Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Debrief

We both cab back out to the airport for the seven a.m. appointment. I know that it will start with my own assessment and I know the greatest weaknesses of my performance. Knowing one's weaknesses is more important than not having any. I've written down a list. It starts with "I'm sorry about the paperwork problems ..."

I don't get much further than that for a while. She practically explodes. She says she still doesn't have my training records. I'm very surprised. I had understood that my chief pilot e-mailed them right away. The conversation continues, and she points me at a computer in the other room, telling me that if they were e-mailed here then I should get them for her. It finally dawns on me that the examiner, who made that GPS unit do things I still haven't figured out how to do, doesn't do e-mail. I get the camera operator to print the things off for her and I continue with my biggest weakness: not using the GPS to its full advantage for situational awareness. I didn't because it was not for IFR use and I didn't want to get in trouble for relying on an instrument that wasn't certified. But I could tell from the way she brought things up on the GPS that she was demonstrating to me how I should be using it and wasn't. And I would like to be better at using it. Maybe I should spend more time with it and less with e-mail.

She lectures me for a bit on that, a little too intensely for me to ask where the boundary is between situational awareness and reliance on an uncertified tool. When that subsides I venture that I knew my systems well, but was confused by some of the general knowledge questions because I was trying to answer with CARs numbers instead of personal judgement. And that's when the worst of it came. The operator, returning with printouts of my training later tells me that he came that close to intervening and just stopping the whole procedure. He called the chief pilot to say I was catching hell in there, but the chief pilot knows that I've been through a few of these and can keep my cool. I'm being specifically chewed out for not being familiar with the section in my operations manual that deals with company takeoff minima. I have read manuals for three different companies in the last few months, and I'm pretty close to certain that the one for Eagle makes no mention of take off minima. I just nod and say yes, I should know that stuff.

She moves on to my not knowing what 'not assessed' means, and has me turn to the appropriate part in the CAP GEN. It says "IFR departures have not been assessed for obstacles. Pilots-in-command are responsible for determining minimum climb gradients and/or routings for obstacle and terrain avoidance during an IMC departure from that particular runway(s)." I said that it means the pilot is responsible for determining a safe departure route. I'm seriously being told I'm incompetent because I didn't say "Not assessed means that the runway environment hasn't been assessed for obstacles"? Really? That's not what it means it's what it says. Is that how dumb people are? Are there people out there smart enough to be flying airplanes but so dumb that they need to look in the help to know that the "File Save" command "Saves a File" while the "File Delete" command "Deletes a File." She says she could tell I didn't know the answer, so she didn't ask me any more questions on that because she didn't want to get me upset. There's no way for me to say now "I know not assessed means not assessed, what else could it mean?" and "I practically quoted the rest of the section, isn't it obvious I knew what it meant?" I just resolve, as I do after every single interview and flight test, to remember to state the obvious. Even the firetrucking obvious. She also says that re-land capability is required for all commercial IFR operations. That I didn't know, so I'll take that hit, although I haven't been able to find it in the CARs.

I catch flack for what I knew I hadn't done, not having the single-engine climb performance, accelerate stop distance, and the like precalculated for the conditions. I deserved that. I can't quite make myself believe I should do it for every take-off, more that I should know the conditions under which it might be a factor in decision making and calculate it then. But that's what a flight test is an artificial demonstration of. There's no excuse. Maybe I'll create an operational flight plan and do it every day, my legacy to the next poor pilot to have to fill in this OFP. Don't you hate forms that demand unnecessary calculations?

On to the part in the airplane. I didn't brief the emergencies and departure. "I have been told in the past not to do that on a single=pilot ride," I explain truthfully.

"That's probably because you talk too much." Ha! She is exactly right. I talk too much. She wants me to brief them aloud, and then shut up. I'll try that next time.

More nits. She says I didn't check my instruments on the taxi. "I did that one. Probably not the same place most students do, but I know I said it aloud." She believes me. I didn't, however, double check my altimeter with the published runway threshold elevation, double check my watch with ATC or the GPS, make notations on my flight log during the flight, perform a true air speed check, groundspeed, or a revised ETA calculation. I didn't draw my hold on the map. (I've never done that. People do that?) I forgot a lot more things, enough to make me wonder how I remember to breathe on a regular enough basis to remain alive, and how I keep passing these things.

