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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Doug's Domain

Doug Vetter, ATP/CFI

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My Journey To The Airlines
Page 3 of 4

(Image: Embraer 145 in the flight levels)
An Embraer 145 LR in High Altitude Cruise

Systems Training

When I joined the company systems training consisted of two weeks of at-home study with the Ethos iPad application followed by a week of systems review at the training center in Indianapolis, followed by 12 hours (split over two days) of what they called "Systems Integration Training" or SIT.

(Image: Closeup of LCD near door
     of classroom showing systems class reservation)

The week-long review of systems amounted to a bunch of powerpoint presentations and continuous question and answer sessions led by two systems instructors and a 15 year check airman. I want to emphasize this was an active two-way communications process and not strictly a lecture. The instructors said they expected students to ask lots of questions based on their study efforts and we certainly did.

One point came out of our sessions together: they do not expect students to build the airplane like most airlines required 10-15 years ago. We were told not to bother memorizing hydraulic and electrical systems schematics, but instead know what systems were powered by each system or bus and the system logic that would be imposed if something failed. This was still a bit daunting at first but made easier by analyzing various scenarios. For example, if the #1 engine fails on takeoff, what do we lose? Assuming the generator and hydraulic system pump mode knobs were in the Auto position, what is the system logic for that scenario?

At the end of the week we were given a mock oral by the check airman. He asked very specific questions and listened to us recite the answer. Using the advice given to me following my interview I learned to listen to the question and answer only that question. If you're an engineer like me this will feel very strange, because thorough answers are expected in engineering but this is the way things are done here.

After the mock oral we were instructed to create a 50 question final exam consisting of questions randomly selected from the roughly 600 question pool within the Ethos application. This conveniently meant that, provided you actually studied the Ethos content and created a test for each section as instructed, this would not be the first time you would see the questions. I put my time in at home, got generally 90 or better on the practice exams the first time through (later improved during week two) and got a 98 on the final. I was not alone. I caught a glimpse of the class signup sheet being used to record our final exam grade and many people got in the 90s. I think that speaks volumes about the Ethos application and CBT in general.

I attribute my success to the effectiveness of both the Ethos app as well as the engaging classroom discussion. While I think home-based CBT is efficient and effective and should comprise the bulk of systems training at all airlines, it cannot completely replace the classroom experience because of an old truism -- you don't know what you don't know, so you need prompting from others to discover your weaknesses. After the test we were instructed to screenshot the test results and email the snapshot to the instructor as apparently the FAA requires proof that we took the test and what questions we got wrong.

Monday consisted of two four hour sessions of SIT, followed by a single 4 hour session on Tuesday morning, all led by a instructor I had not seen around the training center before. He turned out to be a line qualified Captain with about 15 years of experience. While it was not made particularly clear what SIT was from the very beginning of this process I can now tell you that it is basically similar to the systems review class format but with discussion of how to apply all of the company's procedures (FOM, SOP, AOM, MEL, etc.) to tackle real world scenarios. In addition, we were instructed on other housekeeping tasks and techniques such as how to read normal, QRC, and QRH checklists in a crew environment, how to handle emergencies, and how to calculate performance of the aircraft in an environment without ACARS (in case is it deferred on the aircraft you're flying or otherwise not available at the airport of operation).

Systems Summary

The systems review week went about as planned. However, I caught a bug on Saturday that began as a sore throat and wound up as a chest cold. I felt like death on a plate by Monday and had a genuinely hard time keeping my eyes open. Part of that may have had to do with the fact that I took a cold remedy that may not have been as "non-drowsy" as the label implied, or the simple fact that my body was fighting a virus. I almost considered going back to my hotel but stuck it out. By Tuesday I had recovered sufficiently to avoid coughing. I had hoped to jumpseat back to my base on our own metal early Wednesday morning but I still wasn't 100% and didn't want to irritate the flight crew by sitting up there hacking and coughing as my lungs cleared themselves. This is just common courtesy.

