Saturday, February 23, 2013


I learned with some trepidation that our simulator for my re-qualification ride was known as “Mildred.”

“Why the name Mildred” I asked my pilot instructor (PI).

“Because she's a bitch.”

“But surely not all ladies with that name are bitches,” said I.

“This one is,” he said.

The briefing then began. Two first officers and I had gone non-current, all for different reasons. I had been grounded for three months with a hurt arm. The others had more dubious excuses.

The PI said we each would fly a visual takeoff and landing, a V1 cut and an engine-out approach. I would be in the left seat the whole time. We sat through a quick review of all the maneuvers, made a head call and headed for the sim.

The route took us through a couple of cavernous structures the size of hangars and alongside rows of simulators of various types, most of which were in operation. "What's so bad about Mildred?" I had to yell at the PI to make him hear me through the soup of sounds washing over us. Blowers bellowed, relays clicked, hydraulic motors hummed and electrical gadgets buzzed and whirred. 

He explained that Mildred was the oldest of our 767 simulators. She was cranky and mean. She didn’t like to fly and sought every way possible to avoid it. Gremlins abounded in her wiring, hydraulics and her Jurassic computers. And when she did fly, it was nothing like a modern sim, much less a real plane. She was quirky, jerky, jumpy and lurchy. He explained that the training center only used her when they had to, due to outages of the other sims, or overflow training. “Sorry,” we’ve got to use her, you guys,” he assured us. “Just do your best and we’ll get you on your way.”

We reached the ladder, climbed high to the tower of Mildred and entered her dark haunts. I took the left seat, Mark the right and PI sat down at his panel and started throwing switches. He began cursing immediately and was soon on the phone to sim maintenance soliciting a technician. “Sorry guys, we’ve got to clear up some stuff here. Go ahead, strap in and get ready to takeoff on runway 1C at Dulles, visual conditions.

I looked at my EHSI. We were on runway 12. Mark said, “Look here!” I saw him pointing at the right engine instruments. They were all blank. The PI leaned and looked. “Well, crap!” About then the technician came up, grumbling. Obviously, Mildred was a pain in his neck too. It looked as though the old gal had folded her arms, jutted out her lip and blocked us from flying.

After a few minutes fiddling with it, the technician shut Mildred down to darkness and rebooted her. We swapped war stories while she came back to life and finally we were sufficiently ready to go. A ton of stuff was wrong but we agreed none of it affected what we intended to do. Mark took off and climbed into the night sky, which was reasonably well represented in our windshields. We circled the airport and lined up on runway 1C. Mark’s approach was a little jerky. He couldn’t get used to Mildred’s weird handling. I snickered when I heard him call her a pig. But he put her down okay. Then the PI backed us up to the approach end, lowered the visibility to 1800 feet and said, “Now we’ll do a V1 cut. Questions?” We had none.

Mark pushed up the power and we rolled. Dutifully I called the speeds as we reached them: “100 knots…V1…”

BOOM! Mildred shuttered.

The left engine instruments rolled back. We swerved left. Mark kicked right rudder—too much. We headed for the right edge lights. “ROTATE!” I yelled as we reached flying speed. Mark hauled back on the yoke and we went airborne. He yelled out a curse. The wings rocked. We drifted over the right side of the runway. We rolled right.

CRUNCH. (It actually was a crashing sound.) Mildred stopped dead still. The sight picture in the windshield froze in a 60-degree right bank. We were dead. Mark looked around. “Oops,” he said. “This bitch really is hard to fly.”

The PI assured him not to worry, that the sim was just too sensitive, and he admonished Mark to be especially delicate with his control movements. We reset and flew another V1 cut, which was successful but still jerky and unstable. By the third time Mark had developed a good touch and Mildred seemed tamed.

Brent had sat in the jumpseat and watched Mildred shred Mark. He bobbled and bucked for a few minutes before getting the feel. Then he too bolted for the airport shuttle.

Now the PI slipped into the right seat to be my co-pilot. He positioned us on the runway and I took off. I found Mildred as docile as a purring kitten. When we turned onto a 10 mile night visual approach the PI began setting me up for an ILS approach. “Wait!” I said. “I thought this was going to be a visual?”

“It is, but I thought I’d give you a descent path for your flight director.  Just to make it a little easier, you know.”  I looked askance at him. Did he think I needed a crutch? What was I, a 25,000 hour rookie? I could see the runway 10 miles ahead. Even saw the PAPI. I shook my head. "No, I don’t want the ILS." He wouldn’t give up. “Well, let me program a VNAV descent path for you.”

“No! I don’t want that either.” He looked aghast at me when I reached up and slammed the flight director switch off. “Don’t want no stinkin’ flight director either." I pointed at the runway. "I’ve got a PAPI. What else do I need?” He shrugged and chuckled. 

I set up a 700 fpm descent rate and kept two reds and two whites. The threshold came up and I planted Mildred where she likes it—on Terra Firma. When the V1 cut came, I knew Mildred didn’t like horsing with her rudder. I kept it gentle and smooth. She climbed on out on one engine, kept the centerline and accelerated.

Mildred's got a bum rap. Some parts of her didn’t work very well, but she flew fine. A lot of people are like that.

The PAPI is on the left.
Are we high, low, or on glide path?
(I didn't take this. Got it off the Internet.)

 On my way to Denver for simulator re-qual I 
rode a 757 jumpseat and took this neat vid of
night arrival at the gate. The captain stops a
little too soon and has to spool back up to taxi
a few more feet. I hate it when I do that.