On day five, I took a written test covering the ground-school portion of the training. Once I passed, I headed home for a few days of work, only to return three days later to begin the process of actually touching the switches and knobs that make Learjets go so fast. Jay Christensen was my SIT instructor. SIT stands for systems integration training. This felt a little like the first day of the third year of medical school. I’d been learning about anatomy (electrical) and physiology (Mach tuck) and pathology (engine fire) in the abstract. Jay was the perfect teacher for this exercise, as he made it all come together. Now I was to see how the electrical circuits are required to fire the engine fire-extinguishing bottles. Integration is truly the word for it.
The five simulator sessions were all flown with a copilot. Mine was Kris Gaudet, a quiet, professional young pilot recently out of the Army. You had to look at his name tag very carefully to see the miniature purple heart just to the right of his name. He never spoke of his experience that led to this award and I never asked, but from our time in the darkness of the simulator cockpit, I know that Kris is my kind of American. Besides, he saved my bacon more than once with his quiet urging: “We could put the flaps up to improve rate of climb.” And his grandfather is a Flying magazine reader.
Vic was my simulator instructor, an unusual event occasioned by my odd schedule. For this I was grateful, because I had developed an easy rapport with this experienced aviator-teacher. Vic pointed out that I could delegate things to Kris that I was doing for myself. As the sims progressed I got better at asking (telling? commanding?) Kris to engage the autopilot or to hit the IAS (indicated airspeed) button when I zoomed through Vapp speed on the single-engine missed approach climb-out. I was often reminded of my friend JC’s quote: “Next time I go through the glideslope, turn the autopilot on!”
With time the steep turns got better and the concept hung together in a way that only repetition and relearning can provide. On the next to last day, the door light came on, and sudden decompression followed. I fought to get my oxygen mask on over my glasses. At FL 410, you’ve got only a few seconds to accomplish this before you pass out. It was a good thing to learn in a simulator, and my subsequent donning times got better. This was fortuitous because I soon smelled something burning. I thought maybe the simulator was overheating, but I acted as if there were fire in the cockpit and headed for the airport (Wichita, in this case). Smoke filled the cabin. This was the very realistic feature that FlightSafety has installed in its simulators. It is a smoke machine that you can buy in a novelty store to place in your shrubbery on Halloween to scare young trick-or-treaters. It sure scared the colonic contents out of me.