Friday, February 3, 2006

So... How was YOUR day?

Wow. My third airplane-related post in four. Sorry 'bout that! But that's what's been going on, and so my mind runs over these things maybe more than usual.

Three of my four assignments this week were to provide "simulator support," assisting, in this case, with the training of new flight engineers. Some of the basics of simulator work are covered in this post, and there may be some useful background there for anyone inclined to dig on the subject. If you're not inclined to dig (and you have a photographic memory for the verbose and redundant), I apologize in advance for any duplication with that post.

The airline industry has a really amazing safety record, especially when one considers what the industry actually does and, particularly, the frequency with which the operations are performed. There are a lot of reasons for this--improved machinery and standardized procedures among them--but one of the biggies is the use of simulators. As I said before, we are able with a well-designed simulator to experience as crewmembers the kinds of emergencies and failures that simply cannot be risked--or even staged--in the real airplane.

Airline training has always been torturous, tho, even before simulators came into such widespread use. Training for my first airline job was accomplished entirely in the real airplane, in flight, and there was no shortage of stresses and suffering to which one could be subjected. We would emerge from those two-hour sessions dripping with sweat (and sometimes in tears) and generally feeling that we should have pursued another line of work. But flying around with an engine at idle (simulating the loss of that engine--and sometimes it was actually shut down!) or with instruments covered up or without working flaps--these failures, it must be admitted, are limited in number and rather low-tech. With a simulator we can simulate virtually anything that has any business failing. Landing gear collapses and jammed flight controls and hydraulic system failures and electrical malfunctions and flight instruments that don't just quit working but actually tell you something erroneous! This ghastly list can go on and on.

But what made me think and wonder about all this today was our doing a series of what are called "V1 cuts" at the end of the session. Airplane speeds, critical performance speeds, are referred to as "V speeds" and we calculate several key V speeds for every takeoff and every landing. In the DC-8 this is the flight engineer's job. In a more modern airplane it is calculated by a computer. "V1" is also known as "takeoff decision speed" and refers to the speed below which, if a problem arises, we will abandon a takeoff, and above which we will continue the takeoff (of course there have to be exceptions, but for our purposes we'll leave it at that). As we accelerate down the runway, the non-flying pilot calls out "VEE... ONE" and the flying pilot knows that we're going flying now whatever. Given (and it is a given) that we spend most of our time in training flying around with an engine not operating, and given that the WORST TIME to lose an engine is RIGHT AT V1, we get to see a lot of these V1 cuts. Training this way gets us accustomed to exercising a key judgment at a really delicate time in the flight, and also accustoms the flying pilot to muscling a handicapped airplane around at is tenderest speed.

Now, this is a failure that we can simulate in an actual airplane quite easily, by simply pulling an operating engine to idle at the precise moment. But what we can't do in the real airplane is freeze things at any point to either talk about how the maneuver went, or to simply reset to the beginning and redo it. Thus, in the simulator we get to see many V1 cuts in a short span of time, until they have gone from a white-knuckle nightmare to a normal procedure (the loss of an engine will never be a ho-hum situation). This can be done in any simulated weather condition, from clear and a million to solidly zero / zero in dense clouds. Or, maybe even worse, zero / zero at night. Today we had "good weather" conditions, and that makes it seem so strange to be suddenly frozen a couple thousand feet off the ground mid-maneuver while we terminate the maneuver and start over again.

Without this kind of training, an actual engine failure at that moment would make a fella shit his pants; with the training, we all have reason to breathe a little easier.


Kate said...

Umm, that didn't make me feel better about flying. But it was interesting. :-)

Kate said...

Why does your blog continue to say that no one has commented when I have? Why are you tormenting me Blogger?!

wunelle said...

Actually, even my sitemeter said that not one person had read my silly little post until an hour ago, when 13 visits were suddenly logged. I was wondering why nobody liked me! (Must be my cyber-smell.) So either Blogger or Sitemeter were tormenting us one and all!

But I'm glad you stopped by :-)

I'll write you a soothing flying post sometime soon!

Anonymous said...

I think that Blogger is tormenting you. I had a tough time getting your blog to load, it took several tries.

The other aspect of a sim that I find so amazing is that they can do a good enough job that they can be a pilot's only experience with a given aircraft before they are flying the real thing on their own. That is just incredible to me.

wunelle said...

Damn straight. That a pilot can suddenly, in theory, haul passengers around on their very first visit to the actual airplane--and this is so conservative and safety-conscious industry as this one--is a miracle!

I never do time in a simulator without wanting to drag everyone I know in to show them how it works. Especially for anyone interested in video games or other forms of virtual reality, this takes the cake.

Mandy said...

Let's not talk too much about engines failing, okay? I've got to fly from Dubai to NY in a few weeks, my friend.

But it's good to know that there's such extensive training that whoever my pilot is will know the proper respose. After crapping himself, that is.

Anonymous said...

Are these corperate owned or run by flightsafety somewhere?

wunelle said...

No, we have our own sims for every fleet except the 747s, for which we train at, I think, Flight Safety. Not sure about that. But we have all the other fleets in-house.