How to Survive Airline Training: Part 2

Dissecting CBTs and getting ready for ground school

CBT is the first real task you need to complete in your training. Depending on your airline, you will be sent home from anywhere between two weeks and a month. In any case, the airline will give you way more time than you actually need to complete the CBT, so don’t stress over it. In fact, this is probably the first time you are cut lose with flight benefits. Its a great time to get out there and jumpseat and see the airline world first hand. If you don’t know how to jumpseat, see my post on jumpseating here.

CBT is more a “get it done” kind of thing than a “memorize all of this” kind of thing. Even so, there are certain bits of information buried in the hours of CBT that you will carry with you through your systems oral. The trick is dissecting the important information and eliminating the “Filler”. Below is a list of things that are generally important to know:

  • Numbers – Ex. Fuel capacities, battery voltages, number of spoilers
  • System priorities – Ex. What is the bleed source on the ground? In the Air? 
  • What happens ifs – Ex. When an engine starts, what happens? if you pull the fire handle what happens?
  • Anything that involves safety of flight – If you pull the E-brake, does the anti-skid deactivate?

As you go through CBT, take notes electronically in word/pages or similar. This is important because it allows you to eliminate or add information as you go through ground school. The finished product should be about 6-10 pages of pulled relevant information. Once you finish your notes, you can throw away your CBT and never look at it again because you have pulled all of the relevant information out of it. Don’t worry about memorizing the your cheat sheets yet, you still need to add and remove information from it during ground school as you refine the relevancy of information it contains.

Here is an example of the first page of mine: 

Memorizing limitations and memory items

Before you take your three month long trip to Europe, there is one more thing you need to do. You will be responsible for complete memorization of your aircraft’s limitations and memory items. Limitations are bits of rote information like airspeeds, max altitudes, or weight limits. Memory items are small emergency checklists. Both of these are usually found in a chapter of your operating manual #1. 

To tackel limitations:

After you locate your limitations section, you will notice some limitations are boxed and some are not. The boxed limitations theoretically are the ones that need to be committed to memory, where the unboxed ones do not need to be memorized.  Even so, I was asked unboxed items on both of my orals… This means everything needs to be memorized. 

The problem is not that you have to memorize a bunch of numbers, but rather you have to retain that information throughout three months of training. Luckily I have a solution to make memorizing and retaining limitations a breeze.

Enter spaced repetition software!

Spaced repetition software allows for ultra-efficient memorization and retention by intelligently spacing the interval which you review information based on your ability to memorize it. For example, say your aircraft’s engine has a max ITT of 1,000 degrees and a max landing weight of 72,311 pounds. Its much easier to memorize 1,000 than 72,311. SRS will adjust the interval that you will review each of these cards based on their difficulty. The result? Each day you will have 3-10 bits of info to review which will keep you current on hundreds of bits of info over your three month training!

The best source of SRS out there is available for free at This website allows you to create a private course that you can put all of your limitations in. Read the tutorial on the site to learn how to make a course. Then take all of your rote limitations and put them in Q&A form into the course. You should end up with 70-120 items. Once complete, start learning your limitations at a rate of 25-30 a day. Check in each day until the end of training to “Water” your newly planted memory plants… as the quirky site calls it. This system is extremely effective and will dramatically reduce your study time. For items which are excessively difficult to memorize, you can create a mnemonic right in your course to help with retention. 

To Tackle Memory Items:

Unfortunately, spaced repetition software is not effective for retaining phrases… I have tried. Instead, re-type all of your memory items on a single page of a word processing document and review that single page periodically. Try hanging it in your bathroom, remember proper placement for both number ones and twos. 

  • Before your oral, be sure everything on that page is committed to memory. One comically effective strategy my sim partner introduced to me was to take a tennis ball and throw it back an forth while quizzing each other on each item (I have no idea why this works by the way).

Ground school – Drinking from the fire hose

“Drinking from the firehose” is a common phrase used to describe the way information is disseminated in ground school. This is because many feel they are overwhelmed by the amount of new information they are presented – Don’t be! Remember, ground school instructors are required to cover a lot of topics. This doesn’t mean that everything needs to be committed to memory! Again, the key is isolating the important information.

