Tuesday, November 1, 2005

I'm Done With Training and Now Just A Regular Old F/O!

11:45 PM - Thursday, Dec. 01, 2005
I'm Done With Training and Now Just A Regular Old F/O!

It’s been so long since I’ve written some folks might think I finally keeled (or crashed?!). Unfortunately, on the day of my first flight in the CRJ-200, I did get really sick. A nasty head cold that caused serious discomfort in my ears on the last descent into ATL. But prior to that all went very well.

After a fitful night’s sleep I awoke at 0345 for my first trip on IOE, or Initial Operating Experience. It’s a normal trip in the eyes of the passengers (poor souls!) but it’s designed to have a new F/O fly with a training captain, or a new captain fly with another instructor pilot. There is an awful lot to learn once we emerge wide-eyed from ground school and the sim, and the learning curve is steep. In some ways it’s even tougher than the original training was. The flying part is easy, but it’s the operations stuff and all the paperwork that hangs up the new hires. So, IOE is supposed to help us transition from Sim World to the Real World without too much pain.

My first trip was with a nice fellow named Chris. I took the 0430 hotel shuttle from the Red Roof to the airport so that I’d be there an hour early. We’re supposed to duty-in for work in ATL 1 hour before departure (45 minutes at outstations). But since it’s all new and scary, I wanted to be there early and get a jump on things. Unfortunately it was so early that not even the lights were on in the crew lounge! And Chris didn’t show up until the normal duty-in time, so I sat there for an hour in the dark (couldn’t find the light switch) feeling dumb in my shiny, obviously newly purchased uniform. Strangely though, I wasn’t nervous. I knew that I could fly this plane just fine, and chances are good that I’d be paired with a patient captain who’d show me the ropes and forgive my rookie errors. Thankfully, Chris was just the guy. He did the preflight inspection and some of the paperwork to save me time (the F/O works her butt off in this plane on the ground), and he also did most of the radio calls in the ATL ramp (you either get the calls right the first time or the controllers “punish” you by making you sit there past your scheduled push-back time. (Because if we get the plane to the destination early we make more money).

So, we handled all of the ATL stuff well, and Chris flew the first leg. We went to Newport News (PHF) for the first trip, and I was thrilled to see my buddy Scott, the Blackhawk instructor pilot and fellow classmate, walk out to hop a ride back to ATL with us in the jumpseat! He was there for my first landing and it was fun to have him along. The flight went well and I was delighted to grease it on the runway, smooth, in the touchdown zone and exactly on the centerline. (Beginner’s luck?)

The rest of the day went well, to Lexington and back, despite the copious amounts of mucus flowing from my nose. My flight bag was growing more and more full of disgustingly used tissues! And by the fourth descent back into ATL my ears were killing me. I knew I was coming down with a cold but was embarrassed and told Chris that it was probably just allergies. But I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish the 3-day trip and might as well get off in ATL and call crew scheduling. I was mortified to have to call in sick on my very first day of work, but I learned a hard lesson while at the PanAm Academy in Florida. Flying with a head cold can not only ruin a girl’s eardrum, but it can destroy her flying career. And I worked too hard over the last few months to have it all come to a screeching halt on my first day!

Thankfully scheduling was very understanding and took me off the schedule for the next few days. I took the bus back to The Roof, crawled into bed, and there I remained for the next 2 days. Eventually I decided to flood my system with non-drowsy cold meds, pack the car with stuff I wouldn’t be needing over the coming weeks and make the long 9-hour drive back to RIC to be sick in my own bed with my sweetie there to cater to my every whim.

My next trip came a few days too soon and I was still concerned about my ears and the head cold. But uncomfortable though it was, it wasn’t painful and it got better as the trip went on. My new captain was a petite little woman by the name of Amy. And I was really eager to be an all-woman crew (chances were good that we’d have a woman flight attendant). We were scheduled to fly about 19 hours in the next 3 days, and I was nervous about being able to keep up. She was far less easy-going than Chris was, and she demanded much more of me. I always get a bit intimidated around female supervisors, and this was no exception. Our first day was a bit flat and all-business, though I was hoping we’d hit it off and have lots to talk about in cruise flight and at dinner. The second day she did warm up a bit and we enjoyed a leisurely meal in a little Italian joint in Meridian, Mississippi. We’d flown through a miserable cold front and nasty cells. The turbulence was heavy and the lightning prevalent. It was funny to watch the faces on the passengers as they deplaned, realizing that it was the likes of us little ladies that navigated them safely through the weather and to their destination, only slightly behind schedule. By the third day we were getting tired and I was frustrated with my ability to keep up with grounds ops in ATL. My flying was great, my landings were great, and I even handled the 35-knot gusting cross-wind into Wichita well. But as the day wore on and the legs ticked by, I was loosing steam.