So why am I telling you this? Airline training is a somewhat stressful environment, and stress usually reduces our immunity to all sorts of sicknesses. You should expect to exercise, eat well, and stay hydrated.

On the eighth day I headed home to my own bed. Because I had gotten up at 2AM that morning and was basically wired the whole day I didn't get to bed until 10PM, I managed a 20 hour day. Needless to say I slept in the next day.

Sim Partners

During indoc we were given an opportunity to submit requests to pair with someone for the simulator phase of training but they suggested we be careful in our selection as pairing with someone with equivalent experience might not work out. Most of us recognized that as the "blind leading the blind" problem. Hence, company practice was to assign a more experienced person with a less experienced person and the instructor recommended we query any prospective sim partner about their experience and make an honest assessment as to whether our experience levels would be compatible.

While I developed good relationships with several people in my class I deferred to the company's judgment in this case and let them select my sim partner. I fully expected to be paired with someone from my class but as it turned out I was paired with a guy from the prior class I had never met. I was concerned about this initially as I knew it would not be possible to chair fly or interact with my sim partner in a meaningful way simply because we couldn't use the systems review time in Indy to get together in the evenings to study.

After I left indoc I had to spend the next two weeks studying systems on the iPad, so while I did contact my sim partner and I was happy that our backgrounds and personalities clicked, I was unable to spend any significant time with him. The only upside I saw at this point was that he had just finished systems training so his insights on that process helped me budget my time and develop good study habits during this phase of training. His warning: "you'll need every bit of those two weeks to study".

Break Between Systems Review and EFTP

I had nearly 10 days off between systems review and our first EFTP sessions. However, I spent the first 2-3 days of that recovering from my illness so I didn't study anything. After I felt better I decided to focus my efforts on learning flows and callouts as up to this point I had only glossed over them in the iPad app procedures training module.

For some reason I found the Captain's flows easier to learn. I think this was simply because they were generally better organized. I surmised that this was because the courses were developed by experienced Captains so they collectively knew best how to do those flows. Unfortunately I found a couple of the First Officer's flows to be confusing. Flows are typically constructed from an easily-recognizable pattern that hits everything necessary for the given phase of flight. In other words, the flow itself is a memory aid. The company-recommended FO originating flow in particular, however, reminded me of the works of Jackson Pollack. It was depicted in the iPad app as a series of lines going back and forth across the pilot's field of view that made absolutely no sense to me and despite trying for some time I simply kept forgetting the order and ultimately several items on the flow.

Fortunately, I learned earlier that the company and the check airmen did not care about how we executed our flows as long as we hit all the required items. When I approached an experienced instructor and Captain about this he said this is because flows are viewed more as technique than policy. So that cleared the way for me to develop my own flows where necessary, though I did not do this casually or haphazardly.

In developing my custom FO Originating flow, for example, I paid attention to little details like ending the flow at the same point as the recommended flow -- the emergency gear extension handle. Why? Because as I surmised (and was to later confirm with a 15 year Captain), Captains use the behavior of the FO closing the emergency gear extension handle door as an indication that they have finished their originating flow and hence are ready for the Captain to call for the originating checklist. Interestingly, I found myself using this technique when playing the role of Captain in the EFTP sessions so I can confirm it works.

Study In Prep for Initial EFPT Training

I spent a bunch of time studying the Captain's flows during the break leading up to the EFTP sessions because I was told that it would help to know them. What was not emphasized until the first EFTP session is that we would not be required to commit the Captain's flows to memory, meaning that we would not be graded negatively if we forgot those items. The instructor told us that when serving the role as Captain during EFTPs we could reference any notes or, preferably, the SOP itself, to get the Captain's flows done. As a result of the studying I put into the Captain's flows I was able to complete them more quickly. This ultimately benefited my sim partner during the timed portion of the EFTP sessions but I found my FO flows a bit lacking until just before the first session. If I had to do it over again I would spend 70% of my time doing FO flows and 30% doing CA flows rather than the roughly 50/50 split I did originally. Summary: study what you'll be graded on and if you have spare time, study everything else.