As you sit in class, modify the 6-10 page sheet cheat you made during CBT based on the information presented. If something is reviewed in class that seems important and you don’t have it on your sheet, add it. Vice versa, if something from CBT wasn’t covered in class and doesn’t seem important, remove it. The idea is to isolate all of the important stuff and remove the rubbish. 

Obviously, it helps to have a laptop or iPad/tablet with a word processor to take notes. I tried all handwritten notes my first go at training and ended up with a bunch of gibberish at the end. 

What buttons do

While you are going through ground school, you will need to start learning what all of the buttons on the airplane do. This may seem silly and obvious at first, but as you start going into detail, this becomes a complicated topic quickly. 

For example, When you pull a fire handle, what happens? It puts the fire out right?… well it actually likely shuts off a bunch of valves including hydraulics to the engine, then you probably have to rotate or turn the handle to spray agent into the engine… and how many times can you rotate the handle… are there multiple bottles… etc? See where this is going? 

Tackling this can be tricky. If you are lucky like I was with my second airline, I was actually given a buttons study guide that showed a printed picture of each button and described its function. If you are unlucky, you will have to make a buttons guide manually. Here are two good ways to do this:

1 – Write all over your paper poster – Your airline probably gave you a paper poster of the cockpit to help you study flows… or something. Honestly, I really don’t know what it’s for (I did make a fake airplane with mine actually, see embarrassing photo later in post). Draw a little arrow to each button on the poster and write its function in the margin. Use the poster to study.

2 – Take a picture/screenshot of each panel of the cockpit and upload them to a word processor and write in the functions of the buttons. Sources of pictures can be the paper cockpit mockups in your training center or screenshots from an electronic operating manual if they gave you one.

Learning flows and procedures- My trials and errors

Procedures training is done in either a paper mockup or some type of FTD (if you are lucky). I wasted a lot of time on my first go at training because I tried to learn flows and procedures really early in training (like while I was doing my CBT) because my airline recommended this. It turned out to be a waste because everything I had spend hours committing to memory was alerted slightly in procedures training. As a result, I made it a point on my second go to hold off on learning procedures until a few days before starting procedures training. It paid off. 

Procedures or SOPs are likely found in your operating manual #1. You will be responsible for knowing everything from preflight checks to engine shutdown, along with abnormal things like single engine go-arounds, V1 cuts, ect. Start slowly and work from preflight. Memorize flows and procedures in a sequential order. 

Much like how you made a 6-10 page cheat sheet for systems, make the same thing for your procedures and use that to study. Eliminate the fluff as you go. 

I have found that about 20-30 minutes a day of review is sufficient. It helps most to review with your sim partner. Try to review in front of a paper mockup if one is available in your training center. If you can’t find anything, you can always improvise…

Final oral Prep 

Three to four days before your oral, start preparing. Make certain all of the following are complete:

  1. All limitations in Memorize are in LTM (Long Term Memory). Review all the day before your oral.
  2. All Memory items are committed memory, use tennis ball trick if necessary.
  3. Review your “what buttons do” study guide. Try to commit as much to memory as possible.
  4. Review the 6-10 page systems cheat sheet. Try to commit as much to memory as possible.
  5. Review preflight procedures/SOPs

These are listed in order of importance. Make sure to complete the higher item first. Good luck!


Sims in general have a higher stress level than other parts of training. I have found that the stress level in sims changes dramatically depending on the instructor and the airline. Hopefully you will get lucky! Still, Its hard not to enjoy level D sims, they are awesome!

General guidelines:

  • Always make sure you know what you are doing each day you show up and make sure you are prepared for it. Sim time is valuable and expensive.
  • Think one step ahead. Do your best to expect what will come next and mentally plan for it. For example, if you are doing a single-engine ILS and there is a single-engine go-around on the syllabus for that day. keep your thumb near the TOGA button. 

Hopes this helps!

Again, airline training can be stressful, but does not have to be. Isolating relevant information in an efficient manner really helps eliminate stress and can free up a lot of time to do other things – which is critical when you are stuck in a cramped hotel room all day.

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