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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Training on the Airbus A350

Success is in Preparation

Behind every pilot who is prepared, 
sits hundreds of passengers who don't have to worry.

Human Factors Built into Home Training 

In the midst of Covid my B777 was on its way out the door, but I was one of the lucky pilots who was still employed. Albeit,  transitioning to a new plane. The A350.  I had yet to be scheduled for training, but it would be in the distant future. I decided to see if my doctoral research held true. 

What I had learned in my research was that the level of understanding negatively impacted performance. This negative performance was the result of airline training programs due to a negative safety culture. If these facts were true, and I was responsible for my own learning, then I was in control of the outcome. Furthermore a high level of understanding should improve performance. I began studying even without a start date. Despite the many distractions of life. 

Northwest Airline Pilots unite for 
Kim's Happy 4th of July Birthday! 

I began studying systems in July, hoping to have three months before I would be scheduled for training. As it turned out, I only had one month notification. August, I learned I was schedule for a September 9th start date and the type-ride schedule for October 9th. An aggressive schedule with only the legally mandated breaks built in. My schedule varied from 0200 wake-ups with my body clock at 2300 for a week. Then, just when I shifted to the local time zone, I was moved to an 1800 report time to fly into the night. 

If prepared you can do anything!


There will always be distractions to pull you away from what you should do when training is involved. I began my studying process with the 4th of July birthday celebration for my friend, and our first visit from grandkids since Covid a couple weeks later. My husband was in the midst of heart procedures, and my Dad arrived to Seattle in August for a couple weeks.

Life doesn't stop when training happens,
Sometimes we have to workaround obstacles. 

My Training Process

In order to learn the plane, I defaulted back to old school technology: Flash Cards. I made them for systems, emergencies, procedures, general knowledge, and memory items. The thing about flashcards is that you can take them everywhere. When I found a conflict in information, or something I didn't know, I found someone who did and edited the cards. I wanted to understand this most technologically advanced airplane. 

The first month I sat at the lake and wrote them. Then I read them daily on the elliptical. I read them sitting in the hospital room waiting for my husband to return from his heart surgery. I even read them while donating blood. 

I then wrote a 278 page study guide, and 19 page procedures guide. Once in training, I set up my hotel room to practice flows while bouncing on the exercise ball. I also awoke two hours early to study the day's procedures on the elliptical. 

There was a purpose for the ball and the elliptical while studying. Motion helps store memories. But also, I did a lot of talking to myself. If you were the instructor and had a group of people sitting in your room, what would you tell them to explain what they needed to know? If you can do that, as if you are teaching the subject to others, you are teaching the subject to yourself. You have become the subject matter expert. Try this, it works. Vocalize as if you were giving the lessons. 

A350 Hotel Room Training 

At night I set my alarm to shutdown my studying, and soaked in a hot bath with a cup tea and read a random book that had nothing to do with life. For thirty minutes I escaped to another world of Wizards and Trolls.  Sometime this occurred at 430 pm when I had to get up at 0200. The book I read during training:

Then I cranked up the air conditioning to sleep in a very cold room. The reason behind all this was because memories are formed when we sleep. Far too often in training we believe studying all night will be the benefit of more knowledge. However, without sleep memories will not be stored. So to shutdown the plane and to store what I learned through the day, I created the sleep plan. 

First, shutdown the airplane brain and distract with something else, such as a book you don't have to think too deeply about. Second, the hot bath heats up your body and relaxes you. Third, the cold room, after a hot bath, induces sleep. Yes, the cooling down process is sleep inducing. I also scheduled 8-9 hours of sleep per night. That part didn't always work, simply because I was in a hotel. But if I awoke before I was ready to get up,  due to a slamming door at 9 pm, I would force myself to go back to sleep. 

Ironically, to be at your best performance, research says you should be sleeping during your body clock from 0200 to 0600. However, if that's not a possibility during training, get as much sleep as possible. Research identifies that accumulated fatigue will also reduce your performance. Once you get behind that power curve it might be difficult to catch up. If you have a choice to go to bed two hours earlier during training versus reading something while fatigued, my advice it to choose sleep. 

Commuting home on my days off

Many were surprised I did this with such a long commute and the strenuous program, with only two days off. Logistically from hotel to home took 8-9 hours each direction, so I actually only had one free day. I arrived home and shopped, prepared food for my husband for the week, did laundry, mowed the lawn, played Scrabble, and I actually ate real food. But I also studied while at home, and on the flight back, after my morning golf game, I studied for another 5 hours on the plane.

The important part about taking time off is that like any machine that operates 24/7 it's going to eventually break if you don't take care of it. Your brain is no different. You need sleep to store memories, but you also need to allow a bit of normal to save your sanity. Also, focus on what you can do, not on the challenges. There were times I wanted to complain, but instead I shifted to the positive and spoke my mantra. For example, waking up during maneuvers training at 2300 my body clock, I said, "I can do anything for five days."  And I did.

