Today’s Flight Plan
Nick Collett joins us to finish up his story on how he became an airline pilot.
In episode 8, Nick got us all the way through the story of his type rating, to where he is now reading to take control of the jet for the first time- in real life.
Hear Nick’s inspirational story, in his own words. You’ll feel like you were right there with him.
Huge thanks to Nick for joining us. Always great to have you around, buddy! So excited for this new career of yours. This is no doubt just the start!
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Chris: This is AviatorCast episode 24! Shooting for the moon!
Calling all aviators, pilots and aviation lovers, welcome to AviatorCast, where we close the gap between real aviation and flight simulation. Climb aboard, buckle up and prepare for takeoff. Here’s your host, Chris Palmer!
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators! You’ve landed at AviatorCast! My name is Chris Palmer. I daydream of flying, even though I fly myself. Like many other aviators, I can’t wait to get back up there. It’s a dream come true every time I fly. I’m the founder and owner of Angle of Attack. A flight simulation training company which is bringing you this podcast today. AviatorCast is a weekly podcast where we talk about the spirit of the aviator. We believe flying is an art form. One that we have to continually practice and master. This mastery is gained through a focus on continual learning, human factors, humility, and a commitment to excellence. Each episode of AviatorCast will have a real flight training and flight simulation topic or an interview with an inspirational and influential aviator. Our desire and mission is not only to create awesome aviators, but also bridge the gap between real aviation and flight simulation.
Show notes, transcript, community discussion, and links for this episode can be found by simply going to AviatorCast.com. So thank you for joining us on this, the 24th episode of AviatorCast. It is an absolute pleasure to have you here with us. We have a follow-up today with our very own Nick Collett who joined us in episode 8. But before we get to that, we have our weekly review that comes to us from iTunes. This comes from Ann Marie 99 from the Netherlands. Very cool to have you guys from the Netherlands, leaving reviews. He says “Very good. Five stars. If you like aviation, this podcast is a must-have. I do not fly, but love simulation and this podcast has both great interviews, inspiration, and linking the virtual world with the real world. Also, thanks to this podcast my book library has been expanded with great titles.”
So thanks Ann Marie. Really appreciate that review. And if you also want to leave a review for this show, after you’re done with this episode, or even while you’re listening to this episode, the primary place to do that is on iTunes. This is where most people find out about our podcast, and it just helps us grow a little bit each week, as we continue to release these free episodes to you, and continue to get guests on the show.
You know, we put a little bit of time to this so all that we ask is that more people hear it. That’s all we want at the end of the day. So we’re excited for this episode. Nick is a longtime friend of mine. He’s also worked with me quite a bit. His lifelong dream was to become an airline pilot. And he started off as a very young boy learning with simulation, and just learning what he could along the way. Until he recently got hired by an airline, and is now flying passenger service. We’re going to hear the last part of Nick’s story today. We kind of left you on a cliff last time. Gave you a bit of a cliffhanger. So now we’re back with Nick on part 2. Now, if you want a little bit more context, make sure to also listen to episode 8 of AviatorCast, and that is where Nick had his part 1. So let’s get right into it. This is hangar talk with Nick Collett.
Now, a special hangar talk segment!
Chris: Alright everybody, we are going to have Nick back with us today for episode two or part two of the conversation that we had with him earlier in episode 8. How are you doing, Nick?
Nick I’m good, thanks man. I’m very good. Sitting here, in the middle of the night but happy to talk away. About airplanes, as always.
Chris Yeah. It’s a little difficult. You being in Europe, me being in Alaska and us having a time where we can get together and kind of chat. So I’m glad we are finally able to do this because, you know, I think you actually kind of kicked off the hangar talk episodes. And it just ended up being so great that we have met with a lot of people since then. But I’ve just been jonesing to get back with you and hear the rest of the story, so that’s why we’re here.
Nick It’s great to be here. And you’ve had a lot of interesting people in there. On the show, which has been really good listening for me. Really glad to be here again.
Chris Great. So, how we left it off last time, was you were sitting on the runway, ready to go on your base training. In the actual aircraft. Your first flight, if you will, at the controls of a jet.
Chris And that’s kind of where we left it off and I think we’ll just kind of go from there and hear get your story.
Nick Sure. So, have I talked about the type rating at all? I can’t remember.
Chris Yeah. We went through the entire type rating, and the training was like, and how your simulator experience helped you out. So I think we have covered all of that pretty well. I think we’re up to the point where you’re actually going to fly the airplane. Or, rather at the controls. Maybe you’re not flying the airplane yet, but it’s kind of where we got.
Nick Well, I was. Essentially when you do a type rating, your first type rating, at the end of it, you do six takeoffs and landings to complete the training. Which in our case is 6 touch and goes. And it’s a very intimate experience with the airplane, because there’s no autopilot. You may or may not use the flight director, or the auto-throttle. It depends. But, certainly completely manual flight and visual flight completely, because you’re doing visual circuits at an international airport. Unbelievable. And, yes as you say, it’s my first experience flying a jet. So for me it was the realization of a dream that I’ve had since I was very very young. It was a tremendously special day for me.
