Learning to Fly the Mustang

Cessna and FlightSafety have developed a training path that can lead any pilot to the left seat.

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When I earned my first jet type rating more than 25 years ago it was just assumed that I knew how to fly and could pass the course. If I couldn't, the check ride would find my shortcomings, and I would be out the door. The training was one size fits all, sink or swim, learn it in two weeks or see you later.

When Cessna was developing the Citation Mustang, the first entry-level jet to achieve full certification and enter service without restrictions, it became clear that this lowest-priced Citation would attract a new type of pilot. Many, if not most, Mustangs will be owner-flown; those owners will step into the Mustang with an unpredictable résumé of flying experience. The old "pound every pilot through the same type rating course" just wasn't going to work in the Mustang. A new path to the left seat had to be created.

Cessna was so adamant about offering a new type of training for the Mustang that it didn't automatically offer the program to FlightSafety International, its longtime training provider. Instead, Cessna opened up the Mustang training contract to competition and asked any qualified training outfit for its best ideas. As it turned out, FlightSafety competed hard, and won, with a new course that has the flexibility to train just about any pilot to captain proficiency in the Mustang.

First, it's important to understand that because it is a jet, a Mustang type rating is necessary to fly the airplane. A type rating applies, as the name implies, to a specific type of turbojet, or any airplane certified for takeoff weight above 12,500 pounds. You must have the fundamental ratings such as multiengine and instrument to fly the Mustang, but on top of that you must be trained and checked for a Cessna 510 type rating. You can add the type rating to any level of pilot certificate, but the minimum standard for performance on any type rating check is to ATP, even if you hold only a private certificate.

The Mustang is eligible to be flown by a single pilot, but it is up to that pilot to earn the single-pilot type rating. The other option is to get the basic type rating, which requires you to always fly with a qualified copilot.

Very early on Cessna and FlightSafety realized that it is crucial for both the pilot entering the Mustang course and the instructors to have a realistic expectation of the training outcome. A pilot who lacks the basic experience and skills will quickly become frustrated if he tries to jump all the way to the ATP standards of the type rating. But how does one access the likelihood of success in training?

The traditional training acceptance standards were just the basics of so much total time, and minimum time in category, such as multiengine. That measure is way too broad for the variety of pilots who have bought Mustangs. So Cessna and FlightSafety created a specific Mustang Proficiency Index to help predict how a pilot will do in training and to establish realistic goals.

The index is based on the fundamentals such as certificates and ratings, as well as total time and recent experience, but it also considers other factors. For example, were you trained in the military? How many formal training courses have you attended in your life, and in the past year? Do you have helicopter experience? Do you have other type ratings? How much experience do you have with flight management systems? Have you flown with integrated avionics systems? Have you attended specialized courses on hypoxia, or Garmin G1000 operation, or high-altitude training?

The Proficiency Index summary compares your experience to what FlightSafety has found to be characteristics of pilots who successfully complete a type rating course. The results are presented in a graph so you can see where your strengths and weaknesses of experience are.

Based on the Proficiency Index results FlightSafety recommends each pilot attempt to complete one of five levels of training proficiency. The highest is to complete the 10-day course with an unrestricted single-pilot type rating. Next is a type rating that requires a copilot, or a single-pilot with inflight mentoring assessment after the training course. The third level is to try for a Mustang type rating that requires a copilot. For those on the cusp of experience comes the expectation for a second-in-command approval, or perhaps a type rating that requires further inflight assessment. The entry level is to complete the course with recommendation to be second-in-command.

The Mustang course lasts for 10 days with the weekend off in the middle. That's a typical-length course for a light-jet type rating, but the structure of the course is new. Instead of spending the first several days in the classroom, Mustang trainees spend time in the classroom, procedures trainer and full flight simulator on the first day, and every day. Classroom lessons are immediately put into action in the very sophisticated procedures trainer, and the Level D simulator cements the relationship between book learning and the cockpit. It also reduces the boredom of days of bookwork without touching the controls.

The procedure trainer is really a completely authentic Mustang cockpit that has every capability of the simulator, except visual display and motion. With the trainer and large flat-screen displays the instructors can explain, which the pilots practice, the intricacies of the G1000 system and the fundamentals of the Mustang systems.

