Even now as I look back on my simulator assessment, I get a bundle of knots in my stomach. The voice of the Captain in the right hand seat still seems to be shaking my body, like a comedic scene of someone trying to wake a sleeping friend in a panic to get them out of trouble to safety.
I made the fatal error of touching the FMC dimmer switch after the Captain increased his display brightness on the right. It felt more like the volume switch to a radio system playing Metallica after I touched it. The swearing from his deep voice and the twang in his Australian accent threw me into what felt like an army barracks where I was the poor individual who managed to piss off the Sargent just by being present.
I brought my A game but he soon battered that down to what felt like my F game. I was startled, thrown and I felt a huge brain fart building as I just keep replying, "No Captain. Sorry Captain", to his questions on whether or not I knew how that particular computer system worked and whether I could operate it.
"KISS" is all he repeated to me. I knew what it meant but at one point in his thrashing I thought I should maybe kiss his arse just to make him happy.
I went into this simulator session with confidence and a touch of arrogance. I dreamed that my sim would go so well they would offer me a First Officer position instead of a Second Officer post. I had dreamt about all the wonderful compliments I would get from the Captains about my great flying skills, about my sound decision making and excellent cockpit management and risk management abilities.
Now you can see the height from which I fell. The simulator started off badly and you can imagine why I did not perform to my best ability at the start. At one stage I was tempted to tell the Captain next to me to shut up and let me fly without one of his comments on where my thumb should be or preventing me from having my hands on the thrust levers like I usually do for emergency situations in the light turboprop I fly, an Aerocommander 690B. The 747-400 was a different beast though and needed to be flown as per his instructions because he does have over 10 000 hours on the machine. Well I'm not sure if that's true but he sounded like he had sat many years in that cockpit.
I managed to regain some performance after some turns and speed management exercises. My first ILS was not the best but kept the approach stable enough to DA and did a standard missed approach. There were still some overwhelming moments but I believe through prayer and hard preparation I managed to pull through my darkest hour - quite literally - and got an email that evening saying I passed day one and was invited to day two for the interview.
There was a lot I needed to learn from this experience. This was a huge lightbulb and character building moment in my life, and I knew it. After the simulator assessment I returned to the airport hotel via the bus. It was a humbling drive back. I kept replaying the sim in my head and going over where I went wrong and how I could do better. One thing was certain though. The assessing Captain said I had the right attitude. I'm glad the raging hulk in me didn't turn round and tell the other Captain he was a poephol and he should just shut up.
Humility for someone like me does not come naturally. I am extremely competitive. I can make a simple game of monopoly with my wife seem like the final game of the Rugby World Cup. I grew up having highly competitive dads. My dad and step dad have always made my step brother and I believe we could and should be the best at what we do. Making me think I have the right stuff to be there and ace the whole profile while pouring ice tea like Bob Hoover in his Shrike commander. I did fly a similar aircraft to the Shrike after all and, since my step Father was an SAA training Captain, I obviously asked for some help in preparation for the simulator. I only got glowing reviews from him. I guess the lesson from this is familiarity can also create a huge blind spot. Whether it is in training or at work. It can often breed complacency with certain procedures or checking in.
Isn't it funny how you can still feel so comfortable with the people you know even if they are crapping you out. You do not feel as out of sorts with your dad shouting at you as you would a stranger, or is that just me? Something about this Captain grandpa in the right seat who, I didn't know from a bar of soap just had the ability to make me feel like I was a dumb and dumberer character at the controls of this 747.
I learnt that no matter who I am in aviation or what I think I am capable of I need to turn it down a notch or two. I have probably been this type of Capt. Grandpa kind instructor to someone at some stage. I maybe pushed them too hard and made them feel like a bit of a co-ord. I made an environment that I am 100% comfortable in and then made it 100% uncomfortable for them.
I learnt you are only as good as the guy/girl you compare yourself to. I could be the best aviator ever if I compare myself to one of the potential cadets who sat there in the recruitment waiting area with me. I could also be the worst if I compare myself to the vastly experienced Captain who was crapping me out. However neither would be a true reflection. Yet the one will keep you humble and keep you striving to be better. It will give you a picture of where you want to be, BUT NOT who you have to be.
I am still not exactly sure if that Captain was just being an arsehole or trying to push me into a high pressure situation to see how I handled it. Does it matter though? I learnt a lot about myself, my ability, my future and it made me think of the Pilot I want to be. I grew more in that one simulator session than in my entire career just because I saw the real me under huge pressure and not the me I had built up in my mind. The truest form of who you are and your capability comes out there. That's why any decent airline or operator will do a check on you. They want to put you into the furnace and strip you down into your purest form. If they like what they see, you get through. It may not just be skill that gets you in. Maybe it's more the attitude you have through the whole process that they like and gets you a ticket to fly your way into the ranks of great Captains and aviators.
Never stop learning and take what you can from all your good and bad experiences. You'll be the best aviator if you do.