Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Last PC- Day 2

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The Day-2 briefing was the usual stuff. It hasn’t changed much in many years, with the notable exception of VNAV (vertical navigation) non-precision approaches. Using VNAV improves the safety and execution of non-precision approaches by eliminating the old “dive-and-drive” methods.

Day 2 started with a normal takeoff and vectors to intercept the final approach course to the NDB 35L at Colorado Springs. (We never practice procedure turns anymore. I guess the theory is there will never be a radar service outage.) In the days before glass cockpits NDB approaches were dreaded by most. They weren’t too bad though unless you had a crosswind. Then mental gymnastics came into play—“push the head of the needle,” “pull the tail,” etc. (or was it vice versa?).
Now days NDB approaches are too easy. Just punch the LNAV button (Lateral Navigation) and let ‘er go. One pilot is required to monitor the “raw” NDB information, and act as if he knows what he’s looking at. Most major air carrier pilots will never fly an actual NDB approach in their careers.

That went well for both of us and then it was on to the V1 cuts. That’s where the PI fails an engine at the “V1” call, (pilot not-flying calls “V1” at the calculated takeoff commit speed). For captains this calamity happens with 600 feet visibility, so you can only see a few runway stripes coming at you when it happens. When you lift the nose you lose all visual references and go 100% on the gauges.  

The challenge is to stay over the runway. The jet immediately veers toward the side with the dead engine and you have to stop it. The aircraft is only certified to cross the end of the runway at a minimum of 35 feet at max gross weight and one engine standing at attention. If you allow the plane to go off at even a small angle it could strike hangars, towers, and even the tails of other large planes waiting alongside the runway.  But the problem doesn’t end at the runway’s end.

You are only guaranteed to be free of obstacles (hills, buildings, towers, etc.) in a small corridor (I don’t know how wide it is) that extends along the runway centerline. Thus you must continue to track runway centerline until you climb through 1,500 feet above the airport elevation. When you are climbing at only 300 feet per minute, this can take an agonizingly long time. But what if there really is an obstacle out there that prevents you from tracking straight out? Many airports are like this.

In that case you fly the engine-out takeoff profile that is published for that airport. The profile may require you to climb to a higher altitude before acceleration, or command a turn soon after takeoff. At San Francisco, runway 1L and 1R for example, you would turn left a 6 miles to a heading of 300 degrees and hold that heading until you intercept the SFO radial 340, then track that radial. This procedure takes you between two mountains. You’ve got to get it right.

Over the years most of us have been trained to do this task of talking off on one engine to near perfection and I am amazed every time I do it after a year that it happens like clockwork. The co-pilots do the same—flawless, almost every time. Of course we always hear about people who can’t get it right and have to be re-trained every year, but I’ve never seen it go that bad.

The V1 cuts went well. We climbed out and got settled, told Departure Control we had an engine failure and requested radar vectors back around to land. Again we go through the old drill. The pilot not flying runs the emergency checklist. The captain informs the flight attendants what’s happening then makes a PA announcement. (We have some fun with this in the SIM. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain. I suggest you initiate a serious dialogue with your maker because you are about to meet him.”) Then we contact company dispatch, tell them our situation and make sure they notify the destination that we’re coming in on a wing and a prayer.

The flying pilot briefs the approach, including the missed approach, because you can bet the homestead you are either not going to break out of the fog, or a fire truck is going to dart out in front of you just as you are about to land. Now you’re powering out of there on one engine. It’s tricky, but again, I rarely see it screwed up, even on the first attempt.

Then we demonstrated that we can fly an auto-land in zero-zero weather. It’s easy—the plane does all the work—but it’s also un-nerving. You hit the concrete about one second after you see it.

After that the evaluation was done and the PI put us through a set of refreshers. The first was the deep stall recovery. Two days earlier we had seen a film of the Air France crash in the Atlantic in 2009. You remember—their pitot tube froze up in a storm they should have avoided and they chased erroneous airspeed indications that led to a huge climb. The climb led to a stall that they aggravated during their entire 35,000 foot fall to the ocean. The PI duplicated that situation and told us to recover, which we did. We lowered the nose and applied power. It was Private Pilot 101: Hold the nose up and the houses get smaller. Hold it up too much and they get bigger. Fast.

After the deep stall recovery he put us through a series of wind shear recoveries at Denver airport. That went fine, although one recovery went down to less than 100 feet above the ground. 

The last wind shear maneuver terminated on a ten mile final at Denver runway 35L. The PI froze the sim and began shutting it down. “Okay, Guys. Good job. You both passed. Let’s call it a day!”

I was studying the Denver airport, frozen ahead of us in the windshields. “Not yet,” I said.

Both my first officer and the PI looked blankly at me. “Huh?” They were both thinking, this fool wants more of this?

I turned to the PI. “Make it daylight,” I said. He shrugged and pushed a button. Brilliant light appeared in the wind shield and the Denver airport exploded in detail. “Now, let go the sim. I’ve got one last thing to do.”

The PI began chuckling. He guessed it. He let us go and the motion resumed. I pushed the throttles up and dumped the nose. The airspeed quickly built to 350 knots. The GPWS began screaming, “TERRAIN, PULL-UP! TERRAIN, PULL-UP!” We heard the noise of the wind building. I took the sim across the "teepee" terminal as fast as I could get it and as low as I dared, aiming just to the right of the tower. We flashed by the tower at eye level and I hauled back on the yoke.

“He’s gonna do it!” the PI yelled. “He’s gonna roll us!”

I got the nose about 30 degrees up and threw the yoke full right, fed in right rudder and pushed forward as we went inverted. The sim lurched and rocked on its hydraulic lifters. I managed to roll it through without crashing.

It was a fitting to end the last simulator in my career.