Jun 4, 2015
Humility - Summer; A Season Of Rest
I guess you could say I somehow had a premonition that something like it was going to occur at some point. As the tug strained on the towbar pushing us back from our parked position at the Tor Bay terminal gate, it somehow occurred to me that "IT COULD HAPPEN TONIGHT!" Just the thought of it increased the tension we already had been sensing that evening in Newfoundland. I paused only momentarily to consider the risks ahead, yet quickly concluded that I felt I just had to press on with the flight in spite of the perceived risks. A quick glimpse at Rob's face confirmed my suspicions. I was now certain I detected similar anxiousness reflected on my co-workers face across the dimly illuminated cockpit. It seemed we both sensed the uncertainty of our situation. I glanced at the lighted windsock beside the runway during our taxi-out. It flapped vigorously in the brisk St. John's onshore breeze. "That's mild for Newfoundland; ...I've seen it much worse", I reasoned, mostly to gather my own confidence. Meanwhile, I knew full well that this place has the worst weather on the planet.
I advanced the big jet's power levers to stabilize at 70 per cent, then paused for just a second before I clicked the square EPR power button an arm's length away. The autothrottle response was immediate as it rapidly advanced the power levers forward. The command sent the engines swiftly towards the takeoff power setting of 1.73 EPR through the electronic FADEC engine controlled computer system. A few minutes earlier I had calculated this power setting from pages of graph material. This pre-flight process now culminated in driving each of the jet's twin engines toward their each rated 60,000 lbs of thrust to hopefully lift this 413,000 pound aircraft skyward. I gently, yet firmly pressed on the rudder pedals, to guide the aircraft straight down the runway, being careful to keep the nosewheel exactly on the centerline. I heard the engines familiar deep roar and felt the dull rumble as we accelerated nimbly through the dark mist, leaving the wriggling windsock far behind. When Rob gave his "Rotate" callout at 148 knots, I applied firm smooth back-pressure into the heavy aircraft's control column to launch us ever upward. I had little idea of exactly what was to unfold in the ensuing next few minutes, yet felt tension I normally hadn't sensed. Ostensibly I brushed off the anxiety reminding myself it will be just another uneventful evening takeoff from "the Rock" enroute to Halifax and I should just calm down and focus on the task at hand. However as I later discovered, calm was not to be this dark May night!
Rob was operating the radios. He said goodbye to the tower and checked in with the Gander Center ATC controller as our airspeed steadily advanced, now at 250 knots in the climb. The climb into the fog continued normally until we got on top of the overcast layer and a full moon appeared from seemingly nowhere out the big side window. Sinking back into my comfortable sheepskin covered chair, I asked Rob to turn off the engine-anti ice heat protection that we no longer needed as we sailed through the clear, cool night sky. We rocketed through 10,000 feet, at a brisk 5,000 feet per minute towards our assigned altitude of FL400 (40,000 feet). The FMS commanded the airspeed increase to 330 knots for the balance of the climb and we watched the nose pitch down slightly during the acceleration. Rob reached up, flicked a few switches and our six landing and nose-gear lights were now selected off; I unclicked the shoulder straps from my five-point harness assembly and settled in to make myself more comfortable for what we hoped was an uneventful and short Atlantic Ocean crossing towards a Nova Scotia landfall in about an hour from now. Glancing up, I admired the vivid brightness of the Milky Way and various constellations now seen through much less atmosphere than when I'm earthbound. Orion illuminated clearly through the cool night's air.
Suddenly and without warning, the evening calm was pierced by the sound of the right engine's fire warning bell as we approached FL400, A half dozen associated red caution lights illuminated the dim cockpit in unison. Simultaneously, I felt excruciating pain in my ears as I felt an immediate loss of cabin pressurization. I bolted from my relaxed posture and found I suddenly had my hands and head very full. "Mask ON and 100% Oxygen" I called across to Rob and noted that he needed little encouragement - he was already on it. Without any cabin pressure, time was of the essence - any more than a few seconds delay would render both of us unconscious as the TUC time or Time of Useful Consciousness at 40,000 feet was only about 20 seconds. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him scramble to follow me on the drill. What on earth was happening! Just after being jolted to attention with the sound of the bell and the ear pain, I'd felt a massive airframe shudder which had rattled and shook us with tremendous force. Within a split second I began to focus on the EICAS systems monitoring instrumentation in order to obtain more information from the computer-driven screens and thus confirmation on what I'd mentally identified as the culprit. "I need to verify my thoughts with confirmation data", I contemplated. The EICAS screens were alive with lines of fail advisories; ...my brain raced to piece together what had happened as the various aircraft systems faithfully reported to us their failure information. I paused to take in the information and begin the process of attributing cause. I didn't want to just presume. The momentary pause to identify the source of such a horrendous disturbance enabled me to gather my thoughts and maintain my calm and formulate a plan.
