Another step closer – Basic Phase Complete

Only nine weeks have passed since we moved out of our house at Bournemouth to begin the Basic Phase here at Nursling, and already we have reached the end of the phase after having spent an incredible 120 hours in the Airbus A320 simulator. There has been a lot of work to complete, but in my spare time at the start of the phase I made a video of our five week Bournemouth Phase which you can watch below.

The basic phase is our first and biggest module of training in the Airbus A320, comprising of twenty-nine simulator details each made up of 1.3 hours pilot flying, 1.3 hours pilot monitoring and 1.3 hours pilot observing, which is slightly more time than is usually required at this basic phase (other courses do not include pilot observing time). However, having the chance to observe each lesson as well as fly it from both the left and right hand seats has proved to be a real positive as it gives each of us time just to watch the detail back, which is great for consolidating the lesson objectives and for ironing out any trouble areas. We are crewed in groups of three and each detail begins with a 90min brief and ends with a quick debrief. Because the simulators at CTC run 24/7 there is a range of reporting times, from 4.30am to the late 8.30pm (which means finishing at 2/3am)! I am very glad to have a variety of report times because it is exactly this style of roster that we will experience at EasyJet.

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Leaving the training centre at 2.30am after a route flight from Heathrow to Glasgow and back

At first glance, such a quick transition from flying propeller aircraft to flying the Airbus simulator seemed like a formidable challenge, but after just a matter of weeks we are now completing flights confidently using the EasyJet SOPs (standard operating procedures) and handling various emergencies as a multi-crew operation. The fact that we all feel so confident with the aircraft already is a real testament to the way the MPL training is delivered, and is largely down to the fact that the entire of the basic phase consists of hands-on manual flying with very limited use of autopilot. Despite the relatively short time frame, the pace is actually pretty relaxed and the increasing complexity of the simulator details is quite gradual. The phase started with a few lessons on general handling, before bringing in instrument flying techniques (some new, some previously covered in the core phase) such as holding, non-precision and precision approaches, SID/STARS (standard instrument arrivals and departures), circling approaches and much more. It felt good to apply these skills on an aircraft as big as the A320, and it’s fair to say that the main thing to get used to has been just how much quicker everything happens in this aircraft. Before long, we moved onto the Boeing 737 for two asymmetric handling (flying on one engine) and upset recovery flights before returning to the A320 for more upset recovery and a number of engine failure details. After a short break, we completed our week long CRM course, before returning to the simulator for lessons covering autoflight and route flying. CRM, which stands for crew resource management, is a huge part of aviation training and “focuses on interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision making in the cockpit”. It essentially focuses on the ‘people skills’ that are needed to operate successfully in todays flight decks, and we have been taught a number of tools and concepts which we will take forward to us into the airline.

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CTCs 737-800 full motion simulator, which we flew for upset recovery and asymmetric flight

Each flight has also covered various A320 systems, from the various control laws and it’s protection systems to aids which help us in everyday flight such as the flight path vector and flight directors. Despite looking at these systems already, as mentioned earlier the entire phase has consisted of manual flying with autopilot only being used when briefing (such as in the cruise on our route flights), and the majority has been ‘raw data’, meaning that automation tools such as the flight directors have been off. The majority of the technical aspects of the aircraft will be covered in the Intermediate phase, but one thing that we have already come to realise is just how many seemingly small features there are which make flying it safer and in some cases, easier than older commercial aircraft.

The phase culminated this week with our competency assurance flight which is a chance for us to put together the majority of the skills we have learnt over the phase into one flight. This CA flight is essentially the MPL equivalent of a traditional Instrument Rating exam, as both cover a number of the same procedures and flying techniques. Thankfully, all of us passed the CA flight which saw each of us fly one of three possible routes. My flight consisted of a setup and departure from Liverpool with a short en-route section to Birmingham where we joined the holding pattern and flew an NDB (non-directional beacon) procedural approach and go-around. For those who are unaware of what exactly this means, a procedural approach essentially consists of a number of steps which get you onto the final approach path for a runway. The use of an NDB makes this a non-precision approach, and shown below is the actual NDB procedural approach I flew on my CA flight. It is a relatively straight forward procedure which, after flying over the beacon (usually after flying the holding pattern), requires you to fly an outbound track to 7.0D (7 nautical miles from the IBM DME) before turning inbound to track 325 inbound to begin the descent at 5.1D. On the CA flight, the visibility was below minima which meant that we could not continue the approach and a go-around had to be performed. Despite the amount of times go-arounds come up in the tabloids as “dangerous and unusual events,” they are very routine and we get a lot of practice at them throughout our training. After performing a go-around, we were given an engine fire to deal with and, after completing our ECAM* drills we were radar vectored for a single engine ILS (instrument landing system) approach and landing. It was a very busy flight, but it felt good to complete it and bring together all of the skills we have been learning throughout the phase.

