FlightSafety’s HondaJet Training

HondaJet training
FlightSafety International offers courses for high-altitude training and RVSM, both two-hour-long sessions required for pilots to fly the HondaJet if they haven’t already taken them.Jon Whittle

“Airspeed alive. Eighty knots. V1. Rotate,” I said as I rolled down Runway 18C at Memphis International Airport in HondaJet N420HB. Immediately after rotation — boom! One engine failed. “Lots of right rudder. Heading bug centered. Positive rate, gear up. Pitch for V2. Push FLC. Altitude check, autopilot on. Continue climb to 2,000 feet. Select 140 knots, flaps up past 130.” My hands were sweating as I went through the step-by-step procedures that would help keep me alive in this extreme scenario.

As I pulled out the emergency checklist a calm voice behind me spoke softly: “One crisis at a time.” It was that of Andrew Forgacs, my simulator instructor at FlightSafety International’s HondaJet training facility in Greensboro, North Carolina.

When it came time for Honda Aircraft president and CEO Michimasa Fujino to select a flight-training provider for the company’s first product — the HA-420 HondaJet — several factors weighed on his decision. First, the facility had to be located at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, adjacent to Honda Aircraft’s manufacturing facility and headquarters. Second, the training provider needed a track record of producing safe pilots. Finally, “The mission was not to establish a training program and use the same [one] for years,” Fujino said. He wanted a training partner with a focus on continuous improvement.

Although there were a few top candidates as Fujino went through the selection process about a decade ago, he felt that Bruce Whitman, FlightSafety International’s chairman, president and CEO, most closely shared his vision.

With the HA-420 being one of FlightSafety’s most recently launched type-rating programs, I wanted to see what the course would be like for a customer who, like me, had no previous type ratings. I had heard stories from friends and colleagues about how stressful and challenging the process of getting a type rating can be.

As the training date approached, my anxiety level increased. I received hundreds of pages of course material before I departed for Greensboro. Stephen Rayborn, FlightSafety’s HondaJet training program manager, told me I should study the limitations — speeds, temperatures, altitudes and so on — and memory items for emergencies. Having that knowledge in my back pocket as I embarked on my journey would prove very helpful.

The friendly FlightSafety office staff checked me in and set me up with a badge that provided access to the training facility at any time, day or night. Knowing that students received full access 24/7 didn’t ease my type-rating anxiety. How much work would it be? I wondered.

HondaJet training
FlightSafety's operational day flow method puts the students right into the cockpit from day one in the classroom.Jon Whittle

In the classroom, I was paired with five other students: three who work in corporate flight departments, one who’s an owner-operator and one who works as a Honda Aircraft test pilot. The range of experience was wide, from two pilots who did not have any jet ratings (myself included) to the test pilot, who had thousands of hours and 11 type ratings, and had already flown the HondaJet for about 50 hours. One of the corporate pilots was also an aircraft mechanic. Some of the pilots had flown behind Garmin panels of various types before. Others had not. I was wondering how FlightSafety would work the training around such varied backgrounds. In the end, I found the diversity beneficial because it spurred a variety of valuable questions in class.

For the HA-420 program, FlightSafety uses “operational day flow” (ODF) — a teaching concept launched in 2012. Rather than suffering through six straight days of lectures, the material is covered through flight scenarios, using a desktop simulator (DTS). A touch-screen controller identical to the control display unit (CDU) in the airplane was used to enter data, and a mouse was used to click hot buttons representing thrust levers, knobs, switches and buttons on the DTS screen — a miniature version of the HondaJet cockpit.

Day one was taught by Nancy McCall, a budding HondaJet instructor. She was observed by Jonathan Hartness, a terrific instructor who taught most of the remainder of the ground school. However, McCall didn’t need much assistance, owing to the extensive vetting process for FlightSafety’s instructors. There are multiple levels of FlightSafety instructor qualifications, the ground school being just one. Bringing an instructor up to speed as a full-fledged HA-420 instructor/examiner qualified for all teaching segments can take nearly four years, Rayborn said.