Company policy allowed my sim partner and I to meet in Indianapolis a couple days prior to our scheduled date of training so we made travel arrangements to meet back in Indy at the same hotel on Saturday, with the hopes that we could chair fly and generally study the latter part of Saturday, all of Sunday and Monday morning prior to our first scheduled EFPT session at 2PM. This turned out to be a great idea, as we were able to grab a few meals together and talk more in detail about our backgrounds. I discovered my partner had a good amount of tailwheel time and was a good stick and rudder pilot so we hit it off. Of course, I also learned that he did not have anywhere near my experience overall and comparatively little experience in the IFR system but I didn't judge him because I've met enough pilots to know that time alone doesn't define the quality of a pilot.

Throughout the prep and cooperative study sessions I learned that flows are best studied independently, but callouts are best studied with a partner. This is because flows are normally done independently in the airplane, while callouts are naturally interactive. Hearing my partner's voice mumbling "half dot" and then saying aloud "Flaps 5, Speed Vapproach, Landing checklist" really helped me remember both the triggers and the callouts for both roles (PF/PM) -- an important aspect of this process, since the Captain and First Officer swap the roles of PF/PM on every flight leg.

Speaking of PF/PM roles, if there was one thing that threw me for a loop throughout the first four EFTP sessions it was constantly switching roles. Prior to coming to this company I managed to acquire about 600 hours flying as part of a crew so coordination with another crewmember came naturally to me but my in prior experience we established pilot flying vs pilot monitoring based on seat position, so it was natural for me to act as an FO / PM in the right seat and CA / PF in the left seat. Switching roles in the same seat simply confused me. I eventually got over it, but it took time.

Nuts and Bolts of the EFTP

(Image: Front and center of the Enhanced Flat Panel Trainer)

The Enhanced Flat Panel Trainers are basically fancy procedures trainers used to reduce the cost of full-motion simulator rental. At a "mere" $750K a copy, they are significantly less expensive than the full motion simulators which rent for $1000/hr. EFTPs consist of mockups of the cockpits that consist of realistic (and surprisingly comfy) crew seats, type-specific flight controls that move in response to autopilot commands, a thrust lever quadrant that moves in response to autothrottle commands, a speed brake handle, two control display units or CDUs (fancy touchpads that control the mouse on the EICAS/MFD/PFD) and two MCDU (FMS) interfaces, as well as three large monitors used to provide realistic visuals. Virtually all of the buttons and switches, however, are depicted on touch-screen monitors, hence the name "flat panel".

The upside to the touchscreen monitors is that they significantly reduce the cost of implementing the design of the trainer. The downside is that we found them to be particularly sensitive. At times I noticed if my crew partner was touching one of the displays and I tried to actuate a control on a completely unrelated display one or both of us would have trouble actuating or otherwise changing the state of the control. We also noticed an occasional glitch if our instructor's leg was in contact with the edge of the pedestal display (though not the display itself), indicating L3's design has some issues with capacitive coupling on the cases that enclose the monitors as well as coupling between monitors.

Despite being less than nine months old our particular trainer also displayed an odd problem with the Captain's MCDU display, which kept flickering in and out, forcing me to use the electronic depiction of the MCDU present on the flat panel to the left of me (physically located where the side window and EFB would be in the real airplane). Prior to this I only used that panel to execute the test procedure of the quick-donning O2 mask, as the O2 mask compartment is not physically present in the EFTP cockpit.

EFTP Sessions

As I walked into the room with my sim partner Monday afternoon to conduct our first EFTP training session I felt I was reasonably well prepared with knowledge of the company's flight operations manual, standard operating procedures, and systems knowledge of the airplane and its complicated autoflight system. I also arrived with the confidence of over 1000 hours flying the IFR system and polished navigation and communications procedures.