On our last push-back from the gate in ATL Amy told me, “Engine Start Check List to the Line, Turn Two.” Which meant I was to push a bunch of buttons in preparation to start the right-hand engine. It was dark outside, and we had only the APU (a mini third engine used for electricity, engine starting and air conditioning) running all of the electrics/heating in the plane. It was the only source of power at that point. Its Off button sits precariously close to the Engine Ignition button and looks identical (except the label). So I reached up to start the engine and accidentally shut off the APU. The plane immediately went silent and all the lights extinguished. Our pax were now sitting back there in the dark, and since the tug driver had pushed us back we were now blocking the alley way and unable to communicate with Ramp Control. Amy was pissed, to say the least, and I was humiliated. We eventually reestablished power, re-ran the checklists and told the passengers over a PA that it was a small glitch, we apologized for the inconvenience and promised to have them on their way soon. And the rest of the flight we sat in silence, only talking when operationally necessary. Personally, I thought it was an honest error and one that had probably happened a few times to her as an IOE instructor.

Wrong. I was the only one ever (in years of instructing) that had inadvertently killed all electrical and hydraulic power to the entire aircraft while there were pax on board, in the dark. Ever. Absolute mortification. But despite the 2 mostly silent legs out and back to ATL, during the debriefing she told me that I reminded her a lot of herself. And that I’m awfully hard on myself, and though that brings about change sometimes I just need to forgive myself and move on. Roger that. I’m slow, but I am learning that lesson over time (and I’m much better than I used to be!).

The next trip was another 3-day with a young cocky guy by the name of Ian and his flirty flight attendant Nicole. The first day wiped me out (another 5-leg day) and by the time we got to the hotel at Meridian, MS I was ready to hit the sack. So, I disappointed them and took on the role of “slam clicker” (slam the hotel door, click the lock) and skipped dinner. The second day dawned with bad weather all over the place, and as a result of getting so behind in our schedules they canceled 2 of our 4 legs. Not until after we’d spent 5 hours killing time waiting for our inbound flights. Eventually we hopped aboard the aircraft and headed to Des Moines, Iowa for the night. By then the 3 of us were “gelling” and having a good time teasing each other and playing around. When we got to the airport, we talked the hotel van driver into dropping us by the local convenience store to get some beer, and then we headed back to my room. Until 5:00 in the morning! Obviously adhering to the “8 hours from bottle to throttle” rule with the alcohol but we didn’t get much sleep.

Our morning came early as we departed for Atlanta yet again. It was mostly clear and the mean cold front from the night before was by then well east of us. We managed to stay on schedule and head off to Houston more or less on time. The descent over the city was beautiful and I took lots of photos. The flight back to ATL from HOU was also nice, and since we had about 2 hours to cruise in boredom at altitude, Ian and I messed around with my digital camera. I’ve included some of the photos on my .Mac website.

Amazingly I was able to hop a flight home to RIC the following morning (after hanging out with Ian for a few hours at Spondivits, the local bar across from the Red Roof). I hauled my stuff over to my new crash pad, a little mini kid's bed in the basement of Walt’s grungy ATL Crash Pad House. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers and the price is sure right!

So, I’m officially released from training to “fly the line” just like all the other F/O’s. I love the plane, have flown with some great folks, think the company is a huge improvement over my last place of employment and am enjoying Atlanta. Jeanne landed a great job down here recently and we’ll be spending the Christmas holidays with a moving van and a new house full of boxes! It appears that the RIC house will sell and close quickly, and we’ll spend a month or two in an apartment in ATL to figure out where we’d like to live.

I’ll endeavor to update this website from time to time, and will continue to post pictures on my .Mac website as well.

Happy Holidays and do stay in touch, eh?


I'm now really an airline pilot!

9:24 PM - Sunday, Nov. 01, 2005
I'm now really an airline pilot!

