Monday, October 01, 2007

Get Schooled

Wow, it's not even been two weeks since my last flight at QX and it already feels long ago. I've been in ground school at NewCo while I've been not blogging, and all those JungleBus numbers are quickly crowding every bit of knowledge I have on the Q400 out of my head.

OK, I haven't exactly been in ground school at NewCo. They do things kinda different. My first day of class was the Friday after my last flight. Basically, I showed up, filled out a lot of paperwork, listened to the company President dispense some kool-aid, and picked up two training CD-ROMs. Then they said "OK, go home. See you in a month." Yep, the basic indoc is all Computer Based Training (CBT) via distance learning. Many airlines are going to CBT for their ground training, but this is the first one I've heard of that sends you home to do it.

It makes sense - there's no reason you need to be at a training center to use a program that works exactly the same way on your own computer. I like the flexibility it affords: I'm pretty intimately familiar with FAR 121 so I didn't spend much extra time on that, but having never flown a jet I made sure to bone up on high-altitude aerodynamics. Falling asleep to the FAA's ILS-PRM video was much nicer in my own home than in class. And although I doubt they meant it to be humorous, every once in a while there'd be shockwave animation that'd make me laugh out loud. Having an extra month at home is good from the standpoint of trying to sell this darn house, too.

Mind you, the company doesn't do it this way to be nice - they do it to save money. Between not paying for hotel rooms, paying less training pay, and not having to maintain their own CBT facilities, I'm sure this is a ton cheaper. I'm curious to see whether they'll continue to do it, though. All the guys in my class were very experienced; that's not going to last throughout this hiring cycle and I can see people who've never sat through an airline basic indoc before struggling with the CBT.

I soldiered through the General Subjects first, since that's the most boring material, and then plowed through Company Ops. Now I'm well into the JungleJet systems, the stuff I find most interesting. This is a pretty amazing airplane. It's a flying computer - the technology in this makes the Q400 look like a Navajo. Mind you, they have essentially the same mission capabilities - it's just that all the various parts are much more integrated on the JungleBus than on the Q400.

Here's a good example. On the Q400, you could turn the FMS off and pretty much all you'd lose is GPS capability. In the JungleBus, you use the FMS to tune radios, set airspeed bugs, and even command thrust ratings - all separate boxes on the Q400. Things that would've been very simple to integrate on the Q400 - like having the FMS supply landing field elevation to the cabin pressure controller - were not because the airplane wasn't designed around any one FMS unit. Another major factor was that Bombardier tried to maintain commonality with the older Dash 8s so they could all stay on the same type certificate. And finally, avionics weren't quite as advanced during Q400 development; the JungleBus' Primus Epic system wasn't flying until 2001.

The one area in which NewCo's Junglebusses aren't as advanced as Horizon's Q400s is Cat II/III approach capability. The airplane is capable of Cat II but the company is not certified for it yet; they've said that down the road they may look at getting the same Heads-Up Guidance System (HGS) that Horizon uses for Cat III capability. I'd frankly be surprised; the only reason Horizon could afford the expense of Cat III was because Alaska was buying the same HGS for their airplanes. RedCo does not seem similarly inclined to spend money on their regionals. The funny thing is that the PFD (Primary Flight Display) on the JungleBus incorporates some of the same symbology as the HGS on the Q400.

At the rate I've been going, I'd be through the CD-ROMs by the end of this week, so I've decided to take a few days break. A buddy of mine (who flies for another RedCo regional) has never been to Europe and wants me to go with him for his first time and show him the ropes for international jumpseating. I won't make you guess where I'm going this time, because it'd be too easy - I'm going the same place I went last October (Bacharach, Germany). Well, that's if I make my connecting flight this morning. It's pretty oversold. If I don't make it we should still be able to go to Amsterdam. Either one should be seasonably chilly and damp!


Fred said...

I'm an enthusiastic proponent of CBTs in general so I approve of the system NewCo's using. All learning is self-driven anyway, whatever the setting.

It's much the same thing as telecommuting: most of my job can be done from home, why do you need my physical presence?

Anonymous said...

It seems that you're not too concerned about transitioning to jets. I'm not a pilot, but I've read some articles (in Flying magazine and others) that talk about pilots making the transition to jets. Is that something that you'll just pick up or will there be lots of sim training, etc.?

Aviatrix said...

Bon Voyage! Will you take your laptop with you so we can see pictures of you reviewing FMS operation with a beer in one hand and an Oktoberfest waitress in the other?

I've flown turbine engines and piston engines but they've all had propellers. I'm guessing that it doesn't matter whether it's propellers, bypass air or little farting badgers that provide your thrust: once you get the engines started, pulling back makes the cows get smaller.

Anonymous said...

"The funny thing is that the PFD (Primary Flight Display) on the JungleBus incorporates some of the same symbology as the HGS on the Q400."

You need to watch/rewatch the Boondock Saints.

-Your friendly neighborhood grammar nitpicker

Anonymous said...

What IS the difference in feel or technique between flying propeller planes (whether pistons or turbines) and jets?

Anonymous said...

When do you head to Montreal?

mike said...

CBT distance learning is great if you have the discipline, but its so easy to take take time off. We do distance learning for modular students and each individual obviously has different levels of committment and understanding. If possible, I believe a classroom environment is better and more helpful to the student.


Sam said...

Sorry for not responding to your comments, everybody. There are some differences between props and jets that I'll cover in another post soon...but the powerplant itself doesn't change things much, it's moreso differences in wing design and performance.

Mike-- You're right about each student having different levels of committment and understanding, and that a classroom environment makes it easier for the educator to respond to each student's needs. In an airline environment, it's pretty well understood that every student is motivated enough to study by themselves. If they aren't, they don't last. As far as levels of understanding go, right now NewCo is hiring pretty experienced people that should have a pretty high level of underlying knowledge. This, however, will not last, and my main concerns about CBT involve what happens when we're hiring inexperienced pilots fresh from the puppy mills.

Teller said...

If you haven't already flushed it from your brain, do you happen to remember what brand/model the FMS is in the Q? I may be transitioning to it pretty soon, and would like to get a head start with anything that I can find online, and the FMS is the one thing I'm most worried about coming from the 1900. Thanks, and good luck with the JungleBus!

Sam said...

Teller - although I believe there are several options, Horizon's Q400s had Universal UNS-1E's. They're fairly easy to use, the software is almost more akin to GA GPS units than other airline FMSes (no scratchpad, you use the line select keys to highlight fields and THEN change them).

After the 1900, the Q400 will be a piece of cake. Getting used to the weird landings will probably be the biggest transition. Don't sweat the thumpers, Megawhacker veterans still make their share.