One of the best days of my life without a doubt. And it brought a lot of emotions for me, and the guys that I was doing the training with. Because we were all achieving something that we’ve been wanting to achieve for many years. We’ve put a lot of work into getting there, and finally we’re about to step foot in this aircraft for the first time, and go flying. And it was a really exciting experience. I plan to share it with people, because it’s something where on the internet you read people’s first experience flying jets in their blogs, maybe on a YouTube video. But no one really seems to talk about it in any great detail which I find odd because it’s such an important step for a pilot. So I’m trying to be able to do that here.
Chris Great. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say we want to hear all the details and what kind what the whole process is like.
Nick I’ll do my best. It was only a few months ago, so it’s pretty fresh, and I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever forget.
Chris Oh, yeah. Even since then, you’ve been flying an airplane in actual passenger service.
Nick Yes. I carried my ten thousandth passenger the other day. I’ve been keeping a log for every flight. Logged out the number of passengers onboard. And you can tally them out and I got to 10,000 the other day.
Chris That’s pretty cool. Did you see that with LogTen Pro?
Nick That’s right, yeah, I do. And I put it in the remarks section of every flight. My role, pilot flying, pilot not flying. The flight number, the number of passengers, the type of approach, the runway and so on. Just so I have a tally of how many NDB approaches I’ve flown, how many VOR approaches, how many raw data approaches or techniques we’ve used for each approach. Just some details to know, to remember the flight. And anything out of the ordinary that might have happened.
Christ Right. Maybe a lesson learned. I kind of like that about the new digital log books. It’s almost like a journal of your flights, of what happened. Because, you know, we all have memorable flights. But the further time goes on, you forget about those flights and how special they were to us. So little details like that are cool. To be able to put in there whereas in a newer, or rather an old log book, you would have very limited space and you had to really get good at tiny handwriting in order to fit any amount of information in there, so it’s kind of cool.
Nick Yes. You’ve got limitless space. Yeah, you’re right.
Chris Alright, so take us from where you are from the runway.
Nick So we’re done with simulator time, and we’re done with what’s called the license skill test, which is the final sim that you do with a type rating examiner. And you do a pretty standard profile with engine failures, maybe a fire. Different failures, in your en route phase of the flight. And the climb out, and the descent. You’ll do missed approaches, or raw data ILS to non-precision approaches. I did a captain incapacitation as well. And then, it’s actually great fun. Because you’re flying an aircraft alone, without support. And then it culminates in this base training which is circuits. So we’re going to do this very early in the morning.
We had a morning slot, so I think we had to get to the aircraft at 6:30 am, and fly through until 11 with three of us on the airplane. Three students, sorry. And a captain. A safety captain who was going to occupy the jump seat to make sure that everything is being conducted safely, because obviously the captain is focused on monitoring our performance and making sure that we fly safely. But if the captain is incapacitated for some reason, sure, we should be able to land the airplane without a problem, but we have no experience so they put a safety pilot there for that reason.
Chris Seems wise.
Nick Yes, I’m sure it’s standard anyway in any airline. And so we get to the aircraft in the early morning, and I always remember it was a cold, wet, dark, really unpleasant morning. We arrived at the airplane and there were no stairs at the plane, the doors were closed, the bus doors opened and it was raining cats and dogs outside, and we just sort of sheltered in the bus until the ground cleared up a stairs along the side of the airplane, opened up the door, and we climbed aboard, and the aircraft was cold and dark. No electricity at all. And so they plugged in the external power and we started to wake the aircraft up, and this is my first time on the 717. I’ve barely seen a 717 before. Meaning Europe wouldn’t have many of them. And, probably the last time I saw one was years ago. It was surreal, you know? To be type rated on this airplane that you barely see.
Chris Right. You’re no longer the kid on vacation going up and asking the pilots if you can sit in the cockpit. You’re going up there to do your job.
Nick You are right. And I still feel, every time I walk in an airplane, I turn left and turn right. It’s sort of a defining magical moment for me. So we got onboard, and started to wake it up, well the two captains are doing all of that. The three of us are in the cabin, myself, and the two guys I was training with. And the question comes up. Who’s going to go first? Because the person who goes first is going to do the takeoff and the cockpit preparation, and assist with the taxiing and so on. And the next two are just going to take over in the air, and complete the training. So, I was quite nervous, to be honest. Because, well, two reasons, firstly, it’s an emotional moment because it’s the first time flying a jet, and it’s only an experience that you’re ever going to get once in your life. But also, you have the responsibility of starting the aircraft, and you didn’t want to look silly in front of the captain you’re flying with, in case you didn’t know quite what to do because you’ve only just finished your training. So I volunteered to go second.
