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Three Holer Part 2 - Type Rating



Three Holer Part 2 - Type Rating

By Tony Vallillo (14 November 2013)



Despite my best efforts to move things along at the Braniff School, there was to be an interval of nearly a month between the FE ticket and the start of the type rating program. Interviewing had begun at a number of airlines, and both Braniff and American had actually started hiring. I myself had been summoned to the first phase of the American interview process during the early portion of the FE school, and I was anxiously awaiting a further invitation to the second phase. Somewhat mystifyingly, Braniff had not come calling; although Joe, my FE program partner, was said to have an interview date with them. Oh well, "I'll really water their eyes in the type rating program" was my mantra to myself!


At this point in the narrative a word or two about the gauntlet of the airline interview process, circa 1976, might be instructive. This, you will remember, was still the era of many thousands of applications (mostly highly qualified military jet pilots) in the in basket at any given airline, and the ratio was pretty much independent of which airline, or whether it was a large airline or a smaller one. All applicants applied to each and every airline that was out there - they all had the same applicant pool. Each airline sifted through the sky-high piles of apps using their own individual criteria; and although the general requirements were similar, there were occasionally unique requirements as well. Some of these bordered on the bizarre!


For example, at Delta Airlines, a major element of the interview process was a visit to a psychiatrist. This doctor, who had been involved in the Delta selection process for years, had a rocking chair in his office, in which the applicant was directed to sit during the interview. Obviously one could either rock or not rock, and rumor had it that one of the options was the key to an offer of employment from Delta. I don't recall, at this point decades later, just which option it was, but many Delta pilots insist to this day that every one of them did the same thing in the chair! Braniff featured a lie detector test as a part of their interview process. This was a bit less unconventional, since a number of businesses had similar regimens, but they were the only airline that used the lie detector, to my knowledge.


American featured a medical examination that would probably have given the NASA astronaut physical a run for its money. It was an all-day affair, and it took place in what was then the medical wing of the Flight Academy (that area is now part of the C.R. Smith museum). Perhaps the principal element of the exam was a blood analyzing machine, which took up almost an entire room and was festooned with tubes and flashing lights, like something out of Star Trek. A full glucose tolerance test was part of the blood work, and they took so much of the red stuff out of us that some applicants looked considerably paler when they left at the end of the day!



Photo courtesy of Steve Williams, via Airliners.net




N7294, the airplane in which we took the rating ride, as she looked back then. Photo courtesy of Steve Willliams, via Airliners.net



The physical was actually phase two of the American interview process, a process which involved three phases carried out over the span of a month or more. The first phase, which I underwent during the FE program at Braniff, was a relatively straightforward interview with a personnel type. I showed up for this appointment, which was at DFW airport, wearing a dark blue 3 piece polyester suit, with a red tie. These, I figured, were essentially American's colors, and one of the questionable bits of wisdom running around at the time was that it might behoove an applicant to appear in garb that at least suggested the airline-in-question's pilot uniforms (the actual wearing of a uniform, such as a military uniform, was pretty much out of the question). It is also instructive to recall that polyester, in 1976, had not yet reached the status of nadir-of-fashion which it would achieve later in the decade.


I had apparently impressed the personnel guy sufficiently that I was eventually issued a summons for phase two, the physical. At American, the physical was the great eliminator. I approached this phase with considerable trepidation, since many a specimen far fitter and apparently healthier than I had failed to be invited back for phase three. On the appointed day I presented myself to be poked and prodded and stuck with many needles, the better to be relieved of a presumed oversupply of blood and other bodily fluids. At the end of the day I was still standing, which could be thought of as success of a sort. Of course not one word of either discouragement or encouragement was forthcoming from the medical staff, so we all had to sit tight and await the call to phase three, a call which would signal successful completion of the physical.


When the call eventually came to present myself at the Flight Academy for the final interview phase I was ecstatic, since getting through the medical generally meant that one was on the inside track. Phase three was composed of two elements - a simulator ride and a final interview with a board of three chief pilots from around the system. The sim check was something relatively new in the industry, and just about all airlines had implemented it by 1976. It was originally set up when women began to apply in numbers for airline pilot jobs, in the early 1970's. The thinking apparently was that an airline needed some assurance that the fairer sex could engage in relatively physical pursuits such as holding rudder against a failed engine for the 15 minutes or so that it might take to get the jet around the pattern and land. Since even then it was politically incorrect to subject one candidate to a task that was not required of all, each and every candidate, even those who had obviously spent considerable time on the football field or in the weight rooms, had to take the sim check. At American, in those days, this check was given in one of the older 707 simulators. As time went on, and the increasing number of women out on the line demonstrated complete mastery of all of the elements of the job, the sim check morphed into a real instrument and general flying ability check, and will probably continue to be an interview element even when the airlines start hiring again this year.


