As Alec Baldwin famously said in the film State and Main: “So, that happened.”
Yesterday I was feeling pretty good. Today? Not so much. People talk about how quickly and completely that giant video-game-on-steroids can humble even the best pilot, and I got a big fat taste of it this afternoon.
The flight could be described as four hours of not being able to do anything right. I was behind the plane, exceeded the PTS standards, and generally couldn’t get my act together. I felt like Marty McFly hanging on to the back bumper of that car as he was towed around town. Except I’m not a kid hitching a ride on his skateboard, I’m a professional pilot who’s supposed to be in the driver’s seat. The sensation of hanging on to the tail with my bare fingernails is not a pleasant one.
There comes a point when the one’s frustration with the poor performance becomes self-defeating. As an instructor, I tend to think that’s the time to quit for the day. However, that’s not an option when you’re on a fixed schedule. If you’re short on sleep, not feeling well, or just having a bad day, too bad. You have to press on and get as much as possible out of the time you’re allotted.
It was a long slog, let me tell you. The TOGA switch was balky, the avionics and lights in the box were throwing off a lot of heat, and the approach plates clipped on the yoke kept falling off. But those were just minor irritants. You see, I knew what I was supposed to do, what the airplane should be doing. I just couldn’t make it happen. And the harder I tried, the worse it got. The failing was all between the pilot’s ears, and by the time we were done, I was too irritated with myself to give appropriate focus to the debriefing.
I was surprised it turned out that way. The day started out just fine. My sim partner was the first one in the left seat and flew quite nicely, handling the V1 cuts, single engine missed approaches, and system failures properly. That was an ideal way to begin, because it allowed me to watch what he did. I had an opportunity to reinforce what I’d been “chair flying” on my own.
What I hadn’t counted on was how busy I’d be in the right seat. I was either programming the FMS, running an emergency checklist out of the QRH, talking to the air traffic controllers, or configuring the airplane. It left very little time to watch anything.
There are so many training items to accomplish on any given day that the instructor has us running through emergency QRH procedures even as we’re intercepting the final approach course. In real life it wouldn’t work that way. We’d go off somewhere away from the other airport traffic, work on the problem, and then when we’re ready, we’d go do the approach. But due to time constraints, things get quite rushed in the simulator. In addition, my company’s ops specs allow PRM (precision runway monitoring) approaches, so we needed to squeeze a couple of those in. Despite carefully briefing them before the flight, we ran out of time, however, and now the “to do” list for tomorrow is even longer.
After we were done for the day, we debriefed with the other pair of pilots in our class about their flights. They seemed more upbeat about their performance. They also were given quite a few more abnormals to deal with. We didn’t get nearly as many as we expected during our training, which made us wonder if we’re even more under the gun that we think.
Either way, there’s nothing to be done about it right now. It’s time to let go of today’s ugliness — but as anyone who’s had a tough day in the box can tell you, that can be the toughest maneuver of them all.