SimuFlite's level-C King Air 200 simulator can be transformed in a few hours from round instruments to a B200 model's EFIS gear.
Morning light was just beginning to illuminate the New York City skyline in soft shades of lilac and pale vermilion as I swung the King Air 200 onto John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Runway 31 Right. Cleared for takeoff, I asked my copilot to set the power as I held the brakes and kept an eye on the gauges. The airplane shuttered from the torque of its twin Pratt & Whitney PT6s as the engines came to life. I laid a hand atop the throttles, gripped the yoke perhaps a little too tightly with the other and set us loose down the 10,000-foot-long runway.
The speed quickly built as I awaited the callouts — V1, rotate — before easing back on the control wheel. The King Air’s nose lifted off the grooved concrete, the earth fell away — positive rate, gear up — and we were climbing toward our initial altitude of 5,000 feet. I set climb power and gently coaxed the fight director’s command bars into proper alignment, following a shallow left turn to fly JFK’s Skorr Three RNAV Departure as its curving path took us out over the black ocean.
When we reached our assigned level-off altitude, I pulled the power back to cruise and started getting set up to try my hand at some air work, beginning with steep turns.
“Whenever you’re ready,” said the instructor seated behind me. In a real airplane, I normally quite enjoy the challenge of executing maneuvers like steep turns, stalls and unusual attitude recovery. I wondered how I’d do in this hydraulic-motion, full-flight simulator designed merely to closely approximate the handling of the real thing. I added a touch of power and rolled right into my first 360-degree turn. Outside, I could see the horizon tilting in the expected direction. Inside the cockpit, the attitude indicator showed only a momentary pitch-up and nothing else. According to the instrument, we were still wings level. Was this my first simulated instrument failure, I wondered?
“Something’s not right here,” I offered.
“No, it’s not,” my copilot said.
“What’s going on?” asked my instructor, SimuFlite’s Robert Bloom. Clearly he was just as surprised as we were. With a jolt, the illusory sensations of flight came to a halt. Bloom had put us on pause, placing us in a state of suspended animation off the coast of Long Island.
If only you could do that in a real airplane, I thought.
This was my first flight simulator session in the King Air 200 at CAE SimuFlite as well as my first formal introduction to the turbine world after filling my logbook with PIC time mostly in piston singles. Despite the convincing scene of the arriving dawn outside, in reality it was well after midnight and I was in a simulator bay at SimuFlite’s massive training complex next to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. I was also being asked to fly a slightly different airplane than I’d been expecting, settling in behind the controls of a King Air 200 with steam-gauge instruments rather than a more modern B200 model with EFIS screens. During power up my copilot and I noted a shrill whirring noise from behind the instrument panel that sounded — we belatedly realized — like a failing gyro. The noise disappeared by the time we were ready to depart and so we assumed the instrument just needed time to warm up. That turned out to be an incorrect assessment as the failing attitude indicator chose to die less than 10 minutes after takeoff.
Nearly all of the instrumentation in full-motion, FAA-approved flight simulators like the King Air 200 in which I was training comes from the stock of actual airplanes. Simulator instructors have the power to cause an array of failures, of course, but sometimes instruments can stop functioning of their own accord. In this case, the offending gyro ended my first flight simulator session almost as soon as it started.
The decision was made to call maintenance and have them switch out the electromechanical instruments for the EFIS displays, a process that would take several hours. When I arrived back at SimuFlite the next day, I could hardly believe my eyes. The tired old King Air with the bad gyro had been transformed as if by magic with LCD displays, a Universal UNS-1M flight management system, a radar multifunction display and other extras that made this B200 a significantly improved airplane. I couldn’t have been happier with the transformation.