On January 6, 2021, while I was sitting in my hotel room in Salt Lake City, Utah (I was on a TDY assignment), I received a text message from Ameriflight’s Chief Pilot asking if I had a free moment for a conversation. As I sat typing the response back that I was actually free at that very moment, I started getting butterflies in my stomach. Was this the moment I had been waiting for the past three weeks….or was this the moment I had been dreading? I didn’t have very long for my answer because within 10 minutes I was on the phone being told that I had been awarded the EMB120 Captain position in Spokane, Washington. I was so excited that I literally started crying on the phone because I was so overwhelmed with joy, relief and excitement, among other things. I don’t think I could even begin to count the number of emotions that washed over me at that very moment. That was the moment I had been waiting and wishing for ever since I flew the Brasilia as a First Officer.
When I got back home from my TDY (temporary duty yonder) trip to Utah, I immediately broke out my old EMB120 systems manual. I knew if I wanted to succeed in training I would have to start preparing well before day one of class. I decided to start with the systems manual. I didn’t want to start reviewing the SOPs (standard operating procedures) since mine were three years old and something could have changed. For the next two weeks, I spent every moment I had reviewing and re-familiarizing myself with the Brasilia systems. Things were making more sense to me this time around, too!
EMB120 Study Material
Once I received my new training material, I immediately hung up my cockpit posters in the house and started reviewing the flows and systems checks. It is extremely important to have the flows of any aircraft down prior to going into training. If you don’t know these like the back of your hand prior to day one, you’re already way behind. For those of you who aren’t in aviation, or aren’t familiar with what a flow is, a flow is a series of steps that a pilot goes through to quickly set up an aircraft for/during different phases of flight. The flow is then backed up by reading a checklist to make sure nothing has been missed. The Ameriflight SOP for the Brasilia has 25 flows broken down into Captain, First Officer (FO), Pilot Flying (PF), and Pilot Monitoring (PM). The Captains have to know all of them while the First Officers only have to know the FO, PF, and PM ones, however they should be familiar with the Captain’s flows.
I had a few people reach out via social media and ask how I create an effective study strategy. To answer their questions, I always start with reading about the systems first to familiarize myself with them and then I move right into flows. It may be different for some, but I personally like to know a little background on what the switches do, that way I can understand what I am doing during my flows and why. When I start learning the flows for the first time, I usually focus solely on the muscle memory of it. Touch the “switch” on the poster, say the switch, and move on to the next one. I do that with each flow until I get it down. Then I add in what I am supposed to be doing when I touch the switch. Am I turning it on, am I checking a voltage on a gauge, am I supposed to be completing a systems check…that all gets added in. Once I completely understand one flow, I move on to the next. It took me a little over a week to get all 25 of the flows memorized. Once I get those down, I start to learn the aircraft limitations and memory items by making flashcards and going through them multiple times a day. For those of you who aren’t familiar with what memory items are, they are steps of an emergency checklist that pilots must know and perform by memory before moving on to the checklist. Some emergency situations that require memory items are events such as engine failures, engine fires, flight with all engines inoperative, emergency descents, rapid cabin decompression, passenger evacuations, etc. The Brasilia has 16 checklists that have listed memory items, but there are a few other events such as an aborted engine start, aborted Takeoff (T/O), and so on that should also be committed to memory.
Hotel Room Setup
All of this put together was about a month of studying, and the week before I left for training I added in studying the call-outs too. Even after putting in all of that time and effort, I still felt like I wasn’t 100% ready. I knew the training I was about to face would be the hardest training of my entire career, simply because the Brasilia is a beast.
When I got to Atlanta for training, the first thing I did was unpack my suitcase and make my hotel room feel like home. It’s always a good idea to make your space feel as comfortable as possible so you don’t start getting the hotel room version of “cabin fever.” I also hung up my cockpit poster as soon as I dug it out of my bag. The next step to any training is to meet the people who are going through training with you. There were four of us in my class; three First Officers and myself. I always try to get everyone together as a group to get acquainted because we will be spending a lot of time with one another in the next few weeks.
One of the best strategies when going through any kind of training is to study in a group. The reason for this is because one person in the group will be stronger on one topic and vice versa. Our instructor also gave us some great advice on day one. He said “Look at the people next to you. If you have the mentality of ‘it’s my job to make sure these people make it through training’ you will excel in this course.” What he was really saying was by studying together everyone is able to feed off of each others’ strengths. If someone is struggling in an area, it can almost be a benefit to the individual(s) who have a stronger grasp on the knowledge because as they say “teaching what has been learned goes on to show better understanding and knowledge retention than students who simply spend the same time restudying.” This is why group study is SO important when going through a type rating class.