After showing us how the DTS works, McCall took us through a weight-and-balance problem. We also got our introduction to the quick reference handbook Normal Procedures, which, among other things, provided checklists and performance charts. We had hard copies of the QRHs (there is one for emergency operations too) in class and could also access them in FlightSafety’s FlightBag iPad app, which allowed us to highlight important sections, create bookmarks, take notes and more. The app includes several other documents, such as the Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) and Pilot’s Operating Manual (POM).

Once found in the appropriate QRH chart, we checked our takeoff field length and entered the V-speeds into the CDU, adding speed bug reminders to the Garmin G3000 PFD. Entering speeds is just one of several initialization steps. Pushing a “preflight” touch-screen button on the CDU made the onboard computers check proper operation of the stall-warning systems, fire-detection systems and panel lights. The first day also included a walk-around, during which McCall used images of different parts of the airplane that should be inspected before flight. The images were displayed on the high-tech smart board at the front of the classroom.

HondaJet training
The quick reference handbook Normal Procedures provides critical performance data and V-speeds.Jon Whittle

After going through initializing and loading our first flight plan — a quick trip from Greensboro to Charlotte — we performed the start-up and before-takeoff checklists and took off on the flight.

During each day of ground school the ODF process was repeated, albeit with increasingly complex weight and balance problems, weather considerations, and domestic and international flight plans that included departure procedures, holds, arrival procedures, approaches and more. The ODF also included a deeper dive into the systems each day and reviewed procedures for handling anything from small issues to emergency situations. This is where the QRH Emergency/Abnormal Procedures came in handy. We also delved into the AFM and POM at different stages to get performance data for abnormal conditions, such as icing conditions, runway slopes and winds, and other information.

My type-rating anxiety was eased as the ground school progressed and I got more comfortable with the processes and systems. My comfort level with the pace can partially be credited to my previous experience flying behind the Garmin G1000 flight deck and GTN 650/750 navigators. In many ways, the G3000 is a blend of those systems. At the completion of six days of ground school we had a written test, which felt rather easy thanks to McCall’s and Hartness’ terrific instruction.

Following the ground school, we had two sessions in the graphical flight-deck simulator (GFS) — a sophisticated touch-screen device that, like the DTS, includes a CDU and a full cockpit layout. However, the on-screen levers, switches and buttons in the GFS are to scale, making it more realistic than the DTS. An additional large screen at the top of the GFS can display systems pages as the simulator is “flying,” illustrating what happens behind the panels.

Fortunately for me as a budding jet pilot, the HA-420 program, unlike many other type-rating programs, does not require a deep knowledge of the aircraft systems. “Before, the best pilots were the ones who knew the systems best,” Rayborn said. “They could communicate the problems to the mechanics.” Now, onboard computers record the systems data, which makes it easy for the mechanics to analyze any problems. As a result, pilots can simply focus on the aspects of the systems they can control in the cockpit.

HondaJet training
While the GFS is made of large touchscreens, all components are to scale.Jon Whittle

The cockpit layout makes it easy to evaluate the status of the systems. Buttons either are dark or show “ON” or “NORM” in white. In abnormal situations, the lights on the buttons turn amber. Rotating switches are aligned upright in normal operations.

The systems pages on the screens are also somewhat idiot-proof. While there are numbers for certain parameters, such as N1, N2 and ITT, there is generally no need to pay much attention to numbers. Normal parameters are displayed in green. Issues alert with color-coded crew advisory system messages: red for emergency, yellow for caution, blue for advisory and white for status. As a gross generalization, all the pilot needs to know is that “green is good.” If something is out of the norm, the emergency QRH comes out.

In addition to the initialization process, several things happen automatically to ease pilot workload. For example, exterior lights turn on when it makes sense, and pressurization is set based on the airport elevation at the destination in the flight plan.

