Ground School – Drinking from a Fire Hose

First day of my career

It’s been quite a while since my last post as I have been focusing on other areas of my life. However, the current global pandemic and crisis have grounded airlines around the world. So I find myself with a bit more downtime than usual, especially since I’ve been self quarantined for 14 days after my last flight. I’m healthy, still employed (with a temporary salary reduction) and looking forward to getting back in the air soon.

I was just remembering that my career started in the middle of the 2008/2009 financial crisis. And thinking back on the years before that, Black Monday in 1987 and 9/11 also shook Aviation and changed the world forever.

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The S&P 500 Index; showing economic growth over time

The important thing to remember now is, this too shall pass, like winter, this is an economic season of life and great opportunity is often borne from times such as this.
giphyYes, some airlines may collapse, pilots and crew will lose work and revenue and salaries will be lost. My heart goes out to everyone affected. Always remember; spring will return and we will rebuild.  We will then probably see another 8 or 10 years of growth, before winter returns (another crisis) that will no doubt affect aviation once again.

For now, I hope you stay positive, stay healthy and support your immune system while staying home. And let’s rewind to 2009, back to my first day of ground school.

 

Having graduated from the Academy with a brand new Commercial Pilot License (CPL), and Multi-Engine Command Instrument Rating (MECIR) in my wallet. I had a month or two back home with my parents to try not to forget what I’d learned in the last 10 months. Either way, basic flight training was over. I was ready, or at least due to start the first day of my new career as a Regional Airline Pilot.
Graduation

I arrived on a Sunday in Albury, which was my first base, the day before I was scheduled to take the 6:30am flight to Sydney for ground school.
I was a nervous fish out of water. 21 years old at this point, and once again no idea what I was doing and feeling more than a little shy.

Sat in the terminal with my new F-COM (flight crew operating manual) in hand, trying to stick these Memory Items into my brain, with no understanding or context of what it all means. I had never been good at rote learning or memorisation. My strength is in understanding concepts, problem-solving and how things work. So in the short term, I suffer, but long term I tend to manage by developing a deeper understanding.

Sitting there at 6am on only 5hours of sleep, trying to memorise the unfamiliar sentences and figures from the book, trying to calm the nerves in my stomach.

“Power Lever: reduce to 20-30%”
” Condition lever: Torque motor lockout… ” wait, what the hell is a torque motor and how do I lock it out?… I’m so lost.”

The boarding announcement calls us to board, so I wander outside onto the tarmac behind the other passengers, where the  Saab 340 is waiting. It is only the third time I’ve seen one in person, I quietly find my seat towards the back of the plane. It was a cold late autumn morning. Being the first flight of the day, my seat was freezing. I button up my jacket and pop the collar of my cheap suit trying to keep warm.Albury-Airport

The last passenger to board the aircraft was sat across the aisle from me. A chirpy gentleman who spent the flight working on his laptop and seemed to know the flight attendant well. I got the impression that he might also work for the airline, or maybe just a regular passenger. Still feeling a little shy, like a kid on the first day of school, I decide not to introduce myself for the fear of looking stupid when he realised their newest pilot didn’t know a thing, and besides, he seemed busy. So I kept quiet and tried to catch up on some sleep during the hour flight instead. 

Landing in Sydney I had to find my way to Regional Express Head Office, or “Baxter Road” as it was more commonly called. Still having No Idea about anything, and taxis refusing the short fare. I made my way there by walking the kilometer and a half wheeling my baggage behind me. 

Finally, I am greeted with the familiar faces of my course mates from the pilot academy as I enter the classroom, as well as the face of the chirpy gentleman from the flight I’d just taken. Turns out, ‘Bugo’ as everyone calls him, is one of the nicest guys I’ve met, and he’s running our first few days of induction at ground school.
baxterrd

Now I was feeling stupid for not introducing myself and not getting some help to arrive at Baxter road.

I’ll try to summarise ground school best I can. It’s usually 5weeks or so of Induction, information sessions, technical lectures, studying and rote learning facts, figures, limitations, memory Items, scan flows, computer-based learning modules, exams, box-ticking and developing a caffeine addiction if you don’t already have one, since the tea and coffee station is the only relief from the monotony of a day under fluorescent tube lighting, and the awaited highlight of the day was the arrival of the famous coffee truck at about 11am. This brief experience has brought me some gratitude for dodging the 9 to 5 office job.
This was also my first time living out of a hotel room for an extended period of time, something I’d get used to.

As our ground instructor Simon would say… “The next few months will be like drinking from a fire hose”. He was right, the information never stopped flowing at high pressure. Things had stepped up a notch. Everything was faster, more intense and more professional with much higher expectations from what we saw at the academy. I didn’t have time to take a breath.

Rex at that point also didn’t have much experience in training pilots with such little experience. They typically hired Pilots with General Aviation experience and about 1000 hours.
To make things worse, my course was only the second group of cadets trained through the academy. So our standard after graduating from the academy was not consistently high yet or consolidated. We were left a little underprepared for the training to come and in need of a lot of extra polish. It was a steep learning curve for everyone. And I, as a somewhat naive twenty-one-year-old, had a lot of catching up to do.

However, I must say, in the following years, I saw a consistently high standard of cadets coming from the academy, and the transition became a lot smoother. Many pilots I had the pleasure of flying with and have seen them go on to make great careers as well.

A pretty good rule of thumb that I learned; is for a new job, don’t expect to have much of a life for at least six months after starting until you get competent. So much of your mental capacity will be used up, trying to settle into the new job and learn the ropes.