My own phase three schedule called for the sim check in the morning, which turned out to be just as well. I was actually looking forward to it, since even then I enjoyed simulation. Then too, the American sims, even the older ones, had visual systems, which I had never experienced and was eager to sample. The sim ride went very well, which should not have been surprising since the 707 was very similar in terms of flying qualities to the C-141, differing mainly in roll forces. I felt confident as I whiled away the several hours until the interview in the Flight Academy cafeteria, which was filled with real crewmembers attending their recurrent training.


Come the appointed hour I presented myself to the three chiefs. The only one I remember now was the chief pilot of Nashville; the other two have faded into the mists of time. At this point I must mention that interviews were a complete novelty to just about all of us at that time. This was well before the current era, when any number of companies purport to prep a candidate in every way imaginable, even a mock simulator check! Air Inc, the current guru of airline interview prep, did not exist; its predecessor FAPA (Future Airline Pilots of America) was, at that time, merely a mimeographed rumor sheet. Rumors were all we had to go on, not only in terms of who might be hiring and when, but also regarding the content of interviews. Thus I had no real idea of what might follow as I sat down before the august trio. The chiefs, of course, had in front of them my entire application package, a package which included, among other things, my academic transcripts from both college and high school. The first question out of their collective mouth was, and I quote: "What the hell happened to you in college?!"


They were referring to a marked decline in my scholastic performance between high school and college. College had hit me like a freight train, as I'm sure it does many if not most. Whereas in high school I had not really had to work to get high grades, I discovered almost immediately that college was completely different. Then again, my major (chemistry) bore no relevance to my intended career (flying), which had a certain dampening effect on my scholastic ardor. All of these might have been reasonable replies to the Captains' question; but, since this was my first real interview and I was, as it turned out, appallingly unprepared, I was too taken aback to have recourse to anything but the absolute truth. My reply, blurted out almost without thinking, was "I discovered girls!" This happened to be the principal, although by no means the sole, reason for my undistinguished performance in the groves of academe. No matter, for it apparently struck a sympathetic chord among the chiefs, who all burst out laughing at once, and seemed to assume that I was one of the good old boys after all!


The ice thus broken, the remainder of the interview went well, as far as I could tell. At the end one of the Captains asked me if I had any questions for them. I considered myself well informed on the state of American Airlines in general, and so decided to indulge myself in a different direction. What the heck, I thought, I might never get this close to American again, so I might as well ask now - "did any of you ever know or fly with Ernie Gann?" The chief of Nashville, it turned out, had indeed flown with Gann early in his career during the war, and that led to a few minutes of discussion about the good old days and some great flying literature.


While I was awaiting the start of the type rating program at Braniff, however, phase three was still in the future. I still did not know if I had passed the physical, and I was getting aeronautically antsy. I began to cast about for some other rating or license that I could acquire quickly, something that might make for a bit of extra window dressing on the applications. After a bit of searching, I hit upon the idea of getting the ATP across Lemmon Avenue at the Piper dealer, in a light twin. This would spruce up my applications and perhaps put me a bit above the rest of the guys and gals, the majority of whom had only the commercial license. So over to Piper Southwest I went.


At this point in my career, I had logged a fair amount of time in small airplanes (for a military guy, at any rate) and felt, as many pilots of a certain age and (lack of) experience tend to do, that I could handle anything, especially something as "simple" as a Piper Seneca. The chief flight instructor took one look at me and decided that a test would be in order! She strapped me into the school's fixed base simulator, a Frasca that could be set up as a Seneca, or also as one of the Cherokee line from which the Seneca had evolved. With a knowing smile, she turned me loose on my way to my ATP rating, and my first flight (real or simulated) in a piston twin.