As well, based on my recent interactions with my sim partner I felt I had a good grasp of his overall preparedness. He had taken far more extensive handwritten notes, thoughtfully organized in a three ring binder with organizational tabs -- the works. Because I type far faster than I can write I had simply typewritten all of my notes. These were extensive in their own right but far less visually impressive because with the exception of my flows and MCDU programming notes (typed in and printed out for good measure) everything was in electronic form on my personal ipad.

Each flight began "cold and dark" so that we could practice checklist usage and programming the MDCU (FMS) which is a bulk of the time required to push from the gate. We were told at the beginning that one recent class had several teams ill-equipped for these flights and 90 minutes to push off the gate (or "drop the parking brake") was the all-time record. That was not a record we wanted to break. The completion standard for a signoff at the end of EFTP session 4 was that we needed to individually demonstrate (as the FO) good practice of flows, procedures and callouts, and get from cold and dark to push in no more than 45 minutes. We were further told that this timeframe would be reduced to 30 minutes prior to the checkride in the full motion simulators. Lest you think the instructors are pulling that number of out of their ass, the reality is it stems from the real world requirements of the codeshare partners, who expect us to turn the airplane in anywhere from 29 to 45 minutes. Speaking with a more experienced pilot he said that if everyone does their job and everything (clearance and load report) are available when they should be it's possible to push in as little as 15-20 minutes.

We made reasonably good progress as a crew in the first two sessions. We made all sorts of little errors, from which we both learned (regardless if we individually caused the problem). Hampered in part by simulator maintenance issues (real world issues, not simulated), the third session was a train wreck from the start and the instructor did not sugarcoat the issues in the debrief. However, the fourth flight was our redemption. The prior day we pushed in 55 minutes -- clearly unacceptable. However, during the fourth session I went first as FO and pushed in 39 minutes due in no small part to the coordination we had discussed that morning and implemented in the session. When we switched seats during the second half of the session we got it done in 34 minutes, well within the standard.

Crisis of Confidence

The third session and its failures highlighted something worth talking about. While the study requirements for a Part 121 training event should not be underestimated I know from experience it is indeed possible to study too much for any given test. Even my college physics professor knew this and told us NOT to study the night before his tests. "Go out, see a movie, have a drink...whatever" was his advice. And good advice it is.

(Image: FMS installed in EFPT)

Following our botched third session, which wrapped at 6:30PM, we stayed at the training center to almost 9PM working in the systems lab (the same place we had recently taken systems review) so we could practice programming the MCDU. My sim partner wanted to stay later but I said I was beat and felt it more important to get a good night's sleep, so I said I was going to leave and grab some dinner. I strongly encouraged him to join me and suggested that he would probably feel a lot better for tomorrow's flight if we were both rested. Clearly thinking that studying was the answer to whatever proficiency issues he may have had, he said he wanted to stay a while longer but agreed to get together at 9 the following morning for some last minute profiles work.

The next morning I was ready to begin at 9AM when I got a text from my partner: "I need a bit more time to sleep". He later revealed that he was up until 2AM studying. I shrugged it off at the time mostly because he was 20 years younger and I recall being able to pull off all-nighters when I was his age, but looking back at it I should have said something to him. Why? When faced with a variety of scenarios including being able to program the MCDU to meet certain constraints or holding processes I was clear-headed enough during the subsequent EFPT session to work through the problems while he was not.

I made my share of mistakes, to be sure, but I worked through each problem and got the job done to the satisfaction of the instructor. My sim partner, on the other hand, got flustered and gave up several times, turning around in his seat to face the instructor, admitting "I'm sorry, I'm just not getting this...I've studied a lot but it's just not making sense to me". While I attributed his problems mostly to the difference between knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge, mostly as a result of experience, I can't help but think that good rest would have allowed him to function to a higher degree. As I was to learn all too well, fatigue is a killer in this business and this fact is just as relevant in training as it is on the line. Oh, and just because you're 24 doesn't make you immune to the effects of fatigue. You're human, after all.