CRJ-200 Checkride

Whoohooo! Finally, after nearly 9 weeks of living in the freaking Red Roof Inn and wracking every little cell in my brain, I can check off that “airline pilot” box. I remember back about 10 years ago, when I was a junior or so in college, I first had the notion that this would be a box I’d someday want to check off. I was attending Context Associated’s “Pursuit of Excellence”. Actually, I’d completed the Pursuit, and spent a week at the next program, called “The Wall”. So a few months later I was sitting in a lecture hall, writing down the Top 100 Things I Want To Do In My Life. I still have that piece of notebook paper, jammed on both sides with outrageous ideas. And down about 10 from the top (right between “sky dive” and “Sing With Barbra Streisand”) was “a stint at airline pilot”. Ha! So the lessons I see in all this are – 1) be careful what you wish for, 2) be very clear about what you wish for, 3) write down your intentions, and 4) be as outrageous as necessary – anything is possible! (Though I should probably start with voice lessons if the Streisand thing is going to happen next!)

So the initial frustration of having our checkride postponed by 4 days is over. I definitely spazzed out, fearing that I’d forget everything I’d been trained to do in that plane between our last sim session and the checkride. But in the end it worked out. (Isn’t that how it works usually?) Steve and I both flew pretty rough at first, and we’re sure that the examiner took into account our training gap when he was trying to decide if we should be deemed official or not. But despite the little mistakes I made in the 2-hour flight, I proved that I did learn enough to be called “First Officer Recke”. (Yeah, thanks dad – great name for a pilot, I know….)

Our checkride started with about a 2-plus hour oral examination. Tony, our examiner, started with the first button on the overhead panel and worked his way down. We told him, tag-team style, what each switch/button/knob did from a systems perspective. And then we answered questions about the airplane’s limitations for awhile, before reciting a dozen or so memory items that have to be done in case of an emergency (rejected take off, cabin fire, asymmetric breaking, engine fire, etc.). When that was successfully behind us, we worked out a performance problem, proving that with certain failures on a snow-covered runway in Roanoke, VA (a “special” – read “treacherous” – airport in ASA’s eyes) with a certain load of passengers and baggage, that the plane would be able to take off from or abort safely on that length of runway under those atmospheric conditions. We ended up having to move a few pax from the front of the plane to the last few rows of seats to get the center of gravity balanced right, but it wasn’t a difficult problem. Then came the flight.

Steve and I decided I’d fly first from, the right seat, and he’d be my Pilot Not Flying from the left. Since we’ve both been F/Os in training we’ve had a little bit of negative learning going on since ½ of our training sessions have been in the captain’s seat. The good news is that I have a much better understanding of what it takes to become a captain, and I also have proved that I can land the plane from that seat (almost as well as from my own seat, interestingly).

So I had a normal take-off (which made us suspicious!) and then the onset of problems ensued. Engine failures, electrical problems, smoke in the cargo bay, autopilot failures, and smaller stuff that was easily handled. We flew a few monitored ILS approaches (like they were Category II, but the wx was Category I), and a couple of hand-flown non-precision (GPS) approaches, all into New York’s JFK (whose airport elevation happens to be 13’ above sea level, but I’ll get to that later). I stayed ahead of the plane, and managed to keep an eye on Steve, who was rarely ahead of it. My landings were decent, all close to centerline and within the touchdown zone.

Thankfully I made only a few little errors, and they were “nit-picky” things that were discussed in the de-brief post flight. However there was one big error that I made, and I wasn’t surprised. Visual approaches have been tricky for me all throughout training, and the one on my checkride was no exception. I was cleared for the visual approach back into ATL (we’d been shooting IFR approaches into JFK, elevation 13’). ATL’s airport sits just over 1000’ above sea level. So when you’re flying over the runway numbers just about to touch down, your instruments are reading very differently. But we don’t brief an approach for a visual, we just fly it. There is a certain protocol that must be followed, such as when to put down the first few degrees of flaps, and when to lower the landing gear, but it’s very subjective. Tony put me at 4000’ (about 3000’ above the ground) on a downwind and cleared me for the visual approach and the landing. I knew turning final that I was still too high, and although I had all the flaps and gear down to increase the drag and thus get lower faster, it still wasn’t going to work out. I dove for it (in a commercial pilot kind of a way, of course, not a Maureen Griggs kind of way) but knew about 2-3 miles out that it wasn’t going to happen. Fearing that I’d just messed up my checkride I told Steve (who was in charge of radio communications as Pilot Not Flying) to tell the tower that I was going to go around and that I needed vectors back for another stab at it. This time I flew the pattern at only 2000’, and was able to better plan the descent and landing to touch down exactly where I needed to be at just the right speed. End of checkride! And Tony commented, “Congrats, that was a satisfactory ride.” SO anti-climactic, eh?!