N7275, as she looked in 1976. Photo courtesy of George Hamlin via Airliners.net




Both 7294 and I had a life after our Braniff experiences. According to Airliners.net, the airplane ended up in a unique niche, as the personal airplane of one Malcolm Forbes. Photo courtesy of Bob Garrard



All went well for a few minutes, but I soon became aware of an annoying tendency of the sim to want to wander off and do its own thing, as it were. It seemed to have a tendency to fall off on a wing, and it took considerable concentration to keep it on an even keel. This I attributed to the relatively simple character of the simulator itself - after all, it had no motion, nor was it produced by any company that I had ever heard of (those would have been Link and Curtis Wright at that time, who produced the C-141 sims I had flown). In any event, Gloria (the chief instructor) soon returned to check up on me, and inquired how things were going, whereupon I launched into a minor diatribe about the lousy realism and flying characteristics of this so-called simulator. She asked me if anything happened to be amiss on the panel, a possibility I had not considered up to that point, since all of the instruments, including the engine instruments, appeared to be in a portion of their range that I considered normal. When I assured her that nothing was amiss except for the realism of the simulator, she lowered the boom by informing me that I had been flying around on but a single engine for the last 5 minutes or so! "Not so", I opined - "see", I showed her, "the engines are both showing rpm's!" But my previous jet-only experience had ill prepared me for the different characteristics of piston engines in failure - windmilling keeps the rpm much closer to normal on a recip than on a jet.


Gloria marched me back to her office, sat me down and said "let's start over again!", and I immediately agreed. After ingesting a suitable portion of humble pie I agreed that an ATP in a Seneca in the three or four days that I had contemplated would be out of the question. But Gloria had something else to offer - what about an ATP in a single engine airplane, the Cherokee, with which I was quite familiar? After convincing me that there was indeed such an animal as a single engine ATP, she set up the training schedule, which would be done mostly in the same simulator, but with the throttles now reassuringly screwed together to act as one! And so I embarked upon the shortest, but in some ways the most intense program of training I have ever undergone, even to this day.


The ATP ride is essentially an instrument check on steroids. Fortunately, I had recently completed a program for the CFII (Instrument Instructor), so I had a pretty good idea of how to fly without flight directors and vertical tape instruments. Even so, I had to really work to get my proficiency up to the point where I could perform fixed card ADF approaches on partial panel with finesse. Gloria undertook my instruction herself, and her pedagogy was unmerciful, but effective; so much so that the checkride in the airplane a few nights later was actually anticlimactic, which is exactly how it should be! (Gloria ended up flying and instructing on the big ones at United Airlines, and after retirement she traded her left seat for an office at FAA headquarters. We still stay in touch, after all these years!)


With the ink still wet on my new single engine ATP, I reported once again to the 727 simulator at Braniff for my Doctorate in Flying! I had a new partner for this program; since Joe, rumor had it, had actually been hired by Braniff and now had no need of a 727 ATP! I wound up with another Charleston C-141 pilot, a man I had known for four years, a superb airman named John who, like me, had just completed the FE program. Together we awaited our instructor in the pilot briefing room, the next room down from the FE room we had previously inhabited. Precisely at the appointed hour in walked a jovial fellow sporting a flowered Hawaiian shirt. For a moment, I thought that he might be from some Pacific island airline, beached here temporarily for recurrent training! But it turned out that he was to be our instructor - the tropical attire was simply his idea of casual dress! (Although we students generally tended to dress somewhat formally for these sessions [we thought they were watching us closely] the instructors, who obviously were not being watched closely except by us, were considerably less formal.)



Left seat in the Braniff 727 simulator. The big question then was "would this be the last time I would occupy a seat like this?"




727 training in an earlier time, when much of it was done in the airplane.



Introductions were exchanged all around, and we learned that our instructor was known as Mickey, a mid-seniority Captain at Braniff who had decided to spend a bit more time at home by instructing in the sim. He put us at ease quickly, which really was not too difficult, since John and I had both gotten some 727 sim stick time in the FE program and were pretty much at ease to begin with. Since we already knew the systems cold there had been no ground school per se, but the minutiae of FAR part 121 regulations would be covered in these simulator briefing sessions. Once again, out came the notebooks, as we scarfed up Mickey's pearls of wisdom about things like duty times, legalities, Captain's authority, dispatch procedures, and all the multitude of things that an ATP must be familiar with. Much of this paralleled our procedures in the Air Force and was thus easy to assimilate; the more so because Mickey spiced it up with examples from his own considerable experience. Today we would call this "edutainment", although the term had yet to be coined back then!