Maybe a bit cowardly, but I thought it’d be nice just to stand here and observe everything and have a fairly easy introduction to it. So, we got the aircraft started up. We had to do a manual load sheet because it was an empty flight, and we didn’t have a computer to do it, with the ground handling so we did a manual load sheet and give it to the captain. We checked all of that. And then we started it up, and off we went. We taxied to the run way, took off, I was in the cabin of course with the other guy while the first trainee was flying the aircraft. And, we actually had to fly an SID. Because, at that point, it was in IMC conditions. And we took off planning to get a radar vectors for our first approach. Because it was forecast to improve, and we wanted to get the training done. And it was very safe, and it was good experience for this guy, being able to fly a standard instrument departure on his first time flying a jet.
So he had a great time flying that, and he did his circuits. And then, I was sitting in the back, counting the touch and goes. And, one, two, three, four, five six. And we get to the sixth one, and I know that once we climb out from this one, and we’re on our downwind leg, it’s going to be my turn to take the seat, and you know the heart starts beating and you get more and more pump, and you’re starting to realize that your dream literally, I know it’s clichéd, but your dream is actually about to come true, you know?
Sure enough, the cockpit door pops open and he jumps out of the seat, and he has probably the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on anyone’s face. Because, you know he loves airplanes as much as I do. He’s a very good friend of mine, and he just had a wonderful time, and he flew the aircraft beautifully, you know. Very nice landing, I was at there in the cabin while he was landing, thinking I’ve got to match this. The pressure is on.
So I take the seat, buckle myself up and I put the headset on, and then suddenly you realize that it isn’t a simulator. You’re sitting in the real thing! And you look out the window and you’ve got the land down below you. Maybe two thousand feet at this point, with the clouds floating past. And this is a moment to be. Absolutely present in the moment, and just enjoy it. Because, you’ll never be able to experience it again. The first time flying a jet.
Nick Yeah, I sat there. And I saw the captain looking at me, and said “are you ready?” I said “yes, as I’ll ever be”, and for the changeover, the autopilot was on the course. So, what was left for me to do was to just turn off the autopilot and start flying. I was then in control. And I knew that pressing that button was therefore going to be the start of my career, and a very important moment for me. Before I did it, of course I needed to adjust my seat, and I get myself in the perfect condition, making sure that I was absolutely comfortable.
Chris Probably rolling it back?
Nick Well, actually because the rudder pedals are adjustable, I probably have the seat in the same position as anyone else. Because you need to have the seat in position correctly, so your view out the window is correct. And that your position with regards to the flight controls is correct, and that your view of the instrumentation is unobstructed. So the seat position is actually fairly fixed in an ideal position. It’s just the up and down, your head height, and the rudder pedal adjustment for your legs.
Chris The reason I mentioned that, is because Nick is such a tall guy. What are you, Nick? 6’3” or something like that?
Nick No, really. 6’5” I think. 6’4” or 6’5”, yeah.
Chris Oh, wow.
Nick I’m sure it’s probably two meters. Anyway, it’s interesting. Flying airplanes is not the biggest. Anyway, so I’m sat there. Everything feels completely different than the simulator. Because in the sim, obviously, it’s dimensionally identical to the airplane. It’s like they dropped the nose off, and stuck it in a box on legs. But, in the sim, you have no natural light. It’s all artificial light, so it’s like flying at night. But in the airplane, you have the sunlight coming in, and so everything felt very different to the sim. Even though it’s all the same. In fact it’s just the environment that’s different. And so I was in a bit of a shock in a way, but as it turned out, I adapted quickly.
Anyway, so the time came to push the disconnect, and I did so, and I pushed it twice to silence the warning. And, of course when the autopilot is connected, the trim of the aircraft is pretty much perfect. So, when you disconnect it, there’s nothing to do, really. Since the aircraft is trimmed. So, nothing really happens. You know that if you make any inputs, the airplane will respond. Just to make sure that I was actually sort of in control, obviously I was, but to satisfy my curiosity, and will to see the airplane move as a result of my command, I just nudged the controls to the left and then to the right a little bit just to feel the airplane move.
And sure enough, you know, you’re moving a 52 ton, well it wouldn’t have weighed that much, since we were empty, but moving an airliner with one hand, with no hydraulic assist, or anything. Unbelievable. Then the time came to turn on to effectively a base leg for the circuit. Which meant basically rolling the aircraft to a 25 degree or less bank. And that was then the first maneuver that I was doing. A turn in straight level flight. And away we go. So, one hand on the controls, one hand on the throttle as I roll the aircraft into this turn. Unbelievable. It was an overwhelming experience at the start. Both in terms of the emotion that you are going through, realizing your dream, but also because you are so focused on wanting to get this perfect. Because you have got the captain in the left seat, you have got the safety pilot behind you. And you want to make a good impression. So, initially, to be honest, my eyes were glued on the PFD, on the flight director. On nailing the speed and the altitude. And then, finally, when you remind yourself, okay, I’ve got this lovely euphuism in front of me but this is a visual exercise since I’m flying circuits, so how about we look outside?
