My Final Week in Oxford
It's arrived. Following a whirlwind Basic Phase, my fifth and final Progress Test in Oxford has been completed. The Basic Phase lasted just seven weeks, during which I flew 90 hours in the CRJ200 simulator. This now means just the final two phases remain (collectively termed the "Type Rating"); which are due to be completed in several weeks time in Gatwick, London.
The Training Plan:
Ground School > Core Phase > Basic Phase > Intermediate Phase > Advanced Phase > Airline
(Timeframes available on the Progress page)
A key aspect of the Basic Phase was a change of uniform as we earned our "Wings". Following successful completion of the Core Phase, where we flew the Cessna, Zlin, and Seneca aircraft, we are awarded two gold bars on our epaulettes, and a pair of CAE Oxford Aviation Academy Wings.
It's fairly safe to say this is the moment pilots look forward to most in the early days of flight training, and with good reason. It was with great honour (and relief!) that all eight members of my course were awarded our wings by our airline liaison pilot last month.
With the new uniform came a new aircraft, a new set of Standard Operating Procedures (rules to fly the aircraft by), and a renewed sense of having too much to learn in too little time! During my last blog post around four weeks ago I'd just started flying the CRJ simulator. At that time I had no idea how much we'd be learning about life "on the line" as an airline pilot. Our lessons regularly featured announcements to passengers, conversations with ground crew, and even being guided on to stand by a simulated marshaller. I feel as though the last 6 weeks have given an insight into what will hopefully be the rest of my career. The journey wasn't without the odd exception, however... the majority of flights in the simulator involved working out solutions to problems that rarely occur in the real aircraft, but ones we as pilots have to know how to deal with. By the end of the 90 hours, these quite serious events (such as engine failures, rapid depressurisations, and passengers having medical issues) became a regular part of the day. As a team on the flight deck we dealt with each issue as though it was just another day at work. Cool, calm, and collected!
An aspect of the course I haven't really mentioned over the last 14 months is accommodation. CAE Oxford offer on-site accommodation in the form of Langford Halls, a university style block of rooms and shared facilities. The proximity to the airport has been convenient, especially during the colder winter months, when we are just a 5 minute walk from the school. The end of this week brings my check-out date, a whole 436 days after I first checked in.
A highlight of living next to the airport is the regular movement of aircraft just outside my window. The image below shows the view of AirMed, an air charter/air ambulance company operating from Oxford Airport. The work they do is fantastic, and has directly benefited a close friend of mine. It certainly makes waking up to the sound of jet engines every morning well worth it!
You can learn more about the work carried out by AirMed by visiting their Facebook page.
In addition to learning how to handle unexpected situations and emergencies, we were also introduced to some impressive kit that is now common place on modern airliners. The left image below shows the Multifunction Control Display Unit, our interface with the Flight Management System (FMS). The FMS is able to guide the aircraft's autopilot, and is fed by many other on-board systems such as the Inertial Reference System and a multitude of sensors and gauges. There is a line at the bottom of the display screen which allows the pilot to enter data into the system, although here you can see the previous crew had left us a message!
The image above on the right shows another crew from my course dealing with an in-flight depressurisation, a situation where the pressure in the aircraft falls to meet atmospheric pressure due to a failure; a leak in the fuselage for instance. The crew will immediately don their oxygen masks (as seen above), establish communications, and begin a rapid descent to 10,000ft or the Minimum Safe Altitude to allow normal breathing conditions for everyone on-board. This process often takes less than 60 seconds, and is a very rare event that we are now well prepared for.
A large part of the Basic Phase involved learning to fly with our flying partners, rather than an experienced instructor which we were used to from the Core Phase. This meant decisions were discussed and made between just the two of us, with the simulator instructor sat behind us literally taking a backseat in the decision-making process. I'd like to thank both of my flying partners from the Basic Phase, Drew and Tim, for making our trips run as smoothly as possible and still be enjoyable!
And just to prove the course isn't all hard work, a group of us recently visited the Red Bull Air Race at Ascot Racecourse. It was a fantastic day out and made even better by a British one-two! Paul Bonhomme stole the show by finishing with the fastest time, whilst Nigel Lamb took second place by just a few hundredths of a second. I was also lucky enough to be given a tour of the winning aircraft by Team Bonhomme manager, Nigel Warren. Thank you for getting the day off to a great start Nigel!
The team is currently getting set up in Fort Worth, Dallas, for the next round this weekend. Watch the race live on the Red Bull Air Race website.
My group will now be taking a few weeks of leave due to our expeditious progress through the course which meant we finished well ahead of schedule. Thank you to all of the management, instructors, and support team at CAE Oxford who made this possible. The next date for the diary is the first week of December, where I'll be headed to Gatwick, London for the Type Rating phase and the final 8 weeks of training. That'll take us into late January/early February when flying with the airline should begin. Roll on flying the Airbus A320!
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