Mickey also devoted considerable time to explaining how the sim and the real 727 each flew, with numerous techniques thrown in to make things easier and/or more efficient. This was the point at which I began to realize just how important efficiency is to an airline. The Air Force had indeed developed some regard for efficiency and cost effectiveness, but in the final analysis it was the mission that dominated all consideration and we did whatever it took to safely accomplish it. The airlines were also focused on safety, of course, but without the unlimited resources of Uncle Sam they had to pinch every penny that could be safely squeezed. Mickey showed us how to do that without incurring risks.


Armed with this knowledge and rarin' to go, we entered the simulator. This first session would concentrate on ground operations and takeoffs and landings. We would be using the visual system pretty much the entire time, and I looked forward to this eagerly, since I had seen little of it during my few hours of stick time back in the FE program. For the first few sessions we had no FE with us - Mickey set up the panel from his station behind the left seat and we pretty much left it alone, except for engine start.


Engine start on the 727 was handled differently at the various airlines, but at Braniff (and American as well) it was a pas-de-deux performed by the Captain and the First Officer, with support from the FE. The FE had to set up his panel, which mainly involved shutting off the air conditioning packs and so arranging the valves in the system so that high pressure air from the APU would be diverted to the engine starters, which were pneumatically driven turbines geared to the engine spool. The Captain's role, once the FE had attended to the preliminaries, was to announce "starting number one" when he had gotten start clearance from the ground person on interphone. He then flipped up a guard on the overhead panel and held down a toggle switch which opened a valve in the system and allowed the high pressure air to reach the starter turbine. The starter would operate as long as this toggle was held in the start position (it was spring loaded to the off position). Shortly after the start valve was opened the engine started spinning up. Sometimes, when the wind was up the tailpipe, the engine would be spinning in the opposite direction, and thus the rpm would initially drop to zero and then increase as the power of the starter motor overcame the effects of the ill wind!


At 20% N2 rpm the FO got into the act, raising the fuel lever out of the cutoff detent on the pedestal below the throttles and moving it smartly up to "idle" (or "start" on those airplanes that had three position fuel levers). This brought fuel into the engine and in conjunction with the start switch in "start" enabled the high energy igniters to fire. Provided all was done correctly the engine would light off, as evidenced by rising exhaust gas temperature (EGT); and the hot exhaust, leaving by the most expeditious path (the tailpipe) would, on the way out, impart energy to the turbine rotors, causing the N2 and N1 spools to turn faster. This got the N1 stage (the fan) into the game and the compressor stages of the N1 and N2 spools now began cramming large quantities of air into the combustion chambers, the better to stoke the fires. At 40% N2 the Captain released the start switch, which spring loaded itself back to off and closed the start valve, cutting off the APU air from the starter. By this time, of course, the engine was capable of accelerating the rest of the way to idle on its own. The FE checked the air pressure gauge on his panel to ensure that the start valve did indeed close (the duct pressure rose sharply as the valve closed). If he did not see the pressure rise, the drill was to immediately shut down the engine by returning the fuel lever to cutoff, lest the bleed air now coming from the running engine's pneumatic system overpower the APU bleed air and run the start motor. This would probably result in some shrapnel as the starter, running much faster than its limits, came apart in some dramatic fashion!


Of course this being a simulator, all would always be well unless Mickey had programmed some deviltry into the system, but since this was our first time in the barrel all proceeded normally. We got the three engines running with no malfunctions to deal with, and then proceeded to "taxi" the simulator over to the departure "runway". The tiller for steering on the ground is on the Captain's side on most airplanes (the exception, prior to very recently, was airplanes operated by British airlines which also had a tiller on the FO side. Apparently the plebian task of taxiing was considered beneath the lofty dignity of a pre-1970's British Captain, and the task was assigned to the FO! Nowadays, many of the newest airliners have tillers on both sides). Since I was sitting in the left seat for this first session, it fell to me to do the driving.


Taxiing a large airplane is a bit different than driving a car. Not only is the wheel smaller and located differently, but the operation of it bears little resemblance to an automobile. The big difference lies in the amount of nose wheel deflection that you get with a given amount of tiller deflection. In a car, it takes a fair amount of wheel rotation to turn, especially at low speeds. In a large airplane, however, a deflection of as little as an inch may be enough to get a noticeable turn going, and due to the geometry involved, particularly the length of the airplane, this can result in considerable lurching if great care is not taken.


