I have finally finished my airline’s Airbus A-330 qualification course. I started training on November 1st and completed my Operating Experience (OE) and Line Check on December 19th. Fortunately not all of that time was in training. I had a 5-day break over Thanksgiving and I had a had a 7-day break between my type rating evaluation in the simulator and my OE trip in the aircraft. Even so, it felt like it took forever.
My OE trip consisted of four flight legs between the U.S. and Europe. The normal crew of three pilots, a Captain and two First Officers, was increased to a crew of four for this trip. That was required because when I occupied the right seat in the cockpit, the Captain instructor had to be in the left seat overseeing my performance as a First Officer not yet fully qualified to conduct revenue flights. The other two First Officers on the crew replaced the Captain and I when we took our mandatory breaks in the middle of the flight.
The trip went well and I became more at ease with the operations with each leg. International flying in any airplane is largely the same, however equipment capabilities and procedures will change the operation with different aircraft fleets. For instance, this was the first time I had any experience using CPDLC/ADS during a flight. It wasn’t a huge change, just different and something new to learn. The simulator phase of training introduced this equipment briefly, but the bulk of the training on it’s operation is conducted on the OE trip.
I operated as the ‘Pilot Monitoring’ on the first leg while the training Captain made the take-off and landing. On the second leg I got my first chance to actually fly the aircraft. As usual, the airplane felt much more stable in flight than when flying the simulator, even with the real world turbulence. The preflight and takeoff went smoothly and I coupled the plane to the autopilot so that it could fly the typical European RNAV departure. There was a little light turbulence enroute, but nothing out of the ordinary. At our destination the approach controller gave us vectors to an ILS rather than having to fly an IFR arrival transition, which saved some time and fuel. The approach went fine, though the landing confirmed that I needed a bit more practice.
The A-330 has three distinct touchdowns when it lands (or it should have). the first touchdown is felt when the aft wheels of the main landing gear touch down. You can see in this photo that, if the rate of descent is fairly slow the next touchdown you would feel would be the front wheels of the main gear. Then the third would be the nosewheel touching the pavement. I managed to have fairly smooth touchdowns for the first two, but still hadn’t found the picture of when the nosewheel was to touch.
Our next departure, heading back east didn’t go quite so smoothly. We were filed on a “Random Route” across the Atlantic rather than on one of the organized tracks, so we didn’t have a fixed slot time to meet. This turned out well for us, since we finally got airborne an hour after our scheduled departure time. I’ll chalk the delay up to the difficulties in combining two major airline operations into one. Differences in how specific types of cargo are handled resulted in our having to remove a pallet of cargo from the aircraft. Of course, the pallet to be removed was buried behind 4 other containers that needed to be removed and one of those jammed in the doorway on it’s way out. It was definitely a frustrating departure, but with very favorable winds we managed to arrive only 35 minutes late. No, the landing wasn’t much better, but I was getting closer.
The last leg of an OE trip is a Line Check, administered by the Instructor/Check Airman. This was our second departure from this airport so I had the routine down and it all went relatively smoothly. We kept an eye on our destination weather throughout the flight and I ended up flying an ILS approach with an 800′ ceiling and 2 mi visibility in light snow. Rising to the occasion I made my best landing of the three. When the engines were shut down and the checklists were complete the Instructor shook my had and congratulated me on a job well done. Nice feeling.
Of course, life has a way of keeping things in perspective. I commuted home and two days later was off flying status with a cold and sinus congestion. I’m still not well enough to fly, but the worst appears to be over.
With a bit of luck, this will be my last major training event before I retire. That could change in a couple of weeks, though. The airline will be shuffling equipment and flying positions over the next year and I may get caught again with an aircraft change. Our wish lists have to be submitted in a couple of days and the results of the shuffle should be published in 2-3 weeks.