The Boeing 757 was the most capable and versatile airplane I had ever flown. The only problem was that it was so complicated, it took me a while to begin to feel comfortable flying it. I flew it as a first officer for about one year and because I was relatively senior in my seat, I flew the better lines of flying time, with the more senior and experienced captains on the airplane. Many of them were instructors on the 757 and in effect, I was able to continue my training on the plane for that year. When it takes me a while to learn something, I tend to keep my nose to the grindstone and learn that something to a level beyond what most people learn it. As I flew the 757/767 for the next several years, I could see that I understood how to operate its complex flight management system better than most of the people I flew with.
The 757 and 767 were designed and built to be very similar, similar enough that they required only one common type rating, with training on the few differences. They were very different in size, but the sight picture from the cockpit was very similar and my strategies for landing them were very similar. To be honest with you, they were very similar in landing strategies to the 747s I flew also.
The airplanes flew their approaches, with the flaps and leading edge devices extended, with the nose up and in a landing attitude. There was no flare required to get the nose wheel up, so that you could land on the main gear and not "wheel barrow" the plane on the nose wheel. It just took a little back pressure to reduce the rate of descent slightly, then release that a little to get a touchdown that left some guessing if you had indeed made contact with the runway.
I must admit, I liked the 767 better, because of a more complex and effective aileron and spoiler system for roll control and because it was heavier and more stable at slow speeds. I made a landing in Ontario California during Santa Ana winds in a 767, that I probably would have aborted in a 757. It just flew more stably with more roll control. My first officer said, "You made that look like child's play". It was the airplane, but I like remembering that.
Anyway, the 757/767 systems provide much more information than any plane I had ever flown. There were computers that told you things you had to calculate/guesstimate for yourself in the old days. The plane had triple redundancy on many things, such as autopilots, so that the plane could fly itself to a landing, without you ever seeing the runway. The plane did all that and we just had to monitor and make sure nothing was going wrong. The autopilots in older planes were so bad, we alway believed we could do a better job than they did, but on these newer planes, the autopilots were excellent. They could fly an approach flawlessly, land, the roll to a stop on the centerline of the runway, with zero visibility. It was all done electronically. True magic.
In the US, these planes were limited by electronically reported visibility. A device called Runway Visual Range (RVR) measured visibility at several points on the runway in hundreds of feet and we needed to have at least 600 RVR reported to commence an approach at runways that were designated Category IIIB. I don't want to bore you and I don't remember all the requirements needed to make a runway, airplane and crew Cat IIIB qualified, but it is extensive and pilots have to train initially in a simulator to be qualified and recurrently every year to maintain that qualification. The plane and its fantastic systems are flying the approach, but the pilots are monitoring and standing by to take over in the event something goes wrong. It is very intense. You are sitting there, depending on all of this magic stuff to be working correctly. Of course, we have been working our way up to this level of trust in the systems for the entirety of our careers. I recently listened to an interview of Jeff Gordon, the NASCAR race car driver about his progression. He said that you work your way up to the 200 mph speeds going into a tight corner at Daytona or Indianapolis. We were doing these things, because we had been conditioned to do so over many years.
After one year as a first officer, I went back to training to upgrade to captain on the 757. I requested Helmut as my instructor. At some point in my simulator instruction, Helmut said, "Denny, you seem like a different guy". I said, "I am a different guy" and I felt really, really good. I had beaten this challenge and forced my geezer, old school mentality to learn this plane and this modern method of flying airplanes and I was finally going to be an airline pilot, making airline pilot money. I can't tell you how important that was to me. This was the achievement of a goal I had established for myself in 1968.
I am a guy who carries those moments of defeat forward. I use them to drive myself to achieve. I don't fuck around. When I am like that, don't get in my way.