Then Steve flew, and from the very start he was rough. It was obvious that we had both been out of the sim for nearly 5 full days! He forgot to ask for the flaps to come up after his normal take off, so I asked him if he was ready. Then something else happened that he forgot to do, and I tried to make it quiet and just do it. But the examiner missed nothing. He told me to stop prompting him. So the next time Steve forgot something, I didn’t say anything but just handled it. And Tony then said, “Erin, if you don’t stop helping him I’ll fail you both!” And so it was. I thought Steve would make himself get ahead of the plane, knowing that I’d not be able to help him, but he barely managed to stay up with it sometimes. He just had a bad case of checkride-it is, and was rusty to boot. But there were moments when he seemed like he was going to pull it all together, and others when I wasn’t sure he was conscious over there. Eventually, and after an especially nice visual approach, he made his final landing (at which point neither of us was sure he’d passed). Tony leaned over between us, mumbled something about Santa Claus, and said, “Well, I suppose this was satisfactory….” Ugh. An auspicious beginning, but a beginning nonetheless!

The following day we had our LOFT flight, line-oriented flight training. It was much more of a training event rather than an evaluation, which was a good thing since we nearly became a lawn dart! In a LOFT event, the aircraft goes from Point A to Point B. Something we don’t get to do much of in Sim World, since we’re always practicing approaches and dealing with problems. Everything went fairly well, until Steve’s last approach into ATL. It was another dreaded visual, and it almost sucked us in. The visuals are a little unrealistic in the Day VFR setting in the sim. Near the big cities there are buildings, and the shorelines are accurate, but between cities and airports lies miles and miles of green nothingness. And it’s a bit hard to tell exactly how high we are or how far away from the airport we are. Thus, the near-lawn dart situation: we were cleared for the visual approach into ATL (elevation 1020’) after having practiced visuals into JFK (elevation 13’). We’d had the same problem the previous day on my checkride, but rather than being too low, I flew in too high to land. But Steve was far enough out on a straight-in approach and was descending lower and lower. Too low, it seemed to me, but I wasn’t sure (I’d loaded the visual approach wrong into the Flight Management Computer and we didn’t have the distance from the airport available). So I didn’t say anything. But after a few seconds it seemed like we were WAY too low, and the Radar Altimeter was agreeing with me. If my calculations were correct, we’d become a smoking crater in another 10 seconds or so. But that “First Officer’s Syndrome” was gripping me, and I kept trying to rationalize the problem. Either Steve wasn’t thinking clearly, or the RA was not functioning properly, or my brain was fried. Or any combination of the above. But another few seconds later it showed us at 300 feet above the ground and still a few miles out from the runway. So I spoke up, rather startlingly to Steve, and we averted a disaster. Weird how when something seems wrong, it’s still possible to not speak up, for various reasons. That’s how many accidents have made their way into the pages of NTSB reports….. Good lesson for me - again.

The good news is that now we have our “licenses to learn”, and the 7th is my first IOE (initial operating experience) trip. I have a 3-day trip with a fellow named Chris, followed by a 1-day trip with a fellow named Greg, and then the weekend off. And then I’m scheduled for another 3-day trip with a woman named Amy, which will be fun. With any luck that last trip will involve a woman flight attendant, making us an all-female crew! The IOE captains will keep me out of trouble and teach me the Real World in the CRJ. And about two weeks from now I’ll but just one of the rest of the F/O’s at ASA. Yippeee!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

An Unexpected Delay -- Damit!

9:15 PM - Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005
An Unexpected Delay -- Damit!

I'm frustrated as hell. As you read in the last post, Steve and I flew well enough last night to get signed off to take our checkride. We were prepared to take it tonight or tomorrow at the latest. So imagine our surprise and frustration when we awoke to learn that our ride has been scheduled for 5 days from our last sim session!

I immediately got on the phone and tried to get the matter rectified, but each time I got a dead end. So I called the manager of the training department and left him a message with a plea to get our checkride moved up. The problem is that they don’t have enough examiners to go around, and the one guy (Tom) who could do it and was willing to do it whenever they had an open sim, is the only guy who can’t give us our checkride, since he was the instructor pilot who signed us off. Arrgh!

