Getting Ready Before I left for San Diego, I cracked open the flight manual. It wasn't an in-depth course of study by any stretch, but I wanted to familiarize myself with the basic systems and operation of the Falcon 10 so the airplane wouldn't be a complete mystery to me when I arrived. I spent about a day going over the systems and the standard and emergency operating procedures. It would wind up being a big help. There are a lot of things about jets that pilots who fly piston-powered airplanes never learn simply because their world doesn't involve those things. When climbing through 18,000 feet, for instance, you change over from the local altimeter setting to a standard setting, 29.92, or vice versa when descending back through 18,000 feet, not something I ever need to worry about in my Cherokee Six. Neither do I worry my pretty little head about when to change over from reading my indicated airspeed in knots to reading it in Mach speed. It's just not an issue for me. But these types of things are part of the fabric of daily operations when you fly jets, and inattention to them is a bad thing. Luckily, the Kings' Jet Transition course is designed with pilots like me in mind. The course, which took me about four hours to complete, covers all of the big background questions about jets: Why do they fly so high? What's up with turbine engines? Are all jets alike? What's the guaranteed takeoff performance in jets? and Who does what in a crewed cockpit (one that has both a pilot and a copilot)? A lot of these questions might sound silly to those already well versed in jets, but that's precisely the point. The big, overview questions are exactly what pilots looking to transition never get answered. In traditional courses, that kind of information just kind of filters down through the noise of the details. Not so with the Kings' Jet Transition Course, which tackles those questions head on. "It's designed to teach things an experienced good friend would tell you to make the transition to jets easier," said John, who explained that neither he nor Martha had the advantage of such a course when they made the leap to jets years ago. Like everybody else, they had to figure things out on the fly. Over the weekend before my trip to the Kings' I also completed the two other ground courses, RVSM certification(which took about an hour to complete) and the High Altitude Endorsement Ground Training course (about three hours). In keeping with my theme of thinking I knew more about jets than I really did, both courses were eye-openers for me, answering questions that I'd had for years about such topics and bringing up subjects I'd never previously considered. As it would turn out, the three courses were invaluable preparation in my quest to transition to jets, because they kept me from asking all of those questions once it was time to get into the airplane, where, I'd soon learn, there would be more than enough to do. Nerves As I was preparing for the course, I developed a real case of nerves, and it was mostly because of the tiller. A tiller is a small ground steering wheel located on the left side of the captain's seat (the left seat), and I'd discovered in my going over the flight manual that the Falcon has one. There's just one, so if you're in the left seat, it's all on you. The tiller setup varies from airplane to airplane. In the Falcon 10, you use the tiller to taxi the airplane and also on the takeoff roll until you get up to 80 knots. Up until that point, the captain doesn't even have the yoke in his hand-the right hand is on the throttle and the left hand is on the tiller-so there you are, hurtling down the runway controlling the airplane with a notoriously sensitive little dial on the sidewall. The good news: At 80 knots, you move your hand from the tiller to the yoke, and things go back to normal again for a few fleeting seconds before you rotate. (The better news: None of the new VLJs have a tiller.) My case of jitters wasn't helped by the story John told me about how he and Martha volunteered to help out a Falcon 10 sim instructor who needed to get some time in the real airplane. On his first few attempts, he was all over the runway trying to keep things under control. Great, I thought. If the sim instructor can't control the thing, what chance did I have? The afternoon before we were to go flying, John and I went out to pay a get-to-know-you visit with the jet. We started our orientation with a walk-around, paying special attention to the things that make jets different from piston airplanes. We looked at the sweepback of the wing, the leading edge slats, of course the engines, the tail with its trimmable stabilizer, and the heated windshield, to name just a few of the very different kinds of components you find on jets. Then we boarded the airplane. There are stories, probably not apocryphal, of sim-trained jet pilots getting to the airplane and not knowing how to open the door, the sim, of course, not having a door. We climbed into the cockpit to get acclimated. The Falcon, like every jet of its era, has a host of knobs, switches, buttons, lights, warning horns, levers, dials, breakers, gauges and displays. Although the Falcon's panel is more intuitively laid out than most, there's still a lot to get to know, let alone master. To familiarize me with the panel (and sub-panels, and overhead panels), we simply ran the checklist. It took us an hour and a half. Granted, much of the time was spent with John explaining things to me, like the logic of the hydraulic checks (please, no pop quiz on this one), so going through the checklist in real life would take much less time. That said, it can still take a well-trained crew of two 20 minutes to run the first check of the day. A cursory walk-around the airplane and a quick CIGARS check heading out to the runway? It's not a good plan when it comes to jets. There are simply too many things to check. In fact, I came to realize that is one of the primary things that differentiates jets from the light stuff, the overall complexity of the flying chore and the commitment to professionalism required of the crew (even if you're a crew of one).