getting an earful during engine start in a real Boeing 737 the captain acted. . Hardly had he sat down in the left seat when Joe (the check captain) was at him with biting sarcasm. The captain who had been undergoing training with Joe for the last month finally could take it no longer. He retaliated with "Hold it there, Joe - the more you yell the deafer I get." He then produced a wad of dollar notes from his pocket, waved them at Joe and said " Fly it yourself - I'm getting off here and buying myself a ticket home."

Now that 737 needed two pilots to fly it and with one walking off the job, it was going nowhere. Joe knew that and reluctantly apologised saying "If I am bugging you - just tell me." The captain knew he had Joe over a barrel and said "Just back off with the sarcasm Joe and we'll get along fine." He then resumed the left seat and the aircraft departed. The captain wasn't bluffing and Joe knew it.

In another airline a captain who had been on leave for some time was given a check flight in the simulator before returning to flying duties. The check pilot, an over-enthusiastic type recently promoted to the position, briefed the session would start off with an engine failure on a night takeoff with a 25 knot crosswind, followed by a low level circuit with cloud base of 1000 feet and single engine go-around followed by a further low level circuit and single engine landing. The check pilot would "position freeze" the simulator on he downwind leg to enable all required checklists to be completed.

This clearly was a highly unrealistic scenario and the pilot under check queried the justification of such a start to the session. He was told by the check pilot "I agree but I just wanted to see if you can handle it."
It begs the question of what does the candidate do under such circumstances? Should he stop the simulator session and risk losing his career? After all it is rare that airline management will agree with the pilot's protest and counsel the check captain or even remove him from checking duties. Few candidates under test will put pen to paper and expose the perceived failings of the checking system. That risks the candidate being regarded by management of making waves and causing extra paperwork. Despite lip service being paid to a company policy of un-biased investigation into what happens in simulator training (my door is always open says the boss), it becomes the word of one man against the other. We know who usually wins.

Most reasonable pilots accept that certain manoeuvres may be required by their State regulator to be checked. What is not needed are scenarios of multiple often unrelated and unrealistic events packed into one session. These can cause stress and resentment among candidates under test. Certainly nothing of value is learnt. Every airline pilot has occasionally experienced this during simulator training. The ironic part is that before induction into an airline, prospective candidates usually undergo various psychological tests to assess their suitability for the job. In other words the Right Stuff. In contrast, promotion to check pilot or even a simulator instructor requires no psychological assessments. For a check captain, airline seniority number may be the only requirement and of course good technical knowledge.

Training departments need to keep their ear to the ground as best they can when it comes to the various characters selected for instructor/ check pilot appointments. If word on the grapevine is that a certain check pilot has a reputation of being a screaming skull, then this character needs to be pulled in for tea and bikkies. Don't expect official on paper complaints. Few pilots risk putting pen to paper. Simulators have the unfair reputation of being called Horror Boxes and often for very good reason.

One thing is for sure. A Regulators Flight Operations Inspector observing the behavioral attitude of a prospective check captain in the simulator will see the candidate on his best behaviour. He has no idea of the true temperament of the candidate in terms of suitability for the task of check pilot or instructor. The first to know will be the check captain's students. A captive audience.

Last edited by Judd; 16th Nov 2019 at 06:05.
Judd is offline  
Old 15th Nov 2019, 18:56
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Judd - unfortunately, it's 'the nature of the beast'. It is not just a feature of pilot training, any training environment will have its share of such people. The common factor is, essentially, 'one-upmanship' ... "I have the power to make life difficult for you!"
When I stopped flying, I tried re-employment in Air Traffic Control. The course was in 3 phases, Ground, Simulator and Practical. The first and last were excellent, instructors and activity. The simulator was a different world with the emphasis on intentional overload. It was, obviously, a total disincentive and lead to my having a stand-up row with the instructor and walking out. Not particularly proud of my reactions but the process was a complete waste of time. ( I was classed as a 'fail', and immediately offered a recourse - as directed by the AOC - which I refused) The RAF, in the 60s, recognised the problem, which was common, and Central Flying School instructors were required to complete a Ground Instructional Training course in which the emphasis was firmly on instructors providing maximum encouragement rather than criticism. Fully accepted by most of us but firmly ignored by those who felt that their 'power-base' was being undermined. Human nature is most resistant to change.
Cornish Jack is offline  
Old 17th Nov 2019, 21:37
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Join Date: Sep 2018
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A relatively easy way to keep instructors & checkers on their toes would be a confidential rating system. The bottom percentile scoring instructors and checkers can be either released back as regular line pilots or given the opportunity to improve. This allows a regular removal of bad apples and influx of new talent to the training department.

The key would be a properly confidential rating system that cannot be abused by disgruntled checkees/trainees.

But I suspect the old boys club would be aghast with such a thing in most ‘modern’ airlines.
BoeingDriver99 is offline  
Old 18th Nov 2019, 12:27
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Perhaps the airline should have a system where the Checker cannot overload and throw in their own ideas. Have set Proficiency Checks and Training sessions that change in cycles over the three year period. There will still be good or bad Checker / Trainer but less chance of "overloading".
iceman50 is offline  

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