Fast Jet Performance

How a Fast Jet Pilot Returns to High Performance Flying After Time Off

I’ve recently been away from work for a couple of weeks having to take some remaining leave before the deadline of 31 March when all leave resets. I’ve done a few things; I went on a long hike with the wife, went to see some family – that sort of thing. But when you are away from the cockpit for any period of time you have to ‘come down’ from the level that you have been operating at. Conversely, before you go back to work you need to re-energise yourself to get back up to speed. This is the same with any job; the more complicated the profession the harder it is to ‘switch off’ when on holiday. Some people take a few days to fully relax and some need longer. One of my pilots will only take his holidays over two weeks as he says that he can’t fully ‘switch off’ from work with only one. When I was a student pilot I would sometimes not be able to ‘switch off’ at all or would find that I could be quite relaxed by the Tuesday of my holiday but by the Thursday I was starting to think about the cockpit again and would get worked up about it.

Training as a fast jet pilot has to be one of the most uncomfortable and stressful things that you can do

It only takes one failed trip for the instructors’ eyes to start looking in your direction and if you don’t pass the next trip then you are definitely in trouble.


So how do I get myself back into the groove after a lay-off. As it stands, tomorrow I have an ‘Emergency Sim’ which is a 60 day currency that tests me on my emergency handling. Fast jets can be complicated little things and the Hawk T2 is no exception. Although the aircraft has two cockpits in tandem, the simulator has only the front cockpit represented. We have two simulators on the squadron – they are called Full Mission Simulators (FMS) and you have to wear your full Aircraft Equipment Assembly (AEA) when in them. This means that you dress as if you were going to fly the actual aircraft wearing your flying helmet, mask, Life Jacket and g-pants. The FMS isn’t a motion simulator as these tend to be used for multi-engine aircraft to simulator asymmetric thrust which, as long as you’re not flying a Canberra, SR-71 or Maverick’s F-14 in ‘Top Gun’, should not present too many issues in modern fast jet aviation. The FMS has 360 degree visuals and we use it to not only prepare students for an airborne sortie but also to consolidate the students learning at the end of a flying phase – the FMS can be the last event on the Air Combat Manoeuvring (ACM) phase for example.

But, unlike the Hawk T1 on our sister squadron, we also have 6 Flying Training Devices (FTDs) which are very similar to the FMS but are an extension of something that we used to use in the old days which was the ‘Cardboard Cockpit’. The ‘Cardboard Cockpit’ is just that – it is a cardboard representation of the aircraft’s cockpit and in the good ol’ days you were issued one to learn your checks on when you were in ground school and before you started flying. On the Hawk T2 we don’t have these anymore and we use the FTDs instead. The FTD is something that you can sit in without all your flight gear on and practise your checks but it also flies like the FMS! It isn’t a truly representative flight model, for example it will climb faster than the actual aircraft but it has 90% of the switches you’d find in the actual aeroplane. It has 3 touch-screen monitors that you can setup the Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) with – these are like very small monitors that show things such as your weapons stores page, moving map, synthetic radar display and even your hydraulics status page as there is no analogue display for this anymore. The great thing is that you can pretty much use the FTDs at anytime to practise any of your checks.

In the FTDs you can even get airborne and practise your circuits or link them up and just chase your course mates around the sky hoping that an instructor doesn’t walk in and tell you all to stop acting like children

So the FTD, and before that, the ‘Cardboard Cockpit’ are two great ways to practise getting back up to speed with the complicated task of flying the Hawk T2. But, at home I don’t have a ‘Cardboard Cockpit’ as none were made for the Hawk T2 and the FTDs are, well, at the squadron. So how else might I work myself back up for the simulator tomorrow? When you are learning to fly for the first time, this might be on gliders at 16 or on a light aircraft in the military/civilian flight school later on, your instructor will introduce the notion of ‘chair flying’ to you.

Chair flying is a very powerful tool which allows you to imagine yourself actually in the aircraft practising whatever it is you are needing to do on your next assessed sortie

The ‘Cardboard Cockpit’ was actually very good in this respect as you could touch the printed dials and switches and instil some aspect of muscle memory into your checks sequence. Chair flying is a visualisation technique that pilots, racing drivers, public speakers and sport persons have all used to enhance their performances.

When I prepare for a complicated sortie or have been out of the cockpit for longer than a week I will invest time in visualising that return to the cockpit – this is also essential if your flying rate (the number of hours you fly per month) is low. It is critical that a pilot keeps themselves up to speed and each person will have subtly different ways of doing it. I prefer to give myself a hour alone with my Flight Reference Cards (FRCs) – these are the checklists for the handling and emergencies that can affect the aircraft.