As I'd been assigned the PF or "Pilot Flying" role for this flight, my leadership would prove to be critical to the few moments ahead. I was aware of my responsibilities. "Rob, we have a Right Engine Fire with an associated power loss...looks like it could even be seized", I concluded. "Looks like the L1 door blew off and went through the engine", I continued, sharing my discoveries. For a brief moment I stopped myself from thinking through this scenario, "...is that even plausible?", I pondered. I decided to pause and let my words and thoughts fully sink in. RRob was also suddenly fully alert and drawing his own conclusions. "You're probably right....that's why we lost our cabin pressurization", was his quick reply. It was important to me that I obtain agreement from him, utilizing his independent assessment. He was an absolute solid resource for me, as I raced to conjure a recovery plan. "I'm going to start the Memory items for the Engine Fire as I descend back down to 10,000", I continued loudly as the oxygen mask accented my words with uninvited pops and hisses. I noticed I had to yell loud enough for him to hear me over the clanging bell. "We'll need to begin an emergency descent immediately....with the door off, I'm going to assume there's been some structural airframe damage". The staccatoed intonation of my voice and the nod from Rob communicated mutual awareness of our predicament. "Ok" was all he added to my assessment...with very few words spoken we strangely both knew what we had to do. We were both now inherently aware of the danger we were in.
Rob reached over and silenced the noise. That fire bell had done it's job well in alerting us of the emergency, but now fully enlightened we could work better without the loud clanging interference. The moments ahead found each of us all at once engaged like clockwork in closely coordinated teamwork. Survival was now our goal! Together we fought the threatening effects of our engine fire far out over the Atlantic, away from any nearby airports. If we succeeded in containing the engine fire, perhaps we could limp across the remaining 300 plus ocean miles using our remaining engine to a safe-landing in Halifax. Unfortunately, a return to now-fogged-in St. John's wasn't an option. At the very least, containment would no longer threaten us or spread fire to the nearby fuel tanks which still held most of our just-boarded 160,000 lbs of Jet A1 fuel. We progressed like clockwork through our recovery drills and emergency checklists. I trimmed out the asymmetry on our rudder from the failed engine. We worked carefully and methodically, knowing that although promptness is essential, accuracy is even more important. To wrongly identify, shutdown or secure the wrong engine could quickly lead to fatal consequences and an inevitable burial at sea.
We neared the end of our emergency checklists as we leveled at 10,000 feet and removed our oxygen masks. Briefly it seemed our aircraft was stabilized; although we were far from safety. At this point I took the opportunity to ask Rob to call ATC and advise them of our predicament. We would need the fire trucks to be standing by in Halifax. The response from ATC was immediate, however it was not at all what we were hoping to hear! The on-duty air traffic controller responded with grim news concerning our flight. Poor weather in Halifax now threatened and further complicated our emergency arrival as a off-shore fogbank had begun to drift in, blanking out visibility and reducing our options. Oh Lord, would this night ever end? We could have done without the extra stress on top of all we had just been through. Would we make it safely through the fog back to the airport, or will we be just another front-page tragedy?
While much of the above is true to a degree, in reality I'm safely in a building near Toronto Pearson Airport. Rob and I are seated in a CAE/Boeing 767-300ER multi-million dollar simulator in it's bay at Air Canada's training facility. Paul our instructor is nearby and scheming to conquer this intrepid duo on their training mission. True-to-life graphics make this full-motion simulator come to life and the motion brings it's vivid realism to our senses. We are just happy we've had another chance to train with it again, and so very much enjoy the challenge. Our company rents simulator time for each of us to practice our emergency procedures every six months according to an approved Transport Canada training plan. This training keeps me sharp and enables me to be safely presented with a variety of emergency training scenarios helping us to be ready for nearly any eventuality we could experience in line flying.