On Boeing tillers, which tend to be particularly sensitive (especially on the 707 and 727) you must think in terms of pressures rather than large movements unless you are trying to make a big turn in a small area. The tiller must be moved very gently, especially in the range of deflection from zero to around 10 degrees of tiller rotation, and it is even more important to bear this in mind when coming out of a turn, when the tiller is returned to the straight ahead position. You can really tell a pro by the quality of his or her taxiing, and the best compliment I ever received from a flight attendant was to the effect that I taxied very smoothly.


Although the simulator is a bit dampened compared to the airplane it is still possible, especially on the newer Level D sims, to lurch back and forth if you are not gentle with the tiller. This John and I found out immediately, since we were both used to the C-141 tiller which was a full wheel and had to be rotated through about 360 degrees to get the full 60 or so degree nose wheel rotation. The Boeing tillers were triangular affairs that only had around 70 degrees or so of tiller rotation, and that would invoke the full degree of nose wheel deflection. So the first few turns I made had the simulator rocking from side to side in a rather ludicrous manner until I got the feel of the thing. Mickey's only comment was something along the lines of "whoa there, Tex!" Nothing like flying with a Texas based airline!


When we got to the runway (which took a fair amount of taxiing, an evolution that would not be repeated since in all subsequent sessions we started out positioned at the runway) we spent time going over the before takeoff checklist, and briefing the takeoff and departure. The drill was to takeoff and fly vectors to the final approach course for the ILS approach to the runway we were departing from, so the briefing was fairly straightforward. John and I were both familiar with takeoff briefings, since we did them in the C-141 all the time. The checklists were new though, and so we went through the drill several times, with plenty of explanation from Mickey along the way.


Finally we were "cleared" for takeoff. After lining up with the runway using the steering tiller, I brought my hand over to the yoke and advanced the throttles to vertical with the other hand. After a command from me, Mickey (still playing the role of the FE) took over the throttles and set them to takeoff power. Very rarely on a jet do you advance the throttles all the way to the forward stop - indeed, it would be an anomaly bordering upon a malfunction if that were necessary. Takeoff power is computed by the FE (or by the airline's computer system nowadays) and is often a reduced setting to allow for less wear and tear on the engines. In most circumstances a modern jet has an excess of power, and operators can calculate how much less power is required given lesser weights and cooler temps. Whatever reduction is taken, enough remains to allow all takeoff and climb margins to be comfortably exceeded.


With takeoff power set, we went charging down the virtual runway, with yours truly steering with the rudder pedals. The rudder pedals are tied into the nose wheel steering to the extent that full pedal deflection results in 5 degrees of nose wheel deflection. This is all you need at any speed greater than around 15 knots; indeed, you could run off the side of the runway before you could react if the tiller were moved at any speed greater than around 50 knots! Speed builds quickly in a light weight 727 (and in the simulator we were usually at fairly light "weights") and V1 came along almost before I knew it. In the 727 V1 and Vrotate were usually the same speed, so the call from John in the right seat was "V1 Rotate". I eased back on the yoke and the nose came up smartly, a bit faster than a C-141 would have. The procedure was to rotate to around 8 degrees nose up until the airplane started flying, as evidenced by a positive rate of climb. Then pitch was increased to around 15 degrees to catch and hold V2 +15 knots. This speed was held, using pitch control, until 1000 feet, whereupon the nose was lowered to around 10 degrees and the flaps retracted incrementally as the speed increased. When the flaps are raised to 2 degrees, the FE sets climb power, which is usually around 90% N1. Once clean, you can accelerate to either 200 knots or 250 knots, depending upon which sort of airspace you departed into (in class B you can use 250 knots).


I could immediately tell that the stories I had heard about the excellent flying qualities of the 727 were true. The control forces, even in the simulator, were light and responsive without being twitchy like the T-38 had been years before. Compared to a C-141 this was like driving a BMW. Put another way, it was like comparing a Beech Bonanza (outstanding control feel) to a Piper Cherokee Six (flies like a truck in all axes). Thanks to the exposure that John and I had gotten in the FE program, I was able to avoid over controlling right from the get go, and the flight around to the final approach course was smooth enough to bring a favorable comment from the Mick!


Then it was time to try landing the thing. As I called for the flaps in increments, I discovered that it handled just as well dirty as it did clean. This was no doubt due to the dual ailerons, a feature that the C-141 lacked. The outboard ailerons on most Boeings lock out above a certain speed, usually around the speed when the flaps are fully retracted. Thereafter another set of ailerons, located inboard on the wing between the inboard and outboard flaps, continues to handle the roll chores. At higher speeds, the limited lever arm of these inboard ailerons is sufficient to generate enough roll response, whereas at lower speeds with flaps extended the outboard ailerons, with their much longer moment arm, pitch in to keep roll response crisp.


