Initial Operating Experience (IOE, or some airlines shorten it down even more and call it OE) is where the fun stuff finally begins- flying an airplane again, which is why we are all in aviation, right? You will fly an actual trip/rotation with passengers on your flight- just don't let them know it's your first time in the airplane. Haha.
I've had IOEs in four types of airplanes now- the EMB120 Brasilia, the CRJ (200/700/900), the B757/767, and most recently, the A220. The first one in the Brasilia was the most challenging because I didn't really know what to expect, but it has gotten a little easier each time I've had to go through this phase of training.
This was on my first IOE trip at SkyWest airlines back in 2012.
I remember that first IOE trip in the Brasilia like it was yesterday, even though it was over 5 years ago... I felt like an imposter in my pilot uniform walking through security as a crew member. I was so nervous. But I acted like I knew exactly what I was doing, like I'd been an airline pilot for years, and walked through the airport with confidence.
That first day was a whirlwind. I felt like I knew quite a lot from sim and ground training, but there was still so much more to learn on the line, which I quickly found out. My trip had a showtime of 10:40am and an end time of 10:20pm- long day for a newbie! I flew 6 legs (flights) that day... actually I only flew 5 of them; the checkairman flew the first leg while I got some of my nerves out, then I flew the rest of them. Each IOE I've been on has been this way, with the checkairman flying the first leg, and it is quite nice to have a flight where I can soak it all in before doing it myself.
If you've never heard the term checkairman before, no worries. He/She is a captain with extra training- he'll know how to fly the airplane from both seats and he'll fly with new first officers and captains. Most of them become checkairman because they love teaching and helping newbies out, but there are a few that do it for the ego boost. You will know right away which ones are there for you, and which ones are there for themselves. If you end up with one who is unpleasant to fly with, don't take it personally- soak up as much information from them as you can, and look forward to flying with a (hopefully) more pleasant checkairman next time.
My first trip was 4 days long, which I've found is pretty typical for an IOE. There will usually be 2-3 IOE trips, depending on how much flight time you can acquire on each one, and if you need additional training. Each airline may require a different amount of flight time for IOE to be complete, but it's usually between 15-50 hours.
I remember being so exhausted by the end of that first day, but my brain was going a million miles an hours, which made sleep incredibly difficult. Thankfully I had an 18 hour layover, so I had some time to unwind and [try] to relax. When I woke the next morning I decided to look over the notes the checkairman had given me from day 1, and was able to study for a bit before heading out for the day. In addition to his notes, I also reviewed the checklists and flows, callouts, basic systems, and some of the operating procedures and company policies. I'd studied all of this countless times before, but I knew if I could remember all that without a problem, it would be much easier to soak in more information from my second day of training, which was soon approaching.
I was thankful I only had 2 legs that day. I was able to take in some more information and didn't feel too overwhelmed. However, that night we only had an 8 hour 51 minute layover (this was before the new rest requirements), and I did not sleep well at all. My term for this is stress sleeping- stressing about how little sleep I'm going to get, which in turn makes me not sleep at all. If you can prevent yourself from doing this, do it! It sucks. :)
On day 1 of IOE I felt completely overwhelmed, but by day 4 I began feeling that this was something I absolutely could do. Some of the tips and tricks that the checkairman gave me were starting to sink in, and he was incredibly good about giving me constructive criticism. He gave me a list of things I did well, and a list of things I still needed to work on- he gave me the confidence I needed to keep going. I will forever be grateful for that awesome first checkairman that I flew with.
By the end of my IOE, I had flown 15 legs! I was exhausted and ready for a couple of days at home. In my experience, the training department wants to get pilots done as soon as possible (it's expensive to pay for training), so I had only 3 days off in-between each of my IOE trips. This held true for my CRJ and B757 training. It may not sound like a lot of time of, but it's the perfect amount. I was able to have a couple of days of being a normal person again and not think about flying at all, and then a day of studying to make sure I still remembered everything, then back to the airplane. We all know from experience that if we go too long without flying, we start to forget little things, which is why it is nice to go from one IOE trip to another without too much time in-between.
For the A220, I only needed 15 hours of OE, so I would have been completed in just the 4 days if we hadn't had 2 legs cancelled on day 4. So I ended up having one day at home in between and then flying another 2-day trip to finish off the .8 hours I needed to reach the 15 hours.
The last 1 or 2 legs of the final IOE will be the line check, which should be no big deal at this point. The line checkairman will need to see you fly one leg as the flying pilot and the second leg as the pilot monitoring. They will not help you out as an instructor, but they will be the other pilot as they would be flying on a normal line flight with you. I remember being a little nervous for my line check, but I also felt comfortable with flying the airplane and the procedures, so I knew I would pass. No biggie.
In summary, the IOE trips are meant to tie everything together- ground training, FTD training, and sim training. You start off with rote memory (you've learned it and memorized it but don't know how to really use the information), to being able to take everything you've learned and apply it to flying the airplane successfully from point A to point B. IOE trips can still feel pretty stressful, but they are such a good learning experience, and definitely a necessary part of training.