Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Commence right turn to heading 240.. no, no, no you idiot, i said 'right'.

The last coupla days were pretty big for me, work wise. After waiting quite a while, my training started on the flight simulator. And boy, has it been fun. I did not realize how much I'd missed a classroom until now, and the competitive atmosphere has been great. Add to it our pilot/instructor who is a Boeing fan, who keeps bashing Airbus and pulling my leg for liking them, it gets even better. I've flown simulators before, including one i helped build, but this has been something else entirely.

For starters, its not a half-game half serious affair anymore. Our pilot is a stickler for rules, as he damn well should be, and following proper procedure for everything has been an eye opener. None of the fun barrel rolls in inappropriate aircraft though, sadly. Our simulator is not a full flight simulator, but comes reasonably close to one. The instruments are all there in some form or the other, though at the moment quite a few are inoperable. The first day, we had theory for most of the class, and then got to take a brief spin on the simulator.

I got to fly copilot for everyone else before my turn came in the end, which was cool because i sat in my seat with my disengaged controls and pretend-flew the plane, breaking in between to help with throttle controls and landing gear. This in turn meant that by the time my turn did come, i was pretty good at controlling the throttle, and so was allowed to fly without a co-pilot. Our pilot has a quirky sense of humour which kept us engaged throughout. When one of the chaps made a slow turn that nearly ended in a stall, he reached for the phone pretending to call his wife to let her know that he was gonna die thanks to the imminent crash on the simulator. He botched the navigation instructions for me which resulted in me turning on to finals pretty high, and then when i opted to wrestle the airplane to the ground instead of going around and ended up with a rather hard landing, he said that our resident aircraft carrier pilot has landed the plane, and that the air hostesses would probably sue me for giving them spinal damage. All in all, good fun.

Whats thrilling me the most is the fact that all that i've read up about planes and flying is being put to better use here, and that i'm being able to match theoretical knowledge with practical ability. I was apprehensive about how i'd end up handling the plane, but todays flight removed all such doubts. On the other hand though, it has shown me exactly how much i need to learn. When i selected TOGA thrust for today's takeoff, one engine (No. 2) failed to spool up. The aircraft began moving forward, so i assumed things were going normally, but once thrust picked up on the functional engine, it began to yaw to the right. I did not immediately understand what was going on and had only begun to scan the instruments when our pilot impressively and immediately issued instructions to throttle back and compensate for yaw with the rudder. He had figured in a fraction of a second which engine was at fault, figured out the corrective measures, and issued relevant crisp instructions in the time i had maybe scanned a third of the instruments (of course, he has 20,000 hours real flying experience, i have zero). I followed the instructions, and we avoided a runway excursion. It was humbling, to say the least.

Things went reasonably smoothly after the second takeoff attempt, though. I maintained airspeed and altitude pretty accurately without copilot help, and unlike yesterday, had a better feel for the controls so was doing a much better job of keeping the aircraft attitude as per his instructions. Airspeed is pretty tough to maintain, and he was pretty lenient on us on the first attempt yesterday. He told me i would've lost my license 30 seconds after takeoff if this were a real plane, since i had long exceeded the recommended speed for the flap setting i had chosen. I corrected that bit today, though. The only (minor) glitch happened when my phone started ringing. I had left it in discreet mode for the first time since i've had it, and it produced a beeping sound when a friend called me while i was piloting the simulator. Since i wasn't familiar with the beep, i assumed i was doing something wrong and the simulator was warning me. So, emulating our pilot, i began a scan of the instruments at the precise moment when instructions were issued for me to turn right. And thanks to the distractions, i commenced a left turn, received an earful, and then commenced a right turn.

I had got a bit overconfident by the end of the flight, and wanted to try out a full instrument approach, but was asked, nay, ordered, to do a visual approach. Thankfully, there was less wrestling than yesterday, and i didnt give my virtual air hostesses any room for complaint, it was a decent landing (even if i say so myself). I did miss my ETA by five minutes though, and in real life, that translated to all of us missing the bus that would take us back to our main office.

I emerged from the simulator adrenaline charged, buzzed and happy. It feels nice to be able to meet goals you set for yourself, and I had been psyching myself that I should do good on this training no matter what. Of course, i should add here that i hope i dont go and botch it in the coming days. Navigation and other tough (for me, at least) subjects lay ahead. I wonder, though.. if i'm this happy in a simulator thats not close to the real thing, how the heck would i feel if i (hopefully) get to fly a real plane? The plane would roll to a stop, doors would open, and i'd go out bouncing all over the tarmac in excitement, probably. Or end up kissing the plane in love and gratitude, or do something equally silly. But so far, i'm ecstatic to hear the words 'excellent flying' from our pilot after i completed my flight. Its just the shot in the arm i needed for a flagging motivation level.
TOGA forever!

PS, I've added wiki links to some of the difficult terms in the article above.