But I wasn’t going to give up – I knew that another crew from our class, Roger and Eric, were slated to take their ride in the morning. And I knew that one of them was having troubles in the sim still, so I called them hoping we could take their place. No luck, they’re feeling ready to go. Good for them, but this Checkride Vulture had hoped for a different scenario!

As it stands now, there is a small chance that some other crew might forego their scheduled ride in favor or more practice this weekend, leaving a spot for us to get it done. But that’s unlikely due to the fact that someone has to coordinate all of that, and those people only work Monday through Friday.

So, Steve and I’ll hang out, trying to “mind fly” and “chair fly” in order to stave off the rust. I’ll endeavor to mix in a bit of relaxation over the next few days with the massive amounts of studying. The good news about all of this is that it’s another chance to reiterate to my impatient self that things happen the way they do for a reason. Like it or not, and right now I’m very much not liking it. As Dad always reminds me, now is the time to “Smile and breathe, smile and breathe….”

Carlos tells me that any airline pilot's ultimate goal should be to get to her retirement day and have the chief pilot have no idea who she is. Yeah, right.... this is me we're talking about!

Simulator #10 -- The end is near!

6:09 AM - Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005
Simulator #10 -- The end is near!
Steve and I finally pulled it all together tonight and flew well. Well enough to get the instructor, Tom, to sign us off for an immediate checkride. Not that this temperamental little plane is feeling glove-like, but we refused to let it whoop our butts for a change.

We're still making errors here and there, but nothing that will get us into too much trouble. Between the two of us, at any one time we're able to catch and head off an impending problem or get it handled if it does occur.

Tom was really laid back and pleasant to be around. He's super-calm, and really cares that we enjoy this sim training as opposed to just getting through it. It’s unfortunate that tonight wasn’t our checkride, as we agreed we’d both pay large sums of money to have Tom as our checkpilot! He gave us some techniques and pointers about how to tighten up our maneuvers, and instilled a sense of confidence in us that until tonight had been missing.

So, all our paperwork is complete, Tom made the phone call to the lady in scheduling and we’re hoping for a checkride tomorrow. And we’ve all but begged Tom to see if he can be the one to do it. I told him that if he conducted our checkride Steve and I would see to it that he had all the beer he could drink in one day! And you know, he might just make it happen!

Now is the push to get all our systems knowledge up to speed, and review performance and regulations. I think it’s manageable and Steve and I’ll be spending the day together cramming this stuff into our heads.

If all goes we’ll, by this time tomorrow I’ll be an official airline pilot (and Carlos is in town to pin my wings on me). We then have one more flight, referred to as QLOFT, or Qualification Line Oriented Flight Training. It’s to help train us to transition from Simulator World to actual “line flying” based here in ATL. The ATL airport is the busiest in the world again this year, and there’s a lot to know that we don’t even touch upon in the sim.

My jaw pain has thankfully quieted just a tiny bit, allowing me to get some rest before tomorrow. If the checkride doesn’t get scheduled for tomorrow, we’re hoping for the next day. The sooner we get this done and behind us, the better off we’ll be. The stress is taking its toll, and we’re all starting to feel cruddy and run down most of the time. It’ll be interesting to see how we handle the transition from the Vampire Shift back into the daylight….. I wonder if we'll scream in squnty-eyed agony and shrivel up?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Simulator #9 -- Wow, I really might be a real pilot afterall!

4:39 AM - Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005
Simulator #9 -- Wow, I really might be a real pilot afterall!

It’s with a certain amount of relief that I report tonight that I FINALLY flew this plane as if I deserved my commercial pilot certificate. It’s a good thing – I was feeling like I’d never have a warm fuzzy about going into the checkride. But tonight I felt comfortable with nearly everything. Maybe it really is falling into place?

Tonight’s instructor was originally going to be our examiner. Thankfully that didn’t turn out to be the case -- he’s a hard-ass, and we were immediately grateful (after our first hour’s break during the pre-briefing) that we didn’t have to take our checkride with him! (We knew via the rumor mill that he would be “tricky”). We still may end up with him again in a few more days, but with any luck, when they get the ride rescheduled, we’ll have someone else. He was helpful, more so for me than for Steve, and we both learned a lot. But he’s really a stickler for stuff, too. “High standards” might be a polite way to phrase it? I’m willing to take our chances that we’ll get someone less “difficult” in the future…..