In addition to the dual ailerons, the Boeings had another roll control - differential spoiler deflection. This was another feature that the C-141 lacked. Indeed, I came to wonder how the Starlifter had the reasonably good control response it had without these other bells and whistles! In the 727 and 707 when a roll input was made with the control wheel, some of the spoilers on the wing that would be going down were raised, proportional to the amount of wheel input. With full wheel input you got full ailerons (however many were active at that speed) and a considerable amount of spoiler deployment on the down wing. The drag created by the spoiler deployment also had the serendipitous effect of countering, to some degree, the adverse yaw normally induced by ailerons in a turn. The result of all of this was that the airplane had a roll response not unlike the steering response of an expensive European automobile. Coupled with the artificial feel system, which kept the actual forces required on the yoke fairly light, the result was almost sensual.


So it was that I finessed my way down final approach. Mickey had kept the weather VFR, so the runway was in sight all the way, and from about 500 feet on down he kept up a running instructional commentary. Knowing that our experience had been in an airplane that needed a real flare, much like a Cessna, he cautioned me to overcome the temptation to do the same in the 727. All that was needed, he insisted, was a slight pitch input to raise the nose a few degrees. Landing on the nose wheel, which was a definite possibility on a C-141 not flared enough, was not an issue with the three holer since we were already coming down final at a pitch attitude of 3-5 degrees nose up. So as the radar altimeter counted down the last 50 feet, I gingerly brought the nose up 2 more degrees at 10 feet, and was rewarded with only a minor thump from the motion system indicating the touchdown.


The thrust reverse levers on the 727 were also different than the Starlifter. Whereas on the Lockheed you pulled all four throttles physically straight up and over a detent, from whence you pulled all four way further back to invoke reverse, on the Boeing the reverse levers were appendages attached to the three throttles, angled forward and down in the stowed position. Once the throttles were back at idle, you reached forward and took hold of these levers and pulled them up and back. This action deployed the reverse deflectors and how far back you pulled the levers determined how much thrust was generated.


We did three or four more trips around the flagpole, and then it was time to take a break and let John do his thing. When John's turn was over, we debriefed the sortie and moseyed on over to the Marquis for a final debrief over a cold Lone Star. We already felt like Captains, and we looked forward to the next evening when we would do it all again. The best part about this program was that there was nowhere near as much studying to be done! We were in familiar territory, doing the same things just on a different machine.


Of course all of that halcyon thinking was put to rest on the morrow, when we started engine out work! Mickey had decided that we flew the airplane just fine with all three turning, so we could skip ahead and see what life on the three holer was like with just two or even a single engine at work. The concept was, of course, hardly new to us since we had spent many the hour not only in the 141 simulator but also in the real thing flying around the flagpole with one or more engines pulled back to idle. One thing that surprised me a bit was the amount of rudder it took to keep the 727 going straight on less than three engines. I had surmised that it might require very little effort on the rudder, since the three engines were pretty much all together in the tail. But low and behold the rudder forces with a pod engine out were pretty much the same as the Starlifter. Our legs got more of a workout than I expected, though no more than I was used to. From day 2 onward we seldom had all three running after the initial takeoff roll!


Over the course of the next week or so we practiced the various and sundry emergency procedures; things like electrical fire, pneumatic overheats, loss of pressurization, and hydraulic and landing gear problems in addition to engine out landings. In due course came the single engine landing. This was the only time that the airplane was marginal on performance - a single engine go-around was only possible if there was enough altitude available to trade some of it for speed. All of these procedures we learned under Mickey's careful tutelage, until the night came when we would take a checkride in the simulator, under the scrutiny of an FAA inspector. We were well prepared, and had no trouble getting the thumbs-up from the feds. That led to another pleasant late evening at the pool with the now obligatory Lone Star, and a few reservations students thrown in for good measure!


After a brief break in the schedule, during which I went back to Charleston and flew a short trip in the C-141 to keep my skills sharp and to add to the exchequer, I reported back to DFW airport on a clear evening for the cherry on the sundae. We were scheduled for not one but two flights in the airplane, and this first one would be a familiarization and warm up for the second, which was to be the airplane type rating ride. We felt exalted beyond measure, for on this warm up ride there would be FE students getting their checkrides. No matter that but a few short weeks before, we ourselves had been sitting back at that panel. Now we would be Captains, if not for Braniff then at least in our own minds!