In some cases, the automation even extends to emergency and abnormal situations. For example, the fadec that controls the GE Honda HF120 engines prevents them from starting if the systems are indicating something abnormal, such as a hot start. The emergency descent mode (EDM) is an incredible feature we tried out in the full-motion simulator. At 43,000 feet with the autopilot on (EDM engages above 25,000 feet), cabin pressure was increased beyond 10,000 feet, triggering a bunch of lights, bells and whistles. Before I had time to don the oxygen mask, the autopilot had entered a left turn and started a descent at red line. All I had to do was bring the thrust levers to idle and watch the altitude wind down to 15,000 feet like a high-speed elevator.

Although the systems are highly automated, the HA-420 type rating is no walk in the park. For pilots like me with fewer than 1,000 hours of turbine time, FlightSafety recommends a second in command (SIC) type rating, which means you have another pilot in the simulator to help. However, I wanted to experience the course from the perspective of a customer with my experience level who wanted to fly the HondaJet as a single pilot, requiring a pilot in command (PIC) type rating.

As I started my training in the level-D HondaJet simulator in the glass-enclosed sim bay overlooking Honda Aircraft headquarters, one thing became very evident — I had become a lazy pilot. While I used mnemonics and cockpit flows, I hardly ever touched a checklist in my Mooney. Other than pulling the gear up after takeoff, I had fallen out of the habit of structured climb, cruise and descent checks. Sure, a Mooney is easier to fly than a HondaJet, but I wish I had kept up on professional pilot habits.

HondaJet training
FlightSafety's HondaJet instructor Andrew Forgacs conducts a briefing before a flight in the level-D HA-420 simulator.Jon Whittle

Thankfully, Forgacs, my sim instructor, patiently brought me up to speed. Forgacs has a colorful career background, having worked for a decade as a registered nurse in an emergency room, then as an air traffic controller before starting his flying career and ultimately instructing at FlightSafety.

Forgacs’ ATC experience made him a superior sim instructor as he acted as ground, tower and en route controller throughout the training sessions. His calm demeanor and deep knowledge of the aircraft added to his excellent work. After our first sim session, Forgacs told me and my sim partner, whom I was paired up with for the briefs and debriefs around each of our two-hour simulator flights, that we may need some additional instruction and might have to delay the check ride. This was disappointing but not a big surprise as neither my partner nor I had any previous jet experience. But Forgacs said that, with hard work, we could possibly catch up. He would evaluate our progress after the next couple of sim sessions.

“One crisis at a time” was his standard comment whether he was talking about our progress (or lack thereof) or the emergency situation we were dealing with in the simulator.

Although Forgacs recommended against the electronic checklist that is available on the G3000, I gave it a try. I liked using the checklist on the PFD because it became part of my scan and served as a reminder to use the checklist during the various stages of flight. Checklists are required per the Practical Test Standards, so it was critical for me to remember to use and complete them.

My takeoff and approach briefs were in serious need of polishing, and I spent time visualizing and verbalizing them outside of our training sessions. Other challenges included remembering when to switch from NAV mode to APR mode on the automatic flight control system (AFCS). My Mooney doesn’t have an autopilot, but I’ve had a lot of autopilot experience in other airplanes. Again, old habits needed to be reintroduced and enforced.

HondaJet training
Flying the full-motion simulator is realistic enough that no time is required in the airplane before becoming a type-rated HondaJet single-pilot PIC.Jon Whittle

Hand-flying the HondaJet with precision was challenging initially. Stating the obvious: In a jet, things happen much faster than in a single-engine piston. Initially I was not using the flight director command bars on the PFD since I’m used to scanning the tapes on my Aspen display. However, hand-flying to ATP standards requires tremendous accuracy, and it’s easiest to pair up the flight director. I felt somewhat out of control trying to match up the inverted Vs, but Forgacs assured me that my hand-flying skills were satisfactory. Soon enough, I became comfortable using the flight director.

Stall recoveries and unusual attitudes were relatively easy; my previous experience transferred well. But I had a hard time with steep turns because I’m used to doing them by feel rather than by using trim. I was also used to doing steep turns at 100 knots; in the HondaJet, they’re done at 200 knots. Steep turns became my biggest nemesis.

