Don’t Fly Like Airplanes Article excerpted from Airline
Pilot Careers, June 2000 issue by Captain Karen M. Kahn
A sim checkride often determines whether a
pilot ever gets his or her hands on the real thing, but in
talking with pilot applicants, it’s clear that many
are not aware of just how important a simulator evaluation
is during the hiring process.
Hopefully, you realized when you were working
on your Instrument rating, that it was to be the most
important rating of your career and it was not the time
to skimp on basics. Developing a good instrument scan
is a must for the professional pilot, but that's only
the beginning. Keeping that scan in good repair is a
constant, on-going battle for everyone from the newly
minted IFR pilot to the seasoned airline captain. And
like it or not, your scan will "depart the area,"
with surprising rapidity once you let up on the constant
practice required to keep it sharp.
So, if you're just getting into aviation,
make sure you pay close attention during your instrument training
and plan carefully for the ongoing maintenance of your skills.
As you progress into bigger and faster aircraft, the use of
simulators will become common and increasingly more important
to your career. You'll be expected to demonstrate your IFR
skills on every type of simulator from a basic Tabletop model,
to a machine that may have been built before you were born,
to a state-of-the-art full-motion sim with daytime graphics
and every conceivable computerized gadget. That's when a great
scan will payoff.
Dealing with the simulator phenomena is very
much a mindset. Complaining that the sim you've been given
to fly doesn't replicate the airplane is a waste of time.
Your job is to know how to fly a simulator. In the process,
you’ll need to disregard the make and model hype that
can lead you into thinking you’re flying an airplane-you’re
not! Think of it as a skill exercise designed to test your
"instant accommodation" skills.
Most airline simulators do a good job of replicating
the cockpit, but often the flying characteristics leave a
lot to be desired. You may think they're a duplicate at first
glance, but after you're flown the "real McCoy"
for a while, you'll return to the sim, cursing it's insensitivity-or
over sensitivity-noting that the airplane flies much better
than this soulless beast.
Your job as a pilot applicant is to pass the
simulator checkride, and often that can take as much practice-if
not more-than what you'll expend studying for written tests
or person-to-person interviews. And just because you're currently
employed as a pilot, it doesn't mean you can pass a sim check
without preparation. To do your best, you'll probably have
to spend some time refreshing your sim-flying skills as well.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that
since you fly regularly, you'll have no trouble flying a simulator.
Flying regularly is good practice for flying airplanes, not
simulators. We've seen too many pilots work hard on their
interviewing skills only to brush off the sim check with a
"no problem, I'm current" comment. Later, we sometimes
learn the applicant was fortunate enough to pass the interview
portion, but lost it when "the box" ate his lunch,
so to speak.
When preparing for a sim checkride, make sure
your practice is focused. Just spending time with a simulator
isn't going to provide you with the experience necessary to
pass a new-hire checkride. Be sure that your training is just
that-training. Take the time (usually a minimum of two to
three hours), and spend the money to get some real training
that includes dealing with approaches and basic IFR maneuvers.
Emergencies and unusual attitudes usually will not be part
of a sim checkride.
Become thoroughly acquainted with your sim
and its instruments. You will almost always receive a briefing
before taking the actual sim check, so make sure to pay attention
and ask questions if you're not used to any control or instrument.
One pilot, who was unfamiliar with the skypointer type of
attitude indicator, became disoriented during his pre-hire
check, ruining an otherwise well-flown ride. Rather than receiving
a "thumbs up" he was told he could reapply six months
later. Had he spent some time in a structured practice environment,
his results might have been a class-date offer rather than
a “sorry, better-luck-next-time” response.
When preparing for a pre-hire sim check, try
to get instruction in a machine similar to the one you’ll
take the checkride in. It’s certainly fine to jump into
a full-motion, transport-type simulator if the opportunity’s
available, but if you know your check will be in a stationary,
desktop computer model, try to get practice on a stationary,
desktop computer. Although it would offer the best preparation,
you don't have to rent a DC-10 simulator just because the
airline uses one for testing its applicants. You may want
to use a PC-type sim to keep your scan up to grade and then
utilize a stand-alone sim and instructor prior to your testing
situation. Any type of sim that allows you to practice the
various maneuvers and provides an opportunity to utilize CRM
skills will help you pass this crucial event.
Beware of thinking that since you flew any
sim around the patch a few times, you'll ace the checkride.
Take the time to renew your acquaintance and practice. Even
if you fly frequently, the practice is worth the investment.
The types of flying you do also can make or break your chance
at successfully passing a sim check. If you're used to giving
scenic tours and find most of your flights are VFR, or perhaps
you're giving lots of instruction (even though it may be IFR
dual), you'll definitely want to become "sim current"
before any pre-hire checkride.
Simulators aren't airplanes-in most cases
they don't provide the same sensory clues and cues of real
aircraft-however, they do provide us many opportunities that
airplanes just can't match. Flying in any kind of weather,
at any time of day, and to any destination in the world-simulators
offer a great benefit to pilots who may not have the resources
to experience a wide range of flight conditions. To see how
pilots cope, sim instructors and testers can introduce unusual
attitudes and emergencies that might be suicidal in a real
airplane, and it's a lot less expensive to spend an hour in
a simulator than in a real B-737 with both engines turning.
Ultimately, we all need to keep our simulator
skills sharp. If you've never flown a sim, now's the time
to begin preparing so you'll be ready when you get that coveted
phone call or letter inviting you to demonstrate the skills
you've so wisely practiced.
Karen Kahn is a captain for a major U.S.
airline. Type-rated in the MD-80 and Lockheed JetStar, she
holds an ATP, Gold Seal CFI:AIM, and is rated in gliders,
seaplanes, and helicopters.