Tuesday 20 May 2014

Phase Two

Firstly, an apology. I realise that I’ve somewhat neglected this blog – I make it just a shade under seven months since last I posted – but oh well, better late than never…

Somewhat unsurprisingly, quite a lot has happened since the last instalment. Just after Christmas we had our first seven EASA exams and then two weeks of much needed leave in which to recover from almost four months of hard work. Results came out at the end of the second week of leave and having passed all my exams, the next Monday brought the start of phase two…

So, phase two. If we’d thought that phase one was intense, phase two was nigh on insane! In some ways there was less to learn than in phase one, in as much as the first phase was devoted to learning shed loads of facts while the second phase was devoted, on the whole, to learning principles that could then be applied in many different ways. The subjects covered were radio navigation, general navigation, aircraft performance, flight planning, mass and balance and the two fact learning subjects; air law and operational procedures.

The first five of these are mostly maths based – the ability to do long division and work out the angles in a triangle is invaluable. Air Law and Ops, on the other hand, are very much a return to the phase one method of learning lots of facts and reciting them. There was also not a lot of time to get a grip on the basics before examinations were upon us in the form of test twos after only three weeks. The same frenetic pace applied to the rest of phase two as there were only thirty one teaching days from beginning to end, followed by a revision week, school finals, another revision week and then EASAs. Our EASA exams also marked the end of the paper era – from now on all the exams will be done online.

Aside from the academic side of things, late March also saw us all undertaking the obligatory trip to the US embassy in London in order to get paperwork sorted out. This was just the start of a long list of other admin tasks; the US requires you to have not only a visa but also Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approval to undertake flight training – to make this even more arduous you need separate approval for each different type of aircraft you’ll be flying!

My future office

I was also lucky enough to get a chance to have a jump seat ride on a BA airbus going out to Stockholm and back. This came the day after finishing my phase two EASAs and so was a fantastic treat/way to celebrate/chance to see the practical application of some of what we’d learned. The process of setting up an airbus seems rather daunting at the moment, as does managing to get a word in edgeways on Heathrow Ground frequency and then actually managing to follow their rapid and complicated instructions, although no doubt both of these will become less daunting with time and experience… After an easy two hour flight the descent into Stockholm was made through thick clouds that only gave way to clear air about eight hundred feet above the ground, prompting the captain to make the wry comment as we passed a thousand feet that “a runway would be nice any time now.” An hour and a half on the ground was spent chatting with the whole crew and then being taken through the process of setting the aircraft up; with so much time available the first officer was able to show me the ins and outs of the system slowly enough that I could actually follow it! And then we were off again for Heathrow, although not before a small delay at the end of the runway as the crew resolved an air con issue that had sprung up on engine start. That sorted, we took off into the clouds again and headed back to the southwest. Not long after getting established in the cruise another aircraft passed under us heading south and although the magic box on board told us that they were the mandated thousand feet below us, when you’re seven miles up there’s nothing to give perspective and that separation seems pretty small! Arriving back over southern England the weather was perfect for a bit of hand flying – a rare treat for a commercial pilot in today’s crowded airspace – so the first officer flew the approach before handing over to the captain for his landing, which can only be described as a greaser…

The flight back was the captain’s flight so the first officer handled the radios, apart from during the initial and intermediate approach when the roles were reversed. BA is one of the few airlines to persist with this monitored approach concept, which is where the non-handling pilot flies the approach and assumes that the landing will be aborted and will result in a go-around. This way, not only does the non-handling pilot keep his eye in for if he does need to take over for any reason but he’s also ready with all the information needed for the go around and can talk the handling pilot through it to save any confusion. Assuming that the approach isn’t discontinued for any reason, the non-handling pilot hands the aircraft over to the handling pilot at about 1200ft so that the aircraft is completely set up in time for the 1000ft stable call – for an approach to be stable the speed, height and power must be right and the aircraft must be on track for the runway with the flaps as required and gear down. If any of these criteria aren’t met then it’s mandatory to do a go around and have another go at the landing.

Anyway, suffice to say that the entire flight was not only a fantastic learning experience but also great fun. The next instalment of the blog should be up soon (I promise not to leave it as long as for this instalment) and will cover the trip out to the states and the start of flying!

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