I then use the Overview – Preview – Inview – Review process

Overview. I normally go through each card first, skim reading them really – this I call an overview. Unlike in other aircraft, the checks that are done in fast jets are not routinely done from the cards. This is not true on the Tornado GR4 as the Weapon System Officer (WSO) will initiate a challenge and response from the FRCs but on single-seat aircraft and fast jet training aircraft such as the Hawk T2 your FRCs are unlikely to be used in flight at all. All of your drills are memorised as there is rarely enough time (or space in the cockpit) to be dragging your check cards out the whole time! It is important then that you are familiar with the cards in case you need to use them. This overview is a process of just looking at the layout of the normal drill cards and looking through the boldface emergencies. The boldface emergencies are the drills that a pilot or WSO must know verbatim; students are routinely challenged on their boldface drills at the morning meteorological brief, on airborne sorties and in an emergency simulator – just like mine tomorrow.

As part of my overview I will imagine me getting into my flight gear, going to the Operations Room and signing the jet out and then walking out to the aircraft
FTD (Flying Training Devices)

I might even look at tomorrow’s weather so I can forecast what runway we might be on and can plan which way I will taxy out of the line. I will imagine doing my initial checks, the aircraft walk around and strapping into the ejection seat. I will visualise the dials and displays in front of me – I’ll think about what radio calls I need to make before engine start and I might even look at the flying programme (if it’s been emailed out the night before) to see what callsign I’ll be using so I can practise using it – it all helps to build a mental picture. If I had a cardboard cockpit I’d use that – some people close their eyes but you need to make the environment as similar to the one you’ll be in when you are actually doing the event – this is why using a simulator to practise or the FTDs on the squadron is so good. When chair flying there is little point in having music playing in the background if there isn’t going to be music in your aircraft – we’re not on an EasyJet flight here, well – not just yet anyway! I might practise my start-up and pre-take-off checks here too but I don’t go any further than visualising lining up on the runway. I then visualise that I’d just landed and I was taxiing back in – I’d go through those checks too right up to and including vacating the aircraft and walking back in. I separate the actual airborne content and save that for the preview – it just works better for me that way, you might like to do it differently.

Preview. If you were looking at a textbook the overview would’ve been to look at the front and back covers and maybe the index. The preview extends on this – you’d now read the first and last paragraph of each chapter. In the world of aviation this is the bit where I’d look at the sortie content – I’d write this down on an A4 piece of paper as a list something like this (the italics are for your understanding):

SUTTO (start-up, taxi, take-off)

SID 31R (Standard Instrument Departure – runway 31 Righthand)

HASLLT Cx (Checks we perform for every sortie to make sure we are tolerant to the effects of ‘g’ and that we are operating in a safe area)


Max Performance Manoeuvres


LL (Low level)

Instrument Recovery – TAC/PAR

Circuits (Norm, LL) – Flapless straight-in approach

Inview. So, the preview part gave me some more information and I can now visualise the sortie in more detail. The inview part is when I fill in the blank spaces. I’d get my charts out and read up on the SID (departure) that I might be flying anticipating level-off heights, radio calls and power settings required. I would go and make sure I know my HASLLT cxs and practise them so they are fluent – Height, Airframe, Security (for an inverted check), Location, Lookout and TCAS. I would read up on what the Stall entails, what is the fight profile? I would draw it out and then run it through moving my hands to where the gear and flap levers are.

I even go so far as to anticipate the trim changes required

Are they pitch up or pitch down? I would read up on the max performance manoeuvres and then think about the area I need to fly to in order to get my spin done – I need to be above 25,000 ft to enter my spin so I’ll need a handover to a different Air Traffic agency for that and I can practise that radio call now so I don’t stumble over it tomorrow. I’d read and write about all of the sortie content and put it on an A4 piece of paper – it will become a crib sheet that I can look at before the sortie briefing tomorrow. Some people use a mind map but I prefer a list of how the sortie will flow. It is also critical to think of your ‘link’ flying here – how are you going to transition from one event to the next? Will you speed up or slow down, change height or transit to a different piece of airspace?

Review. This step is the most critical one and I normally do this twice, once after the inview and then I repeat it prior to the sortie briefing the next day to refresh my knowledge. The review is looking at that A4 piece of paper on which you have written a crib sheet that will help to jog your memory the next day. Take this opportunity to add any more information that you feel might be pertinent to the sortie you are about to fly. And that’s it – put the crib sheet somewhere safe, take a break and don’t spend longer than an hour on this; the mind gets tired after 30 mins so maybe do the Overview/Preview – tea break – Inview/Review and only then can you go back and watch cats falling off chairs on YouTube.

Visualisation is a powerful tool that, used correctly, can really improve your chances of success in the cockpit and in business

Remember, you lose half of your capacity when you put on your flight helmet and strap a jet plane to your back. It’s the same in business, don’t wait until you’re making that sale or giving the presentation, it’ll be too late and you’ll look like an idiot – practise IS your friend.

Until we slip the surly bonds of Earth again – fly safe!

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