Thursday, January 19, 2006

New Captains

My airline recently ordered another twelve Megawhackers, with the first ones delivered later this year. They're just starting to ramp up training for the expansion, hiring new first officers and transitioning captains from the Miniwhacker. In the past three months I've flown with many of these new captains on some of their first flights after IOE (Initial Operating Experience). It's been an interesting variation on the usual routine.

The Megawhacker shares a type certificate with the Miniwhacker, but it differs significantly enough from it's little sister in a number of ways, control feel being not the least of them. It's for this reason that my airline operates the two airplanes as seperate fleets. Still, the common type certificate means that captains transitioning from the Miniwhacker need only complete differences training rather than the more thorough transition training, and they don't have restrictions such as "High Minimums" that they would have for the first 100 hours on a new type of aircraft. Indeed, three of the new captains I flew with ended up shooting Cat III approaches nearly to minimums - on their first flight after IOE!

All of the new captains I've flown with so far were excellent; that's a testament to my airline's training department. Still, as a first officer, you pay much closer attention to the captain when they're brand new, and they're grateful for any hints you can offer. For example, in this airplane it's possible to get so high on a visual approach that flying at redline won't get you down in time, but you can make it by slowing down, extending the landing gear and flaps, and then descending. Knowing when that's neccessary takes experience. The Miniwhacker is a much draggier airplane, so it's easy for a new Megawhacker captain to get high on a visual approach. They caught on quick, though.

It was also the first time many of the captains had flown into the various airports served only by this airplane. Before flying into each new airport, we'd pull our charts out and I'd discuss some of the quirks at each airport. Most of the places we fly are smaller airports, and it's pretty low stress. I flew into LAX with several new captains who were apprehensive about flying there, but it's really not that bad of an airport to fly into, and they did fine.

Having just been at the schoolhouse, the new captains were all quite sharp on systems and procedures. There were a few times they corrected me on items I'd forgotten about. I have a proficiency check coming up, so I guess I should hit the books and freshen up my knowledge a bit.

The reason I was flying with new captains is because I bid for reserve lines in order to hold weekends off. With new first officers coming into the airplane, though, I'm getting to where I can hold a weekends-off coverage line, so I probably won't be flying with too many more new captains. That's too bad - it was enjoyable to fly with such sharp guys and gals, to give a few pointers, and to be relied upon as an experienced first officer.