“No big crisis,” Forgacs assured me. But the curriculum only included steep turns a couple of times before the check ride, when I would be expected to do one in each direction remaining within 100 feet of altitude, 10 knots either side of 200 knots, and 5 degrees either side of 45 degrees of bank.

The best thing about simulator training is that the instructor can create scenarios that would be impossible or unsafe in an airplane. Weather conditions can be selected on demand. We had to deal with turbulence and wind shear. Somehow there was always low visibility and direct crosswinds for Runways 18 R, L and C in Memphis (where the check ride would be conducted and we did a lot of the training), and Runway 27 was nearly always unavailable. Flaps malfunctioned, the autopilot failed, engines caught fire and more. “What could possibly go wrong?” Forgacs would say with a sideways smile as we walked into the simulator.

With stuff constantly going awry, my level of attention was always maxed and my hard copy of the emergency QRH was kept close at hand. Except for roughly a dozen memory items, malfunctions and emergency situations are addressed with the QRH. Numbered red and yellow tabs marked the different sections and made it quick and easy to find the procedures required to deal with unusual events.

Fortunately, after a few days in the sim, Forgacs said we were catching up. He recommended adding 30 minutes each to one of the last sim sessions. But we kept our check ride schedule. Regardless of experience levels, all pilots go through the same initial course, with some slight modifications, such as mine, based on the student’s ability. The course includes six or seven days of simulator training, each consisting of two hours. Pilots who need additional training can add more sessions on an hourly basis based on the recommendation of the instructor. And it’s common for pilots to need extra time, Rayborn said.

There is no time requirement in the airplane to get signed off as PIC in the HondaJet. However, some pilots need supervised flight time before the reins are let loose to fly solo. Personally, I would need 25 hours in the airplane with another HondaJet PIC to fly as a single pilot.

HondaJet training
During the flight training and the check ride for any jet type rating, emergency situations with flashing lights and CAS messages become the norm. This is the simulated profile for the emergency descent mode. Should the cabin pressure rise above 10,000 feet, the autopilot automatically turns left and begins a rapid descent by targeting Vmo.Jon Whittle

The check ride is done to ATP standards no matter the pilot’s certification. Unfortunately, since my ATP written test had expired and it’s now a very cumbersome and expensive process to complete, I did my ATP flight check ride but my license remains at the Commercial level.

The stress level was high on the morning of check-ride day. Would performance be sufficient to get the coveted HA-420 ticket? Rayborn, who was my examiner, attempted to ease the jitters by telling my partner and me that after thousands of check rides he’s only ever seen one perfect flight. Mistakes are OK as long as they are recognized and corrected and the flight remains safe.

After good preparation from the ground school and lots of sessions studying at home, the oral part of the check ride was fairly easy. As we had done during the training sessions, my partner flew first and passed.

Despite Forgacs’ terrific training, the flight portion of the check ride was a challenging two-and-a-half hours of continuous problem solving. My check-ride nerves made me completely botch my first steep-turn roll-in. I asked to start over, took a deep breath and managed two perfect circles well within ATP standards. Whew.

I made some other mistakes too. I went missed after seeing the runway when Rayborn set one engine on fire. I was unsure whether I would make the runway, and Forgacs had said that an engine fire was “no big crisis.”

Although Rayborn would have preferred that I landed, he said I did a good job dealing with the crisis. On one of my last missed approaches I forgot to bring up my flaps and gear. Rayborn wasn’t thrilled about that when we discussed it in the debrief but said I kept the airplane safe and within the speed envelope for gear and flaps during the subsequent approach. Rayborn also had some praise to give. I grew about 2 inches taller when he said my hand-flown single-engine ILS was as good as that of a HondaJet test pilot.

While there is no doubt that getting through a jet type rating is a stressful and challenging process, FlightSafety has found a way to make it easier. Having access to the pre-study material was great, the instructors were terrific and the ODF concept kept students awake during ground school. The automation in the HondaJet also made this course a good one for a first type rating. With IFR currency, knowledge of Garmin logic and good procedural habits, getting this ticket should be no big crisis.