Part II – Simulator
After 3 busy weeks, I’m heading to Manchester to do the « flying » part! I’m excited to finally get my hands on this airplane! I’ll be training in 2 different training center in Manchester; CAE Woodford which is kind of an « old » facility and CAE Cheadle which is brand new, with the latest generation of A320 simulator.
I knew what was going to be my main challenge during the next 3 weeks; my schedule. It was a total mess! Starting at midnight, 5am, 9am, 6pm, 10pm etc. It was mixed up during the whole 3 weeks. I had to manage my rest period with a lot of naps even though it was almost impossible to have a normal sleep pattern.
My first sim session was at midnight. It is weird leaving home at 11.30pm in the dark and go to work; the first 10 minutes in the car are quite odd and I felt tired already. Yet I tried to sleep as much as I could during the afternoon. As we approached the training center the positive stress increased and the fatigue disappeared!
We met our first instructor, former easyJet pilot, a lot of experience on plenty of aircrafts. He was really « cool »; he wanted us to be relaxed and to enjoy our first ever sim on the a320! After all, the first 2 flights are more of a demo and showing what the aircraft is capable of, how it reacts and so on.
First I was impressed by the size of the simulator; this thing is HUGE!
Getting familiar with the cockpit; First, how to set up the seat which is something really important. There is an eye position indicator in the cockpit where you have to align 2 spheres in order to get the right seating position both laterally and vertically.
You will move your seat until the read sphere is aligned with the white one so you can’t see it anymore.
As you all probably know, Airbus aircrafts are equipped with a side stick and not a yoke like on Boeing. The main advantage of the side stick is the gain of space as you don’t have a big yoke between your legs. Instead we have a tray table where we can do the paperwork, eat and more. Handling of the side stick allow you to be more comfortable in your sitting position maybe. But it’s just a question of preference, and there is an endless debate between side stick versus yoke. Anyway, the side stick works really well only if you set up your seat and especially the armrest in the good position.
Then it was a cold and dark start which means everything was turned off like if we just arrived in the aircraft on an early morning shift. We taxied and took off with flaps 2 and climb to FL100.
We did some manoeuvres with FD ON/OFF (Flight director) and A/THR ON/OFF (Auto Thrust). Then we saw the different protections of the Airbus such as Alpha prot, maximum bank angle and more. We finished by shooting some ILS approaches. That was more or less the first simulator we had. It was a real FUN and I really loved flying the A320; already looking forward for the next session which is coming very soon!
Again, full set up of the aircraft + take off briefing. We were airborne in 45minutes which is not so bad for our second try. We saw for the first time the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) with the TA alert (Traffic Advisory) and did the evasive manoeuvres for the RA (Resolution Advisory) alert. It’s quite simple but the first time doing it it’s also quite easy to put too much input and overshoot the green band on the VSI. Small input is the key, but you have to react quickly!
We then did a manual ILS with the FD ON, then a raw data ILS with the bird on. Basically a raw data ILS is fully manual (no auto thrust, no FD). We then did a go around with AP on and one manually. We continued with a balked landing which is a go around at very low altitude. So low that it is likely the wheels will touch the ground. The threat here is a tail strike; so a sensible pitch attitude will be set at the start of the go around. The session ended with some visual circuits.
Took off from LGW with some crosswind. Our cockpit preparation was slightly faster than the previous sim. We did some VOR approaches in Manchester with different level of automation; Managed/Managed, Managed/Selected, Selected/Selected. We finished with a nice crosswind for visual circuits.
Now the pace of the sessions increased a lot. We had no time to do a cold and dark start as we needed to learn and see a lot of new procedures.
Take-off in icing condition on a contaminated runway. W/S (Windshear) at take-off. Quite impressive how strong the wind can be. I personally loved this exercice but in reality it won’t be the same story as it is really dangerous.
We did a an ILS + Windshear and go around.
