A Day In the Life of an Instructor Pilot
The instructor pilots in this story are not the usual ones that hang around your local airport trying to build up time to get a ‘real job’ flying for an airline or a corporation. No, these instructors have many thousands of hours and mostly flew in the United States military, or for an airline that went ‘belly-up’. They are true professionals who would look great in a full-page advertisement for an airplane manufacturer. These instructors in this story flew for what was at the time, the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company. The story is set in the mid Nineties and is a composite of many of the situations that they found themselves in: at home, on a foreign ‘Line Assist’ or instructing in the simulator in a non-U.S. country.
To their wives (and girl friends), their supervisor and their stock broker, they are often a will-o-the-wisp frequently seen only at Oh-dark thirty hours. This gives rise to the belief that they are closely related the North American sasquatch.
Wife: “Honey, would you catch that alarm before it wakes the baby! Who do you have this morning? Same class? Well, I’ll see you around five. And DON’T FORGET OUR DATE TOMORROW NIGHT. It’s been weeks since we went out together.”
Arrgh! Friday morning, way to go! Nearly finished with this bunch and it’s been an interesting class, or maybe I should say, challenging. First time I’ve had a compressed schedule in a long time and it sure was a short night. Well, Monday they get their check rides. My captain is really sharp but the FO is slow. Hope he improves today. Hmmm. I wonder if he is someone the airline customer wants Boeing to pass judgment on. Just my good fortune to be Program Lead and no one to lean on.
In Flight over the South China Sea
Who was it said that ‘the dawn comes up like thunder out of China ‘cross the bay?’ This dawn is right in my eyeballs and I’ve been fighting sleep all night in the right seat of this little bitty jet. The newly checked-out captain is really catching on fast to the ‘glass cockpit’ and the Flight Management System. He’s using concepts rather than rules. Line Assist can be fun, but sunrise in the eyes is the same the whole world over.
I think I’ll celebrate by rinsing out my mouth with some Vee-Eight. We’ve got a very light load; I hope the airline’s Sales and Marketing Department can drum up some more passengers, then with luck they’ll buy a few more Boeings. Hmm, I’ll better drop a note to Boeing Sales and let them know more about this operation.
Lessee, next stop we’ll have Customs and Immigration. I hope they’ll have the proper forms. The last Line Assist I was on bogged down on arrival because the official form had only shown boxes for three models of the 737. They insisted that the airplane couldn’t be a 737-800; as far as they were concerned if it wasn’t on their form it didn’t exist.
Ahh. The smell of the islands. Salt air, clear skies – not too many contrails in this part of the Pacific. This island looks like a throwback to the Fifties – motor scooters and litter and still relatively undeveloped. Well, not for long. Breakfast! Fresh fruit and what IS that stuff? Better get some ‘tho. It’s going to be a long day.
Boy, sometimes you get lucky. A late sleep-in and a limo pickup. The high tech Orient has some advantages I don’t get at home - a nice room on the fourteenth floor and still fairly quiet at 7.30 AM. Funny but I don’t hear the birds at this elevation but the ‘flavor’ of the Orient surely rises with the humidity. Fruit for breakfast. The Flight Surgeon would definitely approve of that and with the customer picking up the tab - what the hell!
Down to the lobby for pickup. No graffiti in these elevators. Very nice place. (Thanks Boeing Travel Department! Better take them a bottle on the way home.)
And a limo – a Mercedes? Smooothe, and the driver’s taking the scenic route; this must be the tourist road. I wonder where the poor people live? What’s this? The Training Center? The driver opens my door in the training center porte cochere and the students are there to greet their new simulator instructor.
We brief for the lesson and, Omigawd! they are letter perfect – let’s hope they understand the concepts. And that’s my job to make sure they do because there’s several different ways to work a Flight Management System and all of them are correct.
Who are these guys? The captain is just off an older, short-range Boeing with no ‘glass cockpit’ experience. The First Officer is transitioning from the Airbus A-320. Wonder why he’s going on the Boeing? Maybe he likes our airplanes. Did his A-320 have a side stick? Have to watch he doesn’t try to outsmart the captain and show him how clever he is. Crew management is a key concept that is sometimes difficult to get across to Asian crews. Ah well, as long as he can type 40 words a minute on the keypad……..
10.00 a.m. and it looks like my day is just beginning. The First Officer needs more than additional training - the captain has been ‘carrying’ him and saying nothing about it. It’s hard for me to tell when there is a language difference. We do have a Standard Operating Procedure for slow students. Let’s see. What did the boss say?
“Work ‘em, guide ‘em, but don’t baby ‘em. My family may be on their flight someday.”
