Gear Up: Does Recurrent Training Work?
“Let's face it , some of the items on the checklist are written in blood,” our sim instructor says. It is day three of recurrent training. My training partner and I sit up straight. These words compel us to think carefully about why we are there and what we are doing. It means that accidents, once investigated, have led to changed and augmented checklists. This is a painful, iterative process.
Proving that recurrent training in any aircraft type prevents accidents is a statistical challenge. Accidents are infrequent enough, thank God, that it is hard to prove that this type of prevention works. We know that pilots who have received training and are current die in airplane crashes. Not often, but it happens. We also know that pilots who are poorly trained end up dying in accidents. We see the ads that tout the value of training, as reported by pilots who have survived inflight emergencies and credit their training with saving their lives. But these are anecdotal reports; they don’t really prove that recurrent training saves lives.
The insurance companies have concluded that recurrent training in turboprops saves money, if not lives. In order to insure the Cheyenne that my wife, Cathy, and I own, I must attend recurrent training at an approved site. In order to fly Part 135 in jets, the FAA stipulates not only that I attend recurrent training but also that I perform tasks in the simulator to certain standards. My favorite is the V1 cut on takeoff with RVR of 500 feet. At least you can’t see much.
In my previous life as a cancer surgeon, the value of recurrent training was not yet an established standard. Physicians are skeptical — doctors are trained to be empiricists. If it has not been proved in a randomized double-blind controlled trial, they do not believe it. And because they don’t believe that training, CRM and checklists reduce the likelihood of hurting a patient, they resist using the very things that aviators now accept as professional standards. Why malpractice carriers don’t insist is a puzzle to me.
All of this becomes abundantly clear to me when I train yearly in the Lear 31A that I fly for Elite Air in St. Petersburg, Florida, and in the Cheyenne. This year I asked about the evidence for recurrent proficiency training at SimCom in Orlando, where I do Cheyenne training, and at FlightSafety in Atlanta, where I do the Learjet.
When I climbed out of the sim at SimCom this year, after shooting the Localizer ZDME-E approach to Aspen, I asked a simple question: Why in the world would anybody attempt this approach without practicing it first in the simulator? The step-down fixes come so fast and the end of the approach leaves the airplane so high above the airport that you have to force the nose down in order to see it. I can’t imagine anything but a skein of missed approaches without prior training. With the remarkable SimCom visuals, though, I think I could make it in.
What if I lost an engine on that approach? After a few days at SimCom, a certain sense of competency sets in, so I am reasonably confident that I would likely survive. Not a guarantee, but a sense of reassurance. No doubt a real emergency would scare me to death, especially in that part of the country, but I think I would have a set of basic skills and a familiarity with the procedures that would be lifesaving. After several sessions of unimaginable faults and emergencies piled on top of each other and compounded, I always marvel at how well everything works when I get back in my own airplane. I look at 58 Whiskey with renewed appreciation, though I wish it would fly those GPS approaches as crisply as the SimCom Cheyenne.
The atmosphere at SimCom is a combination of approachability and dedication to precision. The training is always one-to-one or one-to-two if you have a training partner, as I do. The instructors have thousands of hours in type. The visuals in the sims are really lifelike and can be customized.