Training

Being hired as a pilot by a major airline is like no other employment experience on Earth. I had interviewed with Eastern months earlier and was told not to call them they would call me. We've all heard that line before! Just two days before Christmas in 1972, I received a registered letter from Eastern informing me that I had been selected for employment and to report to Miami on 3 January 1973. This caused me to do something I have always regretted - I phoned my boss and gave him my resignation notice, effective immediately. I made up a whopper of a lie which was so far-fetched it had to be believed! Right after New Year's I rode to Miami in the First Class section of an Eastern 727 , thanks to the C1-R pass I had been issued. That was the last of first class for a while, as the hotel EAL had recommended turned out to be what might politely be called a flea bag, but it was very close to the training center on 36th Street.

Arrival and Orientation      The Training


Arrival and Orientation     

I showed up in the appointed room at the appointed time and quickly learned that almost all of my fellow class members were recent graduates of both the Military (mostly Air Force and Navy) and Vietnam. I don't recall now exactly what my salary was, but suffice to say it was less than $1,000 per month. I and my fellow classmates were now poor folks. Fortunately, I had 60 days of leave outstanding when I left the Air Force, so that money was in the bank and I would need it. The first thing you learn about airline flying is that your first year is one of poverty. If you make it through the training program (everyone did), you are on probation for a year, during which time you may be terminated for almost any reason. Also, for the first six months you are paid almost nothing, then you get a raise to almost nothing plus a moderate percentage. Not until you reach your first anniversary and move to "increment" pay do you make much money.

The next thing you learn about is seniority. Seniority governs every aspect of your existence with an airline. Since everyone in the class had the same hire date, seniority numbers were doled out on the basis of age. Although it didn't seem important at the time, I was the third oldest in the class (remember those couple of years I spent working for a defense contractor before I joined the Air Force?), and I got the third highest seniority number in the class. In fact, I was 29 and my 30th birthday was just a month and a half away. Age 30 was the cutoff age for hiring pilots at that time. It seemed a little strange to me that in the Air Force, my crew position was determined by my skill and demonstrated ability and that here it would solely be determined by my seniority number. Although Eastern hired only fully qualified pilots with significant time in command of multiengine jet aircraft, I knew going in that I would have to fly "side saddle" for a while. That is, I would initially be assigned as a Flight Engineer, or "Second Officer". What I did not know going in was that Eastern was running about 10 years as Second Officer and then 10 more years as First Officer before one was eligible to upgrade to Captain. Oh well, it was too late to change my mind now and I had a definite need to get back into the front end of an airplane even if it was as a Second Officer.

The final part of orientation was a flowery presentation by a member of the local chapter of the Air Line Pilot's Association. Even though I had always held a generally dim view of unions and unionism, everything he said seemed to make sense, and I, like everyone else in the class filled out an application card. More on this later...

We were all relieved to find out that we would all be initially trained for the Boeing 727, as Eastern, at the time, was still flying Lockheed Electras on the Boston/New York/Washington Shuttles.

Training     

Since Eastern is now defunct and I can't remember or won't mention any specific names, I can be candid about the training. In a word, I was appalled with the quality of the classroom training, the lack of professionalism, and the attitude of the instructional staff. Those comments do not extend to the actual aircraft simulator training which was conducted on a much more professional basis, but even that was very thin compared to what I was used to in the military. A modern aircraft simulator is very realistic and since your professional survival depends upon doing well in simulator "rides", you become immersed and might as well really be in an aircraft. There are two uses the simulator is put to. First, as a training vehicle, it is much cheaper than actually flying an airplane and any kind of terrain, weather, and system malfunction can be dialed in at will. The second type of simulator ride is the checkride - a test to see if you meet the requirements for your crew position. In both the military and civilian airlines simulation of multiple emergencies is not allowed in the actual aircraft because of the obvious danger of actually creating an unscheduled contact with the ground. The simulator, however, was a different story. In fact, the Air Force routinely piled emergency upon emergency to create the maximum possible stress in the victim. These were deadly serious sessions which lasted about 4 hours and left the trainee soaked with sweat and weak-kneed when he finally emerged from the "box", as it was called. On my initial C-141 Aircraft Commander checkride, I was flying an aircraft at maximum gross weight, loaded with 60,000 pounds of Class A explosives. I finally landed at (simulated) Kadena AB in Okinawa with two engines out on one side, a partial hydraulic system failure, the nose gear and right main gear extended, but the left main gear retracted, in low overcast with moderate turbulence and rain with all of the Class A still aboard, because the palette locking system jammed and prevented me from jettisoning the load. There were also a number of smaller emergencies, including an electrical fire which had been handled enroute. Now that was a checkride! Needless to say, some damage was to done the aircraft on landing and I was thoroughly humbled. Courtesy of the lobbying of ALPA, though, the Eastern simulations were not allowed to have multiple concurrent emergencies. I believed at the time and still do that this is not a prudent way to qualify pilots. The simulator is exactly the environment in which you can make the world go to hell in a hand basket and walk away from it. It has also been my experience that when things start to go wrong, it is all to common for a lot of things to go wrong concurrently.

