How pilots train for disaster

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The Independent Online
Experts yesterday removed a Virgin Atlantic jet from the Heathrow Airport runway where it had made an emergency landing. As the man who brought it to earth was hailed a hero, Louise Jury looks at how pilots are trained to deal with such emergencies.

Retired Captain Eric Moody knows what it is like to endure that heart-stopping moment when a plane fails. Fifteen years ago, all four engines on his plane cut out when a volcano erupted beneath him and he flew through the ash.

"The only thing that goes through your mind is how the hell can you get out of the mess you're in. You don't believe it to start with. Then things happen which convince you. You begin to think very lucidly."

They are moments that pilots are trained for, but training today is rarely done in an aeroplane. Simulators have been devised which give a life-like sensation of real flight.

Dave Badrick, a training captain for Virgin, says pilots training for a new type of aircraft would spend up to 60 hours on the simulator.

Every six months, they return for two days to practice routine procedures and to work through a series of potential emergencies. There is a manual half an inch thick covering dozens of potential disasters from hydraulic failure to the failures of one or all the engines. Over a three-year period, all possibilities would be covered.

Captain Badrick said: "It's quite easy to forget you're in a simulator. They perform just like an aeroplane."

But although Captain Moody agreed they were "remarkably real", he said he could never get it out his mind that he was still on solid ground. "Being several thousand feet in the air is a great concentrator of the mind."

Captain Tim Barnby made his emergency landing on Wednesday afternoon after his Virgin Atlantic flight VS024 from Los Angeles developed undercarriage problems. Yesterday, travellers faced delays and service was not expected to return to normal until today.