During the 10 minute break following the first half of EFPT session 4 I found myself out in the hallway trying to convince my sim partner not to quit the program. He had simply lost confidence in himself. After a few minutes of highlighting how well he flew the sim in general, how much he had invested in the process, and what he'd lose if he quit, the instructor came over to us to ask us to return to the room. Sensing an impending crisis I motioned to the instructor to come over and encouraged my sim partner to talk about what he was feeling.

The instructor calmly pointed out that if he did need additional sessions, it was not the end of the world. He said approximately 50 percent of the people who go through the program ultimately need one or two additional EFTP sessions and the company is fully willing to extend that opportunity to candidates willing to work through the issues they're having. After asking me for my total time and IFR experience he continued, pointing out to my sim partner that he could not be expected to fly like me, as I had significantly more experience, and likewise, I could not be expected to fly to the same level as the instructor, who had 12000 hours in type. The instructor continued to be encouraging and in my opinion handled the situation perfectly.

The instructor and I managed to convinced my sim partner to return to the room to complete the second half of the session. He wound up doing quite well and even beat my MCDU programming time by a few minutes. As the sim shutdown following completion of the securing checklist I made a point to tell him I thought he did well despite the fact that the instructor recommended additional training for him. He initially responded positively, but as I dropped him off at the airport for his flight home that evening he did not seem convinced that he would continue and said he needed to "think things through". A few days later I spoke with him and he said that the training department said that one of the "warmup" sessions to follow would constitute his additional training and he would likely receive his signoff then.

We ultimately flew two additional sessions (a total of 8 hours). Toward the end of the second session (the sixth session in total) he was still struggling with programming holds and the like. When I offered to help him the instructor told me I couldn't help him further because he needed to demonstrate proficiency on his own. I agreed and reluctantly remained silent as I watched him figure things out. He ultimately met the required proficiency standard and was signed off, but as I was to discover shortly, this would not be the end of of his trials.

Simulator Training

(Image: Lineup of 170/175 simulators at FlightSafety STL)

Toward the end of systems I received the simulator training schedule. The moment I saw it I cringed. Virtually all of the sessions were from 10PM to 2AM with (typically) a 1.5 hour prebrief and 1 hour postbrief. I knew this would be rough on me as my body has been conditioned for decades to sleep at night, and I could count on one hand the number of times I've been up at 2AM over the last 30 years. This is also, coincidentally, the reason I decided to fly passengers vs cargo, as cargo carriers fly routinely on the back side of the clock. Trivia: did you know that the average age of death of a FedEx pilot is 57? That's pretty damning evidence that cargo flying is hard on the body and that the stress of being up at night takes its toll.

It's often said that aircraft accidents are the result of a chain of events and to avoid the accident all one needs to do is recognize the formation of the chain and take action to break one of the links in the chain. I can say now that this was the beginning of my accident chain and my desire to please the company and generally not rock the boat led me down a path to failure. In retrospect I should have requested a different schedule at this point but I didn't.

The first sim lesson was relatively easy, as it was largely designed to be a repeat of the last EPFT session. We were able to effectively duplicate what we'd learned earlier and all was well. I must admit, however, that I felt off the entire first session because despite trying to get some sleep during the afternoon with the blackout shades drawn in my hotel room I just didn't feel right. This was clearly the result of being forced to stay awake when I am normally in bed. And for the record, just because you lay down in bed and close your eyes does not mean you're actually sleeping or getting good sleep. Good sleep requires visiting the various stages of sleep, including the deepest form of sleep, stage 4, at least a couple times a night. Without this "good sleep", you might as well be awake continuously, because the end result will be the same -- fatigue. Needless to say, at this time I did not fully appreciate what would happen if this schedule continued.

My sim partner's general performance improved on the first few sim sessions. He had clearly studied in his time off prior to sims, and his one significant area of weakness (FMS programming) had improved, which he admitted was largely due to review of an FMS programming study guide I had developed in systems. He came prepared and it showed, and for that I was appreciative, because an ill-prepared sim partner can easily sink your own performance. On the other hand, I seemed to plateau for some reason -- probably the result of being up at oh-dark-thirty. I had a hard time concentrating and recalling memory items I could recite cold earlier.

