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Flying IOE in the CRJ

CRJ 2

Andy Philbin is a captain, line check airman and ground instructor for Air Wisconsin Airlines Corporation. He holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate with a type rating for the CL-65 (Canadair Regional Jet) and is based in Washington, DC.

We've all heard that training doesn't end with the check ride. While the saying is true for any pilot, it's especially true at an airline. Andy Philbin, a CRJ captain and line check airman for Air Wisconsin Airlines Corporation, gives us look at initial operating experience and the training that happens after the check ride.

Preflight 1

Qualification

Imagine you're a newly-hired first officer at a regional airline. Training begins with ground school, where you learn company procedures and aircraft systems. Afterward, you practice steep turns, slow flight, stalls, procedures, and emergencies in the simulator. You take a check ride, and at Air Wisconsin, walk out with an ATP and a pilot-in-command type rating in a CL-65. You're a fully qualified CRJ pilot. Then the fun begins.

Throughout this experience, you've never been at the controls of an actual CRJ. In fact, there's a good chance your last airplane weighed less than the fuel you'll take on during a CRJ turn. Your first flight in the jet will have passengers - paying passengers who expect a soft landing.

The first 40 hours of flight time, your "initial operating experience," or IOE, teaches you how to fly the line. Your captain is a line check airman and acts as a combination of captain and flight instructor.

The Line Check Airman

Line check airmen are typically senior captains with significant experience in the airplane. Before becoming a check airman, Philbin flew over 3000 hours as a first officer and captain and taught new hire and captain upgrade ground schools. He had significant experience with the aircraft and the airline's procedures. "Line check airman give new first officers their first experience in the aircraft," says Philbin, "they need to have the skill to fly the aircraft single pilot."

Starting IOE

Philbin starts your first IOE trip with an early show at the airport. This may be the first time you've been out to the line, so you start with a walk through of the crew room, scheduling and check-in. You learn how to get out to the aircraft, which, with security procedures, can be a bit of a challenge.

The first pre-flight is much like your first pre-flight as a student pilot. Philbin walks you through each step, helping you identify common issues. "We're looking for everything. We're looking for dents and dings, hydraulic leaks, damage to the N1 fan blades, everything." If it's cold - bring a jacket, you'll be out there for a while.

CRJ Cockpit

Pre-Departure

Once you're inside the aircraft, you start initializing the ACARS, picking up ATIS, and getting your pre-departure clearance. As you enter takeoff and weight and balance data, Philbin is monitoring you and running his checklists. He has to catch any errors you may make while he completes his aircraft setup, all while ensuring you depart on-time.

With passengers on-board, Philbin walks you through your first call to operations. Operations coordinates aircraft moving in and out of the gate area. It's not an ATC function - it's operated by Air Wisconsin and is one of the few calls you've probably never made. Afterward, you pick up taxi instructions from ground. You've done this before; but, chances are, these are a bit more complex. Ground assumes you're experienced and the instructions come fast.

The First Leg

Philbin flies the first leg and you perform pilot monitoring duties. From takeoff to touchdown, he's pointing out procedures, timing and callouts. You're handling ATC calls, updating the FMS, coordinating with the cabin crew, and trying to absorb everything he says - the next leg's yours. After landing, Philbin guides you through a post flight walk around, checking for ground damage that may have happened during the turn.

Your Leg

With a type rating in your pocket and one leg in your logbook, it's your turn to fly. You perform your first takeoff, with Philbin helping you bridge the gap between over and under-rotation. As you climb out, you engage auto-flight, quickly picking up the procedural groove you've been practicing in the sim. En-route, between calls to center, you have time to discuss your approach - and how it may be different from your training.

CRJ

The Visual

If you're lucky, you pick up the ILS on your first approach. You've practiced it; the setup is ingrained in your memory. But, if the weather's good, you fly a visual.

As a student pilot, the visual approach was the only approach you flew. An ILS to minimums should be more difficult, but the visual has more unknowns. You may not have a glide slope to follow, and your configuration points aren't as structured.

Philbin guides you through your configuration, prompting you to set flaps on downwind and configure your speed. He reminds you that you're simply flying a pattern - no different than your first solo. The concept here is the same - just faster, and with a few more steps.

Turning base to final, you pick up the VASI and choose an aim point - again, not much different than in a C-172. As the point starts to sink in the windscreen, he reminds you that you're getting high. You adjust power and re-adjust power, feeling a lot like you did when you had 5 hours in the logbook. And then it's done - ailerons into the wind, thrust reversers and adrenaline rush deployed.

He taxis in as your mind is still somewhere on quarter mile final. You've got 36 more hours to go, probably 10 landings, and then you're on the line. By the end, not only will you be qualified to fly the CRJ, you'll be comfortable.

Aleks Udris

Aleks is a Boldmethod co-founder and technical director. He's worked in safety and operations in the airline industry, and was a flight instructor and course manager for the University of North Dakota. You can reach him at aleks@boldmethod.com.

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