April 11, 2013

A Day in the Life: Pilots (continued)

Part II

(continued from part one: Flight Prep)

What’s the next best thing to flying in the cockpit? Going for a ride in our flight simulator, of course!

The morning kicked off in a training room, where two pilots were going through Line Oriented Evaluation (LOE), or “recurrent training,” something all pilots must do once a year to ensure their skills, knowledge, and situational awareness are proficient. With 2,500 pilots at JetBlue, JetBlue University is a revolving door when it comes to regular training! Recurrent lasts three days, and this day focused on the third cycle, or pure simulator training.

Jason, an A320 Captain based at JFK and Mike, an A320 First Officer based in BOS, were the two pilots being evaluated. They had never met, similar to how pilots are paired for a flight. Their instructor, Bill, a seasoned pilot who has been with JetBlue since 2003, sat controlled the line of questioning using a computer screen.

Jason and Mike knew their stuff. They were shown images of various controls in the cockpit, and asked to describe each one’s purpose. Bill presented numerous “what if” scenarios, and Mike and Jason took turns answering the questions. While this writer is not versed in “pilot speak,” their wealth of technical knowledge and zero hesitancy when fielding back-to-back questions for two hours was apparent.

The next part of training took place in an A320 simulator, where the pilots had to conduct themselves exactly as if they were flying from start to finish. They are given briefing papers that spell out the route (LGA-BOS), time of day, and weather conditions—everything except what “event” they’ll encounter in-flight. This way, Bill could evaluate how Jason and Mike handle the surprise situation in reality.

Stepping inside the simulator was not like stepping into an amusement park ride. It was like stepping onto an actual plane.  The scene outside the cockpit window was of LaGuardia airport—it looked like we were actually parked at a gate.

In addition to controlling when the “event” took place, Bill would also be the voice of the usual suspects pilots communicate with while in the cockpit: air traffic control, dispatch, inflight crewmembers, and ground personnel.

After Jason and Mike finished their pre-departure routine, they radioed Bill, or in this case, “air traffic control” for clearance to push back. Every move the “plane” made felt exactly the way it does on a real flight. As we taxied away from the gate, we passed other JetBlue aircraft lined up, and saw planes descending upon arrival on the runways ahead. Takeoff felt exactly like the real deal.

Once in the air, Bill waited about 5-7 minutes before implementing the event which, in this case, was an air conditioning and pressurization issue. Jason and Mike talked it out just as they would on a real flight, and called upon their experience and flight manuals to react accordingly. It was fascinating—and comforting—to witness the level of communication and their situational awareness come to life.

There was a short break before Mike and Jason performed a second flight evaluation, but this time with a different event to tackle. It wouldn’t have been the true experience without some friendly teasing from the pilots, as they landed the “plane” and parted ways.

Check out the previous editions of A Day In The Life and meet:

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