Training in General

I am often asked how does a pilot or flight engineer learn an entire airplane the size of the TriStar? How do you learn about flying a large jetliner like the DC-10, MD-11, B-747, etc? After all, there are approximately 400-500 switches and dials in those cockpits. So, how does one learn what every switch and dial is for, how to use it and when to use it?

As a side note, the course for the L-1011 was six weeks long. Today, modern airline pilot training is about five weeks long. Every single hour is full of teaching and learning. There is no spare time.

The answer as to how one can teach a large, complex jetliner with 400-500 dials and switches in the cockpit to master, surprises many people: The airline industry uses what is called a building block approach. We teach one system at a time. There are four parts to teaching each system:

  1. The first part is about the system itself, such as the engines. We teach about the specifics of the type of engine on the plane. Note that we do not teach the basics of how a jet engine works. We don’t teach the basics of any system such as electrical, hydraulics, pressurization, etc. We simply don’t have the time. The student is expected to already know the basics. We teach them the specifics of the system on the plane they will be flying.
  2. The second part is called ‘Normal Procedures’ where the normal operation of the system being studied is taught. We teach the pre-flight, the before start check list, the before take-off check list items, etc.
  3. The third part is called ‘Abnormal Procedures’ where malfunctions and failures happen (in the simulator) and the student learns how to handle the specific failure (always using the abnormal procedures checklist).
  4. The fourth and last part of the system being taught is the ‘Emergency Procedures’ training. These malfunctions and failures do cause an emergency and this means the emergency checklist must be followed while looking for the nearest suitable airport to land and continuing to fly the plane. This is easier said than done and many crashes have happened because no one was flying the plane.