*Oh yes, ECAM stands for ‘electronic centralised aircraft monitor’ which in an engine failure situation lists system failures and statuses, and displays the checklists which must be completed to correct the problem. Sorry for all the acronyms!

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It’s hard to narrow the past nine weeks down and choose a favourite part, but I have really enjoyed flying the procedures like the one shown above – I had come across these types of plates before starting the course but had no idea of what they meant! Now however, they seem very straight-forward and easy to follow and after seeing a Thomson 737 coming in to land at Birmingham on my drive home this week, I had to remind myself that I had just flown the exact approach they were flying! I have also really enjoyed getting to grips with circling approaches, and I’m very glad that we have had a chance to fly the Boeing 737 as well as the A320. However, by far the very best thing about the phase has been all of the manual flying time we have received in this magnificent aircraft! This is the main advantage to the MPL route, as compared to a short type-rating course we get much more time to fly the aircraft in a basic hands on format, enabling us to feel confident in flying it just like a ‘conventional’ aircraft before adding in the plethora of automatics.

So, now that we have finished the basic phase, the next steps are the shorter ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Advanced’ phases, at the end of which will see us finally starting at EasyJet. After a well earned break, we will return for the intermediate phase in a couple of weeks starting with the completion of our A320 technical ground school. After this is complete, we have a further four weeks (13 lessons) in the simulator covering a number of new subjects, in particular ‘non-normal’ and adverse weather operations. The phase also includes more upset recovery, route flying and introduces the full version of the EasyJet SOPs (the basic phase SOPs are slightly diluted in places which are not covered in the simulators) and from now on all of our simulator details are with full motion switched on. After that is complete, we will arrive at the ‘advanced phase’ – our final phase of training at CTC which finishes off with our License Skills Test where we will finally achieve the dream of gaining our Multi-crew Pilots License. It is all getting very close, as we already have our starting dates at EasyJet and we will soon find out where we will be based! Crazy that this time last year I was writing about my module one ATPL mock exams…

I will be sure to keep you updated on how the following phases are going. As usual, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks for reading!

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On the gate at Heathrow!

Core Phase – Complete!

Hello again,

At the end of last week, EZMP01 reached a pretty big milestone in the training programme; after four months in New Zealand and a further four weeks at Bournemouth, we have now completed the Core phase of the EasyJet MPL programme! This means that all of our VFR and IFR training flights are complete, and from now on any training flights will be completed in the Airbus A320 Level D Simulators (which are truly awesome) here at CTC Nursling. I’ll explain a bit more about the beginning of our Basic Phase later but first, I need to fill you in on how we ended our time in New Zealand!

The final weeks of our NZ adventure

Despite not writing a big update for a couple of months, I have put out a couple of videos showcasing our VFR solo navigation flights and, more recently, our IFR training flights which I hope you enjoyed. One of them has even been shown at the Farnborough airshow which is pretty overwhelming (if you haven’t seen them yet, they can be found here). When I last spoke to you, we had started our IFR phase in New Zealand a little later than planned as a result of our VFR phase overrunning slightly due to weather.  Although we had no serious delays, with our departure date looming it was decided that it would be best for us to complete a ‘flyaway’ to ensure we got the flights completed on time. The plan was to take three Cessnas (each with one instructor and three cadets) to Napier Airport where we would then complete the remaining five training flights whilst flying to a number of new destinations. We were absolutely overwhelmed by the prospect, so when it was confirmed we were obviously thrilled! We were soon assigned an instructor in groups of three and had the weekend to plan our flights (which included completing all flight logs, mass and balance, fuel and oil requirements) before arriving at the training centre very early on Monday morning with our luggage. CTC were fantastic and provided us with money to cover living expenses and taxis, and they booked us into a very nice motel in Napier.

