Authors write for many reasons. I write to communicate, educate and entertain. The novel Flight For Safety
, was not just a thriller that read like a mystery, filled with action, but there were many chapters where lessons could be learned. This is one such chapter when our friend Darby Bradshaw teaches so basic study skills to her new hire first officer.
November 12 2016
Darby unbuckled her seatbelt, and stood. She reached over her seat and packed up her belongings, and then climbed out of the simulator. The instructor was already out the door. Her first officer was unusually quiet. He had a few problems during his approach, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a little effort. Besides, their checkride would be a team effort, and based on his previous performance she planned on being the pilot flying. The worst think about this process was if a captain was weak, he could just tell his first officer to be the pilot flying for the checkride and pass his type-ride without ever flying the simulator.
“Do you think he’s going to let me take the checkride?” Nathan asked.
“You’re military, of course he will.”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure even that could even help me.”
Nathan was a new hire. Thus, on probation and he could be fired for anything. But that rarely happened once the pilot was into simulator training, especially if he had a military background. Not because the training department was filled with compassionate people, but because the guy in charge of pilot hiring was a Global God, and he would never be made to look bad for hiring the wrong person.
“Military is family,” Darby said setting her bag on the floor. “You’re one of them and they’ll protect you. That goes for probation too.” She glanced out the door, and the instructor was no longer in sight.
“Yeah, but I feel like an idiot. I bid this plane because they say the bigger the easier they are to fly, but I had no idea.” He sighed. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to study, what was important, or even how to prepare for this.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?” Hell, she couldn’t even get him to have a beer with her after training, or a cup of coffee before their session. She had assumed he was just focusing on his studies and didn’t want to be distracted.
He scratched his head, “I…well, I… felt like an idiot, and after each session I just wanted to get the hell out of here. I have a 40 minute drive home, and…”
“Okay, sit your butt back in that seat. I’m going to show you how to prepare for this checkride. I’ve watched what you’re doing and we can fix it.”
He returned to his seat, and she climbed back into hers, but they sat facing each other.
“It looks like you are hesitant because you don’t know what you are doing. What I think is happening is, you’re just trying to find what button to push.” She sighed and gauged his demeanor as she spoke.
Nobody, especially a military pilot, liked the realization they were not sky gods. “You’re having to think too much, and that’s creating a delay. Words go into your head, you think about it for a few seconds, and then take action. Which is great, but in the sim or an actual urgent condition, we might not have time for that delay. And if an emergency were really to happen on a plane, stress would short circuit you even more.”
“But I’ve tried to go faster, but then I mess up.”
“You don’t need speed. You need automaticity.”
“We need your knowledge to a level where you don’t have to think about what to do, your response is automatic. You just do it, kind of like breathing. You need to automatically know where every switch is. So you’re not speeding up to go fast, but you actually know what you’re supposed to do and where the buttons are, which makes you move with more efficiency.”
“I’ve read every procedure. I know them all. I just get in here and it doesn’t come out of my brain and turn to action.”
“So, let’s change that.”
“If you can fix me before tomorrow, I’ll give you my first born.”
Darby laughed. “Uh, a beer after our ride would be good enough.”
“Anything,” he said, looking desperate.
She understood what he was going through. If he failed his ride, they would let him go, and it would impact the rest of his life. None of it would have been his fault. Global had such a shitty training program.
“When you get home, I want you to make a note card for each phase of flight, each approach, and each maneuver. Front of the card write takeoff, or engine failure, ILS approach, TCAS, GPWS, or VOR etcetera. Then, on the back write in the exact steps of what you will do, and say for each.”
“I have everything written on a sheet of paper.”
“That's good. But, it doesn’t test your memory. When you write these, you’re going to test your memory in the process. Write the phase of flight or event on the front of each card. Then, write the steps on the back from memory. See how well you know them.”
He nodded as she spoke. “That’s a good idea.”
“Then, you’re going to sit in a chair, a bathtub, hot tub, or get your but to the gym on an exercise bike or treadmill and—”
“You study at the gym?”
“Heck yeah. Motion helps the memory. Do you have your panels on the wall at home?”
“Does your wife have an exercise ball?”
He laughed. “Yep.”
