Jumpseat: Flight Training for Clients
A few months back I wrote about flying a Citation Mustang, comparing its attributes to those of the 777. After the initial flight, thanks to my friend and Mustang owner Tom Torti, I became more familiar with the airplane, via a smattering of other trips. On those trips, informal instruction and a few doses of good-natured harassment were included at no extra charge.
When I was given the opportunity to attend a formal Citation Mustang course, through the magazine and FlightSafety, I couldn’t refuse. Two weeks of intensive study in Orlando? Absolutely. After almost 29 years with the airline, why wouldn’t I want to subject myself to the rigors of another flight-training facility for recreational purposes? My experience would allow a comparison between my airline and one of the world’s most respected flight-training organizations.
If I’ve learned anything over the years as a professional pilot, it’s to have a systematic method of studying the particulars of a new airplane. First, I build a foundation by becoming familiar with the dimensions of the machine. The dimensions provide a basic overview. Next, I (attempt to) commit to memory the pertinent limitations: max gross weight, speeds, altitudes, etc. While studying the systems of the airplane, I begin to memorize — you guessed it — the memory items of the emergency checklists. An understanding of the reasons for performing the tasks of an emergency checklist assists in more intimate systems knowledge. In that regard, familiarity with the Mustang CAS (crew alerting system) messages was invaluable.
Utilizing the above study strategy, the classroom serves as reinforcement and/or clarification of material already reviewed — in theory, of course. But I discovered a flaw in my plans. I hadn’t included familiarity with the Garmin G1000 system. My ground school instructor and designated examiner, Steve Watkins, profoundly stated, “The Garmin is not your friend.” It’s true, especially if you have limited skills operating the system. Prior to my arrival, I took the FlightSafety online course. The online course and an hour with the GPU plugged into Tom’s airplane was my saving grace. Even with that foundation, I still fumbled with the big-knob-little-knob operation.
With my head armed and dangerous, I arrived at the doorstep of FlightSafety with a smile and an iPad crammed full of Mustang reference materials. It was the first Monday of the month — start-up day. Approximately 140 pilots begin their initial training. If recurrent training is included, about 3,500 pilots cycle through for the year, or about 100 per week. Orlando has 120 full-time employees, with around 90 instructors. The instructors teach both ground school and simulator, a contrast with my airline, where the tasks are separated. Another difference is the diversity of the students. Approximately 20 to 25 percent are from other countries. Language, culture and foreign experience all have to be accommodated.
Eleven simulators are in the building, with the Citation XLS+ being a new addition. FlightSafety designs and builds its own simulators, giving the company a vested interest in their quality. All in all, the Mustang simulator was a great learning tool, but I could have done without the oversensitive rudder control. My first takeoff involved heart-stopping pilot-induced oscillations that steered us toward an almost certain off-runway excursion.
The service area throbbed with activity. Andy Johnson, the Orlando facility manager, greeted me with a warm grin and a handshake. After the initial paperwork and introductions were complete, Andy gave me a personal tour of the building. Andy is a 27-year Navy veteran with P-3 experience and a six-year career with FlightSafety. Almost every morning without fail, he greeted people at the door by their first name. It was then I realized the first major difference from my airline training. I wasn’t a student. I was a client. Way cool.
FlightSafety’s philosophy is to create a learning environment rather than an evaluation environment. This philosophy was reflected in the spotless classrooms with the appropriate cockpit pictorials and video technology, impeccably maintained restrooms (mouthwash and other sundries included), bottomless coffee always available in the break room, and the ability to have the friendly office staff order lunch for delivery. Steve Watkins offered to replace any reference material or study tool, right down to the dictionary-size training manual.