Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Blogging at FL350
Wow, it feels great to be flying again! I hadn't touched an airplane since mid-September. There's nothing like a three month break to make me realize that even with the hassles of the job and the way this career has soured the last six years, I wouldn't be able to stay away for long if I tried. Flying, it seems, is a bug not easily uncaught.
I was actually more nervous going into this IOE than I was in 2004 when I first flew the Q400, which is strange because the JungleBus has a lot more in common with the Q400 than the Q400 has with a Navajo. Once I got started, though, I became comfortable pretty quickly. I passed my line check last night on the fifth day of IOE with 26 hours in the airplane.
I think back in October I remarked on the blog that I'd be doing IOE in the left seat. The people in the training department who told me that were wrong, it was FO IOE only and I won't do CA IOE until it's time to actually upgrade. I'm quickly learning to take everything I hear at NewCo with a grain of salt!
The JungleBus is a really sweet-handling airplane, moreso than anything I've flown with the possible exception of the Beech Baron. The airplane and the simulator are astonishingly close in feel; although that is the general idea of a simulator, they seldom replicate it so well. I guess the fact that the control feel is completely artificial and computer-generated makes it easier to replicate!
Compared to the Q400, the JungleBus is much lighter on roll and the overall control feel is smoother. Like most jets, it's tougher to slow down and you have to choose between slowing and descending because it doesn't do both at the same time very well. You can't do 250 knots to the marker like you could in the Q400. I expected that, though, and gave myself extra room and configured early whenever I got stuck high, and it always worked out pretty well. The biggest difference was landing: the JungleBus approaches at close to 5 degrees pitch up and the flare is more pronounced, which along with a higher stance gives it a very different sight picture in the flare. It feels like you're still at 20 or 30 feet when the mains touch down. None of my landings were all that great, but the check airman was happy just to see them on centerline and in the touchdown zone. The landing gear on the JungleBus is quite a bit more forgiving than the Q400; my hardest touchdown felt about like the average Q400 landing.
Other than landings, the IOE was spent learning how to use this version of the FMS software (the sim has an older version), working with ACARS, figuring out how they do things in MSP, and generally just getting in the groove of things. I found that there are quite a few FO duties on the line that aren't being taught in the sim (after all, they were primarily training us as captains), so I experimented in how to most efficiently incorporate those duties into the existing flow patterns.
After flying the JungleBus, I'm even more convinced that it should really be at mainline. It's a "regional jet" in name only. It has 2200 mile range, good fuel economy, and altitude/speed performance of much larger airliners. NewCo is already flying routes like MSP-YVR, MSP-IAH, and MSP-BOS. More concerning, from a passenger standpoint the JungleBus is much more comfortable than the CRJ200 and even the newer CRJ700/900 series. I hope that mainline pilots realize what a threat this poses to their flying and hold firm on scope. Ultimately if we at the regionals do our job and get our labor costs up to a reasonable level, it will make economic sense to put the E-jets back where they belong at mainline. I'm guessing some of you will think that counterproductive - intentionally pricing ourselves out of a job! - but pilots are coming to realize that a job at the regionals is pretty worthless so long as your mainline partner can put "your" flying back up for bid.
I tried hard not to think about that too much on IOE, though. Mostly I sat back and simply enjoyed being back at home in the air.
Posted by Sam Weigel