I always look forward to flying with pilots new to the 767/757. These individuals are usually fresh from simulator training at our flight academy. They have suffered the lacerations of being whipped to proficiency. They have spent over a month in the stale and frigid climate of our classrooms and simulators. They are eager to partake of the real world and the real airplane. Part of my job as a check airman is to make it real. But on some occasions, the reality goes beyond my script. Such was the case on my trip with Rich.
Rich had been off flying status for 14 months due to a medical condition that required time to rectify with the FAA. Prior to his absence, Rich had been a Super 80 first officer. He was doubly anxious to get back into the cockpit. We were scheduled to fly his first IOE (Initial Operating Experience). The trip was an afternoon departure from LaGuardia to Miami with a return in the evening.
On that day, the joys of New York traffic caught me by surprise. Even my normal escape routes had their own issues. My arrival was later than the hour and a half prior to departure that I had discussed with Rich on the phone the day prior.
After munching down a particularly tasteless slice of interesting-looking chicken-something pizza in the food court, I hurried into Operations. I was greeted by my friend and base chief pilot, Mark Cronin. Mark was surrounded by a crowd of eager fresh-faced interns from various aviation universities. He was conducting a tour. My entrance prompted an embarrassing introduction regarding my check airman status and the fact that I was that airline guy who wrote for that magazine. We bantered for a few minutes.
Of course, all of this activity delayed my IOE with Rich. Rich was gracious enough to understand. He had been standing off to the side, away from the flurry of conversations. If my entrance had given him pause to wonder what kind of check airman he was about to face, at least he didn't have to guess who I was.
Once the flight plan had completed its printing, we reviewed the format and the changes that might have occurred during Rich's 14-month absence. We marched out the door of Operations toward our gate.
We deposited our bags in the cockpit. I briefed the flight attendants while Rich organized his nest from the right seat. We donned our glow-in-the-dark lime green, hit-me-with-a-moving-vehicle safety vests and walked outside the jet bridge to the ramp. It was the first time Rich would touch and feel a 757 from the outside. He had viewed a walk-around inspection only from the vantage point of a computer screen. We completed the inspection without issues.
The first daunting challenge that faced Rich was the FMC (Flight Management Computer). The FMC was the more sophisticated Pegasus version. Although the simulator training environment provided some exposure to the idiosyncrasies, it is never enough for actual line operations. Fortunately, Rich was proving to be a sharp and well-prepared guy. The cockpit preparation process continued with relatively few instructional nudges on my part. Other than a handful of minor computer-entry glitches and some understandable awkwardness, we began our taxi to the approach end of Runway 31. It was just after parking the brakes while waiting for our takeoff sequence that I departed from my script for the first time.
I glanced at the wind sock. Were my eyes playing tricks or was that big, old orange tube indicating a tailwind? The tower controller reported 190 degrees at 15 knots to a Super 80 that was holding in position. Yup, it was a tailwind. I didn't need the crosswind component chart for that calculation. Our takeoff was probably just within the 10-knot tailwind restriction, but I didn't care. It was LaGuardia. Short runways. I wasn't going to risk using my marginal swimming abilities in an aborted takeoff consuming more than the calculated concrete available.
The Super 80 was given a takeoff clearance. As it rolled away from our vantage point, the tower instructed us to taxi into position. I keyed the mic switch on my yoke.
"Unable Runway 31 due to a tailwind," I said.
"Say your request," the tower replied.
"Runway 13," I responded.
Within a short period of time, all taxi activity ceased. And then, almost as quickly as we had refused our clearance, taxi instructions were given to other airplanes for Runway 13. As soon as traffic permitted, we were given our instructions. We had become the lemming that just said no.
Of course, the departure change created the need for some FMC updating, but Rich handled it without major issues. My improvisation of the make-it-real script was progressing well.
Typical for pilots transitioning from the Super 80 to the 757, the takeoff in the actual airplane is an eye-opener. The airplane is capable of rapid acceleration and uncharacteristic rates of climb. In an effort to be smooth, Rich raised the nose to only a 12-degree deck angle. The brief hesitation caused us to accelerate toward the flap retraction speeds quicker than anticipated. He corrected the problem with a little coaxing from me and a deck angle nearing 20 degrees. But that's usually in my script anyway.