Nick So, you look outside, and you see the world moving past you, and you see the horizon rolling as you turn the aircraft, then you start to feel that geez, this is actually real, you know. You’re actually flying. And so we turned base and started to ascend, and started to maneuver onto final. Visually, just looking at the runway, just like a Cessna, and, you’re calling for the flaps and the gear, and the landing flaps from the captain, and you’re asking him to pre-select the missed approach altitude, and so on, in case you have to go around. And then you’re up on final approach, and then you’ve got the biggest runway you’ve ever seen in your life in front of you. Biggin national airport. And the PAPIs are on both sides and for this stage, the auto throttle was engaged for the first circuit. I thought it would be prudent to leave it in. Because, I wanted to be focused on hand flying, you know. And letting the speed management be largely up to the aircraft although I was monitoring it, of course. And, so the auto-throttling in this aircraft does a great job of maintaining the speed.
So we’re flying this a lovely stabilized approach, on glide slope and the speed is good. The runway is getting larger and larger in the window, then you start to realize that, crap I have got to land this thing! It’s not flight sim anymore. It’s rather a quite expensive asset that is in my hands. And although you’ve got a training captain next to you, you still feel like you want to do a good job. And of course you’re approaching the runway faster than any other aircraft you’ve flown before.
So everything happens a lot faster, and you’ve got the radial altitude call-outs coming in. And then you start to hit 50-40-30-20. And these are sounds I’ve been hearing in flight sim for 18 years or something. And now, I’m hearing them for real. And, to be honest, I don’t know how good my first landing was. I recall that it was on sensor line, and it was on the touch down zone. And no one screamed. So, I think it was quite good, It was probably fairly firm. I think most of them were, you know. Because you haven’t got any real finesse in the aircraft at that stage. And when it’s empty, it floats forever. So you need to put it down, really. And I was so focused on the flying, that would have probably pulled off potentially a hard landing and I wouldn’t have noticed because I was so focused on flying the airplane. And so we touched down, lowered the nose wheel onto the runway, stand the thrust levers up, and then handed them over to the captain, who sets takeoff power. And, he then reconfigures the aircraft, re-trims it. The safety pilot gives the go ahead to continue.
Chris How long is this runway you guys were using?
Nick Thirty-three hundred meters long.
Chris And, how long Is that in feet? I guess three times that.
Nick Yeah. Times it by 3.28.
Chris It’s kind of like 11,000 or something.
Nick It’s very long. It’s a long runway. Yeah, about 10,000 feet. Three kilometers. So you’ve got lots of time. And so they set the power. Which in this case is only about 88%. I think that’s what he was aiming for. Because these engines, they put out 21,000 pounds of thrust, which is just ridiculous for an aircraft with this size.
Chris And you’re empty.
Nick if it’s empty, and you set full takeoff power, you’d probably beat the space shuttle into orbit. It’s a powerful one.
Chris Yeah. You would have gone to the moon.
Nick So it’s a pretty low thrust setting, but nonetheless, acceleration, it’s pretty savage, and the nose wants to rise in its own accord. Because you don’t trim a huge amount on the runway. So rotation is not a very big deal. So you rotate back to about pretty much up to the limit, 20 degrees, when you’re that light to maintain your target climax speed. And, yeah climb out. And start a right turn at a minimum of 400 feet onto crosswind, which is very low altitude for turning. You know, normally. But in that case, it’s what you do. So it’s safe, it’s fine. And so you start this right turn at 400 feet then two your crosswind leg, and then level off to 15,000, and although the flight director is on, the auto-throttle at this point was off. Because, once we touched down, the auto-throttle was switched off automatically by the aircraft. And so upon reaching 15,000 feet, you need to bring the power back, of course, to level off, and reach the target speed, which is about 210 knots as I recall. And then turn on to downwind. And then at this point, you’re flying without the auto-pilot and without the auto-throttle. So the work load has increased a little bit from the first circuit. And, on the crosswind leg, as I recall, just prior to turning downwind, there was a feature on the ground that you needed to avoid for noise abatement.
Chris A feature?
Nick A town that you needed to avoid. I don’t want to be too specific. So I don’t want to reveal where it was. But this meant visually maneuvering around this town, on the ground. And so now, you’re visually flying an airplane around an object which is what you would do in a Cessna, right? But now you’re doing it in an airliner. And it was just unbelievable! The place where we did the base training was very beautiful. A very scenic area. And you realize that for all intents and purposes, you’re a tourist in this place that you’ve never been before, flying an airliner, enjoying the view, which is just the most surreal thing, and so, yeah you turn downwind and then you straighten level for a few minutes, just till you fly to the other end of the runway. And that’s when it began to sink clearly, that it was happening! That I was doing this. To be honest, there was tears in my eyes. It was a very special moment. I had a huge smile on my face. And vocalized it to the captain, you know? Because he was being semi-enthusiastic, I think, and certainly, if I was in his position, with three guys in the airplane who were flying a plane for the first time, I’d be really excited. To see how happy they are.