The objective of the Eastern training was two-fold. First you had to learn enough about the aircraft to operate the Engineer's panel and to fly the aircraft. Second, you had to pass an FAA Turbojet Flight Engineer written and practical (actual flying) test. The flight engineer's position requires a separate FAA license. I already held an FAA Commercial Airman's certificate, granted on the basis of military flying experience and passing the required written tests, now I needed an FAA Flight Engineer's certificate.

The aircraft systems were easy to learn and the flying portion of the training went well. My first few landings were a little ragged, having come from the Caribou with a year off in the interim, but everything settled down well. The engineer's panel was a little foreign at first, but with some practice that came along well too. The B-727 was, in most areas, simpler than the C-141 and was not difficult to learn. The only area where the 727 was more complex was in its flap and leading edge device systems. I think that the primary reason for this is that the wing design of the C-141 was targeted at a cruise speed of about .78 Mach, while the B727 was a faster aircraft at .84 Mach. Wing design is always a compromise between cruise performance and acceptably low landing speed and in order to get the higher cruise speed, the B727 uses a somewhat higher wing sweep angle and a higher speed airfoil. To keep the landing speed in a reasonable range, Boeing fitted the 727 with the usual slotted Fowler flap trailing edge devices, but also added slats and Kreuger flaps to the leading edge. This whole array of lift-increasing devices for low airspeed was mechanically very complex, but surprisingly reliable.

What really bothered me about the classroom work was when we started working on preparation for the Flight Engineer written exam. Everyone was handed out a sheaf of papers which contained "example" questions. We were then drilled on the examples over and over again, with no training per se. The goal seemed to be to memorize the examples. As it turned out, they were not examples and the goal was, indeed, to memorize them. Every question on my actual FAA test was contained within that set of "examples". I'm not sure why the Eastern Training Department felt it necessary to do that, as every person in the class was fully capable of studying and passing the test the intended way. Needless to say, I was not impressed with the "training".

I am, by nature, curious about almost everything technical and much more so about airplanes. Every large aircraft has an FAA-approved flight manual. It must be carried with you at all times when you are on duty. Most of the manuals I had come in contact with in the Air Force were a wealth of detailed technical information about the respective aircraft. These Air Force manuals are known to the pilots as a "dash one" from the numbering scheme applied to them. For example, the flight manual for a C-141A is officially titled Technical Order 1C-141A-1. In addition to the dash one, I received a stack of ancillary training manuals for the C-141 which contained even more detailed information on many of the aircraft systems. That stack was about a foot high. We were expected to learn all that information and to be able to regurgitate it on demand and under duress. The Eastern B-727 manual, on the other hand, was a very non-technical "kiddy manual" which concentrated more on rote behavior than on understanding the underlying principles and being able to synthesize appropriate decisions in unusual situations. I tried to get a real manual for the 727 even to the extent of trying to buy one from Boeing, all to no avail. Consequently, when I started flying as an Eastern Flight Officer, I did not feel comfortable with my knowledge of the machine and had no good way to improve my knowledge other than on-the-job training.

Revised: 24 March 1999