“Okay, phase one—write cards. Phase two, sit on the ball in front of the panel and rehearse, touching the buttons on the panel. Make sure you bounce.”
He laughed. “You’re nuts.”
“Perhaps. But it works.” She turned forward in her seat. “Studies have proven that motion helps form memories. So with your butt on the ball, the panels in front of you, you’re going to practice by reciting and touching.” Darby grinned. “Pick a phase.”
“Uh, how about a go around.”
“She turned into position in her seat and said, “Go around, flaps 20.” She touched the thrust levers and then the flap handle as she spoke. “Positive rate, gear up.” She touched the gear handle. “400 feet. Heading select.” She pointed to the altimeter and then touched the heading bug. “1000 feet, set speed 180.” She pointed to the altimeter as she said 1000 feet and then pointed to the speed bug. “Flaps 5. Flight level change.” She touched the flap handle again, and then pointed to the FLCH button.
Darby was theatrical, loud, and touched everything with zeal. “This is what you are going to do at home. But you’re going to be touching the panel. Double check the back of your card to make sure you didn’t miss anything. If you did, do it again, and again. And then do it again.”
“Nope. When you got that set, you move to phase three.” Darby grinned. “My favorite part—fantasizing. You can do this in the hot tub, or at the gym or even walking. But if you do it in public you have to risk looking like an idiot talking to yourself.”
The truth was most of the world looked like they were talking to themselves with cell phone headsets, thus not an issue and definitely not the point.
“I could not be more serious. Once upon a time they called this armchair flying. Well, they still might, but I think fantasizing adds a little more flare. The point is, if you can visualize where the buttons are then you really do know your stuff. That’s why I live by limitations on flash cards. If I’m only reading something, it doesn’t mean I could regurgitate if needed. Not until I read the question, and have to come up with an answer do I really know that I know.”
“That makes sense.”
“If I were you, I would go to the closest store, get some three by five cards and then go to Starbucks. Write them up before your drive home. Then you can study on the way home.”
“You read and drive too?”
Darby laughed. Perhaps she should not be telling him to study and drive. Men were not quite the multitaskers that women were. “No reading and driving. But, after you get your cards written up, you’ll have them in your mind. You know the phases of flight. Start with pushback, then taxi, takeoff. Just talk to yourself the entire drive home. You can think and drive. If you can’t remember something, check it out when you get home.”
“I’ll do that,” he said. “Then I’ll have more time to study them at home.”
Darby assessed him for a moment and then said, “I’m going to tell you something that I don’t think I have ever told a man before—the faster the better.”
“Excuse me?” he said with a laugh.
“You want to do this in your sleep, without thinking. If you can recite without hesitation and quickly, that means you know it. Really know it. I don’t want you going fast in the simulator or airplane, but for reciting, you need to have zero hesitation. Also, when you’re driving, I want you to tell yourself why you are doing each step.”
“What do you mean why?”
“When you go around, why are you adding thrust? Why bring up the gear? Why push heading select instead of VNAV? If you know the why to each step, you’ve moved from rote memorization to automaticity. You’ll know what needs to be done, and why, not just memorizing a step.” She glanced out the door and then returned her attention to him. “We’d better get out of here, in case the boss wants to debrief the session.”
“Why would he start now?”
Darby laughed. “You noticed, too?”
They left the simulator and headed for the briefing room. The instructor was sitting there with a coke, and an opened package of potato chips on the table, and he was typing grades into a computer.
“Do you have anything for us?” Darby asked as they entered.
“No. You’ll be fine,” he said with a wave of his hand. “But Nathan, you need to learn your procedures a little better.”
Darby and Nathan exchanged a glance.
“I’ll work on that sir.”
Darby and Nathan headed out of the room, and down the hall. Once they exited the building Nathan set his flight bag on the ground.
“Forget something?” Darby asked.
He stuck his hands into his pockets and said, “I owe you an apology.”
One of Darby’s eyebrows rose with a mind of its own. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear it, but if a man wanted to apologize, she definitely would not discourage that behavior. “Lay it on me.”
He glanced over his shoulder at the door, and then returned his attention to her. “I feel like an idiot.” He looked at his feet this time. “But, I was warned to distance myself from you.”
And the story unfolds...
Enjoy the Journey!