She gives me a bit of heat too for letting a company push me into doing a ride under difficult circumstances and I don't point out that she could use exactly the same advice. The really odd bit is that at the end she tells me it wasn't bad, all things considered. And she offers me a job. It's more or less the same job as I have. I guess everyone needs cheap, flexible survey pilots, but I keep the contact information under consideration.

The operator pays her fee and I go out to the airplane. When he comes behind me I ask, "do they have antelopes here?" I just saw either the smallest antelope or the biggest rabbit I have ever seen. It ran off the taxiway and through a gap in the fence. I'm going to guess it was a rabbit. I bet it chases dogs for sport.

After discussion with the clients we decide not to fly today. We'll just hang out and wait until the next weather opportunity. We find someone who can look at the heater and he tells us to start it up on the ground, but it doesn't even start. He pulls out the igniter, bangs it on the ground a couple of times and and then replaces it. The heater fires up on the next try. I wave my hand in the exhaust to see if it's warming up and it is, but apparently the exhaust should be so hot I could't put my hand in it. The next theory is plugged nozzles, but the entire heater is so old that company says we'll just order a new one. Which takes a month. We call all over the province of Alberta to see if someone has one sitting on a shelf, but the best we can do is an express order that should get us one in a week. I guess we'll be cold for a week.

Meanwhile the operator asks me, "So are we allowed to fly above 18,000' now?" We iPhone the new signature in my licence booklet to company and then we get the thumbs up from Transport Canada that we are.


Peter said...

Wow, and ouch. I'm glad you passed after all that!

DataPilot said...

Holy cow, that was some debriefing.

Perhaps the examiner was testing your ability to keep a clear head under difficult circumstances? If so, you passed with flying colors.

Wayne Farmer said...

Wow. Can you imagine the treatment she'd give someone that failed?

And after all that, she has the nerve to offer you a job. Is she that clueless as to the emotional impact she makes on people?

She's so stubbornly sure that she knows everything already, and doesn't need to learn any more, that she doesn't do e-mail. Probably means she doesn't use the Web either. Things will catch up with her.

I hope your financial situation never forces you to accept her offer. She sounds like the Boss from Hell.

Ed said...

She also says that re-land capability is required for all commercial IFR operations.

Weird. Presuming that "re-land" means the ability to land back at the departure airfield (after dumping/burning fuel if required) then I'm pretty sure that's not right. I remember discussing take-off minimums with a BA captain and him saying that it happens that they depart in conditions where they couldn't land back and that this is OK if there's a suitable diversion available under the normal en-route rules.

Kate said...

Wow. If that happened to me, I would write a letter to TC about the examiner, but my boss would probably beat me to it with an incredibly pointed phone call. She treated you with little respect and in a very unprofessional manner, not what those folks representing TC are supposed to do. And a true airspeed calculation? What is this, Private Pilot 101?!!!

rw2 said...

This is exactly why I get nervous before a check ride. I'm always certain that I'm going to end up with this woman even though my experience has been nothing but great.

zb said...

Sounds totally like what the official person in the back of the car told me before signing my driver's license after I demonstrated my best during an hour in heavy morning traffic on very icy and snowy city streets and Autobahns.

Or that other time I interviewed at a company and the questions about some unnecessary details in my school grades became weirder and weirder and I started asking myself if I really would want to work for a bean-counting boss like this guy.

Aviatrix said...

I honestly don't think she was that bad. She was trying to do her job, and she would have had every right to tell us to go away, because she was busy and we didn't have all the paperwork in order.

The funny thing is that I do perform true airspeed checks and fill out my nav log. When I'm actually going somewhere. It's not something I do when I'm about to get a clearance, or approaching a hold at a known location. I've forgotten how to pretend I'm going somewhere on a flight test.

5400AirportRdSouth said...

Having just passed a PPC ride this morning ( my first, yay! ), I can attest to the debriefing ritual. Getting out of the plane its handshakes, pats on the back and congratulations, then its inside for the piece by piece account of all you did wrong. While I agree with some of the comments re the perceived personality of the examiner, the process and ritual shaming of the hapless pilot who but for the grace of god, just squeeked one out, sounds about right... at least thats how it feels sometimes with flight tests!

