Last month I discussed the need for balance between hand-flying the airplane and using the autopilot. Another example of a need for balance is in the traditional versus scenario-based flight training debate. When I received my flight training, the airplanes had only basic radios and instruments, and the only parts of most flights that were similar to normal flight operations were the takeoff and landing. The rest of the flight was dedicated to accomplishing maneuvers in the practice area. It was only when we started cross-country training that I got to experience something close to normal flight operations.
It was very much the same approach when I was a Learjet instructor for FlightSafety back in the early ’80s. The pilot seldom got to fly with both engines operating, and usually had other failures to contend with at the same time. Except for when it was necessary to climb to altitude to practice an emergency descent, most of the sessions consisted of multiple takeoffs, approaches and landings. When we took a break from approaches to practice systems’ failures, instead of “gear up, autopilot on,” it was “gear up, position freeze.” To make it easier on the instructor and the student, we would freeze the position of the simulator immediately after takeoff so that the airplane was climbing in a fixed position over the end of the runway. We would sometimes even use flight freeze so the students would not have to fly the airplane as they focused on the system issues they were experiencing. At that point the $8.5 million simulator was nothing more than a glorified systems trainer.
People really do respond as they were trained, and this approach to simulator training may have led to accidents like Eastern 401 in which the entire crew focused on a problem, in this case a burned-out light bulb, just as they had done in the simulator. When I joined SimuFlite in 1983 we took a very different approach. The emphasis was on crew resource management (CRM), and each session was planned as a realistic corporate flight. The instructor was not allowed to freeze the simulator unless it was absolutely necessary for training purposes.
Line-Oriented Flight Training
We received permission from the FAA to do a progressive check ride, with each item checked off when it was successfully accomplished. This freed up the final session, which was traditionally a check ride, for line-oriented flight training (LOFT). Even though I wrote some of the first corporate LOFT scenarios, they were designed such that when I flew the scenario for my own training I would still experience the shock of disbelief when the emergency occurred. In one scenario, the crew started on the ramp at Boston Logan, taxied out and took off with ATC chatter in the background just like in the real world. As they were approaching their first destination at New York’s La Guardia airport, a passenger would inform the crew that they had received a call requesting them to land at White Plains instead, so the crew had to quickly coordinate all that is necessary to change their destination in a high traffic area. On approach to White Plains the winds changed, resulting in a need to change to a different runway and approach procedure.
After landing at White Plains, they taxied to the ramp to let off their passengers just as they normally would. They then departed for Washington National (at least that is what it was called back then). There was one small system issue on that leg, but overall it was a normal corporate flight with typical ATC challenges. As an instructor you could almost sense the relief as they started down the ILS approach to National: “Hey, this has been pretty easy and it’s almost over. Looks like we will get out of here a little early.”