Then, Normal TO, reconfiguration of the FMGS (Flight Management Guidance System) for a circle to land at EGCC 23R to 05L with an interception of the glide from above. A circle to land is performed when you want to land on a runway that is not equipped with any landing instruments, strong tailwinds, obstacle etc. The technique is to line up the aircraft with the runway, for example runway 20, once you’ve descended and reach your minima and hopefully break out of clouds you will turn to around 45° and join the downwind leg. The you’ll turn base and then final on the opposite runway of which you did the initial approach. You will land on runway 02. Circle to land is a visual approach! You must remain visual with the runway at all time.
This picture will make it easier to understand the circle to land. Here the aircraft is approaching on runway 30R and will land on runway 12L which is the reciprocal runway.
The rest of the session was:
EGPWS (Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System) actions. Basically what happens if you fly towards the ground.
Upset recovery, the instructor will set the aircraft in an unusual attitude for example high or low pitch attitude with an important bank angle. The goal is to recover the aircraft when he says so, applying the right technique.
Take-off and landing during night.
Quick FMGS setup. Take off windshear ahead, windshear initial climb.
ADR1 failure. ADR 1+2 failure (ECAM actions)
ATLN law, aircraft Handling in ALTN (alternate) law. The aircraft feels more or less the same as in direct law.
RA1 Failure. RA1+2 failure. ILS with both RA failed (LOC only). The main issue here is the switch from alternate law to direct law when the gear is down. In direct law the aircraft feels more laggy
Landing in direct law with crosswind
Stall at ‘low altitude’ and stall at high altitude. The margin at high altitude is quite small; you can stall with high speed as you’re approaching the Coffin corner. As an aircraft climbs towards the altitude that defines its coffin corner, the margin between stall speed and Critical Mach number (Critical Mach Number: the lowest Mach number at which the airflow over any part of the aircraft reaches the speed of sound), becomes smaller and smaller until the Flight Envelope boundaries intersect. At this point, any change in speed would result in exceeding one or the other of the limits; the aircraft will stall.
Performance at high altitude. Setting TOGA thrust at around 37000ft will make almost no difference.
Demonstration of small margin of protection at high alt
Upset recovery in ALTN law
Aircraft handling in direct law and mechanical back up (stabiliser trim and rudder only!). At this stage the only control that you have are the trim wheel and the rudders; the stick does not work anymore. The first 2 minutes are quite « hard » as you’re trying to find how the aircraft reacts. It’s possible to maintain level flights and to do some turns but landing the aircraft with only mechanical back up would be almost impossible.
Low energy (low speed, alert SPEED SPEED SPEED).
Smoke aft cargo while being radar vectors, landing ILS, stopping on runway emergency evacuation. That was a bit stressful as you can see smoke coming in the flight deck. First thing is to don (put) the oxygen masks. Communication with the mask ON becomes complicated as you hear the other one breathing and you got this big thing on your face. You tend to lose a bit of situational awareness I’d say. In that case we declared a MAYDAY and request to land. When we landed we simulated that the Captain (so the one in the left hand seat) took back control as it is the procedure. Then we did our checklist and order an evacuation.
6th, 7th and 8th sim were all about technical failures, following the QRH (Quick Reference Handbook), Memory Items or ECAM actions. Some of the failures were interesting and relatively « easy » to deal with but some were complex such as the loss of 2 hydraulic systems.
In the A320 there are 3 hydraulic systems and they are all of them independent. The Green, Blue and Yellow system. During a sim I lost the Green and Blue which is from the instructor one of the worst case. In that scenario the roll is induced with 2 spoilers only and only one elevator is working (the right one). Flying this « thing » becomes funny let’s say!
We also had a rapid cabin depressurisation with a loud BANG, meaning that we had damaged aircraft so we couldn’t descent at max speed. Emergency descent with oxygen masks ON and keeping the speed at which we heard the bang.
We trained for the skill test which was the next session. Flight plan from Manchester to Belfast.
