April 14, 2013

737 Ground School...One week down!

After nearly 14 years at this job, I'm finally getting back on track with my original career plan.  It's almost comical now, but I sat down during basic indoctrination back in 1999 and made up a plan of what aircraft I wanted to fly, in what order and when I thought I would be awarded the positions.  The MD80 that I've flown for the last 13 years wasn't actually on the list (I explain this in an earlier post entitled "Bigger Isn't Always Better"), but even though it wasn't part of the plan, I feel lucky to have flown the "Mad dog" and I must admit I've already driven past the airport and looking longingly at the old girl climbing away into the sky.

I got started with 737 training this week and I think I've already flushed most of what I knew about the MD80 in a desperate attempt to make room for new information.  There's only so much room in my head, and with weeks of school left to go, it's already getting quite full up there.

So far things have gone smoothly, but there have been a few unexpected bumps in the road.  One of those is the fact that my training partner is another First Officer.  Usually, when two pilots are paired together for flight training, one is preparing to be a Captain and the other an FO.  It's seems so obvious and simple, but it doesn't always work out that way.  In my case, there were more First Officers than Captains in need of training this month and my partner and I drew the short straw.  When he's in the right seat, I will act as his Captain and he will do the same for me.  Unfortunately, this adds a lot of extra work for me as I now have to know my job and the Captain's too.  I'm sure there will be some leniency with respect to my work in the left seat, but it adds a level of difficulty I really didn't need.

On a positive note, you might be surprised to learn that my class only has two students.  We meet every day with an instructor who reviews the information we studied the day before through self-paced computer based training modules.  The instructor review takes about three hours, then we move on to a procedures trainer where we practice checklists and learn muscle memory for standard flows.  These trainers come in three basic types, paper, electronic, and full motion simulators...I'll get to that next.  Then we head to the computers where we spend another three hours on the computers packing our heads with more systems information for the next day's review.  After finishing the lesson assignments for the day, we're on our own to review and study.   

Below is one of our paper trainers.  This one happens to be back-lit, which helps a bit.  It's only a photograph of a Boeing 737 cockpit, so the switches don't work, but that isn't really the point.  The idea is that the student has a way to practice checklists, flows and memory items without taking up space in a multi-million dollar flight simulator.  Sometimes, if we're lucky, we get a simulator anyway.  

The next picture shows my favorite new toy.  It's very similar to the one above except that the instruments are shown on touch sensitive computer screens that allow the student to push buttons and flip switches.  Better still is the screen mounted above and to the right the instrument panel (the one with the black background) that shows system information.  In this picture, I was performing the initial power-up and pre-flight inspection.  As I powered up the airplane, the electrical schematic showed every move I made and how the switches I was flipping were affecting the electrical system.  We spend a lot of time working with schematics in ground school, but I've never seen one that interacted with a cockpit procedures trainer.  The student can choose to view any of the aircraft systems...hydraulic, pressurization, fuel, etc...and view the affect moving any switch in the cockpit has on that system.

We spent part of day three and four in a full motion simulator, which is about as close to the real airplane as you can get.  The first picture below is what the airplane looks like with the lights on, but before position initialization.  Until the POS INIT procedure is complete, the airplane doesn't know where it is or which way is up, so the attitude and heading displays are mostly blank and full of failure flags.  The second picture below shows the instrument panel after everything was initialized.  You might notice I was performing the Captain's duties at the time. 

The initial cockpit procedures, checklists and initial pre-flight preparation take a crazy amount of time when you are first learning how to do them.  Once I'm comfortable in the jet, I'll be able to complete them all and be completely ready to fly in around 15 to 20 minutes.  Right now it takes me more than an hour. We were only supposed to complete the items required to be complete before takeoff, but the instructor decided to let us go ahead and fly.  

We took off from DFW and flew the airplane to MEM to get a better idea about how the Primary Flight Display and Navigation Displays actually worked.  I wasn't really prepared for that and hadn't studied some of the procedures we were doing, but actually seeing the instruments in action helped me to better understand some of what I had been reading.  It also helped me to realize that I'm going to like these new displays a lot.  Everything I need is on that one screen.  It took at least six instruments on my old airplane to display the same amount of information.

Now I'm off for two days...although "off" doesn't accurately describe how I'll be spending my weekend.  I'll spend the next two days reviewing what I learned this week and cementing some of the procedures and checklists I've put to memory.  I have four more days of ground school next week, two more days off, then a few days of review before I'll be tested over my systems and emergency procedures knowledge.  

That's it for now.  The closer I get to exam time, the less time I'll have for updates, but I'll post as I can.  Thanks for checking in.


  1. Great post! Sounds like a very busy week!

    I'm sure it's a big mental challenge trying to learn all of the new systems for the 737. The cockpit on that plane is incredibly high-tech. I can't wait to read the post about your first "real" flight on the line!

    Loving reading these posts,
    Swayne Martin


    1. Hi Swayne, I do love all the high tech goodies. I'm continually amazed by what the FMS will do for me automatically on this jet. It's probably going to make me VERY lazy!

  2. Hope you are doing well. Remember those days well at Frontier. It seemed like I was drinking from a fire hose the first week of class.

    Also had an FO training partner. It seemed almost overwhelming at first to learn all of the Captains flows, etc., but I think in the long run it was a very good thing to learn.

    Love hearing about everything as it brings back wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing the adventure. :)

    aka @b737ladypilot

    1. I think you're right about that Denise. It's more work now, but I'll probably benefit from learning both sides.

      Thanks for the comment. Always nice to hear from you.

  3. Sounds very busy! Ground school is busy and can be overwhelming. I guess it can best be described as a fire water hose that you try to drink from. Keep up the good work and best of luck to you during the rest of the ground school. I think you'll love the 738 (when you get used to the noise lol)


    1. Ah yes, the noise. Oddly enough, they don't seem too eager to simulate that during training. All those years flying props did plenty of damage to my ears...now I can add the 737 to my list of excuses.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to post!

    A couple of Q's, do the other guys/girls know you have a blog, ie, do you explain why you're taking the pics and secondly, I'm a big fan of MS flight simulator, did you ever consider getting it to practice on - I understand there is a good rendition of the 737 available on it...

    Keep up the hard work!!

    Dave from the UK

    1. It's no secret that I'm posting the pictures and I usually ask before getting out a camera in the cockpit.

      Regarding MS Flight Simulator...I've considered getting that out and probably will, just haven't had time.

  5. Thanks for the great post!!! Sounds like a lot of hard work! I'm another of the FS fanatic and have the PMDG 737/8/9 - it is an awesome plane to fly on FS - and - I will say - so realistic - I was able to get a 738 from cold and dark to started and ready to taxi in a real sim :) Of course - checklists help a whole darn lot!! :) Bring that 738 to FLL and I'll get some shots for you!! And - thanks for stopping by my blog!! :)

  6. Hi Brad,

    A great post and a great blog. I'm sure you'll love 737NG. It's a very versatile aeroplane, although somewhat different to the "Classic" -300 and -400.



  7. Brad, This is awesome! I have something to send you that will work for you and your first officer partner. What people don't realize is now you get to learn CA stuff too. But that's good to know what they're supposed to do.
    Have fun! All is good and you have an awesome plane!

    1. I agree Karlene. In the end, I'll be a better FO by understanding the captain's job in more detail. I'd be lying if I said I was enjoying school, but I can't say I know many pilots who do. I am enjoying the airplane though and I can't wait to get out there and actually fly it!

      I'm open to any study aids.