N7275 awaits us at the end of the jetway. That in itself is a new experience, for this is the first time I have approached an airplane I intended to fly via a jetway. The airplane is the standard Braniff two tone blue of that era, and it looks like it has been awhile since it visited the paint shop. No matter, for at the moment it is the most beautiful airplane on the ramp! We board and turn left at the cockpit door, and enter the inner sanctum. The FE candidates are already busy setting up the panel and performing their walk arounds as John settles into the seat and begins to build his nest. John, you see, had won the coin toss and elected to receive--that is, to fly first. Since the cockpit will be pretty well filled to the gunwales by the crew and the check engineer, I avail myself once again of the delights of the leather upholstered first class cabin. Once again Braniff was unable to convince a cabin crew to join us, but someone has provided us with sodas and some mixed nuts, so it will be a pleasant interlude!


John and his gang, under the watchful eye of Mickey in the right seat, got us going and all too soon we were airborne. We flew down to Waco Texas for our approaches and touch and go landings. After a bit over an hour, the call came for me to take over the helm, and I made my way to the flight deck. We had just done a full stop, so the airplane was sitting on the ground during the seat swap. I eased myself into the still-warm seat and took it all in for a moment. Here I was at last in command, sort of, of a 727 wearing the colors of a major airline! Mickey called for taxi clearance and we were off once again, with me nudging the steering tiller ever so gently. It turned out that the simulator was a bit more sensitive than the real thing, so it wasn't too hard to keep from shaking things up. After the checklists were completed we took the runway and it was show time!


The real airplane seemed to get off the ground even quicker than the sim did, no doubt because since we were empty save for fuel our weight was considerably less than the "weights" typically used in the simulator. When "V1 Rotate" was announced I pulled back on the yoke and the nose came up smoothly to just where I wanted it to be. The heading never wavered once the nose wheel left the runway - this thing flew as straight as the arrow it so resembled. As we got airborne I quickly discovered that the control feel was even better than the simulator. It felt smooth and responsive without being overly twitchy like an aerobatic airplane or a fighter might be. We flew around on vectors for awhile to allow me to get the feel of it, and then it was over to the ILS for my first real approach and landing.


During the preflight briefing Mickey had been at some pains to again impress upon us the need for a minimal flare at best, and so I decided to take him at his word and not overdo it. The flight down the glide slope was smooth as silk, which was an unfortunate prelude to what followed. As we sank toward the runway I merely imagined flaring, raising the nose a degree or so if at all. I was not prepared for the impact! We hit the runway hard enough to rattle the windows of the tower a half mile away! Curiously we dropped no passenger oxygen masks, which is the informal definition of a hard landing, so it might not have been too horribly egregious! Nonetheless, I decided to try a bit more of a roundout on the next attempt. With a bit of coaching from the Hawaiian in the right seat (the Mick was again wearing his Don Ho shirt!) my subsequent landings were much better.


Landing the 727 is a topic that could be explored in a book rather than a few paragraphs in an article such as this. Although making an acceptable and safe landing in the three holer was fairly straightforward, it was a difficult airplane to consistently grease on. In part this was due to the geometry of the thing, which was somewhat unusual at the time it was introduced. The weight of the tail mounted engines dictated that the wing be placed farther aft relative to the overall length of the airplane, which in turn placed the main gear farther toward the tail than it had been on, say, the 707. The result of this was that when you pulled back on the yoke to flare you weren't as much raising the nose as lowering the tail. This is actually the case in all airplanes, but on the 727 the effect was exaggerated by the aft location of the main gear, which also tended to move down when the tail was lowered/nose raised. What this meant was that you had to be careful about pulling back on the yoke when the mains were close to the ground, since that would send them earthward somewhat faster. This effect was more pronounced on the stretch job, the -200 series. 727 pilots developed a technique of "rolling the airplane on" that involved a bit of a flare at around 10-15 feet followed by a slight relaxation of back pressure on the yoke. This slight nose down pitch change actually had the effect of raising the main gear a foot or so, in effect making the reunion of wheels and runway a bit less physical! Indeed, this was the only way that you could ever get a true grease job out of the three holer, other than pure luck and/or a runway with a lot of water on it!