Unfortunately, around sim 3 or 4 my sim partner's performance started to decline again as we got into V1 cuts and other new material. More than once his "half" of the session went well beyond the 2 hours allocated to him. Normally that would be a problem as simulator sessions are typically booked in 4 hour blocks and there is rarely a block unused, but as our sessions ended at the start of the maintenance window (2AM), there was no one scheduled for the simulator and thus the instructors offered to stay late to complete the session. This was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because we would not necessarily receive an incomplete for the lesson but a curse because we both wound up flying for 5 hours straight and getting back to the hotel later than desired. My head hit the pillow routinely at 4AM, just a few hours short of the time when common folk rise to meet the day and (drum roll please) start making enough noise to wake me up.

(Image: Interior of sim showing single engine work)

Simulator session 4 introduced emergency descents, among other challenging maneuvers, and despite accomplishing the descent properly and wrapping up the session on a relatively positive note (or so I thought) my sim partner felt crushed by his performance and informed me and the instructor during the post-brief that he would likely not continue with training. On the drive back to the hotel I once again found myself encouraging him to sleep on it before he made any big decisions. The following morning I got a text at 10AM from him, saying that he had spoken with the training manager and ultimately decided to quit, mostly to avoid a checkride failure and a black mark on his record that would follow him for the remainder of his career. He reluctantly admitted that he "just wasn't ready right now" for the demands of airline flying. In retrospect, given that he was very young I think he made the right decision, though I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision to make, particularly after working as hard as he did.

The upside for me was that I got seat fills for the remaining three simulator sessions and mock checkride. This meant I had an instructor or line qualified captain in the left seat doing captain stuff and that allowed me to stay in the right seat and focus on improving my role as a first officer. Sadly, by the time the checkride rolled around all of the late night sim sessions combined with at most 4-5 useful hours of sleep a night took their toll. It was at this point that I learned (the hard way) the difference between being tired (or even exhausted) and being fatigued.

If you're yawning continuously like I was at this point -- that's a sign of being physically tired. Everyone has experienced that at more than one time in their lives, and after working in tech startups as well as my own business I am more than familiar with the concept. Unfortunately, the signs of fatigue are far more insidious. As pilots we all know that if we pop the top on a beer we have to wait 8+ hours before we fly. Similarly, pilots are educated about the dangers of over the counter medication like Benedryl, which is known to cause drowsiness, so we avoid popping those pills unless we're off duty. Unfortunately, as there are no similarly obvious triggers for fatigue, it can be nearly impossible for a pilot to recognize the impairments caused by fatigue. I suppose the best analogy would be not acknowledging the risk of driving drunk. A rational mind would call a cab. But we're not talking about a rational mind anymore. We are talking about a mind under the influence of alcohol. Fatigue operates the same way in my experience, in that you don't know you are impaired.

Checkride Failure

Through a clarity of thought that was not restored until well after the dust had settled and I managed to get about three nights of good sleep at home, I looked back and realized that I was in no position to fly prior to the checkride, and I should have either asked for time off or, had the company denied this request, simply quit much as my partner did.

For me the most recognizable impacts of fatigue included poor memory recall and a tendency of my mind to limit input to the extent possible, and when that failed, to race ahead in order to keep up with the pace of events. I was forgetting callouts that I knew cold earlier in training, and I remembered feeling like my mind was betraying me, shutting down despite my eyes being wide open. Unfortunately, fatigue resulted in my first-ever checkride failure, which stemmed directly from forgetting a simple thing -- setting the missed approach altitude on a very rushed CAT II approach. The approach was rushed, of course, because I failed to ask for delay vectors, and this in turn occurred because in my mental state the very last thing I wanted to do was buck the system or argue with anyone, even though it would have been a completely legitimate request.

