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Monday, February 8, 2016

Tunnel Vision

With six and a half years of instructing experience behind me, I felt that the only problem I would have teaching flight engineers in the simulator would be learning the airplane.  There were a few issues at first, but with the help of some of the more experienced instructors, I was able to muddle my way through.

There were several specific lessons to be learned about instructing engineers versus pilots.  The first was that the qualities that make one a good pilot do not necessarily make one a good engineer.  The opposite is also not true.  I learned that I was able to do both well. 

Flying was much more fun than being a "plumber", but I found that I had a mind for doing it well.  It is more about following procedures.  I felt that flying was part science and part art form, but more art form.  I saw lots of students with lots of flying hours, who just didn't get their heads in the right place to be an engineer.  It was just another flaming hoop they had to jump through to reach the objective of getting an airline job.

The flight engineer job was the entry level for airlines with planes that required flight engineers.  Not all airlines had such planes, but most did and having the engineer ticket increased your chances.  As I write this in 2016, most airliners do not require flight engineers, because the systems have been automated to reduce the management work load enough that the 2 pilots can manage them.

This picture is the cockpit of a Boeing 747 -400.  All the system controls are on the overhead panel of this 2 pilot airplane.

This is the engineer panel of an older 747, that requires 3 crew members.

This is an example of a panel from an older, piston engine plane, on which the flight engineer was much more involved in monitoring and adjusting the engines.  You can see the row of engine control levers.

Another lesson learned as a flight engineer instructor is tunnel vision.  As stress increases, a person tends to narrow their field of vision and becomes less aware of the "big picture".  Engineer students tend to move closer to the panel and focus on a very small part of it.  As instructors, we were sitting behind them and could see everything that was going on.  I have seen students not be aware of a big, red light illuminated in front of them, because of tunnel vision.  Tunnel vision was a problem in flight instruction, but it was greatly magnified for engineer students.  We had to try to get them relaxed and to move back a little from the panel.

Learning about tunnel vision can be helpful in all walks of life.  I was just in a job in which I had to observe the performance of students and try to figure out what was causing them problems and then try to get them to fix the problem.  Relaxing and moving back a little from the problem works in most times of stress.

One of the other lessons learned was actually one I learned at Graham Aviation.  There is an additional level of stress during a check ride, that does not necessarily exist during training.  I was giving a guy a pre check sim. session and he was being a little cool and flippant.  He was very good, but was doing things like saying hydrastics, instead of hydraulics, as an example.  

In the debrief, I told him that he had done very well, but that I wanted to run the instructor panel on his FAA check ride to see if he would behave in the same manner as he did on the pre check with me.  I actually thought it was a little disrespectful, but I did not say that to him.  I told him not to behave this way on the check ride, because the FAA inspector might jump in with some comments about that.  This would then change the whole dynamic of the ride.

My philosophy in training people for check rides was to get them to behave in a manner that put the inspectors to sleep with boredom.  Don't move too fast, don't move too slowly.  Maintain a nice rhythmic pace.   Don't start moving in bursts and don't stop moving.  Believe me, it worked.  I literally saw FAA inspectors nod off during check rides.  Follow the procedures exactly.  Don't improvise.  Talk in a measured pace and volume, not too loudly, not too quietly.

So, I did run the panel for Mr. Hydrastics' check ride and he seemed a little nervous, not as cavalier, but despite his nervousness and a few screw ups, he passed.

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