Chris Yeah, I was thinking about that a few minutes ago. That would be a pretty cool job, you know? To be in his position, to kind of be there. That would just be a very rewarding part of the job for sure.
Nick Yeah, you’re right for sure. I’d love to be in that position one day. But I’ll be here, perhaps the first few years down the line I would say. But anyway, so then, rinse and repeat, you get to the other downwind leg, and turn right, turn into final, do another touch and go, and the touch and go’s kept coming. And I think maybe the fifth one. And you know, they kept improving. I think they were all fairly good. I mean the captain had no real comments about it. I remember you made a comment about lowering the nose wheel onto the runway. That you have to find a balance, obviously, between positively flying the nose on, because you don’t want to wheelie down the runway. But also, not slamming it onto the ground. I think maybe on my first landing, I wasn’t quite positive enough while lowering it, you made a comment about that. But I improved on that course, as we went through. But then my fifth landing was a little bit off center line, which I never liked, whenever I’m flying. I think it’s just a product of a gust of wind or something on short final I didn’t quite correct for enough, and I thought maybe the left landing gear was slightly to the right of center line, you know, it wasn’t big time off. But it was enough that I thought right. I better nail the second one, the last one. Make it a good one. Because I want my memory of this day to be of a good landing, not a mediocre half off the center line once. And so we took off from that fifth one again, rolled it into fairly aggressive right turn at 400 feet.
Aggressive by the sense that, just by virtue, that you’re doing a 25 degree turn at 400 feet off the ground, which is really exhilarating, you feel like you’re flying a fighter jet. And coming back down for my sixth landing, which by far was my best, but it wasn’t a greaser. It was a very soft one, and I was very happy with it. And then taking off from that again, back into the downwind leg at which point I handed over control to the next guy. And I left the cockpit with, again, probably one of the biggest smiles on my face I’ve ever had. And literally, I sort of embraced the guy who had gone first, because he was still over the moon about his experience, I was now absolutely in cloud nine. It was tremendously special to share that with the others. And the third guy did his circuits, we landed back again, by that point the weather was sloppy. Perfectly clear day. And then, yeah, we went back to the hotel for some well-deserved rest.
Chris And that was that.
Nick That was that. I’d always wondered what it would feel like, you know, flying the aircraft. Because you know that it’s never going to be quite like flight sim.
Chris Oh yeah. Of course not, and not even the multi-million dollar simulators they have. Definitely not.
Nick No, not at all. That’s the thing. And the feeling on the controls was different to how I’d imagine it. I really don’t know how to describe it. It just felt so mechanical, which is wonderful, you know, and in this aircraft it is literally mechanical. A direct cable connection to servo tabs on the wings, on the control surfaces, sorry, that moved to fly them into the correct position, to maneuver the aircraft. So there’s know hydraulic assist on the primary flight controls.
Chris That’s nice. Which you won’t find in a lot of aircraft these days.
Nick Which is, yeah, it’s quite unique. No it’s not. That means the aircraft will fly an ILS approach on the autopilot with no hydraulic fluid on the airplane, which is unbelievable, you know? I’d like to see a 737 do that.
Chris Yeah, no kidding.
Nick So, yeah, it’s a very intimate flying experience when you’re flying this aircraft, it’s very hands-on. Which is really good for me, in my experience level.
Chris So now between then and now, you have actually had some experience flying around passengers. What has that been like?
Nick Yeah, I’ve had about 200 hours now, or less on the aircraft. And it’s been absolutely wonderful. I cannot express how exciting those last few months have been. I’ve been everything I wanted them to be, and more. Without a shallow of a doubt.
Chris Great. Are you finding that you enjoy the cabin crew interactions, the environment, and the community, and dealing with passengers, or are you enjoying all those aspects of it?
Nick Yeah. All of it. Without exception, pretty much. I mean, it still doesn’t feel like going to work in the morning. You take it seriously, like it is, of course, you know. In terms of the thrills you get out of it, it’s like any recreational activity to you. It’s something you want to do, and something that you’re happy to get up to and do it in the morning, but you go in it with a professional attitude, of course, because it is your profession. It is your job, and you attach all the responsibility and pride to that, if you need to.
Chris So what’s your flying schedule like, right now? What’s the typical month for you, what’s the typical day?
Nick Well, it depends on the time of year. I won’t go into specifics because I don’t want to talk about the airliners such, because I’m not representing them at all. I’m doing this for me, and for you, and for the others, you know? Not to talk about the airline.
Chris Yes. Right.
Nick We fly, in the summer period, between 80 and 90 hours a month typically, which is busy, but it’s fantastic. It’s wonderful experience for me, and the destinations we fly to are challenging. With all sorts of different types of approaches, the airline has a very good attitude to letting us hand fly the airplane.
Chris That’s nice.