The APD stopped the sim at this point, told me that the maneuver was unsatisfactory, and asked if I wanted to continue the checkride. I wanted to continue, of course, to reduce the number of maneuvers that I would need to do on the recheck. This strategy is generally sound, as you can't bust the same checkride more than once, and this limits what the insurance industry would call "exposure" on the recheck, but it can also backfire. From my later discussions with instructors and APDs, most people get in a funk after busting the checkride and tend to fixate on the failure rather than focus on the current tasks. This typically results in more unsatisfactory maneuvers. And although I remember handling the failure well, so it was with me. Up to this point I had done pretty well with V1 cuts. But this time I failed to take out my aileron correction for the crosswind early enough, so that caused the wing to dip as I rotated. I then over-corrected and heard the dreaded "BANK ANGLE" warning. And, right or wrong, once the examiner hears that on a V1 cut, the maneuver is considered unsatisfactory. That said, knowing what I know now, would I continue the checkride again? Absolutely, as this caused me to get additional training in V1 cuts that ultimately allowed me to perfect them.

The day the following the checkride I was scheduled for a remedial training event without my consent. Because the checkride ran late and this session was earlier in the day this time (8AM) that precluded sleeping in to any extent. In the prebrief I told the instructor I was burnt out and really didn't feel the session would be productive. I asked to cancel but obviously wanting to be paid for the day he said "let's just try it and see how things go". Since again I did not want to argue I ultimately agreed to fly, but that in itself was another miscalculation on my part due to fatigue. I should have said "no" and walked out.

I wound up effectively repeating my performance of the last few sims, which is to say, I completed all of the maneuvers to standards but did not, in my opinion, do so consistently. If you give someone several tries to do a V1 cut and they get one right, technically that allows the instructor to check the box on the training form as "satisfactory". But inconsistent performance, which is typically a result of insufficient training, sets the stage for a checkride failure. I didn't fully acknowledge or accept this at the time. At the end of the session I reiterated that I was extremely tired (but alas, I never used the "F" word...another mistake) and felt quite nervous about going for the checkride. Of course, everyone is a little nervous before a checkride but my nervousness stemmed from what I (correctly) perceived as inconsistent performance of selected maneuvers, any single one of which could sink my recheck.

To make a long story short, I wound up going home for a few days and coming back for another prep session. I had managed at most two days of good sleep but I was extremely nervous prior to the recheck. That said, I did extremely well according to the APDs (yes there were two guys monitoring my recheck)...right up until I made a critical mistake and retracted the flaps on a single engine go-around simply because I saw the "F" bug cross my current airspeed. This, of course, is incorrect, as flaps cannot be retracted prior to the Flap Retraction Altitude or Acceleration Altitude. I attribute this to my mind racing to stay ahead, rather than being relaxed as it is when I am not fatigued.

One thing I must say is that the APDs were very professional throughout the entire process. They said that everyone wants to be an APD to help mint new pilots but both admitted that the worst part of the job is giving out notices of disapproval. They both asked me if I understood the reasons the maneuvers were considered unsatisfactory and I explained why I agreed with them. I did not whine or complain, or get defensive. I fell back on my engineering experience which demands a logical and rational defense of one's decisions, owned up to my failure, and thanked the APDs for their time and consideration.

Back in the debriefing room the APD of record said something to me I'll never forget. He began by pointing out that he had been a pilot and APD for a long time and that he had failed a checkride in a Jetstream 31 back in the day. He said he knew what I was feeling right now. He also said he could spot a good pilot a mile away and that not only did I have great stick and rudder skills, but that I had proved to both of them that I could do the job. Provided I got retrained they knew I would be successful. Of course at that point I asked him what was next, to which he replied "that's above my pay grade, but I'll be honest...if the company doesn't give you another shot I know you'll be able to go elsewhere and sail through training". Unfortunately the company did call me later the next day to tell me they were discontinuing training and I had no recourse to this decision but due to their encouragement I was able to find another company willing to give me another shot. I must publicly thank those guys giving me a reason to continue when my ego was at its lowest point in decades and I was ready to give up.