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Passing Mt Taranaki
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Two of the aircraft parked at Napier after a hard days work

We loaded up our aircraft, ZK-ZAQ, and I flew the first leg from Hamilton to Napier via Rotorua before my instructor and coursemate flew the plane back to pick up our final crew member. The days were pretty long (especially for the instructors) and consisted of each of us having one or two flights as well as back seating others. This was fantastic, as it gave us the chance to see not only more of the incredible landscapes, but more importantly a number of new procedures and IFR techniques that we had not previously seen. Despite the long days, every evening we made time to go out and have a meal in Napier; one restaurant, called the Thirsty Whale, was a particular favourite! There were so many highlights over the four days, in particular flying the ILS approach and landing at Wellington along with A320s and 737s, and flying to the South Island and seeing the huge mountain ranges. When we returned to Hamilton on the fourth day it was all rather bittersweet because, although we were overwhelmed with what we had accomplished, it meant that our time in New Zealand had sadly come to an end. There were no more training flights for us to complete and so all that was left to do was to complete the sign out process, which included getting our logbooks signed and photocopied, and clean our rooms at Clearways. However, as a group we decided that we needed to finish off our time in NZ on a real high, so our course spent the weekend in Auckland watching England play the All Blacks at Eden Park, follwed by a well earnt night out afterwards! I’m not a big follower of Rugby, but the atmosphere at Eden Park was electric – it was a great match to watch and, even though the result wasn’t ideal for us, it is something I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. We then had four days to complete our sign-out process and finish packing before being shuttled to the airport on Thursday afternoon for our return flights to the UK. This time, we flew on the Emirates A380 all the way – first to Brisbane and then onto Dubai before making the final hop to London. New Zealand was, as you’ve guessed by my blabbering, incredible. It will remain an unforgettable adventure and, although I’m glad to be back in the UK, I will definitely miss NZ and cannot wait to go back! Huge thank you to all of the staff at CTC NZ!!

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This sunrise was incredible!

Back to Bournemouth

Our course were then scheduled for ten days leave which I spent at home catching up with family and friends before moving down to start the short four week phase at Bournemouth. The Bournemouth phase consisted of three upset recovery flights (which we completed in the the ‘Bulldog’ and the Diamond DA40), one DA42 simulator flight followed by an MEP familiarisation flight and three IFR route flights. It was a pretty relaxed phase with the aim of giving us an understanding and appreciation for flying in UK airspace, and more importantly for multi-engine aircraft control. Despite this, we of course gave the phase our maximum effort as we were required to learn a number of new skills such as asymmetric flight (one engine out). Bournemouth has a fleet of Twinstars that we used for our multi-engine training, and it’s safe to say that we all enjoyed the increased performance over the Cessna 172! DA42 Twinstars are powerful twin engined aircraft which are ideal for training due to their reliability and handling characteristics. As I briefly mentioned above, one of the new things we had to learn was the engine failure procedure which involves the instructor simulating an engine shutdown at a phase of flight (most notably after takeoff), leaving us to control and contain the resulting situation. As with any moment of flight, critical or not, control is the main goal. You have to control the aircraft, which in this case is made all the more difficult due to the huge yaw moment created from the failed engine. Once this is under control, you then simulate a full shut down of the affected engine and begin to look at performance, in particular feathering the propeller on the affected engine to reduce the drag. Of course, a vital component is of the whole procedure is to voice which engine has failed!! Not doing this has proved fatal: the pilots of British Midland Flight 92 incorrectly identified the malfunctioning powerplant on their Boeing 737-400, and subsequently shut down the working engine resulting in them crashing short of the runway and narrowly missing a busy motorway.

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The DA42 Twinstar
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Upset recovery was done in the Bulldog, as well as the Diamond DA40

The main aim of the phase was to take a look at asymmetric flight, but also for us to complete upset recovery training. This type of training has come to the forefront of ab-initio courses ever since the crash of Air France 447 back in 2009. The three flights built upon the unusual attitude training incorporated into many of the training flights in New Zealand, and looked specifically at how to recover from stalls, spiral dives and other unusual attitudes. All of this was backed up by the issue of a training manual which explains the principles of flight surrounding the stall and, crucially, the correct recovery process for a modern jet airliner. Aside from this, the other main goal was for us to get more practice at flying IFR routes in UK airspace so that we have some level of experience when we start with easyJet (in addition to the many IFR flights we flew in New Zealand of course). My last training flight was arguably the most enjoyable; a two hour route to Exeter and back, including two ILS  approaches (Instrument Landing System – a type of precision approach), engine failures after takeoff and in the cruise, as well as something called an ‘SRA’ approach. This is where the tower controller actually talks you down to the runway, giving you commands such as ‘turn left xx degrees’ and telling you the altitude you should be at when passing a specific DME distance from the runway.

Whilst living in Bournemouth, we also got the chance to see some of the local attractions (in particular the beach) whilst being spoilt with four weeks of almost wall to wall sunshine and, on our final weekend before starting the basic phase, we visited the Farnborough Airshow which was brilliant as usual.