Nick Yes. Obviously automation Is embraced, and encouraged. But likewise is manual handling of the airplane. Because a lot of the airports that we go to require it, because of circling approaches, or demanding approaches with turbulence and so on. And so we need to be proficient at flying the airplane. So I have flown many raw data approaches, with the auto pilot, the flight director, with the auto-throttle switched off. I’ve flown countless approaches from 5,000 feet clean. It’s been a fantastic experience to hand fly the airplane. Probably quite unique, I would imagine nowadays, in the airline world.
Chris It is, yeah. There’s not something a lot of airlines are doing and it’s actually, I think it’s something the airlines want to do, and they’re becoming more open to it now, because of some of the recent accidents with automation, you know, the Asiana 214 for example, which brings up a lot of different issues but I think they’re just seeing that sometimes automation can be a crutch, and they need to allow their pilots to be able to hand fly. So that’s very nice that your airline is allowing you to do that, and you know, I’d imagine it makes the job much more enjoyable because it’s not just about management, you know, of the aircraft, it’s about physically up being there.
Nick Yes, absolutely.
Chris And doing something, and actually being a pilot instead of kind of being a driver of the autopilot.
Nick You’re right, and don’t get me wrong, when you’re taking the descent phase, because that’s where the most interaction with the auto flight system, when ATC are giving you demanding vectors that maybe require some very complex energy management to get the aircraft slow down, and drop down to your desired altitude and so on, and you do a very good job of managing the autopilot, and managing the airplane, it’s extremely satisfying, it really is.
Chris Oh, of course.
Nick But there’s nothing more satisfying than rolling out of a very well executed raw data ILS where you disconnected the autopilot, and the flight director, and the auto-throttle at 7,000 feet, you know, before the final vector, and flew a very good approach down to minimum, to visual.
Chris So they let you disconnect the flight director?
Nick During training, yes, I did that. It’s very good experience to do it, I think, because it’s very important. Especially during training, where you have a safety pilot on the jump seat. Because you need to keep those skills, because we’ve seen what happens when pilots get too focused in the automation, and maybe have their heads down a little bit too much, and not seeing the bigger picture.
Chris Yeah, definitely. Well that’s really unique and interesting. I think it’s one of those issues that is kind of at the forefront of airline safety these days, is kind of the argument between automation and actually hand flying the aircraft, and how much the pilot should be involved, because on the flip-side of accidents like Asiana 214, you see a lot of accidents as well, where the pilots could have been using autopilot and they would have avoided a situation, you know, so it’s kind of hard to argue for one side or the other, but I definitely think it’s good to have a balance between the two, rather than to heavily weight it to one side or the other.
Nick You’re absolutely right, yeah.
Chris It kind of makes you wonder, just you talking about, kind of how your airline does it, and the descent phase, and how you rely heavily on the autopilot In that situation, and then you being able to do raw data approaches, and training, things like that. It kind of makes you wonder how they did it back in the day with these really old jets where they would fly trans-Atlantic, you know with very rudimentary, if any, autopilot systems, and it just makes you kind of wonder what those pilots were made of.
Nick You’re absolutely right, and of course, still, a lot of those guys are around, still flying.
Chris Yeah, you’re right, they still are.
Nick And I fly with a lot of them, and it’s fascinating to talk to them about those stuff. And there was one who I flew with the other day, actually who used to fly the DC-8, and he had himself, his co-pilot, flight engineer, and a navigator. They still employed the navigator, although they did by that point, have a meager navigation system, which was fairly accurate, you know. And they would set off from Mexico, flying over to Europe in the DC-8. And they would get a course from their navigation systems to follow, and the captain would ask the navigator to work out using his charts, and the stars, and so on to work out a course, and they would be within a couple of degrees between each other, you know. Unbelievable. And that’s just one form of navigation, yes, of course, you know, flying the DC-9, things like that, before they had an ILS, just using VORs and MDBs. It’s pretty amazing, but the accident rate was a lot higher back then, because it’s much easier to make mistakes with these things. And that’s why raw data flying has to be taken seriously when you do it now, you know, you do not do it on an IMC day. You do it on a VMC day, where the weather is good, where the captain is, and the other flight crew member, whomever it may be, is situationally aware and has the capacity to monitor, and the other pilot who is going to be heavily engrossed in flying the airplane, and you only do it if you feel yourself, that you have the capacity to manage it.
Chris Right, definitely.
Nick Because, safety will always come first, of course. It’s all very well training. Putting pressure on yourself, by doing these approaches for the purposes of training. But if it compromises the safety of the flight, it completely defeats the purpose of doing it in the first place.
Chris Right, definitely. So, now you kind of have some experience behind you, what would be your advice? Just kind of looking back on your life, kind of getting to where you are right now, with just starting you airline career as an actual airline pilot. What would be your advice, say to, a teenager that is using flight sim, they’re passionate about flying, and they kind of have the means and the medical situation to where they can pursue this thing, what would be your advice for these people? And maybe even those people that maybe don’t have the means, but have the dream.