Study Material Laid Out on Hotel Bed
My day-to-day routine looked something like this – wake up, go to class, study systems, eat, meet for group study, go to bed. Then repeat it all the next day.
The systems topics were different every day and we would learn anywhere from two systems a day to five or more depending on the complexity of the systems being covered. Some of the more complex systems in the Brasilia are its electrical system and the propeller system. All in all it took us about a week and three days to cover everything on this plane. We had a day of review and then took the systems ground school test.
Once we were finished with systems, we moved on to the CPTs (aka cockpit procedures training). This is where we would pair up and sit in front of massive cockpit posters that were hung on a frame to mimic the layout of the actual cockpit. The instructor would have us walk through our flows and callouts to make sure we had everything down pat before we move on to the final stage of training…the simulator!
Up to this point, everything had been going really well and I was actually having a lot of fun. Yes, it was stressful but it was enjoyable. The first two simulator sessions even went well with the exception of not acting quick enough on a runaway trim event. It was a sobering event in the sim but hey that’s why we are doing training in the simulator and not a real plane. I chalked it up to a learning experience that was now engrained in my memory, and I knew exactly what to look for in the future.
For the most part, I felt like I was on top of the world. But then things started to unravel a bit on the third session.
EMB120 Simulator in Atlanta, GA
To all of the perfectionists out there, this section is for you because I am a perfectionist as well – and it also causes me to be my own worst enemy. During the third simulator session, it really didn’t go that awful. I made some mistakes, and my sim partner was struggling a bit but our instructor said we were making progress and we were right where we needed to be. However, that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to be perfect….I HAD to be perfect in my mind. With the previous day’s oops with the runaway trim, I had set the expectation for myself that I couldn’t mess up anything on day three. I had to perform at 110%. This was where I created my own obstacle for myself during training. I was so caught up with striving for perfection that I lost sight of the fact that I was here for training, and that I wasn’t expected to know everything or perform everything perfectly the first time around. I started to get into my own head telling myself things like “you really did awful today”, “do you really think you’re ready for this”, “how can you be ready to be a 120 captain if you messed up two days in a row.” My confidence was starting to slide, and I knew I needed to change my mindset quickly or else I would cause my own demise.
I called up a friend of mine who is a fellow perfectionist (you could say we are cut from the same cloth), and who was currently going through training for an MD11 type rating. I told him what was going on and asked him if he had ever been in that type of negative head space. He said that he had and he gave me so much great advice, but I think the best advice that he gave me was this; he basically told me “Kayleigh, you’re not special. You’re not the first pilot to have these problems and struggles, and you just have to keep telling yourself that. Do you think that pilots who are training at UPS, Delta, American, etc. haven’t ever messed up an emergency in the sim? Sure they do! Even the best of us do, and if you meet someone who says they haven’t, they are probably lying. It’s normal during a training event and that’s why it’s called TRAINING.” That was a turning point for me. We all think that our struggles are these huge scary monsters that are unique only to us. But in reality, nobody is really special, and there’s always someone else out there that has gotten through a similar situation. I had just lost sight of that, and once I minimalized my obstacle it was easier to overcome.
Captain Kayleigh Huth EMB120 Simulator
It wasn’t smooth sailing after that though. Sim session four, or as us pilots call it, “hell day”, was rough. It’s the day where the instructors throw some emergencies at us and it’s our job to not dig ourselves a hole. Basically, if you land the plane safely without “bent metal or killing anyone,” you pass. My sim partner and I passed, but I felt that I had made quite a few mistakes. I was honestly ready to turn in my licenses and walk away from aviation but I kept telling myself that I wasn’t a quitter. Even though I felt awful, our instructor told me our session hadn’t gone all that bad. Once again, an example of me being my own worst enemy. With that being said, I learned so much from that one sim session and I will carry it with me for the rest of my career. I did get a chance at redemption because I had to sit “seat support” for one of the FO’s fourth sim session. Even though I wasn’t technically graded on it, I still gave it my all because I had the mentality of “I have to help this person succeed in his training, and I want to be the best Captain I can be.” That session was like a night and day difference to the previous day! I felt like I had finally pulled myself out of the negative headspace, and that I had my mojo back!
Sim five and six went well and the rest is pretty much history! I ended up scoring a 97% on the written oral exam and passed my check ride!
One of the reasons I wanted to share this journey with you all is because I hope you can learn from my mistakes. The biggest mistake I made in training was letting myself be my own worst enemy. It’s okay to hold yourself to high standards and to strive for great things. But don’t be a perfectionist, because let’s face it no matter how hard any of us try we will never be 100% perfect. We will always have our flaws, and we will always make mistakes. That’s all part of the training process, and it allows us to grow both personally and professionally. So go out there and conquer your dreams, whatever they may be!