Though this was not my first jet type rating, in a way it was. By that I mean that previous ratings were great fun, but my likelihood of ever really flying the Cessna 500 jet or the Boeing 737 on any regular basis was virtually nil. With the 31A, I might have a chance of flying for Elite Air in St. Petersburg, Florida, and so I was much more attuned to this training and way more focused on paying explicit attention.
On a spring Thursday I took an early (very) flight to Atlanta to make class at the FlightSafety facility near Hartsfield-Jackson by 8 a.m. There I met Victor Bucci, Learjet and Hawker pilot, a man with an amiable mien and a patient manner. Right away it was clear that this Learjet was some kind of animal. Just a few facts, please: Maximum cruise altitude? 51,000 feet. If the mach trim isn’t working, max allowable speed? 0.78 Mach. What is max cruise altitude if the spoilers are in-op? Flight Level 410, because you can’t get down to a safe breathable altitude within the allotted time without them when flying any higher than that. I don’t know about you, but these are not numbers with which I am habitually acquainted.
For the next five days, we worked our way through power plant, ice and rain, hydraulics, flight controls, electrical system and more. On day three, Vic put me in the simulator. It did not go well.
My first takeoff never happened. We careened down the runway oscillating from side to side as I took out runway lights with equal attention to the left and right sides of the pavement. Those rudders were sensitive. When I finally got airborne, trailing all sorts of pieces of airport equipment and debris, I made a mess of the steep turns. Either I could maintain altitude (sort of) while the airspeed ran away until the over-speed warning horn activated, or the altitude varied by hundreds of feet. Over-speeding a Learjet is the ultimate abuse of power.
Afterwards, Vic said that I had good control of the airplane except for the speed, altitude and directional control. That pretty much covered all three axes of flight. I was disheartened, and the trip back to the classroom didn’t do much to alleviate my fear that I would never be able to manage this beast.