Nick Well, it’s interesting because you meet a lot of different pilots, obviously on the flying, and pilots with different levels of interest, and different levels of excitement when they fly the airplane, and like I say, I don’t get up to go to work, I get up to go and fly airplanes, and I get up to go and do it with all the effort and responsibility and professionalism that I can put into it. And the end reason for taking my best at the airport is because I want to fly, and I wanted to that to be my career. It’s not to make money. Yes, you make money from it. Wonderful. That’s a means to live. But I’m going to do it because I love it. And when I have a change in my roster, or if for some reason the day doesn’t go quite like I want it, you know, I get changed to a different captain, or I get a different flight to maybe a less exciting place, I always try to see the bright side of it. Like, I’m still flying a Boeing 717. You know, it’s a surreal eventuality for me and my life, it’s something I’m tremendously fortunate to do, and so I’m currently seeing the aviation world through a very optimistic and excited pair of glasses, so to speak, and there are a lot of people who see it much more cynically, that I’ll fall out of love with it, and will try to discourage you at all costs from going into aviation. And the number of people that have said this to me including pilots, saying this to me, you know, go be a doctor, go be a lawyer, you’ll earn more money, and you can buy a plane, and go fly. Well, I have every respect for doctors, and every respect for lawyers, but it’s not something that I’m particularly interested in. And I defied these people, and I went and did the training, and now I fly airplanes. And I think I paid a huge amount for it, that’s all, but it is the best thing I can imagine doing with my life. Doing my interests, and my dreams. So I have no regrets whatsoever, and the path I chose to take, and I was fortunate to be able to take, because let’s not forget how much it all costs, you know.
Nick And there are a lot of people who simply don’t have the means, just the dream, like you say. But even for those people, there many ways to achieve it, many ways of financing it, but you take a huge risk in taking it, in doing so, of course. So, to anyone thinking of doing it, I would say that it is the most wonderful, wonderful thing that I can imagine myself doing, purely by those words, you know, that I would encourage them to follow their dream, as I did.
Chris Great, and that’s what it really is, it’s about the passion, not necessarily about the money, you know, I was having this conversation with somebody yesterday. You know, I could make all the money in the world, and I could move somewhere else and have a different lifestyle but there is something to be said for kind of finding your place and being happy where you are and being there. You may not be making all the money in the world, but at least you’re doing something you love doing, and you’re in a place you love being, and you’re working with people that you love working with, and maybe you have family around you that you enjoy having around. Keeping those things in mind, in building your life is very important, you know, for you, that’s largely centric around your career right now, and that’s something that you’ve been shooting for a long time and have been passionate about kind of since the beginning, we talked about, you know, on the last episode as well.
There is no surprise to me that you’re just totally loving what you’re doing just because I know who you are and how much you enjoy aviation from day to day, you know. And what it means. You know, I’ve never been able to put my finger on that, really. I’ve never been able to say “I love flying because X”, I could never define it down to just a couple of sentences. Because it’s a very deep, kind of core thing to me, and I’d imagine that a lot of people feel this way about other careers that they have, you know, I’m absolutely sure that there is someone that feels this way as a doctor, or a surgeon, or a lawyer. But for us, for you and I, and for many other listeners tuning in today, that is airplanes, and why were so crazy about them, why do we look at the sky every time. That’s hard to put a finger on that.
Nick It is, it’s very hard to put a finger on that. And you know what, I stopped trying to put a finger on it. And I’ve stopped trying to explain it to people, because sometimes you will meet people, I know a lot of these people from flight school, which frankly is disgusting that, well that’s a very strong word, but the people will comment on your passion for things, something that they’re effectively aiming for too, but for the reason that they have the money, from their parents and they thought that flying were cool, so they can get women. But to those people, I stopped trying to explain why I found it so wonderful, and just accepted that people who do understand it, are the ones that is really worth getting to know, you know?
I was on the crew bus yesterday, we just landed, and there was a triple 7 parked next to us, and we were in the bus, driving past it, driving underneath the nose. And I have had a day full of aviation, I got up at 4 in the morning, gone to the airport, driven to the airplane, at sunrise, these stunning airplanes glistening in the morning sun, flown for 7 hours or so to all sorts of wonderful airports, I’d hand flown to 15,000 feet, I’d hand flown down from 6,000 feet, I’ve spent a whole day in airplanes, and I thought I’d got my fix. And then we land, and then we get onto the crew bus, and then we’re driving underneath the nose of this triple 7, and I’m just standing at the window, gazing with awe, I’d loved this huge machine, thinking to myself crap! I thought I’ve had enough of airplanes today, you know? But no. I needed just this one last treat with this triple 7 right up close. So it’s a difficult thing to put a finger on, you’re right. And I think that you shouldn’t need to, you know?
Chris And really, I guess if I was to summarize, not necessarily how I feel about it, but, how to continue on. It would be find those things, in aviation, that really just spark you, you know? Those that get you excited from day to day, and re-spark the passion you have for it, and you know, it’s kind of like, well your experience with that triple 7, in that you had a great day, doing all that you did, and not saying that you didn’t enjoy that, because I’m sure you did immensely.