At the end of the four-hour sim session, Paul lowers our sim down off the high hydraulic jacks that have provided the realistic motion and we head to the briefing room complete with big grins and laughter. We recall our reaction to the stress of handling the unexpected failures. "I can't believe I did THAT!" and "Oops", is heard over the hilarity as we start to wind down. Over the past few hours, the simulator's realism and graphics created vivid memories and have made lasting and strong impressions on how to improve my technique for "next time". There's lots of chuckling, hands are shook, backs are slapped. It has been a great learning session. I'm more aware of the importance of teamwork, know how important communication skills are and I've found out a bit more on how I really act under great pressure. I've gained new insight from my instructor, and learned about better managing resources, some of which I never knew existed. All good!
As I write this today I have just finished part one (LOFT, or Line-Oriented-Flight-Training) of two (four-hour) training sessions last night and am looking forward to my checkride tonight. Am I terrified? No, not at all. Am I a bit nervous? ...probably a bit, but I've been studying nearly every day for the past few months and have my confidence piqued in preparation. I've looked through manuals for hours, committed many drills to memory and daily recite them so they are just on the tip of my tongue. I know I will get the majority of the exercises completed to a high degree of accuracy and competence, yet will nonetheless be strenuously debriefed by someone who will not let me get away with anything. His remarks will be entered into my permanent company training record as a "snapshot in time". Think of it though....overall isn't that for my good?
Since obtaining my pilot's licence in 1977, I have been through enough simulator sessions enough times to know I don't dare ever emerge from it with a smug, self-righteous attitude, thinking my performance was so good that it couldn't be criticized. We are often quick to welcome any applause and the praise we crave, but as humans we are more reluctant to accept correction. The times I've resisted instruction were indeed humbling for me as the check pilot soon noticed my reluctance and pride and thence decide to explain to me all the mistakes and points that I've overlooked ....with a little grin he gives it to me point-by-point. Granted it is easier to point out mistakes when you aren't the one in the hot-seat, but nonetheless this is the system at it's finest. He is keen to point out sloppiness, poor technique, lack of exactness and suggest areas of study that I had neglected. And when I consider his comments, I realize that my performance wasn't nearly as good as I thought it was and there was alot of room for improvement. Denial has never taken anyone very far! At the next sim a short six months away, the instructor magically finds me free of the errors I had last time! I have learned! When I am able to humble myself and admit he had good constructive points for me to pick up on, I learn abundantly more and gain insight into better and safer ways of doing my job.
In a parallel way, so it is with many of life's stresses. Across our ANVIL men there are probably many in difficult circumstances. You probably don't feel like you want to share them with the whole world, but you know you are in the pressure-cooker. PRESS ON! Call on His name for His help! God is with you every step of the way and you will come out of your trial like pure gold!. I'm convinced he wants us to learn to be more dependent on Him. He wants us to call out to Him in Prayer for His intervention! He has lessons to teach us. We often need to get through to the end of the event before we realize how God has taught us valuable lessons we wouldn't have otherwise learned. Being humbled is good in many ways. Whenever scripture speaks about humility, it is never in a context that we should pray for it. ....it simply says, "BE...as in be humble; humble yourself - develop an attitude of humility". Here there can be no greater model for us than Jesus. Think of it! ....the Mighty King of the Universe, humbling himself as a man and subjecting himself to a death on the cross.....knowing all the while that he could have called down 10,000 angels to destroy the world and set himself free!
Pat Morley explains biblical thoughts on humility and pride. "...The Bible says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." ...But what about feeling proud of our son's grades or getting a promotion? Is that wrong? Actually, that's a different kind of pride--let's call it Pride Type I. Pride Type II, on the other hand, is looking down on others and thinking more highly of ourselves than we should."
Pride Type 11, is what causes God to react as if smelling or experiencing a stench! He quite simply will look away.
It is in those times of stress that we learn the most ....and grow from it. God even promises that I receive more favour (grace) from him when I am humbled. (James 4:6) Finally, I really like how God has assured me in writing that " ...everything is going to be OK" (1 Peter 5:10).
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong,firm and steadfast." (1 Peter 5:10)
Glad my sim session is done! Time for a Rest. Enjoy a safe summer!