Unfortunately, our future isn’t so certain. Steve had his worst flight ever tonight. I’m not sure why, but it really did suck. And the more it sucked, the more I tried to help him out and pick up the slack, but then Karl jumped all over me for not letting him learn. Great, up until now I’m told by one instructor to “act like a crew, help your right-seater!”. So I do, and then I get nailed for “not letting him learn”. So I don’t, and I let him get into all sorts of muck some days. But when it snowballs for him things get bad for us both, so I try to help just a little bit. But then I get zinged again for “bailing him out”. I even got negative comments written on my training forms by the last instructor for NOT helping him out, not acting like another crew member, and for not knowing what the hell was going on! I knew what was happening but had been told to let him make mistakes! I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t! So tonight I tried to pick up as much slack as I could, knowing that it was our last chance to show that we were ready for our checkride, but it wasn’t really helping Steve. His 2 hours as pilot flying went quickly from bad to worse, and having giant ol’ Karl yelling at us from the back wasn’t helpful. The first time I tried to prompt Steve and try to help him get ahead of the plane (he was still sitting, dazed and confused on the runway 20 minutes after we took off!), Karl whacked my arm and told me to “leave him alone and let him hang himself – that’s how he’ll learn!”. Ugh. Everyone has a bad sim – tonight was Steve’s.

Thankfully, Steve was able to pull it together just enough to not get me into too much trouble when I flew for the last 2 hours. He was obviously frustrated and distracted by his really poor performance earlier in the night, but for whatever reason I was right on tonight. (Thank goodness or we’d have become a smoking crater!) I was not only able to fly really well, stay ahead of the plane for a change, and fly the maneuvers and procedures properly, but I was also able to keep an eye on poor Steve over in the left seat. A few times he just blanked out and did something stupid (or started to) but I had eagle eyes. It was really quite astonishing how I flew tonight – like I’d been abducted and replaced by someone who belongs in a CRJ…. Thankfully, because we’ve only got one more shot to pull it all together. I want this damn checkride behind us – the stress is really starting to take it’s toll.

So, tomorrow night’s checkride has now turned into another training session, in which we’ll both pull it together and prove to the next instructor that we deserve to go up for our checkride. Which they’ll hopefully schedule on our day off so we can just charge through and get it the heck done. As the schedule stands now, we’ll knock out the checkride in the next few days, then get the QLOFT out of the way (point A to point B as a “normal” flight in the sim to teach us about ATL operations) and then we’re scheduled to have about 6 days off before our first real flight “on the line” in the airplane. The longer we take getting this checkride done, the less time we’ll have to go home and relax…..

I guess that what everyone’s been saying is true – there comes a day when it just all sort of falls together. It seems like today was that day for me. May tomorrow be that day for Steve (who suggested he’d actually probably be hanging from the rafters by his sheets come morning)…..

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

3:04 AM - Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005
A Day Off -- And A Mystery Partially Solved
Today was a day off, which always comes with a sense of relief and dread. Relief that I don't have to spend the night in the sim, and dread that I have the entire day to study. I'm really getting sick of this darned Canadair Regional Jet....

Strangely, the ache in my teeth has spread to my entire lower jaw. Yesterday I was conscious about how tense my jaw was and I took an Ambien before falling asleep to relax any tooth-grinding that might happen while I was unaware. But when I woke up, the ache was worse. It’s been getting steadily worse all week. I’ve been visualizing calm, serene scenes before I fall asleep, and have been consciously relaxing my jaw and face muscles for days. Still, it’s worse. Nothing seems to help ease the pain; not Tylenol, not Ibuprofin, not Orajel.

So, tonight I decided that either something really bad is happening and maybe I have dreaded disease, or it really is uncontrolled stress manifestation. And then I was looking closely at my jaw and teeth and gums in the mirror tonight when I discovered a tiny little hole in my gum! It’s like a little bug was there with a jackhammer, drilling away an egg-shaped hole in the bottom of the gum where my lower lip connects to my jaw. I’m pretty sure it’s the source of my distracting pain, but I have no idea what it is or how it got there. It’s not a canker sore, and it isn’t a localized pain. It’s like something nasty got into my jawbone and is drilling away incessantly. And I’m convinced it entered through that weird little hole…. Maybe now that I know the source (if not the cause), those frightening tooth-loss dreams will stop?