Nick Absolutely loved it.
Chris But you have that, you still had that spark at the end of the day, you know, you saw that triple 7, and you enjoyed it, and you loved it, It’s kind of odd because, you know, I kind of foresee that there is going to be a point in your career, perhaps it’s kind of dragging a little bit, and you need a picking up, then maybe your outlet is you go to a 172 and fly that on the weekends, and that’s how you regain that spark.
Nick Yes, and I know a lot of people that do that.
Chris I think that’s what we have to find. As aviators, sometimes, we have to make sure that we continue to have that spark, to keep moving on, and not to say that spark can’t always be there for some people but for others, it’s going to be harder to find that, from day to day.
Nick Yes, I think, that I’m getting the impression that for me, I would always want to be in an airline, with the sort of culture that the one that I fly for has. Because it is a very good place to work, the atmosphere, the people are very nice, the culture is exceptional, and I’m very excited to be working here. And so I’ve struck gold, really. I’ve been really fortunate to get to where I am. And every day it just seems to get better. It’s a very special place to be in life, I think.
Chris Great. Well, I think we’ve about talked ourselves out of this show, I think we’ve kind of covered what we’d came here to cover. It’s great to hear your experience about, you know, flying a jet for the first time, what it’s been like to fly for your airline, and kind of a little bit about how to keep moving forward, I guess, is kind of how we wrapped up, but thanks for joining us on the show, I know it’s late over there, any last words for the listeners?
Nick It’s wonderful to be in a position to be able to try to inspire people, well to encourage people, to get into it. I was talking to my mother the other day, about flying, she doesn’t have any sort of love for aviation, you know. I’m sure she’s interested, but probably only because I’m now involved with it. But we were talking about photos that I’ve been taking in the airplane. Honestly, I take a lot of photos, I love photography. And I’m very glad to be able to mix my profession and photography together to get some pretty impressive photos in the cockpit, and on the ground, and so on. And I was showing her photos on my iPad that I’ve taken. Those storms, the cockpit at night, and all sorts of things, and she said something that was quite funny, I can’t remember if she said it or I said it, but anyway, the gist to it was, I got a lot of pictures of the cockpit, you know? And all from the cockpit, and I said to her, can you think of any other career where you take photos of your office, and it’s actually interesting?
Chris Yeah! (laughing)
Nick It’s sort of sums up the whole thing, it’s a tremendously special thing to be doing. Forgetting about the technicalities of it, just the fact that you are sat there in an airplane, at 37,000 feet, and you’ve got, you know, the Mediterranean to one side, if you, and France to the other, and beaches down below you, and maybe a thunderstorm ahead, and the sun is streaming down through the cirrus clouds above you, and it’s a pretty damn special thing to be able to do, to see the sunlight every day, no matter what they weather is like down on the ground. And it’s a very good place to be, and if anyone was on the fence, well then just go for it. I just encourage them to think about what they might be missing out on, if they decide to go, and sit on the ground for the rest of their lives. And not pursue what they truly want to do in their heart.
Chris Love it, I don’t know of any better way to end this show.
Nick It’s the end.
Chris Yes, that’s it. Don’t say any better.
Nick Don’t expect me to be able to end the podcast because I will talk about airplanes forever.
Chris All right, so it was awesome to have Nick on the show again, he wrapped up his story, told what It was like to fly a jet for the first time, and what it’s like to fly for an airline. Now, you can obviously tell that this is a very emotional experience for Nick, it’s the culmination of so much hard work, and so many years of dreaming for this moment. So it’s really cool to kind of hear that rawness of just how amazing this experience was for him. And he definitely took us there, and Nick has a way with words that can definitely take you to that place and really help you visualize it, made me feel like I was there. Hope you guys enjoyed this episode, huge thanks goes out to Nick for joining out, and if you guys want to leave him a comment, you can go ahead and do that on aviatorcast.com He’ll probably answer that at some point, but if he doesn’t I’ll point his attention to it, and he’ll certainly see them, so that’s a way that you can get a hold of Nick. All right! So we’re going to wrap up the show now. So, we’d love to hear your thoughts also on AviatorCast. You can truly shape this show and the topics we provide, so take a quick 2-minute survey at Survey.AviatorCast.com. Do you want to be a part of the AviatorCast community or leave a comment, got to AviatorCast.com to join in or write me directly at Me@AviatorCast.com. Say that you don’t want to miss an episode of AviatorCast, no worries there. You can subscribe through email at AviatorCast.com, on iTunes, Stitcher, YouTube or Sound Cloud. iTunes is the main source, where people subscribe, means that you get it every week. Means that you subscribe to it pretty easy. Also, we’d love to hear your review on iTunes. This is the primary source where people come, and find out about AviatorCast, and it’s just a great place where we can get more listeners.
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