Take-off, TCAS RA, then climb to FL240, engine failure + fire during climb, ECAM. TDODAR (Time Diagnose, Options, Decide, Assign, Review), we decided that we can continue to Belfast as we were closed enough. ILS app manually flown, go around because ILS ground facilities failed. Go around and hold to prepare for a 2D approach VOR.
Reposition for TO, EFATO (Engine Failure At Take-Off) ECAM actions + engine relight. Then ILS raw data.
Day of the skill test! Didn’t sleep that much (scheduled at 5am, alarm cock at 3.30am…)
The TRE (Type Rated Examiner) was really nice and motivating. Put us in confidence right from the start.
My route was: Toulouse to Gatwick with alternate of EGSS (Stansted).
Full Cockpit preparation from cold and dark. Take off brief + EFB computation. Taxi then take-off. During the take-off roll I really felt the fatigue inside me from my lack of sleep, but I don’t know why, suddenly just after the rotation my body woke up and I was feeling really good and relaxed!
Normal take off, TCAS RA initial climb, after that, engine fire (damage). Did all the actions up to engine secured. Request to hold at the last waypoint of the SID. Quickly had a look to where we can go. We continued our ECAM actions and assess the situation with a TDODAR; then we asked the weather and RW in use at Bordeaux. That was our decision, we were heading to Bordeaux (Fun fact, I’ve learned to fly in this area, in Biscarrosse!). While en route to Bordeaux, I gave control and the radios to my sim partner who was playing the role of the Captain, and I prepared the cockpit for the approach. I then briefed what we were going to do. The first attempt was a NPA (Non-Precision Approach) on runway 23 fully managed. We descended down to the minimas but were not visual so we had to go around (with one engine out). Came back this time for a LOC dme (Managed / selected) and we landed. At touchdown, I noticed that there were no calls from my PM; he was incapacitated. I had to declare a MAYDAY, ask for medical team and a follow me car.
We repositioned on the RW and I knew what was coming as it is a requirement to pass the skill test. The engine failure at take-off (EFATO). I set the thrust for take-off and just after V1 we had our engine failure but without damage this time. So after having done our actions and everything was under control we attempted to relight the engine and it worked. I prepared the cockpit and briefed for a raw data ILS (No AP,FD and A/THR). This is where you realised that PM is really important; you’re so focus while scanning your PFD (Primary Flight Display) that you lose some of your situational awareness. PM is equally important as PF if not more! That is what I’ve learned during my type rating. PM is a safety role!
I landed after 2 hours of test. It went fast, and I really enjoyed it at the end. I was a bit stressed at the beginning and I suppose it’s normal to be; after all this is the ‘last’ test after almost 5 years of sacrifices and hard work. Also you need to have a bit of stressed to perform well; then when you are in the action, you forgot about it and do what you’ve learned and prepared for and if you worked hard enough everything will be ok.
Fortunately everything went well for me and I had this feeling that I’ve done a good job during this 2 hours. I passed and got my Airbus A320 rating! That was it, I’ve succeeded what I’ve started 5 years ago and realised my dream; becoming a pilot!
It was LVO (Low Visibility Operations). It is a complex subject with a lot of things to know by heart or we have to refer to tables of figures to know if yes or no you can land in respect to the ‘law’. We taxied in fog and it is really hard to see; I was impressed by the lack of visibility and yet be able to taxi and take-off! Everything is different, you taxi at a really low speed as you can barely read the signs; during take-off it’s a bit disturbing as you don’t have any peripheral view and you can’t see more than 125m. So you have to be focus to stay on the center line. We did a full auto land; it is crazy how good it is! You set up the aircraft and you monitor the AP doing it with a very high accuracy. Then we did a manual landing to see at which stage we could see the light of the runway; and trust me, you see it very late, something like 40 feet (of course it depends of the weather).
This session was more or less a demo of how we operate in low visibility and what it feels like.
That was the end of the type rating. It was a demanding month and a half, a lot of work, intense pace, fatigue, bad weather (UK…) but it was worth it! I am now rated on the A320!
Next step, onto the base induction and the base training for the very first flight on the real aircraft. It will be the next article, stay tuned!