First the paperwork. Gotta be objective. “The FO could not find the correct page in the Quick Reference Handbook.” Maybe he doesn’t read English as well as he can speak English. That’s unusual, it’s usually the other way round. “FO gets lost in the middle of the Hydraulic Leak or Loss procedure.” Is this language or logic? Or maybe the procedure isn’t clearly written. Y’know, the captain is being very quiet about this guy which may confirm my suspicion that the airline has some doubts and is looking for us to pass judgment. Perhaps he’s politically connected and they can’t pull out the rug?
O.K. Paperwork’s done. Now, let me get a hold of the class leader. One thing’s sure, I’ll miss my day off on Saturday. Let’s check Saturday’s schedule. Gotta time slot for an extra simulator schedule? Yep. Call the leader.
“Hello Captain. I’d like to discuss the FO’s performance today. Can I come to your hotel? Sure. See you in thirty minutes.” Oh boy. Up and down the superslab to his hotel.
These guys are sharp! Nice contrast to the last program I had. Some classes are just smoother than others. The Captain must’ve burned the midnight oil, or maybe spent time with his buddies. He’s sure got flying experience. All it takes is hangin’ new stuff on the old hooks he has in his head….. and he’s doin’ it! The FO has that great quality I see in so many Asian youth - smart, energetic, coordinated and a mind like a sponge. Guess they aren’t as coddled as many of their U.S. contemporaries.
Nice afternoon. Think I’ll take the captain up on his invitation to play a short nine at his club. Sounds exclusive and very ritzy. Such is life for the rich Asian.
Back to the hotel. Fill out the paperwork. Hmm. Looks like the Ground Training Department back home could use a little help in smoothing out the flight profile. Better redline this puppy. Then I’ve got an article to write for the Ops Review Board. Paper, paper, paper. If I was a real airline pilot, all I’d do is collect a bigger paycheck and the heck with the paperwork!
Life ain’t too bad in the tropics, sometimes!
Well, my guess was correct. The F.O. can’t hack it without extra time. I gotta be a diplomat here, but maybe I’ve got to ‘let him out gracefully’. The airline knew he was a ‘slo mo’ but wanted an outside opinion. Hmmm, I’ll have to find some extra time for him in the simulator tomorrow and see if that helps. If not, I’ll have to let him go. But, who’ll be his simulator captain? It can’t be one of their guys and his real Captain doesn’t need the time nor does he want to miss his weekend off in Seattle. Lessee, what does our Black Book say….. Nada. That’s what I get paid for – decisions that make everybody look good.
Wait a minute, we have some up-and-coming Ground School instructors that are fully qualified in real airplanes and just longing to be upgraded. That new guy is really sharp, I think he is in the Reserve. Maybe he’ll work on Saturday. Better call the ground School Supervisor and get his O.K.
Now the hard part, what am I going to tell the wife about to-morrow night?
At the Hotel.
Well it IS better than the Da Nang BOQ – no bugs, no drugs, less noise and the air conditioning doesn’t smell of cigar smoke. A hurried sleep at best with the 5 AM alert. Well, it’s a short ride to Operations. Breakfast? Oh yeah. Wonder what the in-flight meal will be? Not Asian, I hope. I can handle just about anything but sushi. Still, it’s a no-fat diet.
At the airport.
Lookin’ good, just like we left it and it still SMELLS new. Boy, these cabin attendants are really attentive. I believe that if they had a real kitchen, I could have a real breakfast of steak and eggs.
The captain is very much in command during the briefing. If all their pilots are like him, they’ll make it on the Ops side for sure. This sure is a funny little island. Japanese War graves and still some rusted stuff in the lagoon. No American graves ‘tho. Guess the Commission must’ve moved ‘em after The War. Lots of Japanese tourists ‘tho making offerings at the gravesites. Beautiful beaches. Pity I didn’t have time to swim and snorkel. Guess this is a pretty good Line Assist trip after all.
Not like the one I had in Europe several years ago before the EU spread its influence. The customer airline was assisting in the deportation of two foreign nationals whose travels had originated from a third country, not their homeland. On arrival back at the third country where they were being returned, the Immigration Department wouldn’t let them off the ramp and the guards on the customer airline wouldn’t let ‘em back on my airplane. Impasse!
After lots of hard stares and stiff jaws, the customer airline captain said, “Well, if they return to XXX, there is no food for them to eat and they’ll starve!” This loss of face by the locals was sufficient to satisfy any backpedaling by the officials who replied, “Well, of course they can stay.” I wonder whatever happened to those guys?
At least the sun ain’t gonna burn my eyeballs on the way home.
A typical day in the life of a commercial airplane manufacturer’s IP?
Yep, they’ve got to be diplomats, psychologists, philosophers, proficient pilots and good human beings. And oh yes, have an encyclopedic memory.