Monterey Bay Ninety-Nines
"Ours is the commencement of a flying age, and I am happy to have popped into existence at a period so interesting.
by Gabrielle Adelman
Getting jet training is every pilot's dream. Saturday my dream was going badly. We are cleared to climb to 3000 feet. At 2900 feet I notice that we are going to go screaming right through our clearance altitude. FORWARD goes the yoke, three red M&M's temporarily hover in midair, the instructor raises her eyebrows. But we are safe.
At least until the over-airspeed chime goes off........
The first thing was the schedule. Everyone else who had been to Flight Safety had told us horror stories about the 2am - 6am schedule that they had gotten stuck with in the sim. "They run those things 24 hours a day." (Like a meat-packing plant.) "And they want you in the classroom awake and alert at 8am!" So when Jill told us about the 10am - 2pm slot Ken & I had it felt like landing after a really tough flight. Relief!
We had rented a huge suite at the Hyatt, and our first night was cheered by the welcome addition of Donna Crane-Bailey and Anna, an A&P who had gone with Donna and Jill to the Women in Aviation Conference from which they were just returning. We had a lively dinner and then went right to bed as we had to be at Flight Safety at 7:30 the next morning.
Our first ground instructor, Steve, had a flat-voweled accent and a dry sense of humor (he called the low-fuel warning light the "resume update light"). The class went by so quickly that we broke an hour early that day, and those who hadn't studied the materials beforehand were hopelessly behind. I could take notes, but only if I was quick about it. After this mental sprint we were looking forward to dinner, but there was reading and homework so we ended up having room service. (Time for dinner turned out to be always scarce - fortunately we discovered a takeout-taxi service or we would have been stuck with the tiny room-service menu way too many times in a row.) This continued for another three days and suddenly we had covered the entire 200-page Flight Safety ground course. We really knew the systems in detail, but a little more sleep would have been useful too.
The first night had had an optional windshear class that we attended. Included in Flight Safety's usual excellent multimedia presentation was a video of a windshear encounter that the instructor had to run several times for the full impact to settle in. A 747 had encountered a microburst on landing and had settled onto the left edge of the runway, bouncing off the left gear, before the engines spooled up and it recovered - taking off pointing 45 degrees left of where it had made the approach! Despite the late hour the standing-room only class was fully awake.
A night session in a mockup of the cockpit of the CJ, practicing checklists and finding switches, and we were finally looking forward to getting into the sim. The sims themselves look like a combination of a sound stage and something out of the virtual-reality movie "The Matrix". The floor is spotlessly white; the hydraulics rise up ten feet to the catwalk level and support the white pods of the simulators. A flashing red light indicates that the sims are in motion; a hydraulic walkway settles down for entry and exit. The only noise is the surge of the hydraulics and the white noise of the cooling fans in the room-size computers that run it all.We met our sim instructor, Paul, and he showed us the basics - including a fine nighttime tour of the Bay Area. The next day at 9:00 we would brief, and go.
All training in the sim, whether for single-pilot or crew, starts out in a crew environment. One of the truisms of crew flight is that the copilot does more work than the pilot; he or she must run the checklists, the radio, and the navigation. At 160 kias in a terminal environment that can be hairy. Then you add emergencies. After my first session, crewing for Ken, I felt tired enough that flying a Cessna 150 on a nice calm day would be a challenge, so the next night Ken crewed first. Fortunately after two sessions he opted for single-pilot operations, so I had a chance of having my brain last the entire flight.
Near the end of that first session Ken had asked to roll it, so around we went. The observer sitting in the back on a folding chair kept his seat, so the roll was a good one. So it was my turn. I found, that like many airplanes, the sim was not designed for a woman of average height, so pillows were necessary to reach the rudders (and those rudders needed to be floored for any degree of control in the many engine losses.) Other than the obvious fact that you were looking at a TV screen, it would take some familiarity with the aircraft to see any differences between the reaction of the sim and the real plane. Taxiing out, the seams on the pavement could be felt as if they were passing under real gear; the runway was marked with skidmarks at the threshold, and the sim jerked with brake release during a static takeoff, and yawed as the engine quit yet another time. (Ken typically amused himself by determining in what minutiae the sim actually did differ from the real airplane.).
The next night Paul took his gloves off. Just as I would deal with one emergency, another would come up, or the approach would begin, or the clearance would change... and when I started really getting behind and frustrated things would stack off, for a while. Just about every session in the sim I would be surprised by the two hours being up.
Our one day off arrived, but since it was Sunday in Wichita there wasn't much to do.
Back Monday, I did a terrible job in the sim. Paul, who has a new set of students every week on average (and who thus had probably seen this a hundred times before), said it was a typical Day 3 slump. And Tuesday, as he had said it would be, was a lot better. Still I never got the sense that I could do it well enough for a checkride, even with its much slower pace. (Later, during my retest, it seemed odd at first that I was doing so well; the difference, it turns out, was from having enough sleep during my days back in California.) And we still had some ground school.
Friday came. Orals (which Ken & I did together) zoomed by easily, so Ken had 45 minutes to fill somehow before the flight portion. He chatted away the time with Beth, the scheduling coordinator for the CJ classes, and so managed to avoid fretting. I tried really hard during the two hours of his checkride to think about anything but airplanes, but since Flight Safety was right at the airport, all I could see outside was aircraft or something associated with them, and all inside was of course more so. Ken passed, and it was my turn. I managed to get through everything but circling (which, with the sim's awful side-visibility, was a real tough nut) and a single-engine go-around. Later that evening we heard that Jill had passed. Like a majority of Flight Safety students, she was going as a part of her job and had that additional pressure to contend with; furthermore, she had the bad luck to have two of her employers actually with her at the time. Her skill and experience, however, made her checkride pretty much a moot point.
Our airplane, being an airplane, was not ready for delivery until the next week, so we flew home in the same old trainer we had used to get our Citation 500 type ratings in, planning to come back and pick ours up... which is another story.