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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Here I go again

It's just over two years since I started on the path I'm on. It's one I've enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would, because although hauling passengers on the same few dozen routes sounds like it would get boring, the fact remains that at the end of the day I spent hours and hours in the sky. It may have been to places I never would have chose to fly to myself, but it was still flying.

As I noted in last week's post, one of the things that keeps this job from getting boring is that even though in the short term it can be routine, in the longer term there's always something new to do, see, or learn. Day to day is the same, but every year is different.

One of the new things for me to learn is an entirely different aircraft: the Embraer ERJ-145. This means I'm right back to Week 0: studying cockpit diagrams, operating manuals, flows, and limitations. My dining room table even looks like it did two years ago, but with a manual that's a different shade of blue and a diagram of a throttle quadrant that, sadly, is missing the prop levers:

Don't ask me why they didn't use a yoke. I'm sure using a set of kid's big wheel handles seemed like a good idea at the time.
This time, though, I'll be using what I learned about learning to help me out. After all, since I spent most of the beginning of the year writing about it, I should practice what I preach. So here's my list of priorities to work on until I leave for two weeks of ground school on Monday:

1. Flows
2. Memory action items (AKA emergency procedures)
3. Blue book
4. Limitations

If you recall from way back when, my hardest thing was memorizing the flows. And, like most people, since it was the hardest thing for me, I spent way less time on it than I should have. Instead, I spent a lot of time on the blue book (our nickname for the Aircraft Operating Manual, since it's blue). I knew the book very well, but my lack of emphasis on flows caused my sim sessions to be harder than they should have been.

Now that I've laid out what I'm going to study, here is the plan for how:

Flows (30 minutes)

Go through the entire set one or two times. I'm not going for perfection; this is just raising the scaffolding and getting the big picture.

Go through the first flow several times or until I get it correct twice in a row or until the 30 minutes is up, whichever comes first.

Once I get a flow correct twice in a row, move on to the next one until I get that one correct twice in a row or the 30 minutes has elapsed, whichever comes first.

Limitations (10 minutes)

This is just rote memorization. These are broken into groups like weights, speeds, engine, etc. Just like the flows, I'll read them all through, then go to the first section. Once I can recite that section from memory, I'll start on the next section unless the 10 minutes has expired.

Memory Action Items (10 minutes)

There are 20 emergency/abnormal situations we need to be able to respond to from memory. (These are backed up with a checklist later, of course.) This is a bit like a combining flows with rote memorization of steps.

Ten minutes doesn't sound like much for 20 different things, but 8 of them are actually one-step items (for example, the immediate response for "Baggage Smoke" is "Fire Extg Bagg Button... Push in"). The longest one is 10 steps, but the procedure for this happens to be identical to the one we use in the Dash, which means I already have it memorized. So I'm saving the time on these for more important (meaning "more difficult") items to study.

This adds up to 50 minutes so far, which over the years I've found for me to be approximately the amount of time it takes my brain's teacup to fill to the brim. So the next 10 minutes are a break. I'll get up, refill the coffee, play with the dog, and so on.

Flows (5 minutes)

Go back over the flow I'm working on. This time, I'll try the flow without looking at the guide and see how I do. I'm only going to do one or possibly two if I get the first one correct twice in a row. My longest flow in the Dash takes me about 10 seconds, so I should be able to get some decent practice in with only 5 minutes of review.

Limitations (5 minutes)

This time, instead of reading to memorize, I'll say aloud which limitation it is and its value, and only then compare it to the answer. The reason I'm doing it this way with the flows and limitations is to engage the recall function of memory, which does a better job of solidifying knowledge than simply reading and re-reading over and over again does.

Blue book (50 minutes)

This one is the easiest for me, and therefore comes last, after I've depleted much of my mental energy on the harder stuff. Imagine if you wanted to learn to run a 10K. Would you:

Walk 10 kilometers and then run one?
Run 10 kilometers and then walk one?

Obviously, if you want to improve your running, you'd run while you have the energy, and then take it easy. However, when studying, many people tend to do it the first way, then have no mental energy left for the "running" part. I made this mistake myself the first time around.

But if I said that the blue book is the easy part, why am I devoting as much time to it as I did everything else combined? Well, it may be the easiest, but it's still over 1000 pages long, which means there's a lot of it to cover.

I also won't be reading it passively. Fortunately, since I've already read an aircraft operations manual to learn to fly the Dash, a lot of it will admittedly be familiar. As I've already started reading it, I've been saying in many places, "OK, so that hasn't changed," or "This is a little different, so remember not to do it the old way," or "That's totally new," and so on.

That's it. Only 2 hours a day. There is a ton of material to cover, and airline ground schools anywhere are usually described as "drinking from a fire hose", but with a good plan and using good study techniques, I can accomplish what I need to and still have time to have a life. My weekend plan (we do get weekends off in ground school) will remain the same: 2 hours. I'm looking forward to spending the rest of my weekend time exploring St. Louis because I'll have studied smarter, not harder.

This will be my view for the next two weeks.
I will be away in St. Louis the next two weeks, as I'm driving there Sunday. My next update will be on how successful (or not) my plan turns out to be. I probably won't be able to write it next week because my old laptop finally had enough abuse from all the traveling it's done and gave up the ghost. Nonetheless, I'll see you soon!

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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