Simulation is Risk Management

simulator_cae5000For those non-piloting / aviator readers, let me bring you into a little oddity about the FAA, and by extension the world in general. If the airplane you want to fly weighs more than 12,500 lbs. or has jet engines, you need to go to school for “it.”  Namely, your pilot licence has it “named” on your licence. It would be like your Maryland driver’s license saying “Toyota Camry – no restrictions.” (You can drive it alone!)  But, fear not, this is logical and a good thing, because when they get that big and complicated, you don’t want to be licensed on too many of them, at least not too many at once.

For those of you that fly for a living, many have likely had the opportunity to visit CAE Simuflite in Dallas, Flight Safety in Montreal, or any similar place where you are thrust into the crucible of doing many approaches, under various forms of duress while an instructor sits calmly behind you, lobbing new problems you might have prepared for.

In my case, it wasn’t so calm, serene, or glamorous.  This is in part due to a 14 year hiatus from IFR flying, in the hectic Northeast corridor.  Despite this calm period of mental rot, I still fancied myself somewhat of a Han Solo… maybe Han lite.  “Throw me anything man, I can take it,” I thought naively in the comfort of all this glass, automation and really new stuff that I had never seen before.  No matter how great your crew nest is, a crippled airplane is not a relaxing place, and it also has limited time and options.  But, in fairness to my less than stellar flying, I didn’t crash the thing, though I did do some fairly embarrassing things.

I was later told that this was “normal” and that they had seen “far worse.”  My ego returned to the Homewood Suites and was duly repaired with some banter at the Applebees bar by other pilots.  Some of them actually real military pilots, which further confused my damaged ego, “They let me mix with them?”  I was given fellow pilot reassurance that despite not being a good listener (to air traffic control or my wife) I was able to muddle through the checkride and convince some people that I was worthy of Captainhood in the Embraer Phenom 100, one of the most successful flavors of the Light Jet category that was much trumpeted in 2006 and prior.

The fact is that without simulators, the concept of getting a type rating, would be an anemic and hardly worthwhile adventure.  The simulator affords some amazing things you can’t do in real life as part of a training exercise.  For the civilians reading this, here’s a list of stuff we do, without even soiling ourselves!

  • Le V1 Cut: Just about to take off? Good, ’cause now you’re doing it with one engine.  (Long runway ahead of you? Nope, you’re too fast and you’re job is to safely bring the wounded thing into the air.  Then deal with the problem.)
  • Hole in Plane: Comfy at 41,000ft? The cabin just depressurized, you don’t know why, … just put your mask on and get them in their seats…. dive to some altitude below – but wait… what is safe below you, weren’t we over Colorado or something?
  • F**k… what was that? That was a boom sound, eh?  Crap… there’s no runway left.  Now… the instructor said there are memory items to do – when do we do them again?
  • You smell that?  Ah… the electrical fire, our old friend. Hrm… stinky, smoky… but from where? What do we do? Where’s the nearest airport?  And damnit, hand me the checklist for this – oh right, I’m alone.  I’ll just thumb through these pages with my goggles on.

Ok, so I’m using this blog to make my experience seem more heroic than it was.  The upside, you learn A LOT.  There is simply no way to learn as much about an airplane’s limitations as to have it fall apart in so many ways while following the procedure to get everyone home.

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Aviation, technology, trends, society and the economic drivers that make it all happen is what makes me tick.

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