Joking aside, I'm sure it was a learning experience on some level, even if it was, " Hope I never get that like that... "

I can honestly say this was the first flight test I've done that I walked out of thinking,

" yeah, I can do this. "

as opposed to;

" wow, did I just fool them into thinking I can do this? "

Aviatrix said...

Congratulations, 5400. I always feel like, "I know I can do this, but I sure didn't do it today," but apparently the examiners always see through to the woman who can do it underneath.

Christopher Simpson said...

She is under 40, right? Not that this is a comment on age, but that for the past 30 years any management training has been obsessed with the necessity of giving only the most obvious answers to questions, because otherwise the manager/evaluator cannot properly judge the response.

Aviatrix said...

Nope, she's a very experienced aviatrix, of the generation whose time in the industry has made it possible for people my age to become commercial pilots without anyone stressing too much about the crotch zippers on our flight suits.

The failure to give the obvious answer problem is mine. When audience is someone whose knowledge level I respect and I am expecting a challenging question, I will completely fail to state the obvious, because I think it's so obvious that it's included in the question.

"What would you do if the airplane had a damaged tire?"

My answer: "If there were none available locally I'd have to get a new one from Rouyn, and see if Company X can bring it up for us on their sked to Fort Sev."

Correct answer: "I would not fly the airplane and I would write the snag in the logbook."

(The real question is, "Is it safe to fly with a damaged tire?" I hear, "how would you efficiently solve the obvious unserviceability posed by a flat tire in this remote location.")
"Why did you file at 9000'?"

My answer: "Because I don't have oxygen."

Correct answer: "Because the MEA is 7800 but it's an eastbound flight I have to round up to the nearest odd thousand feet."

The real question: "show me how you apply the direction of flight altitude rules," but I hear, "Why didn't you file at 11,000?"
I think it's a combination of my brain going ahead of my mouth and getting to the root of the problem and my respecting people in authority too much to believe they are asking me stupid questions. See if the ops manager asked me "why did you file at 9000'?" or "FABC hit a chunk of metal on the runway in Skunk Lake and the sidewall is slashed out of the tire" and I responded by quoting the airlaw relevant to direction of flight or serviceability of aircraft, I'd be a smartass. I know the examiners know the answers to the questions they are asking; I just forget that they don't know what I know, and I can't stop myself straining to find difficult questions hidden inside the obvious ones.

Anonymous said...

Aviatrix... I’ve been reading your posts for nearly as long as you’ve been posting, and over the course of time I’ve built an image of you in my mind. You drop a hint here, and a hint there, and the next thing I knew, you came into focus. By the way, you’re VERY good at concealing personal details... most bloggers don’t (or can’t).
At any rate, a couple of years ago, on a trip to Canada, I met a young man at the airport, and through an odd twist in the conversation, he mentioned your blog by name. Apparently the look of recognition on my face was a giveaway, and he asked if I was a reader. We discussed you and the blog, when he offered the information that you and he had been primary flight students together. As the conversation progressed, he offered to give me both your real name and contact information. I hope you’re not offended, but I declined his offer. As much as I would like to sit down and have coffee with you, his offer was just too easy. It would undermine all the work you’ve done to hide your identity, and it would do so without your knowledge or permission. Maybe someday, but not yet.
So... as I said, normally I read your blog, not respond to it. But this time I felt compelled. You said that you were able to take the de-brief as constructive criticism, but I’m not so sure. You’re writing style changed when you wrote this post... I think this was more difficult than you want to admit. I’ve been flying for a lot longer than you, and I’ve seen every style of de-brief in the book. And this one is horseshit. There’s not a pilot alive that can’t find fault in another pilot’s performance. But the bottom line is... were you safe? were you ever in danger? was the threat of crash imminent? Obviously, you met her criteria for a safe ride, or she wouldn’t have passed you on the check. Then why the nit-picking? Who knows... but her delivery of a de-brief might stand some constructive criticism of it’s own.
And when it’s over, and you walk back out to the flight line, did she make you a better pilot or just undermine your confidence? I have to admit, examiners like this make me angry. Did she make you question some procedure that you would normally do, but now hesitate? Did she do more damage than good? Making a living in aviation can sometimes be a long and tiresome road, and perhaps you should just consider her for what she is... a speedbump. Fine. Slow down, get past it and keep going. Aviatrix, I will be your passenger any day, and I will have every confidence in your ability. Please, please... hang in there. Somewhere, there’s a Boeing with your name on it. Maybe one day, we’ll talk about it over coffee.

