Today I had my first flight as a line-qualified Captain, from Minneapolis to San Antonio, TX. I wasn't very apprehensive beforehand. After all, during the latter half of my OE the check airman was just acting as a normal FO with little instruction involved, so this should be the exact same, right? I guess it was in execution, but it felt surprisingly different. The closest thing I can compare it to is my first solo. Nothing quite prepares you for the eerie sight of an empty right seat on your first solo, and "play-acting captain" on OE certainly isn't the same as being in charge. It's not that I haven't thought of the responsibility of command before, I've done a lot of thinking on the subject. I guess I just didn't realize how jarringly aware of it I'd be as I taxied onto Runway 17 and pushed the thrust levers up.
This being my first flight off of OE, I was hoping I wouldn't get a new FO fresh off their IOE. Normally, captains with less than 75 hours in type have a restriction against flying with FOs who have less than 75 hours in type, a condition known at my company as "green-on-green." However, our operations specifications actually have a waiver that allows green-on-green flying. As the company gets bigger and expansion slows, the FAA will likely take away this waiver. Thankfully, today crew scheduling gave me a FO who's been on the line a few months and knows what's up. It helped when San Antonio Approach slam-dunked us into the airport today.
It was actually fairly entertaining to watch the FO do my former job. Because I flew with a lot of different captains both at Horizon and NewCo, I got a pretty good feel for the different techniques used by various captains. At Horizon, I jumpseated on the Q400 enough to also see other FOs in action. It was a valuable experience: I picked up some tips and tricks and it also made me aware of bad habits I didn't even know I had. I haven't had the chance to ride the jumpseat on NewCo yet so today was my first chance to see a line FO at work. There were a few minor differences in technique but for the most part it felt like watching a play of a script I know by heart. I'm interested to find whether FO technique is more uniform here than at Horizon. If so, I suspect it's because all the FOs are relatively new. As an FO, I found Captain technique to be almost as varied here as it was at Horizon (although, I should make clear, adherence to standardization is excellent at both companies).
As an FO, you get good at being a chameleon. You constantly adapt to the different Captains you fly with, within reasonable limits. They all have their quirks and preferences; the way I saw it, adapting to those was one way I could make the flying part of their job easy and free them to focus on Captainey things. Now that I'm a Captain myself, I have the leadership role; I set the tone and the pace in the cockpit. Just like observing different FOs made me a better FO at Horizon, having flown with lots of Captains will make me a better Captain. I can incorporate the best of what I've observed into my own cockpit. That said, I think Captains need to retain a certain amount of flexibility with their FOs. I hated flying with guys who nagged me over every nuance of technique when both of our methods were completely within the boundaries of standardization. It's worthwhile to pass along tips and tricks to FOs - indeed, mentoring FOs is an integral part of a Captain's job - but you need to make a clear distinction between technique and holy writ.
Like I said, I've recently thought a fair amount about what being a Captain really entails, and I'll write about it more in upcoming posts. That is, what little I'll have the time to write this month: I finished OE too late to bid, so the company built me a schedule with 11 days off and 97 hours of credit!