Newest A350 Type-Rated Pilot

On March 9th, I became the newest A350 type-rated pilot. This makes 9 type-ratings. Not a snag in training. No issues, despite the numerous personal obstacles and challenges that occurred throughout the process. I truly believe it had to do with the level of understanding and the foundation I built at the beginning. But I also had the gift of over a dozen incredible instructors during my training. Each had exceptional knowledge, indulged my daily questions, and were communicative. I cannot say enough positive things about this cadre of A350 instructors. They are proud of their program and interested in continued improvement. Nice to see. 

If you you would like to learn more about my research, I invite you to read Normalization of Deviance, a Threat to Aviation Safety. If you would like to learn more about training and additional study tips you should read, Flight to Success, Be the Captain of Your Life.  Both these books are available on ebook on Amazon, or you can get your autographed copy on this blog (order on right column). 

Flight Training Into the Sky

I am now waiting for Operational Experience, which is estimated to be out more than 6 weeks after the type-rating. Nothing is scheduled, but we know it won't be sooner.  I have a plan to retain my knowledge. I have reorganized my flash cards and am reading them daily 1-2 hours while on the elliptical. Last night I went to bed and had planned to mentally rehearse my flows prior to sleeping. However, I fell asleep prior to reaching the overhead panel during the preflight. The next plan, I'll do this in the bathtub before bed. 

So many things we can not control in this life. But those that we can, we should do our best. I will also be requesting an additional simulator session to practice what I learned before I step into the plane. Now, the million dollar question.... 

What do I think of the Airbus A350?

I love it! 

More to come on that next week... 

Enjoy the Journey
XO Karlene 


  1. As an experienced regional check airman that lost my job after 30+ years, an now I am extremely lucky to be learning the 777 for the new Eastern Airlines, I thank you for this advice, and will be putting it to good use going forward!
    We are currently awaiting approval of the training program.
    But .... like you did, I have already dug into systems, and struggle to shut off thoughts of FCOMs and FCTMs!!!

    1. I am so sorry about the loss of your job, but now, having an opportunity to go to the 777 is one of those great opportunities. Email me, I might have some additional ideas on the 777. Also, the amazing thing about our brains is they can be programed, usually we program them without even knowing it and fall into habits. But you can retrain that brain and create different habits. I also cannot over emphasize the importance of sleep. Good luck! Looking forward to hearing from you!

    2. Hi Karlene, it is inspiring to read your posts and your aviation journey despite of your busy schedule. I am a newly minted B777 rated pilot and still finds rooms of improvements on systems/emergencies/ general knowledge. I am wondering I can have your materials on B777 to gain further insights? Many thanks and look forward to your great workss

  2. Hi Karlene,

    Congrats on the new type! That is awesome!

    Finding myself blessed to still have a job and learning a new aircraft as well. I have been putting into practice the advice you gave me when I went through this the first time a few years ago and it is going really well. Also have a mountain of flashcards and my paper cockpit up on the wall lol

    1. Hey Jake, I am so glad you are doing well, and putting practice to work. The best thing about studying this way is we an always review. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Dear Karlene

    Great work Karlene!!
    Do you mind sharing your material.

    Many thanks!

    1. Thank you. Email me. I can share my information but not company. So please email and let me know what you're interested in. Thanks!

  4. Congrats! I am a private pilot, former flight attendant turned Jr. High teacher. I can’t wait to share your study habits with my students! They are the same things I have used for years too but sometimes it helps for my students to see someone else with a different job (outside of school) using the same techniques!

    1. KCA, thank you for the wonderful comment. I'm thinking students might be like your kids... it's always easier hearing for them to hear something from someone else before they believe it. Thanks so much for your comment.

  5. Hi Karlene,

    I wanted to congratulate you on your new type rating. Even though the 777 is an awesome plane, technology and circumstances have changed. When one chapter ends an even more exciting one begins. I am very happy you landed the A350 and I am hoping that with all of the studying and hard work you have placed into it, that the plane will give you just as much enjoyment in return.

    To answer the final question in your post; I will say, I love the A350 having seen it in NY multiple times. It looks like a technological masterpiece. The take offs are both ear and eye candy. I especially love the -1000 varient to which I will leave to your imagination as to why.

    I hope Dick is healing and please send my thoughts and regards to him and your family on behalf of mine.


    1. Thank you so much Jeremy! Yes, he is doing great. Today was the first day on 18 holes of golf walking! A good sign. And, I'm so glad I landed the I can hardly wait for my first landing. I will keep you posted. I hope you and your family are doing wonderful, as well.

  6. Hi Karlene,

    It’s amazing that you have such dedication. You are an inspiration to us all. I have been flying 380s for EK. Thank you for sharing it with us young people who sometimes take the profession for granted.


  7. Thanks for this great advice. I went from military king-air flying to a part 135 Citation XL. In the near future I should begin trining on the A320. I will definitely be using your techniques. This is a proven recipe for success.

  8. Love your web page! 737A currently and bidding A350. Outside chance! 😂 Any chance you published your study guide? Would buy a copy! Thanks!

    1. Excellent! You will love the plane. Email me and I'll give you what I have. Also... A or B on the 350? I have flow guides too.


Thank you for your comment! If your comment doesn't appear immediately, it will after I land. Enjoy the journey!