Aviatrix said...

I'm afraid I'm just not very good about writing about debriefing, or writing about my faults, or something. Almost every time I report on criticism from someone, I get comments like these, and then spend days defending the person I've accidentally maligned. I'm not some character from a movie or a book who can do no wrong that isn't required to demonstrate something about the character or move the plot along. I'm a very-far-from-perfect pilot who makes lots of mistakes and regularly has them inventoried for her in flight reviews like this one.

I think perhaps I'm running afoul of my memory for details, especially details that need correcting. For example, I have no memory of looking at the suction gauge at startup, but I notice when one of the vacuum pumps doesn't come on line during start.

The examiner and I were both frustrated with having to do a flight test with inadequate preparation. Her job is to debrief me on the items she expects for perfection. My job is to fly the very simple flight test to as damn close to perfection as possible under the circumstances. My errors in that, and there were many, are totally independent of the examiner. IFR proficiency requires a higher level of competence than "was there an imminent threat of crash?" and I strive daily to reach that.

Yes, I think the examiner made a couple of errors, but when I didn't provide her with a copy of the ops manual she could leaf through, and I didn't quote the whole section about "not assessed," including the obvious part, that's my fault. She is probably sufficiently identifiable from this that I should delete the post after we're done discussing it. A non-email user probably doesn't read blogs, but if you all interpret this as me slamming the examiner, then she could too, and I don't intend that.

Most commenters here are honestly more upset about the test than I was, and reading all kinds of crazy things into it. I flew a flight test with inadequate opportunity to prepare. I actually flew the airplane fairly well, except for temporarily acting as though one of my instruments was a different sort, and not knowing how to use another one as well as I could have.

5400 is quite right that that is the way flight test debriefs GO, and if yours don't go that way, then you probably fly better than I do. There's always something that the examiner wants you to do that you haven't done. Were I a student at that school, the instructors would have made sure I checked all the boxes.

And I may be unusual in this respect, but it doesn't actually affect my psyche much to be chewed out for something that I am certain is not about me.

What I was really hoping for in these comments was a CARs reference on the reland requirement.

I hope some future posts will illustrate that she did make me a better pilot. But I am still far from perfect.

More flight tests! Maybe one in a Boeing!

Kate said...

Regarding the "re-land" thing - I believe this is more a "smart" thing than a "CARs" thing.

There is nothing specific under 702/722 so I went back a little further.

CAR 602.126 says that it's solely visibility for takeoff, and doesn't say anything about re-landing, nor takeoff alternates. Further to that, CAR 604.23 continues to talk about provisions for taking off when the it's below the takeoff minima specified. Aside from it being on the OC, you need to meet requirements under standard 624.23 which talks about takeoff alternates. Hell, you can even take off IFR from a VFR only airport.

I'm pretty sure you're operating under 702 - there's nothing I can find that adds to the general Part VI stuff -other than having weather minima info in your ops manual if you are operating BELOW the takeoff minima - i.e. 1/4 mile - and this is in Standard 722.08 (4) and (5). Again, says nothing about relanding at the departure aerodrome but specifies takeoff alternate info.

I'll add the 703 stuff just for fun - see Standard 723.30 - again, all sorts of good stuff regarding takeoff alternates. Nothing about landing at the departure aerodrome.

I'm sure you've found all the above but in my combing through them, there is nothing that I can find that supports the examiner's idea that there is a RULE that says "thou shalt not take off unless thou can land at the departure aerodrome." It's smart, but not the RULE.

I always answer questions on flight tests with the "RULE" first. I keep my answers short and sweet, and if the examiner wants to know more, they will ask.

Anyhow, except unless I and a few colleagues I chatted to about this are really missing something, the examiner is incorrect about the re-land thing.

Anonymous said...

"The examiner and I were both frustrated with having to do a flight test with inadequate preparation."

Examiners should not project their frustration.