From Sea Level to 737 Captain: First Break.

Note: this is part of a series relating what it’s like to transition to a new jet. If you want to start from the beginning, click here.




That’s the first week of classroom, Computer Based Training (CBT) and simulators. Two days off now.

Katrina, our ground school instructor, recommends we take at least one day of the two and do no airplane stuff. Bill the First Officer (sounds like an official title) is off to Wyoming to visit his girlfriend. Best to take Katrina’s advice and not do any aircraft-related stuff tomorrow.

Looking back, though, on the week:

The CBT stuff is helpful, even if you want to nod off on some of the programs (“this door opens to the left”). The good news is, you can do it at home thanks to the handy CD-Rom with all of the lessons on it.

It’s better to be out of the refrigerator that is The Flight Academy (can’t imagine the utility bill to keep it at 70 degrees). The only problem with that, though, is there are other screens in the house with somewhat more compelling images,

but since Tech seems to have no defense this year, 737 systems are actually more rewarding to view. Then after absorbing the material and taking the practice tests on the CD, back at The Schoolhouse (that’s what pilots have always called The Flight Academy) it’s time for the computer generated practice exam incorporating everything from class and the CBT.

First time on the comprehensive exam, 79%. Today–after being up at the buttcrack of dawn for a simulator session–scored 89%. So the academics are sinking in, and the test points out the weak (emergency equipment location) and strong subjects (engines), which is as it should be: did those programs last month, will brush up.

Some of this is a weird relief: just to be able to ram dump all of the byzantine MD-80 limitation numbers–climb EGT, acceleration, cruise, momentary, starting, after start, on and on.

This jet is just way smart: the solid state engine controls meter fuel flow so it NEVER hits a limitation and what’s more, and even more efficient, the limits are non-linear anyway. It’s not necessary for you to memorize a buttload of abstract numbers–rather, the smart boxes recompute all of the parameters based on the conditions at that time and place.

And it’s talking to our maintenance base constantly through non-stop telemetry. Katrina says you’re likely to get a call from them in flight asking for more data because an engine is reporting a vibration trend. That’s why an on-the-wing failure of these CFM-56 engines is rare.

And like something you’ve recited over and over too many times, the MD-80 numbers have lost their meaning anyway. Recall last month in the MD-80 currency check:

Evaluator: “Okay, Captain, what components are on the right hydraulic system?”

You: “Seriously?” We’re really going to do this?

Evaluator: “Yes.”

You: [in your head: for God’s sake, who cares anyway, if something fails we get out the book] “Everything that’s not on the right system?”

The annual systems knowledge oral recitation.

Evaluator: [eyebrows raised]

You: [in your head: 14,000 hours in the jet and we still have to play twenty questions] “Left nosewheel steering, inboard spoilers, elevator boost.”

Wake up! It’s today, that jet is an ancient memory. New stuff to learn, to remember, to find:

While you were bunkered in the MD-80 for twenty plus years, the airline jet manufacturers moved waaaaay ahead. That’s where the 737-800 stands out as cosmic:


A HUD is worth a thousand crosschecks.


You’re now captain cyborg, with your vision tunneled through a dynamic stream of data. Almost too much.

I’m thinking the ultimate technique would be to absorb as much performance and navigation information peripherally while still being primarily focused on the actual view through the data. That will take some practice, but that’s why we’re here at oh-dark-thirty in the simulator, right?

So here’s your day at the flight academy: review with instructor the systems you studied the day before, working through the CBT on your own. Then two hours in the simulator, trying to work through the various checklists for each phase of flight.

That’s awkward now, which is to be expected. It’s vital, as you well know, to actually and thoroughly focus on the checklist item itself. Now there’s a huge expenditure of energy and focus just to find stuff. The systems are laid out logically, which might be what’s confusing after so many years of the Maddog. Because it seems like the Douglas designers simply crammed indicators and alerts for EVERYTHING into that cockpit every which way and slammed the door.

Not much smarts involved: the MD-80 simply displays everything at once and lets you sort it out. The 737-800 brain inhibits info you don’t need, then organizes what you do need and offers it to you in a manageable format in a logical collection.

Weird, huh?

Meanwhile, more butt-in-seat time will bring together the location and function of the systems. The cumulative knowledge testing reflects that the big deal systems are sinking in (engines, fire detection/protection, electrical systems, APU) which means they all probably will in time.

And the big buggaboo, navigation systems–the most advanced stuff–seems to be no problem. It never has been a problem although it really should be, so count your blessing–somehow it just makes sense.

Two days off, then hit it even harder. Hope to have an update for you in a few days with higher test scores and maybe even the first inkling of feeling comfortable with the systems and procedures.

Meanwhile, like Bill, take some time to enjoy your girlfriend (below), too. She’s been patient, but don’t push your luck.


5 Responses to “From Sea Level to 737 Captain: First Break.”

  1. Been there, done that….
    After 4 years in the DC-9 (the -15 and -33 versions) I converted to the Boeing 737-300/400. That is like the MD-80.
    After a while we bought the 800/900 and 700 versions as well and until recently flew all 5 versions.
    So I know what you are going through…..
    And one small secret, when you start flying the simulator: if you give full power in a go-around PUSH the nose down. The big difference with the Douglas jets is the pitch-up with full power.
    Next to that: nice airplane !
    Enjoy the school
    And keep making cartoons ! I need them, soon.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Airplane News and Ryan, Chris Manno. Chris Manno said: From Sea Level to 737 Captain: First Break.: […]

  3. Wow … what we take for granted sitting in our seats gaining FF miles. Thanks for getting us to our destinations safely.

  4. blackwatertown Says:

    MOre fascinating insights. Thanks.

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