The Aviator | Student Pilot Blog

Follow my journey as an airline pilot cadet

Hello, I'm James, and I'm a First Officer flying for a UK airline. The aim of this website is to share my journey through integrated pilot training, and to hopefully inspire other future airline pilots to follow their dream.

A little more about me: I started training when I was 19, I'm originally from Cheshire, UK, and I was a member of the seventh airline-mentored MPL course at CAE Oxford Aviation Academy. Our team of eight met together for the first time on 28th June 2013. During ground school we were joined by fifteen other trainee pilots, making us part of the AP351 course. Whilst we completed all of our flight training in the UK, the AP351 members of our course completed their flight training in Phoenix, Arizona.

My aim was to keep my friends and family up-to-date with my training through periodic updates to the The Aviator Blog page of my website. I always welcome questions, suggestions or contributions at any time through the Contact page. You can now also Subscribe to my blog, to receive an email when an update is posted.

Disclaimer: Personal thoughts and views expressed on this website are entirely my own, and not those of any company I may be affiliated with. Any sponsored links or advertisements on this site are managed by a third-party and are computer generated, they are not endorsements by myself or any company I may be affiliated with.

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Flying the Jet Simulator

In my post last month I'd just completed my final flight in a training aircraft. This was the Core Phase of training which took approximately 20 weeks to complete. As of this month, my course has now moved on to the Basic Phase of our training. This phase is due to take 10 weeks, of which I now have just 6 weeks left to complete!

The Training Plan:

Ground School > Core Phase > Basic Phase > Intermediate Phase > Advanced Phase > Airline

(Timeframes available on the Progress page)

The Basic Phase is still conducted at the CAE Oxford Aviation Academy in Oxfordshire, although this is the last phase that will be located here (our next phase will more than likely take us to Gatwick, London in December).

This phase is designed to improve our multi-crew co-operation skills, and ensure a cohesive working relationship between the two pilots on the flight deck. Airlines are placing a large emphasis on "Human Factors" and "Crew Resource Management" in the day-to-day operation of their aircraft; and with good reason. Research has proven that flight crews who work well together as a team, communicate effectively, and manage their time wisely, operate their aircraft in a safer and more efficient way. This efficiency offers financial benefits to the airline (and subsequently the customer) by reducing operational costs, and also offers customers a better in-flight experience by avoiding delays and possibly reducing flight time. With safety being the number one key value to airlines and pilots alike, our entire training plan focuses on ensuring consistently high standards of flight safety.

Within our group we are split into four crews of two cadets each, although these crews will change in the next few weeks. As well as improving how we work together as a team, we are now learning how modern airliners operate. This involves each training "flight" we fly in the simulator replicating many aspects of a day in the life of an airline pilot. From the moment we enter the simulator when we fasten our seatbelts, to speaking to the ground crew (or our instructor using a different voice!) to ensure the area around our aircraft is cleared for push-back. We'll even make announcements to passengers and cabin crew. It really is quite a change from our Cessna flying; our flight plan and load-sheet may now indicate we're "carrying" up to 50 passengers, 4 cabin crew, and weighing in at over 20 tonnes (over 12x that of the Cessna!) 

The flight deck of the Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft, identical to that of the simulator I am currently training in.

The Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet 200 (CRJ200) is a 50-seat, twin-engined regional jet used frequently in the USA for internal, regional flights. The image above shows the flight deck of one of these aircraft, our simulator of which is an exact replica. The two outside screens in front of the control columns are Primary Flight Displays, which display key information relevant to the situation of the aircraft (altitude, speed, attitude etc.) and are very similar to the display we used in the Cessna. The next screens inwards are the Multi-Function Displays showing aircraft heading and track, and also any radio aids that are tuned for navigation purposes. The middle two screens show aircraft configuration and engine information. We frequently use all of the equipment on-board the aircraft to assist us with routine flights and also simulated emergency situations. A routine flight will usually take us into thick cloud, ensuring we rely solely on instruments to fly instrument departures and arrivals, holding patterns and instrument approaches (ILS). It's also a fairly tricky aircraft to hand fly, as it'd prefer to be climbing or descending rather than flying straight and level! Whilst we will begin to use the automatics eventually, the majority of our time in the CRJ is hand flown. A slight difference here is that the CRJ is hand flown with a U-shaped control column, whereas the Airbus which we'll eventually fly for real in a few months time uses a side stick, located on each side of the flight deck. Feel free to ask any questions you may have about the CRJ200 flight deck; after around 28 hours in the simulator I'll hopefully have an idea of the answer!

A large element of our training at the moment is the memorisation of "flow checks", a method of working our way around the flight deck and ensuring the equipment is set correctly for the appropriate stage of flight. These flow checks differ depending on which seat we are sat in, where the left-hand seat, usually occupied by the Captain, is the Pilot Monitoring (PM) and the right-hand seat, the First Officer, is the Pilot Flying (PF). These two roles, PM and PF, are alternated between each crew, in the simulator and for real, on a daily basis. For instance, in the first two-hour simulator session of the day I could be PM, and for the second two-hour session I'll be PF. This is to allow us to become accustomed to both roles which we will be fulfilling in the Airbus, where it's likely that our role as PM or PF will also change each flight. This means that during one flight I could be flying the aircraft as PF, whilst the next flight I could be monitoring the flight and handling the radio as PM. This is now common practise in airline operations.

To assist with these flow checks and to become more familiar with the flight deck layout, I'm now the owner of a set of CRJ200 flight deck posters for my room at Langford Hall in Oxford. Our team of eight was issued with these posters just a few weeks ago to decorate our rooms with!

It may not be wired up, and the electronic screens seem to have frozen... but these posters above my desk have been very useful in familiarising myself with the new aircraft.

In other news, Oxford Aviation Academy is celebrating 75 years of flight training this year. To mark the event, an open day was held at the school on Saturday 12th July, and a black-tie graduate gala was held in one of the aircraft hangars that evening. Although, were it not for the new Seneca V aircraft on display, it would have been easy to forget the event was being held in a hangar! The preparation and decoration was of a very high standard, as the image below shows. Guests of honour included Mr Willie Walsh, the current Chief Executive Officer of International Airlines Group (the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, and others), and Mr Marc Parent, the Chief Executive Officer of CAE (the new owner of Oxford Aviation Academy). The evening was well attended by Oxford Aviation alumni, current airline pilots and management, and also current students and staff from Oxford. Many thanks to a good friend of mine and current airline pilot, Jai Dillon (@JaiDillon), for my invitation to the event.

To celebrate 75 years of pilot training at Oxford, a black-tie gala was recently held at Oxford Airport. Here, Mr Willie Walsh discusses his history as an ex-Oxford cadet and his later experiences. Can you spot Jai and I? Thanks to CAE OAA and Banbury Photography for the image.

With just six weeks remaining at Oxford Airport, the training is increasingly intense although just as enjoyable as day one. Following this phase of training my course will have a period of leave due to our swift progress through our training which kept us well ahead of schedule. This time off will be useful to gather our thoughts and prepare for our Intermediate and Advanced phases (or Type Rating); these are the final phases of training which will last just 8 weeks from the beginning of December. I'll be in touch with one more blog post from Oxford before then; around this time next month.

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