The Level D simulator is built on the same platform, and has the same level of performance and fidelity as any new FlightSafey sim for the largest and most expensive jets. That means it can replicate day, night or dusk conditions, and recreate any weather situation from a foggy day, to a thunderstorm encounter, to ice, to a flooded runway. The FAA credits Level D simulators the same as actual flight time, and for pilots with the necessary experience the entire type rating check ride can be completed in the simulator.

As good as the Mustang simulator is, pilots who have no experience with advanced simulators will still find it to be more challenging to fly than the actual airplane. Even though the simulator exactly duplicates the response of the airplane-in other words, the same control input in the sim results in the same response it would in the airplane-the simulator simply can't provide every subtle little clue we humans use to fly an airplane. For that reason you will need a higher level of concentration and a better instrument scan to fly the simulator than the airplane, but that's good. If you can fly the sim to ATP standards, the airplane is a piece of cake.

The best way for a new jet pilot to enhance his success in Mustang training is to take the supplemental courses FlightSafety offers before the main event. The Garmin G1000 familiarization course offered online, or the turbine transition course, or high-altitude course all can help pave the way to success. If you're a little rusty on basic instrument flying there is a multiengine instrument refresher offered in one of FSI's full-motion simulators that will be a big help.

FlightSafety's unique hypoxia awareness course should be a must for any new jet pilot. The course uses a mixed gas system that feeds inert gases into the pilot's mask to simulate the reduced percentage of oxygen at high altitude. During the training you breath an oxygen and inert gas mixture that takes your body and its functions to high altitude without any pressure change that could damage ears or sinuses. As your personal flight level is raised you see how you individually react to hypoxia and learn to recognize your own unique symptoms. And all of this is done in a full-motion simulator, so you have the realistic flying environment to deal with while recognizing the onset of hypoxia just as you would in an actual airplane.

By October more than 100 pilots had gone through the Mustang initial training course and nearly all were successful. As you would expect, the most challenging aspect of the training for many was learning to use the integrated G1000 system with all of the capabilities of its autopilot and navigation and display system.

If a pilot progresses as expected, the ninth day of the course will be used to brush up on all maneuvers and systems to get ready for the check ride on the 10th day. A pilot seeking the single-pilot type rating will be alone in the simulator for the check. For the type rating that requires a copilot, there will be a fully qualified copilot in the right seat to function fully in that role during the check.

The pilot with previous jet experience will be able to act as captain of a Mustang as soon as he completes the check ride in the simulator. But for pilots earning their first type rating, FAR 61.63 requires that they receive typically 25 hours of supervised operating experience (SOE) in the airplane before they can act as pilot in command. This is where FlightSafety's "mentoring" program comes in.

To me, the term "mentoring" implies a safety pilot who rides along to keep the new pilot out of trouble. But that is definitely not what FlightSafety means by mentoring. For some reason, FSI refuses to call the mentoring program training, but that's what it is. Continued training in the airplane. There is a specific syllabus for the mentoring hours that cover the entire range of maneuvers in the Mustang, plus trips to busy airspace, the mountains and a variety of airports. The mentor also grades the pilot's performance. The mentor can't flunk the new Mustang pilot and take his type rating away, but he will not recommend that the FAA remove the SOE limitation from his rating, and will not issue a completion certificate for the Mustang training course.

For pilots who have enough turbine experience not to require the SOE training, FlightSafety offers a "familiarization" program with an experienced Mustang pilot to fly along with the newly type rated pilot until he is comfortable.

A major objective in designing the Mustang training course was to convince insurance companies that new pilots were good risks. And it appears to be working. The key to insurance company acceptance is the comprehensive nature of the course that starts with the Proficiency Index, and the complete training record. A pilot who completes the course, along with all recommended supplemental courses, can show his insurance company a pedigree of training, and also of checking. FlightSafety bestows its full course completion endorsement only on those pilots who have completed every supplemental course necessary to fill in gaps in the experience they had before the Mustang course. Recurrent training will also be an insurance company requirement.

But I think the most important aspect of the new Mustang training program is that it provides a ladder for any pilot to climb into the left seat. A pilot needs to climb that ladder only in steps his experience allows him to achieve. After reaching each rung, he can fly the Mustang as a copilot, or a captain with supervision, and then come back to demonstrate his proficiency at the higher level until becoming single-pilot captain qualified, if that is his goal. Make no mistake, the Mustang course is not easy, and the standards for success have not been lowered one bit, but it is the first jet training program to be offered in bite-size pieces.