From Sea Level to 737 Captain: Drinking From The Firehose.

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


It gets this way eventually in all aircraft ground school:

“In the beginning, there were two molecules. Then Boeing added a hydraulic system, plus five auto-switching electrical distribution buses, and transformer-rectifiers . . . .”

Huh? That’s what we call “drinking from the firehose.”

There’s always a balance in teaching theory in a one-size-fits-all syllabus: some people need to know the “whys,” some just the “whats.” You’re the latter category–just tell me what it does.

Really don’t need the why (“the Force-Fight Monitor closes this solenoid which allows pressure from the standby pump to blah blah blah. . .”) but simply the “what:” if the PACK TRIP light comes on, you can reset it and if the temperature goes down, it will come back on line.

Everyone learns differently. So at this phase of what’s become an information overload, you develop your information filters. Primarily, being practical, the sort criterion “will this be on the three hour systems exam?” organizes your thinking and listening.

Now it’s all about the exams on Friday: the 14 “Immediate Action Items” which have to be regurgitated verbatim–or the whole exam process stops. No references, besides your already overloaded brain.

Then if you get by that hurdle, there’s the 3 hour systems exam: the computer database generates 100 questions from thousands possible and creates a unique exam for you. For this, you can use your Operating Manual (unfortunately, not the systems manual) and Quick Response Handbook, because you’ll have them both in flight anyway.

Then finally, a one hour exam on an active Flight Management Computer: can you manually (the jet does this itself via data link) input the route of flight, nav data and then use it for intercepts, route changes, climbs, descents, restrictions and holding without ending up lost over  Bumfuk, Egypt?

That’s four days from now.

The good news? At least the cockpit is starting to make sense. You can find most of the stuff you need now and the beginnings of familiarity with systems actuation and procedures become stronger every day.

And this is a cool jet. So it’s worth the struggle.

The Flight Academy has every conceivable training gizmo you could think of to help you understand the function of the systems. Here’s the “Star Wars Trainer,” which has animated displays and touch screens, along with animated schematics to show you what’s going on system-wise when you activate components.

The navigation systems work as well, so it’s a completely integrated trainer–probably cost a bazillion dollars–but has room for chairs and books and active schematics to blend the cockpit and classroom.

That’s emblematic of the Flight Academy: all the best equipment, a thorough and advanced syllabus, even the schedule is engineered to account for travel time (Bill’s based in New York and lives in North Carolina) and even food requirements.

What choice did I have? Now I'm addicted--to both the crackers and the Captain's position.

Instruction has been thorough and very good, although it’s probably inevitable that the instructor would start to get in our hair after so many hours. You’ve even considered saying, “Look, I’ll let you use my name in exchange for you not poking or kicking me every time you want my attention.” Guess that’s just the way it goes–only a couple more days of ground school anyway.

So here’s your practical approach now:

1. With Bill, decide if the class stuff applies to The Bigass Exam this week. If not–ignore and study what is. We know as line pilots that trivia doesn’t really help in the air, or on an exam.

2. Take the practice test over and over. Still scoring in the upper 70’s (need 85%), but that’s without the flight manuals we’ll be allowed to consult and it included a few systems we haven’t covered. Looks like we’re on-track to hit the 90’s by the exam day.

3. Max the tome-length “Immediate Action Item” test–and you have been hitting 100% on that.

4. Don’t lose your marbles over the byzantine Flight Management Computer operation. That’s been going smoothly and will continue as long as you don’t over-think it.

A few more systems trainers and simulator sessions but mostly, ground school is all about getting out of ground school: the exams are dead ahead. Let’s get through them and move on.

Coming up next here: after the inquisition, on to full motion simulators. And in two weeks, into the air in the real jet. School’s fine, but get  back in the air where you belong.


9 Responses to “From Sea Level to 737 Captain: Drinking From The Firehose.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Airplane News, Ryan. Ryan said: Jethead Says: From Sea Level to 737 Captain: Drinking From The Firehose. […]

  2. Hey Chris,
    this sounds like your brain is approaching overload…..
    Only one way to overcome this:
    1-stop trying to know all
    2-go to the nearest bar
    3-keep drinking and talking about other things with non-pilots until you can barely walk
    4-walk home and have a sleep
    5-next morning make slow start into aviation again
    Looking forward to the results.
    Keep blue side up (or does your company have another topside colour ??)

  3. Options:
    1) Sit in class and learn to fly a new airplane

    2) Unscheduled meeting with the local fire department ( )

    • The MD-80 gear doors actually have bumper skids on the bottom for just this situation: the gear doors had to be unlocked during landing. No big deal, they actually “fly” in the nearly closed position due to air loads until the aircraft slows on landing, then the doors rest on their replaceable skids until they’re stopped. No damage, just replace the skids in about ten minutes and off we go.

  4. Good to know that this much training goes into flying a new jet….



  5. Sounds like a lot to study. Just take it one at a time, and stay sober. That’s all you need, a hangover during the training process. Stick to the easiest system to memorize and categorize. Don’t over analyze, and do your best. I am rooting for you.


  6. Good luck! You sound like you are on information overload …

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