If you determined that you had an excessive sink rate going close to the ground, pulling back on the yoke was the surest way to set off seismographs over a large area. It was far better to try to catch it with power. The technique was to throw in a burst of power at more or less the last moment. This brief (one second or so) forward push would change the energy vector thus reducing the effective rate of descent, often just enough to salvage what would otherwise be an 8 on the Richter scale. But it was of the utmost importance to keep the power application brief - a shove forward on the thrust levers and an immediate reduction, most often to idle. If you left the thrust in until you felt the airplane get the push, you left it in too long, and you would always end up sailing down the runway in ground effect, with a go-around a distinct possibility depending upon runway length.


The 727 would occasionally catch a cushion of air in ground effect, as happens at times to all airplanes. In this event, you would again wind up floating down the runway, unable to punch through until the lift paid out, which usually resulted in an "arrival" rather than a landing, and often dropped a good many oxygen masks. One time that this happened to me that sticks in my memory was on a night landing at Providence, Rhode Island. Due to the winds we were using the shorter runway, which was around 5000 feet long, if memory serves. I was already mindful of the slim margin, and flew final right on speed. This was in a -100 model, the so-called shortie, which seemed to be subject to this phenomenon a bit more than the stretch. At any rate, as we got into ground effect at around 10 feet the ship just stopped descending and floated down the runway. I gingerly relaxed almost all of the back pressure I was holding on the yoke and she still wouldn't descend the last few feet. In this situation it is important to do two things - first, hold the landing attitude (slightly nose up) so you don't land on the nose wheel, and second, rehearse the go-around procedure in your head and get ready to implement it. As the touchdown zone sailed by below us, I made up my mind that if the last of the side stripes went under the nose with us still in the air I would cram in max power and go around. As my brain was formulating the impulses to begin shoving the throttles forward, the lift paid out and the ship dropped the 5 feet or so to the runway with a big thump. I deployed the spoilers and had the reversers unstowed in less than a second - so quickly that the FO later told me that my hand looked like a blur. However I did it, I got the spoilers out in time to prevent a bounce, and started braking fairly hard even before the nose wheel was down. That, in turn, required a considerable pull on the yoke to prevent the braking action from slamming the nose wheel down. All in all, it turned out to be a smooth affair, other than the actual touchdown, and we made the turnoff just past the 2000 foot remaining mark. That is one of three landings I specifically remember in my career. The other two were my last landing on my fini flight, and the time in Frankfurt when I actually did not know if the C-141 had touched down on the wet runway, so smooth was the hydroplaning.


After we returned to DFW, Mickey went over the game plan for the rating ride the next night. We would each be performing a V1 cut (engine failure at V1 on the takeoff roll, followed by a two engine climbout and landing. Other than that, just a few approaches, including a simulated CAT II ILS. All in all, less than half of what the simulator check had involved. Off we went to hit the sack and spend the next day preparing ourselves for the main event.



Rating ride! John and Mickey get ready to set off on the final sortie of the Braniff school experience. I wonder what the Braniff FE was thinking back there at the panel.




The grin tells the story! Moments after passing the simulator check.



There were only the three of us on the airplane for the rating ride (N7294, another green one) along with the FAA inspector, who was the same fellow who had observed the sim check a few days earlier. As with any really good training program, the check ride was anti-climactic, except for the actual engine out work which was the one and only time I have ever flown with less than a full complement of engines on an airliner. And John and I aced the engine out work. We had indeed been well prepared. The Braniff school was a first rate outfit, and the results were evident in their safety record.


That evening at the Marquis the Lone Star was especially cold and the moon especially bright deep in the heart of Texas! As we perused our temporary certificates, on which the ink had yet to dry, we pondered whether or not that would be our only flight at the controls of a 727. As it turned out, John would be hired by Braniff within the month. After Braniff's bankruptcy he would achieve a soft landing with his favorite airline, up in the frozen north of the 49th state, where he would enjoy a full career. I would encounter the three chiefs at the final American interview around the time of the rating ride. After that, I had to wait. Over the course of another month I flew trips with the AF Reserve and watched my mailbox like a hawk. As it happened, one of those Reserve trips changed my life. How so, you may ask? Stay tuned!


Continued in the next installment...


Anthony Vallillo

Three Holer Series

Three Holer Prelude

Three Holer Part 1: Wrench

Three Holer Part 2: Type Rating

Three Holer Part 3: Hired!

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