The Hole Discovery was about the only meaningful thing that occurred today on my day off. I studied for awhile, of course, but not much. I had decided to get up early and get some exercise and sunlight (indeed I’m becoming pasty and white), but that plan fell through when I slept until after 4pm and took forever to get organized. So then I thought I’d go to a movie, but I didn’t want to deal with rush hour traffic. So I then figured that I’d help pass my long late night by seeing the 11pm movie. But this part of Atlanta is rough and all I need is to get mugged or worse – I’d have fried all these brain cells for nothing. So, here I sit, still in the hotel room, at 0300. With a severely aching jaw. And a bad case of cabin fever….

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sim #8 -- The end isn't really the end

6:08 AM - Sunday, Oct. 23, 2005
Sim #8 -- The end isn't really the end

We’re breathing a sigh of relief now that the “final” sim session is behind us (and we haven’t hung ourselves yet). We decided last night that we both wanted more practice before our checkride, and tonight was a lot less pressure-filled knowing that we’d have another stab at these maneuvers to get them before we sat down with the FAA. Thankfully having extra sim time is not a huge deal here, and about 1/2 the guys going through sim training now are scheduled for extra sessions. It's still hard on my ego, but I'm rapidly learning that professional jet flight training isn't at all about ego. Ego and complete mental, intellectual, physical and sensory overload don’t mesh.

I wish it had been a lot more successful than it was, but at least we made improvement. Tonight we practiced the maneuvers in which we're needing more time at the controls -- V1 cuts, go arounds and single-engine go arounds are the biggies. Unfortunately visual approaches are really tough for new hires in this plane for some reason, and we're no exception. Partially because the visuals in the sim aren't exactly realistic, and partly because we're just not used to the sight picture. The visual approaches are actually kicking my ass. Hard. The CRJ has about a 3-degree nose down attitude on final and it's such a strange picture from the Citation, which has a far less pronounced nose down pitch angle. So when I level off at the minimum descent altitude on a hand-flown non-precision approach, hit the planned descent point and head down, even though I see my VSI in my inside scan, I'm still troubled by the outside visual picture and unconsciously tend to decrease that pitch attitude, which causes me to be too high on approach. So, I end up with far more pilot-induced go arounds as a result. Which really pisses me off, especially when we're down to one engine. We are improving from one session to the next, but we're still not there. I think by the time we're done with another 8 hours in the box in each seat (two more full sessions) we'll be ready for the ride. And the good news is that maybe the examiner we've got currently scheduled for our checkride (known as the company hard-ass) will be rescheduled to someone else! We can only hope.

I'm trying not to get discouraged. It's hard not to, when our instructor pilot says things like, "Well, I just can't teach you to land. We'll have to call in the big guns and get someone else for you guys." Jerk. He bitches that I'm not doing it right, but he hasn't been able to tell me exactly what I'm doing wrong and how to fix it. Ugh. It's embarrassing to be at this point in my career and struggling with visual approaches.... C'est la vie, no? Again, it’s ego-killing and frustrating as hell.

So, as it stands we're going to be pushed back 2-3 days for our ride, putting in around the 27th or 29th. Which means we've got 2 more days of study time for systems at least, and 2 more days in the damn hotel. I'm really burning out. At this rate I'll never want to upgrade to captain, never want to transition to another aircraft and will never want to leave ASA....

It's so hard to not get frustrated and to maintain a good attitude. I'm feeling like although I'm making progress, it's not enough and it's not quickly enough. It sucks to feel like a retard, doesn't it? My Citation training kicked my ass, but that was to be expected with only 350 hours total time and never having flown anything more challenging than a Seminole. But I expected FAR better of myself here. I've been in a jet for the last 18 months for goodness sake! SO humbling.... Steve was struggling, and still is in some ways, but he's flying the plane better than I am. I've got the profiles and call outs down better, but he makes the damn plane do what he wants more effectively. Again, humbling....

Thank goodness tomorrow is a day off. I’ll get caught up on the systems studying, get some rest, resume my exercise profile (which got shot all to hell last week) and might even do something relaxing (there are a few fun-sounding geocaches in this area I have my eyes on).

And we’ll get it, eventually. At some point in the next week Steve and I will take and pass our checkride successfully, earning our airline pilot wings. We’re trying hard to focus on that fact right now….