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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Airline Transport Pilot

While in Atlanta, I decided it was time to get my Airline Transport Rating (ATR), which is now called the Airline Transport Pilot license (ATP).  It is the highest pilot license and is required to have a type rating on a transport category airplane.  Most of the airlines required a pilot to have this license before they would interview for a job.  I met the time requirement for this while I was in Butler, but didn't feel I needed it yet.  Now that I was getting close to applying to the airlines, I thought it was a good time to get it done.  It gave me a chance to do a little flying.  My boss, Doug, owned a flight school across the street and I got a nice discount for the airplane time.

Graham Aviation was a Piper dealer and I flew mostly Piper airplanes there, but also a few Cessnas.  However, I had never flown a Cessna 310.  You may remember that this was the plane the hero flew on the Sky King television show.  Most Cessnas had Continental engines while the Pipers had Lycomings.  I always believed Pipers and Lycomings were superior.  I got that from Jim Weber, my friend and instructor, who was also a mechanic.

When I met my instructor, he was a former Air Force pilot, who had flown F 4s, a fighter plane.

This was kind of like my helicopter check ride.  I had much more experience in the type of airplane we would be flying than the guy who was training or checking me.  It was not a big deal, he had been checked out, but there were some carry over issues.

For example, on our first take off, I was advancing the throttles at the same speed I always did and he kind of freaked out.  He thought I was doing it too slowly.  He thought I should do it very fast, because of his jet experience, he was worried about the possibility of an engine failure during takeoff and wanted to see it happen long before we got to the departure end of the runway.  I was thinking about preventing an engine failure in a piston engine airplane that I was not familiar with.  Our 310 looked like it had been run hard and put away wet and the length of the runway was not that big a deal.  F-4s use a lot more runway than light airplanes and jet engines can be advanced to full power much quicker than piston engines, without fear of causing some kind of failure.

The turbine engine has fewer moving parts than a piston engine and they are all moving in the same direction all the time, albeit very fast.  In a piston engine, many of the parts are moving in one direction, then suddenly stop and reverse direction.  They are also very susceptible to problems from suddenly changing temperature with sudden power changes.  With all my experience with them and with my time with Jim Weber I had learned to pamper the pistons.  I tried to explain all this to my instructor, but I'm not sure he was sold.  I guess we compromised.  Let's just say that in 5 years of flying these sensitive engines for 5000 hours, I never experienced an engine failure using my techniques.  I hope I opened his mind.

The training didn't take long.  I think it was only about 10 hours, about the same as the multi-engine airplane training and it ended up being about the same curriculum.  Weber had already insisted on having me do all the same stuff while flying on instruments and this is essentially what the ATP ride was like.

For my check ride, I would make the short flight to Atlanta Fulton County Airport to meet a designated examiner.  It started out with the usual format.  We went to his office when he asked me lots of questions about regulations, the airplane and all kinds of pertinent stuff.  I don't remember if I thought it was particularly tough.

Then he began briefing me on what we were going to do on the flight portion.  The part that caught my attention was when he said we were going to shut an engine down, then fly an ILS approach to a runway at Fulton County Airport.  I didn't like the idea of flying an approach to 200 feet with one of the engines shut down.  
I questioned him, to make sure I had heard correctly and when he said yes, I protested.  I told him that if he really wanted to do that, I would need a written statement from him that he would assume responsibility for anything that would happen to the plane or any person while performing that maneuver.  He seemed a little taken aback and asked why I felt that way.  I told him I had never simulated a failed engine when we were lower than about 3000 feet above the ground.  The engine was still running and available, just set at a power setting low enough to create the asymmetric power that is the real challenge of such practice.  Besides, this particular Cessna 310 was a dog and didn't perform very well on a single engine.

Eventually, he agreed to do it the way I wanted to.  I think about that all the time and consider the possibility that he was testing my judgement with that move.

By the way, I passed.  Still batting 1.000.  I became a Doctor of Aviation.


  1. I like that phrase- Doctor of Aviation - but I wish the acronym was better.

    1. OK, I see your point, but a Doctor of Philosophy is a PhD, eh? So, I am an AvD. Oh, maybe that is not as good as I had hoped.