From the completion of ground school, we were headed for the Simulator. This is usually where training delays begin. Simulators are a finite resource, and they are notorious for breaking down.
For me, this was a welcome delay. The fire hose had been turned off momentarily. I was now left swimming in the overflow of information, and trying to drink a pool can be overwhelming. Especially when you don’t know, what you don’t know, and there is no guide or mentor to show you the way.  Unlike high school, where you often have Teachers to hold your hand through the learning. I needed to learn how to study independently. It was to be a long road ahead.

Planned Route – Where am I going!

There I was; at the beginning of 2008, fresh out of High School, hardly an adult with an amazing opportunity in my hands.  And sitting in front of me was the scariest, most adult looking contract I had ever seen. I was about to sign a 7-year employment contract and bond, plunging myself into ninety-thousand dollars (AUD) of debt.
I only had seven thousand dollars to my name, for which I had been working all summer in a factory and a piece of crap car, worth no more than four thousand bucks. What’s more, I would be committed to the one airline until I was 27-years old.

What was I getting myself into? How did I know this was the best option for me?

For those who are about to start your flying career. We all know there are a number of different pathways; from Airforce/Military, Airline Cadetships, University and General Aviation, just to name a few of the common ones. And they all come with their pros and cons.
So what would I recommend?
Knowing what I know now, my first piece of advice is: There will always be people who argue that one pathway is better than another. It is important to remember, these people will often argue what is better for them! Not necessarily for you and your goals. Still, take their advice, but realise where they might be different from you. An easy way to do this is; ask them to go through the pros and cons, quietly keeping in mind that it is a pro or con in their opinion. Then make your own list of pros and cons based on your values. This way you can use their knowledge in the most effective way for you.

Secondly: Ask yourself why. “Why do I even want to be a Pilot? Why is it so appealing?” Really dig deep, once you have this “why”, write it down. Your “why”, is your motivational fuel. It will help keep you motivated with the many challenges you will face during your career. So make it easy to revisit and remember why. (It is also a common airline interview question.)
You’ll know it’s the right “why” when saying and thinking about it makes you smile to yourself and feel excited or nervous. It still does for me.sunrise I’ll be sitting there having a quiet moment to myself, watching a beautiful sunrise from 35,000 feet. And I’ll remember; I am in control of a Boeing 777! A 300million dollar, 300ton, technologically mind-blowing flying machine! Hauling across the sky and around the world at Mach 0.84(900km/h). Powerful, Free and Adventurous!
I belong to a small percentage of people in the world who will ever get to experience and explore the world from this perspective.20170519_002110 (I used to have similar moments at 15000feet in a 13ton SAAB340 or 5000ft in a PA-28)

I also enjoy the process of learning and forever developing and applying the skills of my profession. As pilots we take pride in that, we understand and appreciate that we are a part of a highly trained team. I guess it’s a professional pride thing, or just ego (kidding).  But we all understand in the back of our minds that we’re responsible for the 450 lives sitting behind us. It is our job to deliver them safely, connecting them to their friends and families, homes, dream holidays and workplaces.
If you’re only motivated by “MONEY”, trust me, there are easier and more efficient ways to get rich. Don’t waste time in aviation. Or even if it’s for business class staff travel. Okay Maybe Business Cass is a motivator; it’s just so comfortable and amazing! I’m so clearly spoiled now.
So what is your “why?” Will it fuel you and give you the endurance you need?

Your “why” should help you with the next question:  Where do you see yourself in 10years? Flying a wide body jet around the world? A narrow body domestically? Or a float plane in the Caribbean or Whitsundays?
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Where do you want your career to take you? Then work backwards. What experiences do you want to have along the way? And for that 10-year goal to happen, Where and Who do you need to be, in 5 years from now? In 2 years from now? 1year, 6 months and 1 week from now? Who do you need to be right now and what do you need to do today, to put yourself on the path to your goal? It might be studying for an upcoming test at high school, setting goals or sending off job applications.

You need to know where you are now, where you want to end up, and the path you wish to take that connects the two.
I never start a flight without a map and flight plan. Your career shouldn’t be any different. Oh, And your plan doesn’t even need to be perfect. You just need to have one.

If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail – Benjamin Franklin

Lastly:   APPLY FOR EVERYTHING!  Take every opportunity offered.  You can always turn one down if you have to and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have two or three offers to choose from in the end.
The question that that annoys me the most is: “Which cadetship or job should I apply for?”
All of them I say! Why are you trying to choose from options you haven’t even been offered yet!?
In the same way, we never leave the ground without having an alternate route or landing airport available. My career has been no different. I’ve re-planned, re-routed, been delayed and even shortcuts that I hadn’t even expected! But I always created options by applying for everything I might want.

So how did I know the Regional Express cadet program was right for me?
Well firstly, I didn’t have many other options.
Secondly, I weighed up the pros, cons and risks. Had my friends’ lawyer Step Dad read over the contract and give me some free legal advice. Then I asked myself; where I dream of being in 5 and 10 years? Then I trusted my gut and signed the dotted line, starting the engines of my career.

You’re the Captain of your life. It is up to you to take command of your future. Navigate it in the right direction!
CAptain
I know I promised to share about my experience of surviving flight school as well, but I’ll save that for next week. I hope you found value in this post and that it gives you some tools in how to become a pilot, or even just pursuing any goals you might have in life.