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When the big fan stops spinning, the pilots get hot!! 😉
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Alasdair flying the ILS approach at Bournemouth

 The Basic Phase begins

Before long however, it was time to pack up and move house for the final time. The format changes from now on, as we are grouped into threes throughout this phase which not only gives us a huge amount of time in the simulator for each lesson, but also enables us to work on our multi-crew cooperation from day one. So, first things first, what is this basic phase? Basically, the MPL course is split into four sections: Core, Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. The core phase is the longest and consists of our ground school and VFR/IFR flight training. The basic and intermediate phases take place in the Airbus A320 simulator at CTC, and this is where the MPL really gets into its stride! The advanced phase includes a brief period at CTC followed by our move into EasyJet to begin base and line training.

The basic phase consists of a number of ground school days and a total of twenty nine training flights. We started last week with three days of introductory ground training which covered a number of subject areas found within our EasyJet trainee manual, which we have been each been issued along with wall posters of the A320 flight deck to help us practice our instrument scans and checklists at home. The training manual is our ‘bible’ for the basic phase, and contains all of our initial easyJet standard operating procedures and checklists, aircraft handling notes, lesson guides and system overviews. It really has become apparent just how airline orientated the MPL is, as even by the second day of ground school we were in one of CTCs ‘virtual flight deck’ trainers running through the start-up and various SOPs (standard operating procedures) and by day six, we all had our first Airbus A320 simulator lessons – by far one of the most exciting parts of the course to date and for all of us.

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Inside the simulator – the Airbus A320 flight deck

I cannot explain how fantastic it is to be in the simulator at last! Above is a picture of the flight deck of one of CTCs A320 simulators which we will be using for this phase: it is an exact replication of the real A320, and is one of the earlier simulators that was built by Airbus themselves. Although older than the other simulators CTC owns, the handling characteristcs on this sim are apparently the best and, thanks to the recently updated visuals, the simulator is just as high tech as its younger counterpart. As you can see in the picture above, the aircraft is very well designed and although they may look complicated to operate, the various systems are all very well laid out and intuitive to use. Each pilot has a PFD, or Primary Flight Display, showing important aircraft parameters like speed, altitude, vertical speed and attitude and an ND, or Navigation Display, which shows information on the route, nearby airports, nav-aids, and of course heading information. The two screens in middle consist of a display showing vital engine parameters and an ECAM screen which shows different messages and system parameters throughout the various stages of flight.

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Practicing checks on the ‘digi-bombers’

On the first day, my crew had an early start, with a 4:30am report time at the training centre for a ninety minute brief which was followed by the four hour simulator slot. The times aren’t always that brutal, but they exist for good reason as it gets us used to the times we’ll often have to get up for at EasyJet! The lessons are run in a  way that allows us all to get a lot of exposure to the aircraft and to the multi crew environment, as we each fly 1.3 hours as ‘Pilot Flying’, 1.3 hours as ‘Pilot Monitoring’ and 1.3 hours of ‘Pilot Observing’. As I write this, we have all had two simulator lessons and already we are able to follow the EasyJet SOPs, checklists and various memory items to get the Airbus started from it’s ‘cold and dark’ state right through to taxi, takeoff and cruise. In particular, the lessons have looked at taxiing, takeoff, general handling and approach and landing. We have also had a look at the A320s numerous safety features including a rather clever one called ‘Alpha Floor’ which, in essence, makes the aircraft near impossible to stall. If you have power at idle, and insist on pulling up the nose to an ever increasing pitch attitude, the airplane will force the nose down before reaching the critical angle of attack where the aircraft will stall. Even then, if you still fight against it, it will simply set maximum thrust to stop the aircraft stalling! Away from all of it’s incredible features though, the fact remains is that the A320 is just another aircraft and behaves, for the most part, as you would expect. The fly by wire controls and huge amounts of power took some getting used to, but it handles beautifully and although I obviously have no other jet experience to compare it to, it is proving a real joy to fly.

One interesting thing to note is that during the  basic phase of an MPL course, cadets are not actually required to train in aircraft that their specific airline operates. However, with CTC putting us straight into the A320 it allows us to complete the basic phase whilst learning about the actual aircraft we will be flying using the actual SOPs and procedures we will be using at EasyJet. Although not essential, we view this as a huge positive to the course as it means that we should become very confident with the aircraft and this will enable to hit the ground running when we get to the more complex Intermediate Phase.

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Building works under way for a new training suite and another A320 full motion simulator!

So, that’s about it from me. It’s sure to be another exciting few weeks as we get further and further into the basic phase and more confident at operating the A320 as a multi-crew. We also have three flights in the 737 coming up which carry on from our three upset recovery flights at Bournemouth and aim to teach us the same thing in a passenger aircraft. I’ll be uploading new pictures, and a fourth flight training video very soon. Once again, thank you for reading the blog and watching my videos.

Over and Out!